Signs You May Be A Highly Sensitive Person And What That Means

Some people experience the world from a particularly heightened state of being. Sounds, smells, textures, tastes –- it's all fully absorbed. This can mean the beauty of a sunrise or an emotional song feels extra intense – as does the stress of moving through a crowded public space or receiving criticism. Those living in this highly sensitive state were given the name Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) by psychologist Elaine Aron (via Psychology Today), and they tend to have a characteristic known as sensory processing sensitivity.


Essentially, HSPs experience their external and internal environments to a more extreme degree than those who don't have the trait (via MedicalNewsToday). According to Aron, about 15-20% of the population are HSPs, and most would likely agree it's both a blessing and a curse. HSPs aren't just physically sensitive, either. They tend to be emotionally sensitive too -– and highly tuned in to the moods of the people around them. If this is sounding familiar, you are probably aware that being an HSP also comes with great gifts, like a vibrant imagination and an innate ability to understand others. Here are some signs you may be a highly sensitive person.

Prone to overstimulation

Highly sensitive people are more likely to prefer dim lighting, soft clothing, and soothing sounds. They tend to need a certain amount of control over the stimuli in their immediate environment, and when they can achieve this, they thrive. But itchy clothing tags, being startled, loud music from the other room, or fluorescent lighting in the grocery store can be extremely distracting and stressful to an HSP, so learning to navigate the world with supportive measures, like wearing noise-canceling headphones and allowing for solitude in a dark room after social activity, can be life-changing for highly sensitive people (via MedicalNewsToday).


While highly sensitive people tend to avoid busy environments, they also share how regularly they experience deep and meaningful connections with friends. There is some overlap in the high sensitivity experienced by individuals with autism or ADHD who may have sensory processing disorder, but there are notable differences in the traits of HSPs, too (via Psychology Today).

Avoidance of violent themes in media

As we established earlier, highly sensitive people aren't just affected by physical stimuli; they also experience emotional pain quite deeply. So naturally, a tense horror film with scenes of cruelty isn't something they'd seek out. The emotional stress of seeing others in pain is a lot for the HSP (via Stylist). While those who don't have sensory processing sensitivity might be able to watch gore and violence with little emotional response, remembering it's just a film set, an HSP would rather not bring those images into their psyche. This goes for suffering on the news, scary stories, and graphic lyrics. Their acutely tuned nervous systems are working deeply, processing patterns and information to a very fine degree, and violence is simply too much (via Forbes). 


This capacity for empathy and deep disdain of cruelty towards humans, animals, and nature is a special ability, and while it may be an inconvenience in the modern world we live in, anyone can appreciate a sensitive human who feels the pain of others so deeply in times of crisis.

Great capacity for empathy

Highly sensitive people are characterized by a heightened awareness and intense reactions to stimuli. So, of course, they are acutely aware of noticing shifts in a person's mood and reading social or emotional cues that others might miss. "Highly sensitive people tend to be extremely empathic—and often at their own expense," said Dr. Jagiellowicz, Ph.D., a psychologist who researches high sensitivity and a contributing author to "The Highly Sensitive Brain: Research, Assessment, and Treatment of Sensory Processing Sensitivity," in an interview with SELF.


This deeply empathetic quality is a wonderful trait to have in a friend, but HSPs will find they must learn to set boundaries in order to function in the world and protect their emotional selves. They're affected by the moods of others (via Stylist). This might mean limiting time with certain people who lean too much on an HSP for emotional support or finding new techniques to recharge when at work or school and the comfort of the controlled home environment isn't readily available.

HSPs are typically introverted or shy

Part of what may lead a highly sensitive person to withdraw, spend a lot of time in solitude, and be selective with their friendships is the need to limit stressful stimuli in daily life. However, about 70% of HSPs consider themselves to be naturally introverted (via Psychology Today), which means they need to be alone in order to regain energy and feel grounded — whereas extroverts are charged up by being around others. While being introverted and having high sensitivity are not mutually exclusive, and extroverted HSPs do exist, they are still likely to be considered shy in social environments.


If an HSP goes through a particularly stimulating and stressful period of time, it'll be no surprise if they disappear for a few weeks to regain their inner sense of self, reestablish a routine that supports their high sensitivity, and recover from events that may not have felt too tumultuous to others, but were enough to rattle the HSP. They will do best if there is one area of the home which is always a safe space for the senses — dark, clean, and quiet (via MedicalNewsToday).

A rich inner world

Being a highly sensitive person may sound like a burden, but it's this very sensitivity that offers quite a gift to the world. HSPs are known to have a rich inner landscape and fertile imagination (via Psychology Today). If there's one thing they know how to do, it's think deeply. They can be great artists, writers, and creatives, as well as art appreciators. They are moved fully by the beauty of the natural world as they are by acts of compassion and gentleness. If you have a highly sensitive person in your life, you have likely seen them come close to tears while listening to an emotional piece of music or a beautiful poem. 


There is no dullness in the world of a highly sensitive person. It is all fully vivid and experienced with little to no filtering. This heightened awareness can also allow HSPs to detect dangerous situations that others might miss (via MedicalNewsToday). High sensitivity isn't a mental health condition but a personality trait, and with the right tools and protection, highly sensitive people can offer us a window into the deepest depths of human life.