Meet a Highly Sensitive Person


My friends: I recently came across a post titled “What Everyone Needs to Know About the Highly Sensitive Person”  from the blog Taming the Invisible Dragon by Sloan Rawlins.  With a shock of recognition, I discovered that Sloan, whom I’ve never met, has written a description of herself….and me!  Until now, I had no idea there is a name for people like us.  It is with great pleasure and a deep sense of gratitude that I share this guest blogger’s post with you.  Thank you, Sloan, for shedding light on yet one more of my inner mysteries.
Chances are that many of you are not familiar with the term “Highly Sensitive Person.”  It is very likely, however, that you will (or already have) come into close contact with or developed an interpersonal relationship with a Highly Sensitive Person.  You may even be an HSP yourself and have yet to realize it.
It is my firm belief that understanding is one of the fundamental components of compassion.  And what the world needs today, at least as I see it, is a lot more compassion.  The better we understand ourselves and each other, the better chance we have of living in a world that is a little more tolerant and a lot less difficult. That being the case, let me (an HSP of the highest order) take this opportunity to share with you what I know about this gift that is not always a gift.
Highly sensitive people are very conscientious, hard working, and meticulous.  They have rich, deep inner lives and are often very spiritual.  They are extraordinarily intuitive and, often, highly empathic (able to detect other people’s emotions).  Creative, intelligent, and well-organized are other adjectives that commonly apply to the HSP.
Along with these characteristics, however, come the “less desirable” aspects of being an HSP.  Highly sensitive people are bothered by intense stimuli, including loud noises and too much activity in their environment.  They are extremely uncomfortable with chaos and disorder.  Those who are highly empathic often feel overwhelmed by emotion (their own and that of people around them); and they process information on such a deep level that their response time to a particular situation is often delayed.  When subjected to trauma and/or severe chronic stress, HSPs are much more likely to develop neurological disorders, including P.T.S.D. and Fibromyalgia.
Dr. Carl Jung, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, and Eleanor Roosevelt are just a few of the more famous people in history who researchers say demonstrated signs of the high sensitivity trait.  I refer to it as a “trait” because, according to Dr. Elaine Aron—author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You— and other researchers like her, high sensitivity is an innate trait (one present at birth) that comprises 15 to 20 percent of the population (50 million in the U.S. alone).
That is the academic description of what is meant by the term Highly Sensitive Person.  Now, let’s get personal.
For 43 years, I have lived in a world that constantly overwhelms me.  Not understanding why I am “so sensitive” and repeatedly pushing myself to prove that I could handle anything anyone else could handle (and even do it better) was my undoing.  As it turns out, I needed to be undone because the life I was living was not much of a life at all.
I have been told many times, by many people, that I am “too sensitive” and “too emotional,” that I “care too much,” and that I “think too much.”  Ironically, most of the people who have said those words to me have turned to me (time and time again) when they needed a shoulder to lean on or advice in dealing with their own problems and emotions.
In short, it has generally been the case that people love to be around me and to soak up all that insight, compassion, and sensitivity I have to offer . . . but only for brief periods of time.  It seems that my particular brand of “sweet” makes me appear too fragile or weak and it makes people (even some of those who love me) very uncomfortable, at times.
Those who really know me, however, know that I am anything but weak.  I have fallen down many times; but I have also found the strength and courage to stand back up more times than most people could have managed.  Yes, I am emotional; but I am also resilient.  I can always find the good in anyone I meet and most people find me particularly accepting and nonjudgmental.  I try my best to see every side of any situation as objectively as I may and try very hard to always be fair.  It is relatively easy for me to take other people’s feelings into account before I speak or act (even when I am hurt or angry); and I do.
None of this makes me a saint.  It just means I am . . . (yes, say it with me) SENSITIVE.  While it is not easy living in the world today as an HSP, I do not begrudge it.
I see things many others cannot see.  I feel things many others have grown numb to.  I care and I love in ways that many people long for.  Because of these aspects of my Being, I know what it means to truly be Alive.  To paraphrase a lyric from one of my favorite Jimmy Buffet songs — while some of it’s tragic and some of its magic, I live a good life all the way.
The purpose of sharing these very personal aspects of myself with you is not to invoke sympathy on your part for me but to help you understand what it feels like to be on this side of the HSP trait.  And, if you are an HSP yourself, to let you know that you are not alone, you are just as valuable and lovable as anyone else on the planet, and you can bring a lot to the table in just about any relationship you enter into.
If there is a chance that you or someone in your life is a Highly Sensitive Person, I encourage you to learn more about the trait.  In addition to Dr. Aron’s book, I recommend you visit the following sites for more information (including a self-test).

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0 Responses

    1. I’m so happy to hear that! Thanks for letting me know! Children don’t have the psychological language or insight to understand their sensitivities and build up protective barriers that aren’t always in their best interest. Understanding and helping them give expression to these things is a huge gift parents can give them. Jeanie

  1. I first discovered I was a HSP when I stumbled upon Dr. Aron’s book in the self-help section of the library. Since then, I have become convinced that the time for HSP’s to shine is NOW. I have had enough of being misunderstood, over-looked and under-valued by society. The discovery that I was an HSP was a God-send. I am now able to stop the negative self-talk and loathing that is a product of a lifetime of being “too sensitive.”

    1. Congratulations for being able to get a handle on this. It’s still very difficult for me to stop the negative self-talk, but I’m definitely getting better at it. This article was a God-send for me too, and I’ve ordered Dr. Aron’s book. What a wonderful time we live in that we can find this kind of healing information so easily!!! Stay tuned. I’ll probably be writing more about this in posts to come. Thanks for writing.

  2. I am trying to focus on the part of the definition of HSPs that says they are “very conscientious , , . [and] hard working”. At the risk of voicing an unpopular opinion, I’ve met HSPs without these qualities who are neurotic and very difficult to be around. They use their “sensitivity” as an excuse for almost everything. On the other hand, I have a grandson who is on the autism spectrum. He is “extremely uncomfortable with chaos and disorder”. I know he cannot help this quality in himself and would be happy to be free of it. Perhaps I should be as charitable towards HSPs as I am towards my grandson, but I have to say that I’m skeptical.

    1. Yes, we all sabotage ourselves when we develop unhealthy and unappealing strategies to try to shield ourselves from pain. This is equally true of non-HSP’s. I’m one of the very conscientious and hard working HSP’s and probably got those skills from my parents, who were the same. Perhaps the fact that I learned to hide my emotions, sensitivity and anxiety so well is why it took me so long to understand why my inner life was so painful and never found the help that could have made my life so much easier. Some of our strategies are much more socially acceptable than others. Either way, it’s not easy to live with the constant self-criticism and guilt! Thanks for your comment! Jeanie

        1. Of course. I welcome dialogues from both sides of the “aisle” as long as they are civil. However, being the highly sensitive person I am, I do find rudeness, in-your-face criticism, and intense conflict painful and stressful!! Thankfully, I’ve never had to deal with that here. I suspect most of my readers are similar to me in that regard, or else they’re mind-readers! 🙂

    2. Tnx MrsDaffodil for opening debate. (((( )))) I am enthusiastic about hsp studies, yes. But indeed “hardworking and conscienscious” has the sound of a newspaper variety of astrology.
      I am waiting for a literature which is on the one hand critical and careful, OTOH about life. About an everyday. // thanks again

  3. Reblogged this on bobbieslife and commented:
    I’m very grateful to Jean for sharing this meaningful post with us. I, too, was often told by others that I’m very sensitive. For the longest time, I believed that it was a weakness; however, when I learned about Spirituality, I realized that it was also a great strength.

  4. Jeanie,
    A couple of questions re this intriguing post.
    I guess that, as seems to be the case with most qualities, sensitivity as you describe it, is on a continuum. Do we each have our own available quota of it (as in strength, creativity, beauty, IQ etc?)
    Personal and life circumstances perhaps summon various levels of an individual’s inate sensitivity; in accordance with the demands of particular circumstances.
    Second question: I assume HSP’s are more prevalent among ‘feeling’ types. Is this so?

    1. Hi Qestra,
      I haven’t read the book yet (it should arrive any day), so checked Wikipedia to see if I could find answers to your questions. As to the first: “Recent research in developmental psychology provides further evidence that individuals differ in their sensitivity. According to the differential susceptibility hypothesis by Belsky (1997b; 1997a; 2005) individuals vary in the degree they are affected by experiences or qualities of the environment they are exposed to. Some individuals are more susceptible (or sensitive) to such influences than others however, not only to negative but also to positive ones. For example, research by Pluess & Belsky [10][11] has shown that children with difficult temperaments in infancy are more susceptible to the effects of parenting and child care quality in the first 5 years of life. Intriguingly, these children not only had more behavioral problems in response to low quality care, they also had the least problems of all children when having a history of high quality care suggesting that children with difficult temperament are highly susceptible rather than difficult and therefore able to benefit significantly more from positive experiences compared to other less susceptible children.” It also says there is an opposite temperament of people who are high-risk takers and seem to be far less “sensitive” in terms of reflecting on their behavior or consequences. So yes, I would guess everyone has a certain available quota.
      As to your second question about “feeling” types on the Myers-Briggs: Wikipedia says, “Those who prefer feeling tend to come to decisions by associating or empathizing with the situation, looking at it ‘from the inside’ and weighing the situation to achieve, on balance, the greatest harmony, consensus and fit, considering the needs of the people involved.” Since empathy and reflection are associated with highly sensitive people, I would suspect you’re right about HSP’s being more prevalent among ‘feeling” types, of which I am one, by the way! Also, the research shows that about 30 percent of HSP’s are extroverts, the remaining 70% being introverts, of which I am also one! So there you go.
      I’m also an “N”, i.e. intuitive, and Wikipedia mentions intuition in regard to highly sensitive people too, so I guess I’m almost a classic example. I can’t tell you what a wonderful revelation it is to know there’s a name and an explanation for the way I am. It explains so many things about my personality that have been a mystery to me!
      Are there any other Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling types out there who can weigh in on this question?
      Thanks for your always stimulating questions, Qestra.

      1. Jeanie you are truly a treasure. Thank you so much for taking the time and trouble to answer my questions, and so thoroughly. As a thinking introverted, intuitive I’ve noticed my empathetic/sensitive qualities increasingly seeing the light of day, as I work daily on developing my feeling function – but reason seems to stubbornly prevail on most occasions, despite my better efforts.
        Enjoy and profit from all your posts

  5. Jean,
    My heart is filled with tremendous gratitude and joy for what you’ve done with my post. I believe that your work in this area is going to continue to grow; and it will change lives. It has truly been a blessing to be a small part of it. If you are interested, I have some articles and other information I’d like to share with you. I will be out of town until the 17th; but we can follow up after the holidays via FB, if you would like.
    Thank you again for all the wonderful work you are doing to help heal the planet, one reader at a time.

    1. Sloan, your blog post was a godsend to me; exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. It filled an empty space in my psyche that ached to be filled. I agree that my work in this area will grow, and I suspect the same is true of you. I’d love to see any information you might have for me. Please send it to my e-mail address and we’ll connect after the holidays. It is such a pleasure to meet someone who is as committed to healing ourselves and each other as I am! Thank you for your bold and honest post that sparked my awareness of, and interest in, this new frontier of psycho-spiritual healing.

  6. Hi Sloan & Jeanie,
    Over time I’ve seen many ways of describing aspects of the personality. I am wondering whether if we put the HSP onto the MBTI scale, this personality type would fall into the F scale in the 98th or 99th percentile, with a dash of N and I. Do you have any comment on this, or do you think that the MBTI scale doesn’t cover it at all?
    Best regards, Skip

    1. Hi Skip. You and Questra think a lot alike, as she asked me pretty much the same question. You can see my answer to her above! I hadn’t realized Jung was the first to identify the Highly Sensitive Person and to highlight the positive aspects of this trait instead of just focusing on the negative as many are prone to do. Like every trait, including those identified on the MBTI, it can be expressed in positive, i.e. socially healthy, as well as negative, i.e. socially unhealthy ways, depending on life-experience, parenting, inherited personality, etc. I still like the MBTI as an excellent overall personality type assessment tool, but perhaps the HSP is a sub-category “trait” characteristic of some NFI “types.” I suspect one’s preference on the Judging/Perceiving scale might have something to do with the specific ways this trait is manifested. This would be a great research topic for someone’s dissertation!!
      Best, Jeanie

    2. Skip, as the long-time “keeper” of several large online communities for HSPs, there are definite correlations between certain MBTI preferences and being highly sensitive. A good 90% of introverted NF types are also HSPs. I would estimate some 50%+ of introverted NTs are HSPs. By far the most common extraverted type for HSPs would be ENFP. I would say the iNtuition preference is the primary marker; a Sensing is quite rare among HSPs, although not unheard of. The F/T split is probably in the 70/30 range; the P/J about 60/40, Introvert/Extravert in the range of 70/30. This is based on about 15 years of being part of the global HSP “community,” including meeting 100s of HSPs in person at workshops and retreats.
      Best regards,

  7. So glad to see this posted here! It always gives me joy to see yet another person “become aware” of this trait so many of us share. There’s nothing “wrong,” nothing that needs “fixing,” all is well… all we need to do is understand how our sensitivities affect us, and then use that knowledge to live our lives to their fullest potential… free from any (real or imagined) shackles that we “must” try to be “normal.”

    1. Hi Peter,
      I was thrilled to see your expert commentary here and appreciate it very much. It’s lovely to know there’s someone like you out there working with the global HSP “community.”
      This statistic stunned me: “A good 90% of introverted NF types are also HSPs.” Wow. That’s me. Finding out my type on the Myers-Briggs was life-changing. Now, 32 years later, I feel the same about having discovered I’m an HSP. So many things about me make sense now. A while back when all our kids and grandkids were together for the weekend, one of my grandsons came over to where I was sitting by myself absorbed in a crossword puzzle and asked me why I wasn’t joining in some activity the rest of the family was doing and I didn’t know what to tell him. It was just too intense, stimulating, and uncomfortable for me and I thought he wouldn’t understand if I said that. I’ve felt badly about that ever since, thinking I was too stand-offish or self-absorbed! But now that I know it’s a specific character trait that’s neither bad nor good, I have the words to explain myself to him. I can’t wait for the next opportunity!
      My best,

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