A highly sensitive person is someone who is strongly affected by social stimuli, such as the voice and facial expressions of others.
Psychologist Elaine Aron developed the concept of highly sensitive people (HSP) to describe those who display noticeable sensitivity to various forms of stimuli. Aron estimates that about 15-20% of the population is highly susceptible.
Researchers often use the term “sensory processing sensitivity” to characterize the experiences of HSPs. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not list sensory processing sensitivity as a diagnosis. This makes
Aron and other researchers treat sensory processing sensitivity not as a disease or a diagnosis, but as an evolved personality trait that can be adaptive in certain circumstances. For example, highly sensitive people may notice danger signs that others miss and may pick up on more subtle social cues.
Keep reading to learn more, including the signs and daily challenges of being a highly sensitive person, as well as the benefits.
A person with
There is more to being a highly sensitive person than just being sensitive to stimuli. Other Features
- process environmental stimuli more deeply
- being more emotionally responsive to behavioral inhibition
- be more physiologically responsive to behavioral inhibition
- have stronger unconscious nervous system activity in stressful situations
- have stronger emotional responses (both positive and negative)
- be sharply perceptive of subtle differences
- having a low tolerance to high levels of sensory input
- have a low pain threshold
Being a very sensitive person
As stated earlier, being an HSP is not a diagnosis but a temperamental personality trait or disposition that offers both benefits and challenges.
- Low threshold of sensory awareness: HSPs can notice and feel sensory stimuli more strongly than others. For example, loud noises and chaotic stimuli are likely to have a greater impact on HSPs.
- Overstimulation: HSPs can easily become overstimulated and overwhelmed by their surroundings.
- Personality and temperament: HSPs may seem introverted or very emotionally sensitive. It could also be because their environment is stimulating and they feel overwhelmed by it.
- Empathy: An HSP may find that the mood of others strongly affects them or notice subtle social cues that others do not notice.
- Sensitivity to pain: HSPs are often more sensitive to pain or touch.
- Withdrawal: HSPs who live in a less than ideal environment may withdraw more or need more alone time to cope.
Popular media and anecdotal sources often focus on claims that people are more susceptible now than in the past. These claims usually revolve around the notion that the term HSP is a new concept, and people have only recently become interested in supporting those who are particularly sensitive.
Aron and other researchers argue that sensitivity to sensory processing is not a new trait. Instead, they found a inherited trait that may have evolutionary advantages.
There is no scientific evidence that people are more sensitive today than they were in the past. Instead, institutions and individuals may be more willing to recognize and make accommodations for those with different needs, including high sensitivity.
To cope with being an HSP, it is important for a person to first identify their main areas of sensitivity. For example, some people are more sensitive to sensory input, while others find certain types of social interactions overwhelming.
Some strategies that can help include:
- using personal devices, such as sunglasses, earplugs, and noise-canceling headphones, to minimize sensory input
- consider how clothing can contribute to sensory overload, then choose items without tags, seams, or other types of sensory input
- set up at least one area of the house to be low-stimulation, such as a dark, quiet room
- advocate for accommodations at work or school and incorporate them into daily life as needed
Learn more about the different types of therapy here.
Highly sensitive people tend to be conscientious and empathetic and may notice subtle changes in their interactions and surroundings.
Some benefits include:
- Social abilities : HSPs tend to notice things that others don’t. Picking up on body language and other subtle cues can help them develop strong social skills.
- Empathy: Highly sensitive people tend to be more sensitive to other people’s emotions and moods. This can offer them more insight into other people. It can also help them sense the motivations and inclinations of others, potentially making them good managers, negotiators, and leaders.
- Environmental Sensitivity: Highly sensitive people may notice environmental cues that others don’t. In the right setting, it can help them detect danger.
Being highly sensitive is not a diagnosis or medical condition and does not require treatment. However, HSPs may find relief from this label for their experiences. They can receive significant support from therapy and resources or books on HSP.
Some key traits of HSPs include deeper processing of emotional stimuli and lower tolerance to sensory input.
The right environment can make being highly sensitive more manageable. With fewer sensory inputs, HSPs may not feel as overwhelmed. This can enable them to work towards positive outcomes, such as using their empathy to better understand people and foster meaningful relationships.
Although the concept of HSPs is relatively new, HSPs are not. As research continues, experts may identify new ways to support health service providers. They can also identify environmental, genetic, and developmental factors that contribute to elevated susceptibility.