10 Signs That You Are a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

Are you a highly sensitive person (HSP)? Highly sensitive people are more deeply affected by emotions, physical sensations, and stress than non-sensitive people, because the HSPs are born with nervous systems that are more acutely attuned. About 15 to 20% of people across all ethnicities, races, and genders are HSPs. They can be introverts, extroverts, or something in between.

And they’re often misunderstood. Because only 20% of people are highly sensitive, those who aren’t just don’t get how the HSP wants to, for example, crawl in a corner and hide

sensitive by flickr.com user Kamilla Oliveria
A black and white photo of a woman holding a camera in front of her face. Credit to flickr.com user Kamilla Oliveria Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

after absorbing the negative emotions of someone else’s fight. Contrary to popular belief, high sensitivity isn’t overreacting to emotions. It is experiencing these emotions on a deeper, more jarring level.

But is high sensitivity bad? No, of course not. Experiencing deeper emotions and physical sensations helps the HSP be more aware of his or her surroundings and respond to other people with empathy. High sensitivity isn’t a mental illness, though those with the trait often suffer depression. The HSP is often emotionally intelligent and make great therapists, counselors, or clergy members.

So are you a highly sensitive person? Here are 10 signs to help you determine that for yourself:

1. You often suffer from emotional exhaustion due to your natural empathy for others.

As soon as an HSP walks into a room, he or she is able to pick up on personal details such as body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice that others may miss. Highly sensitive people aren’t necessarily empaths, but HSPs often absorb the emotions and moods from other people like an empath would. Sensitive people have high levels of empathy for other people, and are often emotionally exhausted from feeling what other people feel.

2. You startle easily.

People who are highly sensitive hate being startled, because they so often are. Their nervous systems are dialed up to 11, so if someone sneaks up on them, they jump–which is, unfortunately, the intended effect. Loud noises really get to them, too.

3. You’re picky about your clothes.

I don’t mean that HSPs are into fashion, though they easily could be. What I mean is, HSPs usually cannot stand coarse fabrics, seams in socks, or tags. These may bother other people as well, but an HSP will structure his or her wardrobe in a manner that completely avoids these irritants.

4. You’re sensitive to blood sugar drops.

Changes in blood sugars really throw HSPs for a loop. If they haven’t eaten in a while, they could end up hangry (hungry + angry) more easily than other people. One way an HSPs can take care of themselves is to pack a snack when they are out and about.

5. Stimulants/depressants aren’t good things.

With a nervous system that’s so finely-tuned, some HSPs are deeply affected by caffeine, and only need a little to feel completely ratcheted up. Similarly, some HSPs are sensitive to alcohol.

6. You abhor violence and conflict.

Conflict can be physically painful to an HSP, as can violence. Even watching animal cruelty on television is enough to make some HSPs sick to their stomachs. Highly sensitive people sometimes come down with stress headaches when confronting someone, even if the HSPs are in the right.

7. Beauty moves you.

Highly sensitive people are deeply moved by beautiful things, such as gorgeous (non-violent) movies, fine art, and stirring music. The HSP may be moved to tears when tasting a delicious, favored food, or beholding a breathtaking vista.

8. You obsess over mistakes.

Highly sensitive people tend to be conscientious. They have highly-tuned consciences and beat themselves up over mistakes, or even perceived failures. The HSP may obsess over a misspoken or cruel word he or she has said to someone else years ago. HSPs turn these problems over and over in their minds, sometimes losing sleep at night.

9. You don’t perform as well when being watched.

When an HSP performs in front of other people, he or she tends to make more mistakes than if he or she were performing alone. Pressure may cause the HSP to mess up.

10. You hide your emotions.

Some emotions are just too big or too negative to share. So goes the thinking of many an HSP. So the highly sensitive person, when dealing with overwhelming feelings, positive or negative, tends to bottle them up and try to ignore them. Most HSPs have been told that they need to “toughen up” or that they’re “too” sensitive. Non-sensitive people, especially in American society, usually aren’t comfortable expressing their emotions or having emotions be expressed. Especially the deep, staggering feelings of an HSP.

Final Thoughts

If you see yourself in this list, like I did, you are not alone, and you are not too sensitive. You are unique and may be helpful to other people due to your natural empathy. You may be overwhelmed by your emotions or day-to-day conflicts of life at times, but high sensitivity is a “normal” trait, which means the trait is not a disease or disorder. You’re just wired differently.

I wish you well.

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Author: Cassandra Stout

Hi! My name is Cassandra Stout, and I am a freelancer and memoirist who blogs at The Bipolar Parent (Cassandrastout.com/bpparent) and at the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF.org). My current project is Committed, my upcoming memoir that depicts my time spent in a psych ward after a postpartum psychotic breakdown. I am a ten-year member of a five-person critique group called the Seattle Scribblers. It's nice to meet you!

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