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10 Things You Probably Don't Know About 'Highly Sensitive People'

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After 30 years of trying to figure out what was wrong with me and why I was so sensitive as a child into my adult years, I finally learned about being a “highly sensitive person (HSP).” It changed my life, mostly for the better, because I had a new understanding of why I felt and acted the way I did. I discovered that about 15 to 20 percent of people are “highly sensitive.” Dr. Elaine Aron is the lead researcher in this field and has written many books about it. But it is still a foreign concept to so many. In addition, being a male in today’s society makes it a bit tougher to be highly sensitive. For example, as a child, I was bullied quite a bit because I would react emotionally to the bullying. Now I know why: High sensitivity.

Having high sensitivity has both good and bad traits, as with all things. Many of us with high sensitivity don’t share how it makes us feel because many of us struggled with others who lacked the understanding that we were not dealing with depression or negativity, but just this heightened awareness. Dr. Aron defines being a highly sensitive person as having a heightened nervous system, being more aware of the subtleties in their surroundings and being more easily overwhelmed in a highly stimulating environment. This includes processing things around us more highly, also known as intuition. I will add that we also feel more and have heightened empathic abilities. This isn’t to say we read minds, but we do read emotions and feel more acutely what others feel.

But as I mentioned, all of this comes with a price to be paid and many of us don’t share certain aspects of high sensitivity with others, lest they think we have a mental illness or don’t believe what we say we feel (although the research that Dr. Aron does proves it to be true). So, I wanted to share 10 things I really don’t tell anyone about being highly sensitive.

1. Many of us are both extroverted and introverted.

I really detest labels for this reason. I enjoy being an extrovert. I speak in front of audiences, have acted and like to be the leader. But it is exhausting because of all the unconscious emotional input I feel from others. So, in many cases, after being extroverted in a crowd, I retreat to time with myself to allow my mind to react. This confuses others but is something I need to do as an HSP to avoid being overwhelmed by my own feelings.

2. No, we don’t read minds, but do read emotions.

The word “empathic” is used often in highly sensitive people, but that doesn’t mean we can read minds. We have a higher sense of the emotions we and others around us feel. I think about it as being intuitive on first impression. If your first impression of someone is usually correct, then you may be highly sensitive. With that said, if I am around people who are sad or depressed, I have to be careful myself as I can absorb those feelings and start to feel somewhat the same.

3. Yes, you can make me cry or laugh.

Most highly sensitive people struggle to control the heightened emotional sensitivity. As a child, a bully or a mean comment would make me cry. I didn’t really grow out of it. This is that yin-yang trait of being highly sensitive and others can exploit it, so we don’t share it.

4. Our memories are emotion based.

This was something I struggled with for a long time. An HSP’s memories are based on emotion. So we tend to remember both the really good times and really bad times and can still feel the way we did during those times. It is a particular struggle when it comes to the bad times because we just can’t easily let them go. On that note…

5. We are very emotionally reactive to music.

For years, I didn’t understand this. A song from my childhood or teen years would come on and I would get goosebumps, choke up, and even cry. This would happen every time I went to a concert and the band first came out on stage with the first chord playing. This is because our memories are emotional and music causes us to remember times in our lives. When I’m in the car with others, this feels embarrassing, so I just have to explain it away. But if you or someone you know is like this, they are just experiencing a highly emotional moment.

6. Don’t assume we are depressed.

I won’t say mental illness is not an issue for a highly sensitive person, particularly if they don’t understand they are highly sensitive. Part of the baggage that comes with being highly sensitive is the heightened emotions we have. This can lead to bouts of sadness sometimes if life just isn’t going right. But if we know we are highly sensitive, we learn to have methods to work with this. Make sure to look for all signs of depression before assuming that is what we have. That said, don’t ignore us either.

7. We tend to have good experiences with animals.

This is one of those strange aspects of being a highly sensitive human. In the rest of the animal kingdom, they tend to all be highly sensitive (think fight, flight or freeze instinct). As such, we tend to have positive and more interesting encounters with other animals. I have several strange stories of dogs, dolphins and even wolves treating me different than other people I was around. We don’t tell others, because they will think we are weird, but our relationships with animals we encounter are different.

8. It can be scary at times.

Highly sensitivity can be scary to those of us who have it because it is a very instinctual and unconscious thing. Until we know we are highly sensitive, research it and understand it about ourselves, it can be downright terrifying to us. We don’t understand why we act the way we do. Why we feel the way we do. Why we lack control of our emotional highs and lows. Even when we find out we are highly sensitive, it can be scary at times as we can feel threatened by something around us. We don’t talk about it, but it is scary to sense danger sometimes.

9. We tend to be caretakers.

Many highly sensitive people gravitate toward jobs where they can help others. Being empathic makes us feel happier when we help someone else feel happier. We crave that emotion like some crave ice cream. Again, this is both good and bad, because we can’t help everyone and self-care for an HSP is very important to our own good health.

10. Please don’t tell us we are too emotional.

We probably won’t tell you we are highly sensitive, because you may not understand it. It takes a lot of trust on our part to tell someone who won’t look at us and tell us we are “crazy.” That said, we are very emotional and tend to be in constant work with ourselves to work with controlling this, but never not being emotional. Would you really want us to deaden our emotions? It is most of the time a true gift to be a highly emotional person, so please don’t tell us we are too emotional. It is not something we really control, and we like to feel things. It is part of who we are.

You probably already know, or are, a highly sensitive person. If you read this and can relate, you can take a test on Dr. Aron’s site to start to learn if you have this trait. After many years, I now see this as a gift, although it did cause me pain in my youth. But that is OK now, as I realize my authentic self and true potential as an HSP. Just know, I might not tell you about it and you may now start to see it in others.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Originally published: September 4, 2018
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