The big question. What is a highly sensitive person, anyway? What we know is that high sensitivity is a trait, most likely genetic, and it involves the nervous system. Most notably, high sensitivity has to do with a depth of processing involving certain kinds of brain activity.
But how do we identify it? How do you know if you have the highly sensitive trait? A good place to start would be Dr. Elaine Aron’s simple test. In light of Dr. Aron’s fantastic research and descriptions, here are some good “HSP markers” we can note.
Many HSPs are introverts – but not always. Even extroverted HSPs need downtime, though. This is because our inner world is so lively. There is always something going on in our heads. We don’t need external stimulation to stay awake. If our mind is a TV, there’s always something fascinating on. Add to that external stimulation, like a party, and we’re going to need time later to process not only what happened outside of us but also inside. Are you an extroverted HSP? Do you need alone time, or do you just process your inner stimulation with people?
We are often able to adapt quickly in new social settings because we have a keen sense of empathy and knowing what people want. Because of this, we need to be careful not to fall into people-pleasing tendencies. If we love and admire someone, it’s easy to lose focus on being ourselves for the sake of becoming the person we know they want.
We express ourselves emotionally, through music, drama, speaking, visual arts, writing, or any number of creative expressions. In discussing our ideas with a good listener, we can become very animated because we’re just so passionate about having those ideas understood.
We process information from almost every angle and every perspective before drawing any conclusions. We can appear surprised when someone shares a perspective we haven’t already mulled over. This isn’t always arrogance – it just happens so rarely because that’s how extensively we think about everything. But it does take patience to allow others to share their thoughts fully, without interrupting that we’d already thought of it.
Our bodies are thoroughly connected to our emotions. My sister once told me, “Kate, you have always experienced your emotions in your physical body.” At the time I didn’t realize this was a feature of being a highly sensitive person. But it’s true that we often experience emotional stress (good or bad) physically. If we are feeling nervous, excited, fearful, or just really happy – we may tremble, flush, sweat, have indigestion, or get a headache.
Our environment affects us more than most people, too. Caffeine, sleep, food, lighting, noise volume, clutter, smells, EMFs, and relational energy can all have a big impact on our well-being. This doesn’t mean we don’t like going places and trying new things. I, for one, love to experience the world around me in all its glory! But I am aware of the things that tend to overstimulate my nervous system and try to keep my essential oils handy to prevent “overload.”
I hope this gives you a better picture of what it means to be a highly sensitive person. For more comprehensive information, check out Dr. Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person.