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What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

By Sherri McKelvey
Updated Feb 03, 2024
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A highly sensitive person (HSP) is someone who is innately more in tune with and aware of himself and his environment than an average person typically is. Psychologist Elaine Aron coined this term in 1996 and, through her research and the research of others, it has been determined that an HSP processes sensory information more deeply than most as a result of nervous system biological differences. This means a highly sensitive person is more easily affected by his surroundings than most. This sensitivity varies from person to person, and an HSP can be highly sensitive to either physical or emotional stimuli, or both.

Emotional aspects of psychological sensitivity vary from person to person. Some people believe someone whose feelings are easily hurt is a highly sensitive person; while that may be one factor, there is much more to it. Moods of other people have a strong emotional impact on an HSP, and the mood of an HSP can transform according to the mood of the company he or she keeps. Although introversion is a trait of a majority of highly sensitive people, some are extroverted. Similarly, not all HSPs are shy or feel social anxiety.

Empathy is also a trait of an HSP, and strong expressions of emotion come easily, whether negatively or positively. A beautiful piece of music can evoke tears, but so can violence. Being empathetic can be a positive trait — the person can feel for others — but this empathy may come with an emotional price for the HSP because of the time spent contemplating the situations of others.

Physical symptoms also vary from one highly sensitive person to the next. Where one person may feel the prick of needle as a minor sting, another HSP may feel it as quite painful. Likewise, loud noises can be a non-issue for some, while it may be too much for another to take, causing the HSP to retreat to a quiet place. Some may also like the scent of cologne, while some HSPs may find it overwhelming.

As a student or worker, a HSP also differs from other people. In school, an HSP may not raise his hand a lot, because he is processing the information on his own. An HSP does not necessarily like being the center of attention so, whether at school or work, he will underperform when being watched. As a worker, a highly sensitive person is detail-oriented, prefers a quiet work environment and does not socialize much. This lack of interaction with others in the workplace is often why highly sensitive people do not excel into high-level positions.

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Discussion Comments
By anon330036 — On Apr 13, 2013

Empathy is a bad thing, and so is being overly sensitive. It comes from cultural training, and is not innate.

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