Almost a quarter of the population experiences the world a little differently than most: Their feelings are especially intense. They take criticisms to heart. They’re deeply moved by music and art. They’re affected by bright lights, loud sounds, and rough textures. They’re used to being told that they’re “too sensitive.” But being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) isn’t about weakness; people who have it are simply wired uniquely. If you or someone you know is an HSP, here are a few things to expect.
An HSP takes in more information and is more aware of nuances and subtleties in the environment—living as one feels like touching an object with 50 fingers instead of 5. When it comes to emotions, they feel everything, from happiness to sadness and everything in between, stronger than most. Some HSPs can’t help but show intense displays of emotion, like crying frequently or literally jumping for joy. Other HSPs, many of whom are used to being told that they’re “too sensitive,” repress their reactions to avoid seeming over-the-top and may seem withdrawn or aloof. Under that cool exterior is a wellspring of feeling.
HSPs are intuitive and thus can read others’ emotions, and sometimes uncannily well. They’re also highly empathetic. If someone is hurting, an HSP will, sometimes literally, feel the other person’s pain. If someone is excited, an HSP will share in the enthusiasm.
Loud noises, bright lights, and crowds of people can all drain an HSP. It’s not that an HSP doesn’t enjoy social activities, it’s just that his energy is depleted faster than others’ and he needs quiet time, often spent alone, to recharge. After particularly stimulating experiences, an HSP might need several days to recover.
An HSP can quickly and readily consider every possible outcome of a decision, including everything that could go wrong, which is why HSPs can be prone to anxiety and depression. Sometimes an HSP just needs time to deliberately weigh the options. Sometimes, especially when it comes to small decisions, like where to grab dinner or how to juggle weekend plans, he just needs someone to step in and make the call on his behalf.
Say you insist your HSP boyfriend pick a restaurant for dinner. If the food is bland and the service is rude, he might feel like he personally failed you. Chances are he weighed all the options before making a choice and cares deeply about your happiness. Let him know it’s not a big deal and that you had a good time anyway. Unless, of course, you didn’t. That whole thing about HSPs being in tune with others? He’s likely to know you’re fibbing.
An HSP takes in many details of her surroundings almost immediately. She’s likely to take note of how many bananas are on the counter, whether or not your pants are cuffed, and if the dog’s bowl is full. She’s not scrutinizing; she just can’t help but notice.
HSPs are more than emotionally sensitive—they’re easily disturbed by light, noise, and unpleasant texture. Sound can be especially irritating and make it difficult for an HSP to focus.
Partly because they’re so hyper-aware of others’ behavior, HSPs can’t help but be conscientious. If an HSP doesn’t like something, such as the volume of your music, she’ll be gentle and polite in her request for you to turn it down. But if people typically react negatively to her sensitivity, she might not say anything at all. Stay receptive to her requests, even if you find them a little silly. She isn’t trying to be difficult.
Given too many tasks at a time, an HSP is easily overwhelmed. He has to go on with the same business of living and working as anyone else, but he’s constantly processing more stimuli. He needs time to carefully complete each task. Having too many “to-do’s” can create anxiety and a very real, physical feeling of being overwhelmed.
An HSP expends a lot of energy trying to make others comfortable and also feels hurt deeply. For an HSP, there’s nothing worse than a criticism from a partner, friend, or family member—even criticisms from strangers will sting. Remind her that mistakes happen and that people can’t do everything perfectly right every time. Offer concrete suggestions for righting any wrongs, if possible. She’ll use her sensitivity and empathy to fix a mistake.