I generally get one of two questions I get when I tell people that I work with Highly Sensitive People.
  1. What is a Highly Sensitive Person?
  2. Am I a Highly Sensitive Person?
And these of course usually indicate one of two things:
  1. They know a Highly Sensitive Person.
  2. They think they might be a Highly Sensitive Person.
And the truth is, they are probably correct. The Highly Sensitive Person / People (HSP) is a term popularized by some of the amazing research to come from Dr. Elaine Aron. She uses this to refer to people who tend to feel things much more viscerally than the rest of the population.

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

At her best estimation, Dr. Aron believes that about 10-15% of the population qualifies as being highly sensitive. The majority (~70%) of these are introverts – though not all of them are. There are fairly equal proportions of men and women. And we have the privilege of comprising about half of the clients currently receiving mental health therapy. Oh – and the phenomenon is not just a human trait – Highly Sensitives can be found in many species.

Dr. Aron uses the phrase DOES to help us understand the characteristics of Highly Sensitive People:
  • Depth of Processing: HSPs process more data and do it in a deeper manner than most others. In addition, we tend to learn by “threading” together information so most of this data connect.
  • Over-stimulation: – It makes sense that if we take in vast amounts of data, then at some point we will take in too much. For HSP’s moderate amounts of stimuli become high – high stimuli become overwhelming. This can lead to a state psychologists call “Transmarginal Inhibition” where a subject either shuts down or develops dangerous coping strategies to handle it.
  • Emotional Reactivity / Empathy: Remember the old movie “The Absent Mind Professor?” (or for the younger readers – “Flubber”)? The “flying rubber” or “flubber” as it became know would react in a major way to stimuli. HSPs are kind of like that – they respond extremely positively to positive stimuli and extremely negatively to negative stimuli. This can definitely be seen as empathy because we respond to what’s going on around us.
  • Sensing the Subtle: Looking inward at the HSP trait, we find that HSPs possess a sense of intuition. They notice small details – an object that has been moved, details in faces, or small inflections in speech.
You’ll notice that these are not all concrete details, but they are large brushstrokes that start to open doors to how we work as human beings.
And it brings us to our second question:

Am I a Highly Sensitive Person?

Does the DOES acronym ring a bell with you? Do you notice that you are processing a lot of information and often feel overwhelmed by it? Have people tried to diagnose you with similar disorders: Autism Spectrum Disorders, Bipolar Disorders, Anxiety, Depression, Personality Disorders?
If you would like, Dr. Aron has a test on her website at https://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test

Bonus Question: If I’m a Highly Sensitive Person, what does that mean for my life?

If you rank as being amongst the highly sensitive, it means you are … highly sensitive (I know, very profound). If you are getting along in life fine, then it’s just a little extra knowledge (and knowledge is power, G.I. Joe).

HSPs can oftentimes suffer being misunderstood (including understanding themselves). This can affect our family life, our love life, school, work, and social interaction. If you’re having problems in these areas and believe you are highly sensitive, I recommend one of two things.
  1. Find an HSP Therapist in your area (personally, I’m an online therapist who sees adults all over Ohio via a secure and encrypted video chat)
  2. Read up on HSP – I highly recommend Dr. Aron’s book “The Highly Sensitive Person” (affiliate link below) to start – but the number of resources is growing exponentially as we start to understand this trait better.
Hopefully, this blog has given you some new insights into HSPs and yourself. If you’re struggling with personal identity, feeling overwhelmed and anxious, or just can’t seem to connect with people around you, I hope you’ll take the next step and, in the words of a great philosopher, “just keep swimming”