Being Highly Sensitive

Highly Sensitive People

Close-up of man with head in ha hands looking down
Highly Sensitive Person. Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

We've learned Highly Sensitive People or HSP make up 15% to 20% of the population. Highly Sensitive People are also sometimes referred to as Ultra Sensitive People, Super Sensitive People, or People with "Overexcitabilities." HSP's nervous systems are different and are more sensitive to subtleties in their environment, which can be a good or bad thing. And because they process and reflect upon incoming information so deeply, they are more likely to become over stimulated and overwhelmed than Non-HSP.

Hypersensitivity is an Inherited Trait

Being Highly Sensitive is an inherited trait and is described brilliantly in Dr. Elaine Aron's book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. This is a book we highly recommend.

We also have learned a great deal from psychologist, Carl G. Jung's Psychological Types, Dr. John M. Oldham's Sensitive Personality Style, and Dr. Kazimierz Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration and Overexcitabilities.

Take the quiz Are You An Empath? to discover what traits you may have that align with being a highly sensitive person.

Cautiousness of Highly Sensitive People

It is in Highly Sensitive People's nature to "pause-to-check" and not to rush into new or different situations, but rather to proceed much more cautiously than their Non-HSP counterparts. They weigh the pros and cons of every situation.

The trait of Highly Sensitivity causes them to process and reflect upon incoming information very deeply. It is not that they are "afraid," but that it is in their nature to process incoming information so deeply. Highly Sensitive People may even sometimes need until the next day to have had enough time to process the information fully, reflect upon it, and formulate their response. The trait of High Sensitivity can be viewed as having both positive as well as negative characteristics, and it is a valid and normal trait and is not a "disorder."

Hypersensitivity and Intuition

On the positive side, and there is a big positive side, we have learned Highly Sensitive People have wonderful imaginations, are very creative, curious, and are known for being very hard workers, great organizers and problem solvers. They are known for being extremely conscientious and meticulous. HSP are blessed with being exceptionally intuitive, caring, compassionate and spiritual. They are also blessed with an incredible aesthetic awareness and appreciation for nature, music and the arts.

Pearl S. Buck, (1892-1973), recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938, said the following about Highly Sensitive People:
"The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:
A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.
To him... a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god,
and failure is death.
Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create - - - so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating." -Pearl S. Buck

All Gifted People Are HSP

We have found there is also a strong correlation between the trait of High Sensitivity and being "Gifted." It is probably not incorrect to say that although not all Highly Sensitive People are Gifted, all Gifted people are HSP. And, Dr. Dabroski's "OE" theory is that people born with overexcitabilites have a higher level of "development potential" than others and that overexcitabilities feed, enrich, empower and amplify their talents.

We hope you'll recognize that the trait of High Sensitivity is a gift and blessing, albeit a gift that can come with a hefty price tag. But, a gift we hope you'll come to realize is worth every penny of the price.

Porous Systems

As we have come to know, Highly Sensitive People's systems are very porous, meaning that external stimuli seems to be more directly absorbed into their bodies. (It has been said that it is as if HSP "have no skin" to protect them from these outside stimuli.) Non-HSP generally are less porous and have natural defenses which defuse external stimuli thereby not directly impacting and overloading their nervous systems.

Another way to think about this is to visualize the curve on a chart: At the point where the Non-HSP would have little or no stimulation, the HSP would be somewhat stimulated. Where Non-HSP would be somewhat stimulated, the HSP would be pretty well stimulated. And, where the Non-HSP is well stimulated, the HSP may be reaching, or might have already reached, a state of being over stimulated, over aroused and overwhelmed, which may manifest itself in Highly Sensitive People as getting upset, frazzled or even angry, needing to get away, or possibly "shutting down" and becoming unable to function.

HSP's Experience Feelings of Overwhelm

We have also learned that although many Highly Sensitive People are introverts, reserved, quiet or shy, there is a percentage that are high sensation seekers, or extroverts. And, although they seek adventure they also get overloaded and become over stimulated with the same results as the rest of the HSP.

So, if you've ever felt you were all alone in having these overwhelming feelings and the need to seek solitude and sanctuary, we hope you find comfort in knowing that you are not alone, and that you will benefit from some of the suggestions we present here.

Tip: From our experience and observations, we have found that Highly Sensitive People function much better and benefit greatly from having and sticking to a regular set routine. The daily routine we would recommend includes proper diet and nutrition, exercise, meditation, prayer or other spiritual practice, and very importantly, getting enough rest and sleep.