Understanding Highly Sensitive Persons
What Are Highly Sensitive Persons?
The question above is a bit misleading because the name literally creates the definition. Highly Sensitive Peerson (often shortened to HSP) are individuals who are thought to have a much higher sensitivity to stimuli of physical, emotional, and/or social natures. But it’s not just a choice for these individuals. It is believed that they’re different at the deeper levels of the central nervous system.
The term itself was coined by psychologists Elaine Aron and Arthur Aron during the course of their research into this phenomenon. The pair published a book in the mid-1990s entitled “The Highly Sensitive Person” that has gone on to form the backbone of biological and psychological research into this unique type of trait.
According the couple’s research, roughly 20% of people are thought to be in the Highly Sensitive category. While that number may seem a bit high, it’s likely that many people who are actually HSPs have not yet been classified as such or have even admitted it about themselves. That’s not surprising considering we’re living in a society that prizes loud, boisterous, colorful individuals over the shy, silent types. (Learn more about the Extrovert Bias and how it has affected your life whether you know it or not.)
However, we’re not alone. Scientists have identified high sensitivity in at least 100 other species on earth.
What Causes High Sensitivity in Humans?
Nobody has a definitive answer for that yet. Experts suggests that it’s likely a combination of factors including genetics, social education (especially during early childhood), and our environments.
Interestingly, scientists have pinpointed that children who are raised by parents who are cold or aloof, or those who have suffered a significant trauma are much more likely to become highly sensitive and carry those traits through to adulthood.
However, it’s also been proven that you’re much more likely to be a Highly Sensitive Person if the traits run in your bloodline.
As with most things, the most likely explanation is that some people are born genetically primed for High Sensitivity and something in their early childhood experience triggers it or leads them down a path where these sensitivities are heightened.
How is a Highly Sensitive Person Different from an Introvert?
Strictly speaking, yes. While many an introvert will exhibit traits that are similar or identical to those of a Highly Sensitive Person, there is a major distinction. Introverts are overwhelmed almost exclusively by social stimuli—say being forced to attend a big party with dozens or hundreds of people. A Highly Sensitive Person, on the other hand, can be overstimulated by just about anything from social situations to loud noises to flashing lights.
However, there is an interesting correlation between ebing a Highly Sensitive Person and introverts. Research shows that 70% of those classified as a Highly Sensitive Person can be objectively classified as introverted (via personality tests like the Meyers-Briggs that we’re all familiar with.)
Are You a Highly Sensitive Person? You are Not Autistic
Another question that pops up often is whether or not a Highly Sensitive Person falls on the autism spectrum. Autistic people often struggle with sensory input issues. However, scientists who have studied both phenomena have found marked differences that lead them to believe a Highly Sensitive Person is not autistic.
How Can You Tell if You’re a Highly Sensitive Person and Not Just Introverted?
A Highly Sensitive Person may, according to VeryWellMind):
- Cry when they experience something of profound beauty (such as a song or a photograph)
- Become agitated when watching television shows or movies that feature a lot of actions, visual stimuli, or dialog
- Be very centered around their inner life—living deeply within their own heads.
- Experience anxiety when wearing uncomfortable clothing
- Limit their social circles to just a handful of individuals with whom they develop very deep relationships
As you can see, determining if you’re an HSP or introverted can be difficult. However, introverts are individuals that get overwhelmed easily in social situations. The key component is the social aspect of the overwhelming stimuli. Introverts don’t normally experience heightened anxiety or emotional instability when faced with cute puppy videos or tight jeans (unless they too are an HSP).
See if You’re an HSP
These days there is an online quiz for anything. Much like the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment which can tell you if you’re an introvert or extrovert (And what kind of either you are), there’s an online HSP test too!
Elaine Aron has created the test herself. It can be found here.