A highly sensitive person (HSP) is someone who possesses an acutely sensitive nervous system due to a genetic and physiological trait called Sensory Processing Sensitivity. Because Sensory Processing Sensitivity wires the HSP nervous system extra sensitively, HSPs experience deeper cognitive processing of physical, social and emotional stimuli. Essentially, this means HSPs process their sensory experiences (so all experiences) on a deeper, more detailed level. This includes what we’re seeing, reading, hearing, thinking, and feeling physically & emotionally.
This trait effects 15–20% of the world population — that’s 1 in 5! That is significant! HSPs are experiencing and processing the world around us much differently than 80–85% of the world! All the more reason it’s paramount that we as a collective understand this physiological trait and temperament.
Because HSPs process our emotions and experiences more deeply than most, that is naturally going to elicit more emotional reactivity when processing those emotions and experiences.
People often think that because someone is sensitive, they are overly and irrationally emotional and neurotic. We’re thought to be shy, timid, and submissive. This is simply not true.
We are just deeply, carefully, and intricately feeling & processing our surroundings, the world around us — it’s how we’re physiologically wired.
And all that intense processing takes time and focus, which is why HSPs often appear quiet or introverted.
Furthermore, with all of that sensory stimuli in which to process, HSPs often become overstimulated, creating physical and emotional feelings of overwhelm. As a result, we need exceptional amounts of time to rest and recuperate from our various experiences of the day because we wear out much quicker than the average person.
Moreover, the definition of “sensitive” is: quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences.
The definition for a highly sensitive person includes the same characteristics of quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences in the acronym D.O.E.S., which represents the four main aspects of the HSP trait. It was created by Dr. Elaine Aron, the psychologist who discovered the trait and coined the term, highly sensitive person, in 1991.
D — Depth of processing
Processing physical, social, emotional stimuli with exceptional depth.
O — Overstimulation/Overwhelm
Because HSPs innately process things more deeply than most, that further exacerbates the amount of brainpower we need to process our environment. This increases overstimulation leading to physical and emotional feelings of overwhelm.
E — Emotional reactivity/Empathy
HSPs react more to both positive and negative occurrences and experience amplified feelings of any emotion.
The part of the brain that helps humans understand people’s intentions and how they feel is more active in the HSP brain, making us innately and deeply empathic.
Because there’s so much neural activity in that particular part of the brain for us HSPs, we do more than just intuitively know what or how someone is feeling — we, ourselves, absorb and actually feel the other person’s emotions as well.
S — Sensing Subtleties
HSPs are incredibly astute in nature and have the ability to sense subtitles in our environment undetected by others.
Because certain parts of the brain are more active in the HSP brain, that is why HSPs are able to notice subtleties in our environment; our brain is working overtime to take in much more of our surroundings.
This ability is not about having heightened or exceptional senses, because there are HSPs that have poor eyesight and hearing, but it’s more so about the fact that HSPs are processing the information more carefully.
We HSPs gifted with an abundance of unique gifts, skills, and abilities — it’s an expansive superpower! We are not emotionally flawed or socially inadequate. In fact, we have an edge, as we can see, hear, and feel what others can’t. We can envelop ourselves in the reality of another with our keen empathy, and use it to support and serve generously. We are able to experience amplified feelings of joy, peace and love, truly an abundant gift.
I may have a lower threshold for sensory aggravating stimulation but I have a high threshold for joy and effervescence!
HSPs also know how to self-regulate during times of physical and emotional overwhelm; we are not incapable of thriving and prospering in this world, even though many of our cultures and societies disfavor sensitivity and champion aggressiveness and heedlessness.
If you’re an HSP, I invite you to deeply admire and respect yourself — revere yourself, for your innately bountiful trait of feeling the world with radiant intensity. And if you know an HSP(s), acknowledge and respect their sensitivity. Champion them! Because the truth is, an aggressive society devoid of sensitive counselors to counteract its aggressiveness will undoubtedly get into trouble.
We are the Royal Advisors to the Warrior Kings in our aggressive societies, and our unique abilities afford us the opportunity to implement transformative change in the world and compassionately help to shape our human society to be more sensitive, empathetic, compassionate, and inclusive. Do not underestimate us!
Ready to put your gifts of high sensitivity into action to serve yourself and others? Take the leap by enrolling in my new course called Becoming a Highly Sensitive Radical, tailored for HSPs & Trauma Survivors who are ready to harness their sensitive superpowers and begin advocating for themselves and others.