What does it mean to be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? According to a research psychologist and leading researcher of the HSP, Elaine Aron, high sensitivity is defined as a preference to process information on a deeper level.   Being easily startled, being more affected by caffeine, and processing stimuli in a more thorough way than a non-sensitive person would.

According to research conducted by Dr. Aron about 20 percent of the population is highly sensitive, and their research also states that HSP is an inherited trait. Past research conducted has inquired on how the brain works in highly sensitive people using questionnaires as well as physiological studies such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). The results found the fMRI of the HSP differed from that of a non-sensitive person. For example, Aron states that certain perceptual areas of the brain would light up more, which would make them more aware of subtleties within their environment.

According to Aron’s research, sensitive people were a bit more prone to depression, shyness, anxiety, and “neuroticism”. According to Aron and other researchers, a difficult childhood can also make them more prone to anxiety, depression, and shyness than a non-sensitive person with the same level of difficulties in their life. For example, an HSP with a supportive childhood is less anxious, depressed, and more socially competent than a non-sensitive person with a supportive upbringing.

Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP) In Relationships

Aron reports that the HSP may not make the best first impression, it may be better for them to gradually get to know people, these individuals may be slow to commit, due to not wanting to make rash decisions. The sensitive person may focus on the other person’s flaws, out of concern about the risks that can be involved in the relationship.

How the HSP may be affected by certain subtleties

The HSP person may be over- aroused by or overwhelmed by things that don’t seem to affect non-sensitive people. For example, they may be easily overwhelmed by bright lights. This could affect one’s performance.

Helpful ways for the HSP to Manage their Life

First it is important to realize that you may be easily overstimulated. This could make it necessary for you to take more downtime or more rest. Dr. Aron recommends eight hours in bed, whether you’re asleep or not and at least two hours during the day where your mind is “free to drift”. The researcher also recommends that taking a full day off to do nothing but be free to sleep and relax with very minimal activity. Time to recuperate is very necessary for the HSP.

Understanding the HSP

Many HSP have reported they didn’t feel understood by their parents or they had a difficult time due to being bullied by other children. Dr. Aron states that it’s important that highly sensitive people appreciate themselves and are appreciated by others, stating that when in a supportive environment these individuals have more to offer.

If you have a highly sensitive child, things such as temperament counseling, child-rearing, and other forms of psychoeducation on how to raise a highly sensitive child can be beneficial in understanding and supporting your loved one(s) in their journey.

Symptoms of a Highly Sensitive Person

(Although many people may experience the following some of the time, the Highly Sensitive Person may feel it too much or too deeply.)

  • Experiences physical symptoms frequently (when unpleasant events happen)
  • Often experience tension or anxiety
  • Easily Hurt
  • Often feels awkward in group settings
  • Feels uncomfortable when exposed to bright lights, loud noises or strong scents
  • Aware of subtle differences in the environment
  • As a child they may prefer quiet play
  • As a child, feeling things deeply
  • Difficulties multi-tasking
  • Deeply love the arts (music, art etc.)
  • Feel the need to withdraw from all stimulation

For more information on HSP signs and symptoms and Sources: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/highly-sensitive-person

Follow the link to self-test: http://www.hsperson.com

Recommended readings

  • The Highly Sensitive Person
  • The Highly Sensitive Child

By, Ashley Vazquez, EAP Counselor