Sep 6, 2012

Are you a Highly Sensitive Person?

Is it just me?...
Many of us have felt fundamentally different, and perhaps weaker, from an early age. People around us may have made a point of actually telling us that. 'You're too quiet!' 'You worry too much!' 'You're too sensitive!' 'You analyze everything too much! Please, just relax...' 'You’re at a party… Why don't you get up and dance, like everyone else?' Does this ring some kind of bell with you?

Elaine Aron, author of ‘The Highly Sensitive Person’, has felt different her entire life. As she puts it, she felt as if she carried some kind of 'fatal flaw'. In therapy, she was introduced, for the first time, to her 'sensitivity'. Her therapist was aware that some people seem to be 'highly sensitive', even though she had not given much conscious thought to the concept. Elaine, on the other hand, began a journey to understand what this 'sensitivity' exactly might mean.

Having a degree in Psychology, she actually decided to develop her PhD on the subject. Starting from the concept of introversion, and drawing, among other sources, on the work of Carl Jung, she arrived to the concept of the ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ (HSP). The scientific and more complicated term for this trait, by the way, is ‘Sensory Processing Sensitivity’. Her study was based in the interview of hundreds of people, and lately her research has been backed up by the study of HSP’s neural responses to stimuli.

What a HSP is not
By now, some of you may be getting a little bit offended. 'Ok, but if I'm not a HSP, does that mean I'm a less sensitive, considerate and empathic person?' No, it doesn’t mean that! The 'sensitivity' I am talking about is not the kind of 'sensitivity' you are thinking about.

What is a HSP?
Ok, so what exactly is a HSP? Actually, Elaine created a test with 27 questions to evaluate the trait. This test asks you questions like: 
- Are you easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input?
- Do other people's moods affect you?
- Do you have a rich, complex inner life?
- Are you conscientious?
- Do you startle easily?
- Do you find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once?
- When you were a child, did your parents or teachers seem to see you as sensitive or shy?

Essentially, a HSP is a person who possesses the innate trait of high psychological sensitivity.  HSPs have a different nervous system, which processes stimulation more profoundly and thoroughly. This stimulation can have its origin from the outside (such as noise or bright lights), or from the inside (such as thoughts or feelings). And HSPs are not as rare as it may seem. In fact, they constitute about 20% of the population!

Why does it matter?
But why does this matter, in the first place? I believe that for someone who has clearly identified with the trait, the advantages will be more or less obvious. First of all, there is the 'Ah-ha' moment, when many aspects of your life experience suddenly seem to make sense... And then there is this ‘conscious forgiving light’ in which you can finally bathe many of your painful past memories. And lastly, with the support of some good advice, you can learn to better rearrange your life, so that your sensitivity can work for you, instead of working against you…

Further reading
This has just been a first peek at the HSP thematic. If you are interested, there is a lot of great information on the topic. I can, for example, recommend the following books:
- 'The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You' by Elaine Aron;
- 'The Highly Sensitive Person in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You' by Elaine Aron;
- 'The Highly Sensitive Person's Companion: Daily Exercises for Calming Your Senses in an Overstimulating World' by Ted Zeff.

And you can also visit Elaine’s website, filled with valuable information.

Take a dive into the subject, and you may discover some wonderful things about yourself that have been stubbornly hidden. Until now...


  1. I scored pretty highly on that test! Loud noises bother me quite often. So does visual clutter, which is not included. When shelves are stacked full of stuff, and lots of furniture with things on top etc. I dislike it. But the irony is, I've always had a lot of visual clutter around me. Now I'm trying to intentionally reduce it by doing my decluttering challenges :)

    1. Hi Linda,

      I also score high. Actually, and despite not being included in the test, visual clutter normally does bother HSPs.

      Yep, I'm like you. I hate clutter, but have a natural tendency to accumulate it, I guess because I have a hard time letting go of stuff due to the 'just in case' syndrome…

      Good luck with your decluttering challenges!