Let’s talk about highly sensitive people

Let’s talk about highly sensitive people

There’s been a lot about personality geekery on this blog: Myers-Briggs, enneagram, Big 5. But there’s another personality trait that’s not talked about nearly as much in the general culture … and maybe that’s why whenever I mention “highly sensitive people” here on the blog my inbox is flooded with “Aha!” emails.

A highly sensitive person is more sensitive to physical and/or emotional stimuli than the general population. According to Dr. Elaine Aron, who coined the term, the HSP “has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.”

In practice, that means HSPs tend to avoid violent movies, are easily overwhelmed by bright lights and loud noises, get rattled when two people are talking to them at once, and need time and space to regroup during especially busy days.

Whether or not you’ve heard the term before, that description should ring true for about 1 in 5 of you. The trait of high sensitivity affects 15-20% of the population (and Aron points out that this percentage holds across species, not just for humans).

Like many people, I was first introduced to Aron’s work through Susan Cain’s excellent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and had a major “Aha!” moment of my own. (Although highly sensitive people are not a subset of introverts: 30% of HSPs are extroverts.)

I’m an HSP to the core: I avoid violent imagery, I’m hugely empathic, and I feel like my head will explode when two people try to talk to me at the same time. Or if I’m trying to make dinner while the counter is cluttered with the morning’s dishes. Or if someone is singing while the radio is playing a a different song.

Children can be highly sensitive as well. HSCs are more likely to be bothered by scratchy clothes and itchy socks, unfamiliar tastes and loud noises, daily transitions and changes in routine.

If you think you might be an HSP (or if you live with one), knowledge is power. Just knowing that a hyper-sensitive nervous system is an actual thing has been hugely helpful for me personally and in my interactions with my highly sensitive children.

Unfortunately, there’s not a ton of information available on HSPs at this time, so my resource list is short and sweet:

1. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, by Elaine Aron. This is the book on HSPs. Unfortunately, and in true HSP fashion, I struggled to get through this because I was overwhelmed by all the references to sexual abuse. But if you can hang with it, this is the book to read.

2. The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them, Elaine Aron. This is the book I wish I’d had ten years ago for dealing with my newborn HSC, and I’m finding it very helpful for myself as well. (Non- HSPs may find Aron’s tone a little condescending, but it’s worth sticking it out for the quality of the information.)    

3. The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder, Carol Stock Kranowitz. This is not about highly sensitive children, per se, but if you have a child (not a grown-up!) who struggles with lights, noise, transitions, clothing, and the like, this book is a gold mine. (It’s one of the books that make me feel like I’m not crazy.)

I’ve read–and do not recommend–The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide: Essential Skills for Living Well in an Overstimulating World by Ted Zeff. I’m interested in reading–but haven’t yet read–Elaine Aron’s third book, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You.

To find out if you’re a highly sensitive person, take the quiz here. To find out if your child is highly sensitive, head over here.

Are you a highly sensitive person, or do you have an HSP or highly sensitive child in your life? I’d love to hear your stories in comments. 

PS: It’s more than a kid hangover, and emotional labor.

P.P.S. I wrote a book about personality! In Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I walk you through 7 different frameworks, explaining the basics in a way you can actually understand, sharing personal stories about how what I learned made a difference in my life, and showing you how it could make a difference in yours, as well.

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154 comments

  1. I just guest-posted on Giving Up on Perfect about being highly sensitive: http://www.givinguponperfect.com/2014/02/perfectionism-with-twist/

    I was reading the Highly Sensitive Child, and I think my daughter is (and the extrovert kind!) but I KNOW I am!! It was such a great aha moment for me. I am not weird! I’m just sensitive!! Crying in my middle school chorus class and in Red Lobster as an adult were TOTALLY normal. The things you mention – no violent movies, people talking at the same time, etc, are totally me. I never realized how sensitive I was until the past year or two when I found I could NOT handle my kids being loud + other noise at all. TV playing while they talk or sing? It absolutely gives me the heebie-jeebies.

  2. Caris Adel says:

    My MIL was insisting my middle child had Autism, or something, b/c ‘something is just not right with him’ and I flipped out on her (in my mind). I was fine with him how he was, he was just unique. But I had somehow heard the term HSP and so I looked it up, thinking that might be it, took the quiz, and yup. So then I read the book. I still remember it – out on the baseball fields, 3 years ago and both wanted to bawl and scream with excitement.

    Knowing it’s an actual thing – yes! I could be like, he’s not just weird, he’s weird in an explainable way, haha. And I realized that I’m one too, which made everything make so much more sense. He was the kid that we had intense problems with as a toddler, and this is why. That was so much more helpful. I had already started letting him be, so the freakouts had mostly stopped, but this helped me separate disobedience from honest issues and really help him be ok with who he was and teach him to take care of himself.

    I could sing Aron’s praises all day long.

  3. Louise says:

    I am an HSP, and my oldest child is as well. Reading Aron’s book was HUGE for me. I suddenly was able to look at my childhood, adolescence, everything, and reframe them in so much more of a positive way. It even gave me a lot of peace about family interactions that had always left a sting – nothing abusive, just always being dismissed in larger, extended family gatherings as a “baby” or “dumb.” A whole lot of forgiveness happened in me after reading through that, as well as a brand-new self-confidence in my own abilities and strengths. So yeah, if you think you might be an HSP, but aren’t sure, it’s a great book to read. I just skimmed the abuse sections, since they weren’t relevant to my life and I can’t take reading about that kind of thing casually, either.

    I haven’t yet read her book on the HSC, but it’s on my list, as well as Kranowitz’s. Even knowing how to handle my HSP has helped with dealing with my Joy, but I want to have as many resources as possible, so that hopefully she grows up with fewer issues than I did!

  4. Delphine says:

    I’m so excited you’re tackling high sensitivity. I’m always looking out for ways that other people handle it. Just curious why you don’t recommend Ted Zeff’s book? I’ve had that on my list for a while.

    Thanks!

    • Anne says:

      I didn’t find his tone helpful and his information wasn’t nearly as useful as Aron’s. He was big on meditation and deep breathing as a means of coping. No thanks. (Not that those aren’t good things, but Aron’s info was much more practical.)

  5. Katie says:

    I love personality stuff. I am an INFJ and an integral 9. I am also a highly sensitive person and so is my mom. She gave that book to read when I was younger. I have come to accept myself more as I get older- I know my limits. I can’t watch violent movies or read upsetting
    Books, so I just don’t anymore. I think we could be kindred spirits! I have a son who has sensory processing disorder and is very sensitive to textures, lights, sounds, etc.
    Thank you for sharing this!
    Katie

  6. Erin says:

    Thank you for talking about this. If it hadn’t been for your blog, I wouldn’t have know that being HSP was a true thing. I’ve always known that I was sensitive and I have often been told that I am just too sensitive. I know that there is nothing I can do about it no matter how hard I try to change it. So thank you!

    • Anne says:

      “I’ve always known that I was sensitive and I have often been told that I am just too sensitive.”

      That’s so common. (I’ve heard that, too–many times!)

      Thanks for the kind words. 🙂

      • Allison says:

        me too. i once had dr. tell me to not be so senistive and i told him no, then i wouldnt be me; that i like seeing the world in a sensitve way: i think i see more colors than the non-HSP and i like that.

        this is so interesting Anne. thank you thank you thank you. here i am soon-to-be 50 and finally understanding so much about myself. when i think about past things – sometimes i say oh wow – that’s the HSP (or introvert) – and that’s OK

  7. Cathy Armour says:

    Anne, such great information! There is a personality test called CALIPER (used mostly for sales positions). I scored a 99% in empathy (sadly, my accommodation scored 1% – so I know what you need but I’m unlikely to change my actions to satisfy others — OUCH! – I’m intentionally changing that). Upon your Good Read recommendation, I’m devouring QUIET (for my son, I thought) and wowza! Just got to the section on HSP and I said “preach”! It also unpacks the questions about my oldest son — why is school so exhausting to him; it has to be more than an introvert living in an extrovert school system? Yep, he’s HSP, too. What great timing on this post. It’s a God-thing for me today! Thanks!

  8. Laura says:

    Oh wow, I took the quiz for myself and selected almost all of the answers!! I had no idea this was a “thing”, but clearly, the thing is me! I am trying to figure out how I can show this to my husband, he who doesn’t want to read anything longer than a few sentences. I feel like he just tends to think of me as cranky, when in reality, my life as a working mom with two small children in a tiny house means that I am surrounded by these kinds of triggers.

  9. Fascinating! And I am surprised that being a HSP and introverted does not correlate more strongly. My 4yo son is both and I can’t fathom parsing those two parts of his personality. My daughter has already been diagnosed with some sensory processing issues (at 18 mo). So I think “Out of Sync Child” will have to go on my to-read list in addition to “Quiet”. I’d also highly recommend “Raising Your Spirited Child” for a HSC – the most effective tips we’ve picked up have been from that source!

  10. Sarah Beals says:

    I have a question for you, Anne, since you are a HSP and can probably give me some insight. If you are dealing with a teen who is a HSP, how much do you push them to do normal things like riding in a van full of teenagers to a youth activity even though they actually look pale when they emerge. 😉 Know what I mean? Do you cater or do you make them push through? Is catering setting them up to fail in other areas where they’ll have no control of their surroundings? I know very little about this obviously, but I have a girl who is HSP in our youth group and I always feel badly for her whenever she is with the group. It’s like she’s distressed. Any thoughts on how to make it easier for her?

    • Anne says:

      Oh, that’s a tough one. Major disclaimer: I’m not an expert and I’m making this up as I go along. But think of it like being hungry: you know that feeling when you’re generally uncomfortable, and cranky, and out of sorts, and you just want to eat something? That’s not a great feeling, but I don’t think that’s a terrible way to capture how an HSP feels in a situation like a van full of noisy teens! You can only “push through” to a point when that’s how you’re feeling.

      Sometimes it may be best for her to push through, but as an HSP kid in youth group, it would have been nice for me to know I could wander out into the quiet hallway while the youth group was screaming in the gym playing bombardment, again. Just knowing I could find a quiet space for a few minutes if I needed to–just knowing the option was there–helped me not freak out. So the girl in your youth group obviously can’t always have control over her surroundings, but it would be nice for her to be able to exercise control where it’s feasible.

      If you want a better answer, read the chapter on teens and school in The Highly Sensitive Child. But I hope this off-the-cuff answer is at least a little helpful. 🙂

      • Sarah Beals says:

        Yes, very helpful. Thank you. I think this girl’s mom makes her come and that is what makes me feel badly. If I am driving, I have her sit in the front with me so we can chat one on one. I’m not HSP and my head spins in a van full of teens. 🙂 Thanks for your explanation.

    • Robin Cody says:

      I was just wondering the same thing. I am a mother of a HSP and always knew it. I bought the book The out-of-synch child, carol stock kranowitz. I would read it every night, but now that she is older I felt that she should be able to ‘fit in’ more. Now I just don’t know. So many other adults say she is just trying to get away with not having to clean, complete homework or join in social activities. Thanks for this.
      .

  11. Molly says:

    I read Dr. Aron’s original HSP book about 10 years ago, and re-read it recently when I realized my son takes after me in this area. I am currently on the waiting list for The Highly Sensitive Child. I also found some helpful organizing strategies for both of us in The Sensory Child Gets Organized: Proven Systems for Rigid, Anxious, or Distracted Kids by Carolyn Dalgliesh.

  12. Allison says:

    Anne –
    I never heard of this until you wrote about it and I did have and an AHA! moment like you said. I wasnt even aware I was and introvert – i just knew if I was around people for a while I needed alone/down time to regroup. Now so many things make sense. Do non-HSP people feel the fall when someone else falls? I do. Do non-HSP people get tummy aches when their friends get tummy aches? I do. And when I get home from work and both my daughters and my sister are all talking at once and all standing very close to me i think i’m going to freak out. Also, for many years, I would call out sick on Mondays (not every Monday) -now I realize it was me needing down time after a stimulated weekend.
    Thank you Anne. I now know I am not crazy, I’m HSP.
    Thank you.
    Allison

  13. Karlyne says:

    I always thought as a child that I had hyper-good hearing and that was why I just couldn’t stand loud noises. Of course, my hearing was never remarked upon as better than average (because it wasn’t!), but my startle reflex has always been legendary: “Look! She’s on the ceiling again!” Very funny, family, very funny.

    One of my closest friends always used to get very nervous when she came to visit me in our isolated country home (lions? tigers? bears?), and it helped me to realize that we are opposites in our perceptions. Where do I get nervous? In a mall, in traffic, in loud groups of people, but never when I’m alone…

    And, not only do I not watch violent movies or TV, but I stay very clear of the news.

    I wonder if this trait is in any way hereditary? Or is it just that 20% of the population is hyper-sensitive, so if you have more than 5 in your family, you’re going to see a repeat? I see forms of it in several close members of my family, but I think I’m the most obvious.

    • Allison says:

      Wow! I stay away from the news as well. It’s way too much. I just that to someone last night – i said i figure if it’s big enough news it will show up on yahoo. lol

    • Liann says:

      Wow, cannot believe how much this is me….and how your comments ring so true. I love love my nieces and nephews but cannot handle if they rough house, or bicker, or cry, or says a cross word. I also cannot watch the news, and cannot even handle the grocery store most times, let alone any other interactions, and need more down time than can handle up. I feel completely crazy, and my Dr.s look at me like I am nuts. But I am so sensitive, I wake up multiple times to just blow my nose, or clean my ears. I got the hives when I was 9 mos old because my Dad left to work in another town. I had an ulcer in 3rd grade bc I couldn’t handle my lil sis disobeying my Mom at times. They just think I am nuts…and now I am unable to even work, and can barely get out of the house more than once a week. I am so incredibly sensitive to others emotions, pains…it is just crazy. And I didn’t know this was a thing, and now have books to read…thank you all for your writing this article, AND all of you who commented. Makes me feel not so alone….again, Thank you!

  14. Nikki says:

    How do you see and use your strengths, knowing this about yourself? And how do you know when to get out of your comfort zone and risk, instead of just being labeled as HSP?

    I know deeper questions, just curious:)

    • Anne says:

      That could be a post of it’s own–or a whole book! But in brief, I think it’s good for everyone–HSP or no–to know what their triggers are and how to deal with them. (For instance, to know they’re prone to be cranky on less than 6 hours of sleep, or that they should eat something when they’re feeling woozy. Or, with me as an HSP, that my fuse will be short if our schedule doesn’t allow for some downtime during the day.)

      As for comfort zone and risk … I want to think about some. 🙂 But my initial reaction is it’s a cost/benefit thing, just like it would be for anyone else.

      Like, I HATE roller coasters, but if my child desperately wanted to ride one, I’d probably suck it up and go with her, knowing I’d hate every minute of it. And my love for travel frequently overrides my hatred of car trips and airports. And of course as an HSP I’ll be the shoulder for a friend to cry on knowing full well it will tear. me. up. to hear her troubles.

      Um, I’m making this up as I go along. Is that what you’re driving at? Am I on the right track?

    • Audrey says:

      I do. Typing “HSP, migraine” is even how I got to this page. I am very curious to know if there is a link. Surprisingly enough, there is very little literature on the subject on the internet.

      The paradigm “I react strongly to external stimuli like sound, smell or noises”, which is both a question from the HSP test and a common trigger among migrain sufferes, is what made me tick immediately. Would love to read more on the topic if anyone has recommendations.

  15. XYZ says:

    “if you have a child (not a grown-up!) who struggles with lights, noise, transitions, clothing, and the like, this book is a gold mine.” Why not for grown-ups? What would be the book for a grown-up who struggles with (most of) those things?

    • Anne says:

      I’m sure adults could extrapolate some useful information from it, but The Out-of-Sync Child is very specifically targeted at kids (much more so than The Highly Sensitive Child). Sensory processing disorder and high sensitivity aren’t the same thing, but if the adult was struggling with managing noises, lights, sounds, that kind of thing (as opposed to vestibular issues, which is an SPD thing), The Highly Sensitive Person would be the way to go.

  16. Ana says:

    Yup, this is me and my older child. I realized this when reading Quiet—this was one of the most helpful parts of that book, this notion of being “highly sensitive” describes exactly who I am, and what i need. I will look into Aron’s books, thanks for the warning, I will avoid those parts, I don’t want to read about that.
    I really like the question posed above about how do you use your strengths, when should you push yourself…this is what I struggle with now. The more I understand about these innate traits of mine, the more I am tempted to stick to my comfort zone. Yet, pushing myself out of that zone in the past often led to some really amazing experiences. Tough questions.

  17. Jillian Kay says:

    I read Aron’s books last year to help my son, but then I realized it was about me too. The part when she talks about a normal person being like a conveyer belt that sorts fruit into two sizes and a HSP being a conveyer belt that sorts fruit into 10 sizes — I about fell out of my chair.

  18. Oooh, I was hoping you would do a follow-up! I think I definitely have some characteristics of a HSP, though maybe not to a T. My son is the same way. I’m definitely interested in checking one of the books out, and yes, the one about HSPs in relationships intrigues me.

  19. Jen says:

    I am so eager to read more about this, for me and my oldest son. I took the quiz for him and checked all but four boxes. We have homeschooled him since kindergarten and I knew when we started that he just wouldn’t thrive in school, but I didn’t recognize exactly why. This helps put words to it, if that makes sense. I’m wondering if the sensitivity issue had anything to do with your decision to homeschool? Thanks so much for these resources, my list is getting a little long!

    • Anne says:

      It wasn’t the only factor, but it definitely was a factor. One example: my child could handle sitting in a desk all day at school, but when he got home he was unable to function until he’d spent an hour spinning in circles on the tire swing, quietly, by himself. He still enjoys the tire swing now that we homeschool, but it’s not on the same “it’s like oxygen to him” level like it was before.

  20. Breanne says:

    A.Men. Preach, Anne. I first heard about HSP from a friend, took the test and scored rather high. Then you wrote about it and I felt so normal.
    It has been immensely helpful in our marriage to recognize the HSP and the introvert in me and the introverted extrovert in my husband- it’s why our movie choices tend to be so different or why I’m obsessed with quiet in the evenings. It also explains so many frustrations as a child and why I would escape with a book.

    Great list of titles and resources.

    • Anne says:

      “It’s why our movie choices tend to be so different or why I’m obsessed with quiet in the evenings.”

      Ohhh. That’s a really interesting point, Breanne.

  21. Erica M. says:

    I wish I had known about this when I was younger. Would have explained a lot. (Especially my ongoing hatred of tags in clothes!) I think my mom is the same way. We both tend to have anxiety attacks in crowded places.

    This post came to mind to day when I was reading a review for a new book on my library’s website. The reviewer warned that the book in question was filled with graphic violence and rape, but the plot still sounded intriguing. But then I got to the end where they said something along the lines of “if you’re the type that likes to live in a bubble of happiness it isn’t for you”. It sort of irked me, because it implied that if you’re strongly affected and try to avoid it then you’re shallow or living out of reality. I decided against getting into an Internet battle on my work’s website, but I think I might wind up writing a blog post/rant about it anyways.

  22. Kristin says:

    I’ve known that my son had a sensory processing issue since he was a baby. When he was 4-months old, we had a small birthday party for my older child in our home and my son screamed the whole time. My mom took him to an upstairs bedroom and he settled quickly, but as soon as he reentered the room, he was agitated. After that, he did not handle crowds (even small crowds) well at all. Forget Chuck E. Cheese on the weekends. We learned that the hard way.

    He didn’t start eating solid foods until he was over a year old because he couldn’t “do” the textures or “flavors” of anything other than breast-milk. He could also identify by smell what vegetable I was cooking. He had a laundry list of “quirks” as a toddler. Couldn’t wear anything with a tag. Couldn’t eat anything with bright color (unhealthy food dyes or veggies), not because they bothered his digestive tract, but because they bothered him visually. He was afraid of the ceiling fan and wildly afraid of the flamingos at the zoo. He didn’t speak to anyone outside of our family until he was 4 or 5 years old.

    He is 7 now and as his mom I am learning how to respond and help him cope with his sensitivities. Best of all, he is learning how to manage his sensitivities on his own!

  23. Ginger says:

    I was introduced to the concept of “HSP” through your recommendation of Quiet as well, and had a great moment when I realized why my husband (an extrovert) and I (an introvert) didn’t always seem so different — we are both HSPs. Aha!

    At our core, we need different things, but a commonality that helps make some compromises and seeing differences easier.

  24. Candice says:

    I’m the HSP one, which I didn’t realize til you mentioned it some time ago. I knew I was really sensitive to stimuli, but didn’t know it was a real thing instead of just a personal observation. It’s been so helpful in my marriage because my husband is basically the total opposite. He used to tell jokes or sing songs louder and louder to get my attention/ affection, and he was bewildered/ offended that I would pretty much just tune out. Now we realize that I appreciate his efforts to get attention, but it’s not going to be well received if it’s done in an overstimulating way and we can laugh about it.

  25. ltut says:

    I scored fairly high on the HSP test I took, but my daughter has Sensory Processing Disorder (for which she receives occupational therapy). The two things are not always a good combination, and I am so thankful for the knowledge and research many people have put into studying this stuff!

  26. Amy V says:

    I knew I was sensitive to things, I just didn’t know the was a name for it. Thanks for sharing, and for the book suggestions!

  27. Ana says:

    I’m highly sensitive, and so is my oldest son. Does HSP have any connection to birth order? A lot of commenters here seem to have oldest children that are HSP. Thanks so much for the additional book recommendations, and here’s one of my own–Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Kurcinka–she uses the term ‘Spirited’, but it’s practically interchangeable for “Sensitive”. It could have been written for my son, and it also talks about how to deal with a spirited/sensitive child if you are a spirited/sensitive parent.

  28. Sallie says:

    I’m a HSP (and INFJ) but didn’t realize I was a HSP until I had my daughter and was trying desperately to understand what made her tick. I realized when she was about one that she was a high need baby and then understood why the first year was so hard. Then I realized she was a HSP and things started to fall together a bit more. Then I realized ***I*** was a HSP and things really started to click.

    Like you, I abhor violence whether it is in books or on TV. I can’t even watch the commercials on TV. I gave up on “Downton Abbey” because I couldn’t take the intensity. I almost gave up when Sybil died, made it through Matthew dying because I knew it was coming… But when I read ahead of time what was going to happen to Anna? That was the end for me.

    Most people totally don’t get it. But a HSP really does need to try to control her environment as much as possible. This is one of the big reasons homeschooling and working from home works well for us. I was a teacher at one time and while I love teaching and children, the environment was just too much.

  29. Tessa W says:

    I actually just posted about the differences between my two boys and my friends’ two boys. Mine are both highly sensitive (my third is looking like he is as well but he’s only 3 months so we’ll see where that leads). I’ve been reading about HSP boys a lot today and people seems to think that this only applies to girls. So not true! There is nothing wrong with soft, subtle, and sensitive boys.
    Another great book I recommend is The Child Whisperer by Carol Tuttle.
    Here’s my comparison post with a bit more info on what is probably my favorite parenting books that I have read so far:
    http://aimedattheheart.com/2014/02/03/positive-parenting-handbook-honoring-childs-nature/

  30. Lisa says:

    Raising a Sensory Smart Child by Lindsey Biel is a great book for when a child’s sensitivities interfere with their daily lives.

  31. Kristen says:

    I knew this was me the first time I heard the phrase. But I just took the quiz and answered a strong yes to every question. And then proceeded to burst into to tears, feeling empathy for myself and the sensitive child I was and how hard the world and I am on her.

  32. Elizabeth says:

    I also recommend reading Raising Your Spirited Child by May Sheedy Kurcinka. She hits on everything you explained but goes into depth. I learned a lot about myself while reading and have a lot more patience with myself and my HSP or spirited child now that I understand the root cause.

  33. Janine says:

    I found “Raising your spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka to be almost more valuable in helping me to understand my OWN sensitivity to stimuli than it was in helping me to understand my daughter’s (though it helped a lot with that, too). I highly recommend it. I’m a complete introvert (INTJ), so a trip to someplace like the grocery store nearly incapacitates me — the lights, sounds, rapid changes in temperature from aisle to aisle, smells (the worst), and all the people everywhere make it a nightmare. One year we had this major ice storm and the grocery store was without power, other than back up lights, and they had all their refrigerated items in the back parking lot in trucks. It was our best shopping trip EVER. It was nearly silent, empty, and still. Amazing what a difference in my feelings when I left that day.

  34. Bobbiann says:

    Aha! So that’s why, when my kids get all happy and hyperactive after supper, I just want to go hide in a quiet room. Please, please just be quieter! 🙂 Also, I had to stop reading Karen Kingsbury’s books because they always made me cry, and I just don’t need that much unnecessary emotion in my life.
    Interesting post!

    • April says:

      I adore the term “Unnecessary emotion”. I am adding it to my daily vocabulary. It perfectly describes why I choose NOT to watch, listen to, or think about certain things! Thank you!

  35. Ruth Hoover says:

    Thank you for your article. My son and I have some emotional and physical sensitivities. Being highly sensitive can also be connected with giftedness. I have found many helpful resources on sensitivity listed at http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/sensitivity.htm, included some that you mentioned. I have also appreciated this explanation of Dabrawski’s theory or “over-excitabilities” among the gifted (http://www.stephanietolan.com/dabrowskis.htm). The five areas of over-excitabilities are listed as psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual and emotional. My son experiences many of these intensities. It can make life hard sometimes, but I am also encouraged by the perspective that these intensities and sensitivities are not something to be “fixed” (as if we could), or merely coped with, but celebrated as unique and piquant ways of experiencing life. (Wow, it’s fun to say unique and piquant!)

  36. Kate says:

    I had my ah ha moment years ago. I was confused for a long time because I’m actually very extroverted, but have most of the HSP issues. I am also an empath. All of these things combined can make me feel very out of sorts when I am not actively being mindful of myself, those around me, and my environment.

  37. Kelly says:

    I feel so validated! I was always very sensitive my whole life especially when I was younger, any arguments always make me cry. My parents were always telling me to stop being so emotional and made me think something was wrong with me. I have been always very artistic and touched by the beauty in the world when no one else sees it. On the flip side people affect me very much, being hurt by someone I really trust crushes me, like for years. It all makes sense, wish I had known this younger. I am definitely going to look into books for adults, maybe some positive ideas will help me at last.

    • Allison says:

      Kelly – I could’ve written. I’m just like you. I get emotional and teary when I think or talk about things that are super-important to me ie my children, my feelings. I don’t think I’ve made it through one parent-teacher conference without tearing up. I am on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds.

  38. Lilia says:

    My younger daughter is much more sensitive than the rest of the family. Labels on clothing, smells, other people’s moods, textures, etc. Not so much the light and sound. One book I’ve found super helpful is Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s Raising Your Spirited Child. Wonderful resource for positive ways to communicate and teach the child and yourself!

  39. Pamela says:

    yup! That’s totally me…and I didn’t even know it. My husband just commented to me tonight how I can’t handle more than one person talking to me at the same time, or more than one thing going on at once. This has become a problem for me as my four children are all in their teenage years now…it’s pretty noisy in our place a lot of the time, and I just come unglued! Crying?? Don’t even get me started. Not a day goes by without tears being shed, either for myself or for others, or a song…just all the sadness in the world even. I can’t even take it. I sure wish I had seen this 25 years ago… I’ve been pretty hard on myself over the years for being sensitive, thinking it was a bad thing. My 17 yr old gets upset when I cry, and I finally told him that I can’t stop being who I am. I wish he would see it as a strength rather than a weakness. I sure don’t feel weak…I feel free.

    • Andrea Clark says:

      Unglued is a great description! That’s me most mornings trying to juggle getting everything and everyone ready – and the man using the blowervac machine next door for half an hour plus a ticking clock will just about drive me to tears, especially when my partner tries putting on music to ‘drown it out’ – he doesn’t realise I can still hear them!!! RE crying- I am the same, I cry at the airport just watching other people saying goodbye to each other (as in, total strangers!), reading peoples blogs, especially about sick children – I know I shouldn’t start but now I just get a box of tissues ready lol. 🙂

    • Cathy Armour says:

      I wonder if parents of non-HSP kids say this about their kids. I say it ALL THE TIME about my 18 year old…. every parent-teacher conference I’d say “he’s difficult to manage, understand, or contain now …. but oh can I see his heart and I know he’s going to be a wonderful man.” So good to have someone else verbalize that. My sentiments haven’t changed in all these years. When he struggles, I keep reminding him these are GOOD TRAITS and he is and will be a wonderful man, a great, caring husband!

  40. Allison says:

    Oh my goodness I had one of those AHA moments reading this, too! Just like so many others, I realized that I am an HSP. And my oldest son. I was an only child and I wonder if that is similar to being the oldest, if birth order or genetics have anything to do with it.

    Mostly, I think this will help our relationship. He still gets so upset over small things at almost 7 and I totally get it now. I am going to check out these books you recommended.

    THANK YOU.

  41. 'Becca says:

    I was extremely sensitive when I was little and have gradually grown out of many aspects of it. I think it’s a combination of consciously working on myself (I am most aware of my progress toward being less shy) and my parents respecting the child they had and working to help me be comfortable. Do you know about the infant personality traits? They can be really helpful in understanding a baby’s needs.

    I’ve become a lot more flexible about routines and better at multitasking, but I still have a horrible tendency to FLINCH really hard when confronted with unexpected sudden stimuli. In my 20s I had a back spasm that crippled me for days and had to be relaxed with prescription drugs, just because the kitchen sink faucet screen fell out and the water sprayed me in the face!

  42. Deborah says:

    Thank you, thank you for posting on this! I just followed your link for the quiz about your child, and I answered all but two as a ‘Yes’ for my first born. I feel like a whole new arena of getting to understand him has been opened! I will definitely be looking into your sources. Anything more child geared?

  43. Caroline M says:

    This! Yes. This was my experience at the pharmacy tonight, in which I stood at the counter with people behind me, feeling my neck twitch due to their proximity, my ears assaulted by the cacophony of muzak and store clerks and a child screaming beside me…. This is why my soul feels such relief in the country, and why I look forward to living far, far away from metro DC.

  44. Nichole says:

    If this topic interests you you should read the book “Living Sensationally” By Winnie Dunn. she is the creator of an therapeutic assessment called the Sensory Profile. This book puts that assessment into laymens terms. It explains how everyone interprets sensation and helps you to understand people who are different from your type of sensory registration. As an OT I use this thinking in my practice with just about everyone but certainly my brain injured population.

  45. ER says:

    So interesting – I’ve always self identified as potentially ASD, because of the sensory processing stuff. No one else I know has cried as an adult because something is just too loud.
    I’m also not clearly an introvert or an extrovert, because I love spending time with people, but need to re-group afterward, and this gave me a different perspective on it.

  46. sherah says:

    I Love that you’re writing about this! More awareness for spd and hsp needs to be made. It’s so common these days. Both my 7yo. Daughter and myself have this and I’ve recently read about vestibular processing occupational therapy activities being an enormous help , and for me and my daughter, industrial noise reducing earmuffs (like the kind you find at Lowe’s or harbor freight) have been very helpful to reduce the stress when the household decibel level is too high…I have four kids age seven and under. 😉 (Ive also noticed being especially sensitive to noise when exhausted.)

  47. Sherry says:

    Thank you for this article! I’m a HSP too. Please write more articles about your HSP discoveries which I think would help all of us. I haven’t got to read Elaine Aron’s book yet but hope to soon.
    Still learning, Sherry

  48. Anna says:

    This is great! High sensitivity is so important for our culture to understand. However, I’d just add that this is not a personality trait, but a genetic one. High sensitivity is a neutral genetic trait, just like blonde hair or blue eyes, found in 20% of the population. I think this is super critical to understand because it means that sensitivity is NOT a diagnosis or a disease or a condition. It’s just a trait that requires management, like other traits. I teach a program specifically focusing on helping HSP’s with their empathic abilities and how not to take so much in from others. Another resource I really love is Ane Axford with Sensitive and Thriving (sensitiveandthriving.com). She’s a genius.

  49. Anne Leacy says:

    Aye carumba, this is me. Not helped by the fact I have PTSD on top of it -.- Two things causing hyper-awareness leads to much trouble with handling stimuli. Of any kind.

    Drove so many people who knew me as a kid bonkers. Still does, as it’s seen as weird by most people… but now I can use hypersensitive and introvert as excuses.

    Oddly enough I am immune to the violence part. Maybe from watching wwaaayyyy to much violent TV at a young age (x-files at 5, bones by 10, Hitchcock throughout my life). However, I cannot find violence funny, to the point where I despise slapstick. I KNOW that hurts, a lot, so how the heck is it funny?!

  50. Quiet was the only book on my summer reading list that I didn’t get to. I’m moving it back to the top of the pile! I’m definitely HSP and I suspect my daughter is, too. I was thinking about this stuff today when I realized the two of us had holed up in an upstairs bedroom during a loud preschooler birthday party (after she told me she didn’t want to go and I insisted).

    I’m curious what you didn’t like about the Zeff book?

  51. Thank You! I always thought something was wrong with me – that I was uptight because of “stupid” things like dishes or humming. I felt childish because the violence in a movie could make me crazy. It is so freeing to start to understand who I am. These resources will be wonderful to dig into. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  52. Kristen Stez says:

    Thank you for pointing out that HSP’s can be extroverts. I’ve been pegged at times as an introvert and nothing could be further from the truth. I’m just easily bothered! Here’s my HSP conundrum: I feel other people’s emotions (especially negative ones) profoundly. I find that as I get older and learn not to identify so much with other people’s problems so much, I can became blase and abrupt about everyone’s problems. I am trying to figure out how to be compassionate and empathic without getting swallowed up by other people’s issues. When I was younger, I was the one everyone came to with all of their problems. I feel like they’ve sucked me like a slurpy and I have a bad case of compassion fatigue! In my quest for greater self-awareness, I continue to work on this quandary. Anyone figure it out, yet?

  53. Fiona says:

    This is absolutely me. I just took the test, turned to my husband and said, “I’m a highly sensitive person.” He looked at me and said, “Are you only just figuring that out?”. My Dad and two of my sisters are probably also HSP and I remember when I was a child my mother told me there was no space for one more sensitive person in the family (I am the youngest of five girls). I learnt to survive and adapt. I have always been a bit confused by my need to retreat to a quiet space or to have silence when I am a total extrovert and love people and new experiences (even if I need a day to get over it!)

    Our eldest was very obviously a sensitive baby and at almost 8 he functions very well in most situations. I am thankful that he is able to grow up understanding that his sensitivity is not something to be ashamed of, and to learn to avoid environments that cause him to overload.

    It’s so great to be able to acknowledge and accept what is essential true about ourselves, and to see our sensitivity as the gift that it is. Thanks for sharing!

  54. Shannon says:

    I just recently clued into the fact that I am an HSP, and I have been telling my husband and my older child how they can help me cope when I become overwhelmed; it’s all good right?

    I didn’t stop to recognize that my 7 year old daughter may also be highly sensitive. I labeled her as a drama queen and when she would throw herself on the floor, hyperventilating or cause herself to become ill, I would react (extremely) negatively, because she “should know I can’t take that kind of behavior”, and I would tell her to drop the dramatics and calm down…I know – BAD MOM OF THE YEAR AWARD right? I am so glad I stumbled upon this while looking for ways to deal with “dramatic children”. I realize that I have to approach my daughter with more understanding of what she is feeling and not what emotions she may be causing me to feel – or better yet, if we sooth her feelings, mine will be soothed as well.

  55. Heather says:

    Have a look at Pyrrole disorder. It causes hypersensitivities and is highly treatable with targeted nutritional and supplement therapy.

  56. Kelly Fitzharris says:

    Thank you for using your “fame” to bring awareness and attn. again to this topic. I have read Dr. Elaine’s book and definitely am an introverted HSP. The scary movies, loud noises, scattered dishes and too many conversations all are right on point as is especially my need for solitude on a daily basis, and esp before and after social events. At age 34 (having read the book and just grown into myself) I finally have the confidence to just be thrilled to live my life and create boundaries however I need to, in order to feel comfortable and ok. Also thanks for bringing up the topic surrounding children. I have worked with many kids & taught for a few years and there is a lack of understanding of these types of kids and how they socialize and learn best. So thanks again for all the awareness! Please keep sharing this article and talking about it!!! We must shift our culture 🙂

  57. Ann says:

    “Just knowing that a hyper-sensitive nervous system is an actual thing has been hugely helpful for me personally…” YES. Such a RELIEF!! Thanks for the great info and resources. 🙂

  58. April says:

    I know I’m late to the party on this post, but I would absolutely recommend the following book: “Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person,” by Barrie Jaeger. It is endorsed by Elaine Aron (who wrote the Foreword). Per the Amazon description: “This book builds on Elaine Aron’s groundbreaking bestseller The Highly Sensitive Person to offer you proven strategies that help you make your extreme sensitivity an asset in the workplace. You will get guidance on stress management, boundary setting, dealing with abusive coworkers, and more. And you will learn how to experience work in a way that is emotionally gratifying as well as financially rewarding.”

    I actually read it before even reading Aron’s work, and found it to be incredibly practical and useful in understanding many of the struggles I was having both in work and in personal relationships (and with the associated tasks and environments). Which is, perhaps, why I found this to be an even more engaging read than Aron’s original book.

  59. Ramona Oerlemans says:

    A WAY OF DEALING WITH OTHER’S EMOTIONS: Imagine a dashboard with a dial that goes from 0 to 100, 0 being your emotions and 100 being the other’s. Now slowly let that dial go down until it’s halfway or completely to 0 (you) whenever you’re overwhelmed with other’s emotions. Practice makes perfect.
    I’m HSP myself and before the term was “invented” I found a website about empaths (same as HSP, basically) that published this excercise. I don’t know the name of the site anymore, sorry, no infringement intended. Just thought I’d share it for those of you who struggle a great deal with other’s emotions. I thought this article was well written, btw. Tx.

  60. Angela says:

    YES YES YES – my daughter is a HSP. So much so that she has intense anxiety issues that resulted in an eating disorder – this from her psychiatrist in the eating disorders hospital. It is a real thing… as a child she would run crying from the room when I turned on a blender. HATED school.

  61. Kristi Forsman says:

    I am a HSP… An enlightening & revolutionary discovery I made a few months ago. I can’t believe I wasn’t aware of it earlier…it’s kinda annoying, actually … because it explains SO much… anyway… I am thankful to know now. Knowledge is definitely power. I am curious if you can relate to this… I am really affected by whatever I am reading…it can sort of takeover my being… I have come to dread it and have limited the kinds of books I read because I want to avoid the sad emotions they provoke. For example… I read “Me Before You” a couple years ago…knowing absolutely nothing about it other than it got awesome reviews. It was one of the best books I have ever read but…oh my lord…THE SADDEST!!! I shared it with all my reader family & friends with a warning… I would cry all over again with them. Just the thought of the book would literally hurt my heart and cause such sadness. The more aware of this I was the more I tried to avoid it…the sad emotions and what feels like physical pain. Maybe the avoidance itself is an effort or feeling I dislike. When the release of the movie came near I avoided pictures or ANYTHING regarding it. My friends all thought we should go together to see the movie…and there is absolutely no way that was going to happen. I discovered the whole HSP thing around the same time frame as the movie release…so it made me think it must be a HSP thing. My reading genres have continued to be limited more and more…in an effort to avoid emotional pain. I have taken to the mystery/CSI type books lately. I just hate that I am missing out on SO many good books. I hope I will sort of get over this…like my awareness will dull a bit. I’m curious if you can relate.

  62. Katie says:

    I’m so late to this party, but wanted to chime in, anyway. It’s a revelation to me to discover that this describes me almost to a “T,” and explains why I have behaved in certain ways in the past. For example, my last two years of undergrad, I lived off-campus in an apartment with two roommates. One of them was quite social and enjoyed inviting people over, especially on the weekends. I usually went home for the weekends so it wasn’t a major issue for me, but one weekend, a friend of hers let me know they were throwing a surprise birthday party for my roommate in our apartment. Wanting to be a good friend, I stayed for the weekend. Somewhere around 12-15 people came to the party, which completely overwhelmed me. Suddenly all these people, most of them strangers to me, were in my home, using my dishes, sitting on my furniture. I was terrified that neighbors would report us for too much noise. I became so uncomfortable, I retreated to my bedroom, got in bed, and cried. My other roommate found me and wanted to know why I was upset- I didn’t have a rational explanation for my feelings, so I just made something up about being in a fight with my boyfriend. I’m not the lying type, but I really just couldn’t explain my feelings! There have been a few other situations like this over the years, and lots of the childhood things mentioned on the quiz website- like hating the feel of seams in socks- rang true for me. Thanks for sharing about this! I’ve been a personality-type geek since I was a pre-teen, but had never heard of HSP.

    • Kristi Forsman says:

      Hi Katie,
      I can completely relate. Because I wrote a reply to this I got an email when you wrote one as well. I just discovered I was an HSP last summer. there are a lot of HSP groups on FB & somehow I found out about an on-line class that was SOOOOOO helpful. I thought I’d pass on the info to you in case you are interested in learning more. Once I figured this out all I wanted to do was talk about it, research it etc. etc. This class was so great because it connected a small group of HSPs from all over the world to begin to learn about the trait & how to navigate in the world better. Here is the link…I believe she is starting a new class in April.
      http://www.juliebjelland.com/hsp-e-course
      Take care, Kristi

  63. I may be late to the Modern Mrs. Darcy party, but I’m not late to the HSP/SPD party. After struggling with my brain and “central nervous system” most of my life–constantly being looked at like I was crazy and told I was wrong about what I was feeling–my husband discovered a book that saved my sanity and opened my eyes to the world of people like me. I wept through most of it and heartily recommend it as part of the discussion and book list: https://www.amazon.com/Loud-Bright-Fast-Tight-Overstimulating/dp/0060932929.

    Keep keeping on, HSP among us. We’re a gift to the world and the world is a gift to us…if only it would quiet down a bit (and be less bright, less cluttered, less smelly, less spicy, or just dentally a bit less).

  64. Allyson McGill says:

    Hi. I have heard of this and know that it applies to me, but I’m interested in taking the quiz you link to. Alas, the link no longer connects to the quiz. Are you able to find it in another way?

    Thank you,
    Allyson (allycatmcgill@verizon.net)

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