Telltale Signs You Are A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

If you are an HSP, you know right away. There isn't any 'sorta, kinda, maybe.'

Just like everyone else, you were born with a particular temperament.

Temperament is rooted in your biology. It stays consistent over time and situations. It’s the way you are. Kind of like your eye color.  Even people in the same family, with shared DNA, may have different temperaments.

You can think of temperament as how you take in information through your five senses, regulate emotions, manage stress, and modulate intensity of sensations. 

About 15-20 percent of the population, with an equal male/female ratio, have a type of hard wiring that is associated with feeling too much and too deeply.

They are known as Highly Sensitive People (HSP’s)

If you are an HSP, you know right away. There isn't any 'sorta, kinda, maybe.' You just know that you tend to be more aware of subtleties than most other people. You are insightful and empathic. You are also considered a ‘deep thinker,’ a lover of  nature, art, and/or music.You need your quiet time, especially after an overstimulating event like a work party.

From experience you absolutely know you are someone who picks up on the energy around you. If someone nearby is grumpy, you can actually feel their negative energy. If someone nearby is sad but appears happy, you can feel their sadness.

“Picking up on energy” sounds woo woo. It is a real thing though, despite being hard to explain. If you are an HSP, you know exactly what I mean. 

HSPs are often accused of  being “toooooo sensitive,” as if it is a horrible thing. It can feel more like an insult than a statement of fact or compliment.

Actually, if you are an informed HSP, you know being “toooooooo sensitive” can be a good thing. You are in good company, too! Famous HSPs in history include Walt Disney, Princess Diana, Martin Luther King, and Albert Einstein.

Discovering the gifts of your HSP hard-wiring means you can live a rich, fulfilling life filled with beauty from everyday sources. 

What do HSPs have in common? 


The shared HSP features can be summed up by the acronym "DOES". 

The D stands for Depth of Processing. For example, HSPs respond more intensely to the beauty in their surroundings. 

The O stands for Overstimulation. HSPs pick up on minor and subtle details and are at risk for becoming quickly and easily overwhelmed. 

The E stands for Emotional Responsiveness. Because of extra mirror neurons in the brain, HSPs tend to be very empathic, naturally. 

The S stands for Sensitivity to Subtleties. HSPs notice things about people and environments that other people simply don’t observe, consider, or recognize. 

Here are Five Typical HSP Scenarios:

1. You walk into the kitchen at 6:00 am in your LL Bean fuzzy slippers, and cozy sweats and sweatshirt. You make sure you do this daily, and before anyone else in the house wakes up. You look forward to these moments, and they are absolutely precious to you. 

BAM! You can feeeeeeel the love. Your favorite purple hydrangeas are on the table in a vase your great grandmother gave you. The birds are chirping, and you are reminded of your grandmother, who loved the sound of birds singing. And the smell of fresh coffee brewing fills your nasal passages like a magic elixir. What a way to start your day!

This is classic. As an HSP, sounds, smells, tastes and  feelings are more intense than they are for non-HSPs. Everything hits you harder. Your nervous system is very finely tuned. It is your biology. 

This scenario demonstrates the “D”, depth of processing, in the DOES acronym.

2. Friends want you to join them for the midnight debut of Star Wars 4, 6, 2 .... or number something. They try hard to convince you to go.

You feel bad for declining their invitation, but you know yourself. You know if you don't get enough sleep, the next couple of days (or more) will be tough. Not only for you but for your clients and family.

Plus, there is good reason you haven't seen any of the Star Wars movies. They are way too loud, contain too much darkness and death, and sci fi isn't your thing. You could give a rat's **s about Luke Skywalker or whatever his name is. 

Sound of Music? Love, Actually? Silver Linings Playbook? Sure, you would be happy to go! Especially to a matinee or early evening show. With one or two friends max. Otherwise, it is just toooooooo much. 

You prefer movies with complex emotions, with relationships in real life. ‘No thank you’ to startle inducing sounds, violent interactions or explosions. And another ‘no thank you’ to sitting with a large group of people who are cracking their gum, talking to each other by pinging text sounds, and fidgeting next to you. 

And if the person behind you keeps kicking your seat? Forget about it! You are out of there. You feel frazzled and so done.

The scenario illustrates the “O”, vulnerability to overstimulation, in the DOES acronym.

3.  When you go to a big city such as New York City or Washington DC, you prepare yourself, both before and afterward. Maybe you time it so you are only there a short time. Or at least make sure you have time to regroup at the hotel. 

Walking by homeless people pleading for money is deeply saddening, and the sight is hard to shake. You can't stop thinking about their life, and what happened to lead them to where they now are. 

Your heart literally feels heavy thinking about it. You put some change in their cup and commit to donating to the Homeless Veterans Fund when you get home. And you do. 

You make sure you have a day or so at home before returning to work. You know you will need to replenish from bright lights, loud noises (constant horns, sirens), and unpleasant city smells. You WANT to feel cosmo and cool, but you would be faking it. 

And it takes way too much energy to fake or force anything. Especially considering you value having enough energy to channel toward creativity, as well as toward enhancing your own wellbeing so you can provide to others.You know you can’t give from an empty cup. Or even a quarter filled cup. 

The “E”, Emotional Responsiveness in the DOES acronym is illustrated by the heavy heart you felt when passing homeless people on the street.

4. Your husband has a bad day at work. He brushes off your concern, but you know he is distressed. You gently let him know you are there if he wants to talk. He says ‘nope.’ 

You know how to handle this from other times this scenario has occurred. If you give him space, he will soon come to you. He may ask if you want to watch an episode of a series you are watching together or have some foreplay and see where it leads.  

Earlier on in your marriage, his dismissal of your concern may have thrown you for a loop. Not anymore. You remind yourself that you can trust this time will be just like the other times this sort of thing happened. 

The “S” (Sensitivity to Subtleties) in the DOES acronym is illustrated in this scenario. You recognize your husband’s bad mood, despite his claim that he is fine. 

5. Let's say you are a University Professor, and the Department Chair has told you she is going to observe one of your lectures this week. She doesn't tell you exactly when she will be by. There are lots of reasons you want to know the date of her observation. Not the least of which is you want to be sure you wear your favorite blue suit. 

You have been observed many times and consistently earn high marks. Semester after semester, students enjoy your class. The material you are teaching is a passion of yours.

Despite reminding yourself of these facts, you are a nervous wreck about the impending observation. 

What you do know is you hate being observed. You tend to perform worse under pressure or when people are watching. It has not gotten any easier over the years. You find some self compassion and speak to yourself as you would to a dear friend. You remind yourself you will be ok, just like all the other times. You even find yourself chuckling at how silly you can be with your worrying. 

The features represented in this scenario are a combination of all four aspects of “DOES”. The D, Depth of Processing, is reflected in the time and energy you invest in being observed. Your nervousness is a result of O, Overstimulation. The E, Emotional Responsiveness, is represented both by your reactivity to being observed, as well as your ability to chuckle and recalibrate your system so that you feel calmer. The S, Sensitivity to Subtleties, is demonstrated by the desire to wear your blue suit. You love the color, fabric, and way it makes your eyes look.

If you are born with HSP hard-wiring, congratulations!

You are blessed. Use it to your advantage. Harness the strengths of your  HSP biological makeup. You have been gifted a superpower. Welcome it for the asset it is.  You have a unique built-in gateway to access deeper meaning and beauty in the world.  

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