What Is A Highly Sensitive Person (& What You Should Know If You're Dating One)

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highly sensitive people
Love, Self

HSPs are highly loveable; not high-maintenance.

As unique individuals, we all approach dating and relationships with different personalities, preferences, backgrounds, and ways of doing things. 

Sometimes, we’re even wired differently. Some of us are highly sensitive people.

What does being a highly sensitive person mean exactly?

It means that you have an innate temperament trait (and not a disorder), in which you are acutely affected by the environment and have highly attuned senses. Your central nervous system is amped up — always taking in information and stimuli in a variety of ways — and often, overstimulated by it.


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While this may sound negative, being a highly sensitive person is actually a survival advantage.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, an expert and pioneer in highly sensitive people, 20 percent of the population is highly sensitive (men and women equally). That’s enough to know that you’re in good company, but not common enough that you’re generally understood.

Frankly, it’s hard to understand what being highly sensitive means it when you're not the one experiencing it. This fact can make relationships a little tricky for you at times.

Dr. Aron’s data also shows that approximately 34 percent of love relationships involve at least one highly sensitive person, with the highly sensitive person usually being the unhappy one of the pair. That's because highly sensitive people may feel extra stressed or disappointed when their needs go unmet in a relationship.

And sadly, many highly sensitive people (HSPs) feel misunderstood, or worse, feel like they’re a problem for others — even unlovable at times. Sometimes labeled as picky and emotional, highly sensitive people struggle because they are keenly aware of their surroundings, and well... feeling different.

Well, you know what? Different is fabulous, and high sensitivities are really an asset in any relationship. So if you're a highly sensitive person, stop feeling alone in this matter and thinking of yourself as high-maintenance. And if you're dating a highly sensitive person, here's what you should know.

This is what it means to be a highly sensitive person, and here are the ways to give us what we need in the relationship:

1. HSPs feel deeply.

Highly sensitive people feel others’ emotions as intensely as their own.

Yes, they may cry easily when watching movies or even reading books. It’s like they’re living the character's life, fully taking in the experience as if it were their own.

When we walk into a room or are with the people we care about, we sense what they need, even before they do.

Remember that being emotional is not being irrational. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that emotional intelligence leads to better decision making.

So if you can’t handle tears or jubilation, you’re with the wrong person. Don’t call your highly sensitive partner emotional or moody. Instead, see their empathy as a gift and innate ability to be there for people in need. They'll be there for you when you’re down or confused. And when you’ve hit a high, they'll be elated along with you, too.

2. HSPs have acute hearing.

They hear things others don’t — and they hear them more intensely. This includes sounds of bubble gum chewing, the rattling of keys, or background noise when they're trying to concentrate.

As a highly sensitive person myself, I remember so clearly the time the house alarm system malfunctioned, and the alarm rang for two hours straight until I finally ripped the wires apart in desperation. I thought I would die from the shrillness and force of the sound. The neighborhood dogs and I suffered profusely that night.

But just as a highly sensitive persona's acute hearing can bring discomfort, it can be a blessing.

Think Wolverine: This superhero can hear at much greater distances than regular humans. In fact, his hearing is so fine that he can use it to react more quickly and gain knowledge sooner than others — even using it as a lie detector.

Aside from the practical survival advantages, their super-sensitive ears allow them to enjoy fine symphonies and soulful ballads. They will melt if you write them a song on your guitar.

But, do your highly sensitive partner a favor, and try not to startle him or her — unless you want them jumping into your arms!

3. HSPs have delicate taste buds and food sensitivities.

Highly sensitive people have very specific tastes in foods and may have food sensitivities, too.

Imagine not being able to eat anything you want and seeing others delight in a buttery lobster or perfectly al dente wheat pasta. For a highly sensitive person, a lemon tastes excessively sour, arugula excessively bitter. But, oh, they will revel in the sweetness of one single square of dark chocolate and your kisses that will never be enough!

Just be warned: They do not wish to discuss or be reminded of their perceived food issues at every meal. They'll eat what they can and want to, and that’s that!

And please don’t fret if they seem to make dinner dates more complicated. Just call ahead and make sure there is at least one item on the menu your HSP partner can enjoy. 

4. HSPs have an enhanced sense of smell.

If you're dating a highly sensitive person, they may sometimes be shy in bringing up scent sensitivities to you. Your highly sensitive partner doesn’t want to come across as rude, but maybe your girlfriend really can’t take that new soap you bought, or your boyfriend dislikes the overly sweet smell of your shampoo.

And if the smell of cooking chicken makes your sweetie gag, there is probably something wrong with it and you’d better not eat it either. Their olfactory system is on alert for danger, and you’ll benefit from that, too.

That said, their noses are meant for enjoyment also. Their pheromones have been called to a higher duty. Get the fragrance right, and you’ll be in for a passionate night!

5. HSPs are sensitive to (and responsive to) touch.

Clothing tags and itchy fabrics drive them mad. For Valentine’s Day, think suede and silk. HSPs want nothing but soft fabrics — and you — next to their skin.

Their beds can’t be too hard or too soft. Just like The Princess and the Pea, they want what they want, and they know when it’s right. After all, they picked you, didn’t they?

What’s critical for HSPs is to find the optimal level of stimulation and responsiveness. My best advice: slow things down and savor every moment of physical connection.


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6. HSPs experience physical pain intensely.

In the same way that highly sensitive people feel touch, they feel pain: it’s magnified. If your partner is in pain, they're not faking it or trying to get your attention.

So the next time they bang their head or gash themselves by accident, remember that to them, it feels like that time you broke your arm. Darn, that hurt! So show your highly sensitive person some mercy and compassion — rather than scorn and dismissiveness — in times of need.

7. HSPs notice the subtleties others miss.

Call them picky, but highly sensitive people see more than most people.

Whether it’s a typo in your resume, a missing button, or spinach in your teeth, they're going to notice — just like they pay attention to way you bite your lip when you’re nervous or smile a certain way when you're amused. 

And by being aware of these subtleties, they will help you to bring your best self to the world.

Highly sensitive people are constantly processing thoughts and information and integrating them into their consciousness. It’s that depth of processing and innate curiosity that help them to solve complex problems — including relationship ones — in an incredibly creative way.

Besides the precise vision and intricate organization of stimuli, they pick up on vibrations in their environments, just like an antenna. This is why you felt your highly sensitive partner understood you from the moment you two first met. They pay attention to the little things about you and love those quirks, too.

8. HSPs get easily overwhelmed.

Their senses are working furiously, and it’s normal to need a break from all that stimulation. A day of work in an open office, fighting traffic, and all the sights and sounds can take their toll on highly sensitive people. 

That's why HSPs need to be religious about self-care. If they don’t take care of themselves, they can easily crash and burn out. Mindfulness is particularly useful for highly sensitive people, so that they can connect with their bodies in a calm, accepting way — which leads to connecting with you with ease and joy, as well.

So if you want your highly sensitive person to be at his or her best, encourage them to take time and space to decompress (especially if they're introverted, too) because they need longer periods of being with their thoughts than others might require.

9. HSPs get their feelings hurt easily.

Their depth of processing is not limited to the physical senses.

Highly sensitive people have grown up listening to comments, like “Don’t be so sensitive,” “Don’t take things so personally,” and “Toughen up!” When they hear these things as adults — especially from their partners — it's likely to send them into a tailspin. They start to worry that you'll think they’re too much, or worse, that you’ll move on from them.

You can help counteract this by building their self-confidence. Acknowledge their reality and emotions without judgment. Start to become more aware of how you communicate with them and of the possible impact this communication has. Doing so can save you both from some seriously unnecessary grief and drama!

10. Lastly, HSPs love passionately.

They care intensely about the people they love. They crave trust, depth, meaning, and authenticity in those relationships.

Highly sensitive people know that their emotions can overwhelm you at times. That said, they absorb your energy, so ground your HSP partner by making them laugh or by taking a gentle walk together in nature.

Finally, know that they don’t take anything lightly, including commitment. So, when they've found their true love, they are not likely to stray.

And since you’re for keeps, you must know that you can’t really change your highly sensitive lover. Quite simply, his or her brain is physically wired differently.

However, as highly sensitive people become more aware of their sensitivities, they can learn to adapt and grow with you.

So if you recognize yourself in this description, give yourself some compassion. The heightened beauty you see, hear, touch, sense, and feel brings a richness to your relationships. Even more than this, your unparalleled ability to notice, solve problems and heal pain makes this world a much better place. And if you're not quite sure if you're a highly sensitive person or not, take this test to find out.

If you're lucky enough to love a highly sensitive person, embrace them and their needs fully — and reap the benefits, too. Love your partner right and help them to optimize their gift of sensitivity, and you can expect a lifetime of loyalty, connection, passion, wonder and joy.


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Lisa Petsinis is a career and life coach and self-proclaimed highly sensitive person. Contact her on her website for a complimentary coaching call and jumpstart the changes you want in your life starting today.

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