Being a highly sensitive person (HSP) is a perfectly normal “thing” to be — about 20 percent of the population have this trait. However, because high sensitivity is not extremely common, it’s often misunderstood. Some people have likened it to autism, but according to Dr. Elaine Aron, brain research shows that these two traits are quite different. Likewise, many people confuse high sensitivity for introversion, because HSPs and introverts have similar needs. Indeed, many introverts are also HSPs, but you can be a highly sensitive extrovert, too.
Are you an HSP? Taken together, these 23 “small” signs may show that you are. Keep in mind that HSPs are individuals, so not every sign will apply to every HSP. However, I believe this list is generally true:
1. You startle easily. When people sneak up on you, you jump as high as a frightened cat. Just seeing your roommate or significant other walk into the room when you weren’t expecting them can set you off.
2. You need to spend plenty of time alone, even if you’re an extrovert. Solitude calms your overactive senses. After a busy day, you may withdraw into a darkened room or some other place where you have privacy.
3. When you read or hear about violent things, you have a strong negative reaction. Reading an article about animal abuse or a particularly brutal crime, you may get sick to your stomach and have to click away. You will probably struggle to get the grotesque images out of your mind for days or weeks afterward.
4. Similarly, when you experience beauty, you have a strong positive reaction. Looking at art, being in nature, or just noticing the way the sunlight strikes an object really moves you. You may find yourself overwhelmed with happiness, unable to put into words how much something has affected you.
5. You’re very sensitive to sounds. Certain pitches really irritate you, and loud sounds grate on your nerves. Likewise, your favorite song can send you into a zen-like trance or completely overhaul your mood for the better.
6. Strong smells also really bother you. For example, you may not eat certain foods because of the way they smell (for me, it’s seafood). Or, you may have to leave the room if someone’s perfume is overpowering.
7. When you were a kid, you were very picky about the clothing you wore, basing your choices on how things felt. For example, you may not have worn clothing made of itchy fabrics like wool, “footie” pajamas that covered your feet, or leggings, tights, or pants that tightly hugged your waist. Your parents may have had to cut the tags out of your clothing because they scratched you. You may still do these things today as an adult.
8. You’re sensitive to deadlines and time pressure. You feel extremely rattled when you have too much to do and not enough time to do it. You hate having to do things quickly, without enough time to process your thoughts.
9. When you were a kid, your parents or teachers called you “shy” or “quiet.” Indeed, you may have been reserved, but these labels missed what was really going on with you — that because of your high sensitivity, you often felt overwhelmed in social situations, which made you clam up or withdraw.
10. You get overwhelmed in “busy” places like bars, clubs, concerts, parties, and festivals. Even classrooms and offices, where there is typically a lot going on, can be too much. You might not notice right away that you’re being drained; rather, your energy is slowly leached out of you, then you suddenly crash.
11. You have a rich inner world. You have vivid daydreams (and nightmares). There’s always a lot on your mind.
12. You’re always searching for meaning, whether it’s through your relationships, religious beliefs, or world view. You’re not content with living a shallow life. Rather, you have a strong desire to live with purpose and feel part of a greater whole. For this reason, others may see you as spiritual and wise.
13. You notice things that others miss. You might pick up on the way your friend’s voice sounds slightly flat even though he says he’s doing fine. Or you might be the first to notice that a store you and your friends pass every day has put up a new sign.
14. You feel more porous than other people. Meaning, you seem to absorb more from your environment than other people do. The vibe of a room, other people’s moods, and the weather seem to affect you more than they affect others.
15. You cry easily. You may weep from joy, sadness, or stress.
16. You seek meaning in your romantic relationships. Many HSPs don’t do casual dating, one night stands, or flings. They become deeply attached to the people they let into their lives, and it would be too painful for them to begin a relationship knowing it had an end date.
17. You often think about the deeper meaning of life. Why were humans placed on this planet? How did life begin? What does it all mean?
18. Times of transition are difficult for you. Even positive changes — like starting a new job, moving to a better living space, or beginning an exciting new relationship — can overstimulate you. You seem to need more time than other people to adjust to new things.
19. Similarly, when something is ending (like a relationship, job, or a chapter in your life), you may have trouble letting it go. You think deeply about its significance, and you don’t just “move on” as quickly as other people seem to.
20. When you’re very hungry, you have a hard time concentrating, and your mood plummets. You seem to be especially sensitive to dips and spikes in blood sugar levels. Similarly, caffeine may have a strong effect on you.
21. If someone is watching you do something, you may become so nervous and shaky that you do worse than if you were doing the task alone. For example, when your boss observes you to evaluate your performance, you may find the attention to be overstimulating, which makes you mess up in ways you normally wouldn’t.
22. You take great pains to arrange your life in a way that keeps you from being overstimulated. For example, you don’t plan many social activities for the weekend, or you avoid going to the grocery store when you know there will be lots of people there.
23. You seem to need more sleep than others. If you don’t get a good night’s sleep, it seems almost impossible to function the next day. Likewise, sleep is one of the best ways to calm your frazzled senses.
Want to learn more about high sensitivity? We recommend Dr. Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.
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Read this: 12 Things a Highly Sensitive Person Needs
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