11 myths about being highly sensitive

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) make up about 20 percent of the population, which is about 1.4 billion people. Unfortunately, many people still don’t understand the trait of sensitivity. The following are some common myths about being highly sensitive.

    1. Only introverts are highly sensitive.

      Not true. Many introverts are highly sensitive, but about 30 percent of highly sensitive people are extroverts.

    2. Highly sensitive people are shy.

      Some are shy, but some are not. Shyness is the crippling fear of negative judgement in social situations, while high sensitivity is being aware of subtleties in the environment and at times being more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment. According to Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, highly sensitive people may appear inhibited because they’re so aware of all the possibilities in a situation. They may pause before acting, reflecting on their past experiences.

    3. Most highly sensitive people are women.

      Sensitivity may seem like a feminine trait, but there are just as many men as women who are highly sensitive, explains Aron in a recent video.

    4. The trait of sensitivity is a burden.

      Being highly sensitive can at times feel more like a curse than a blessing. Yet the trait comes with many advantages (click here to read more about those specific advantages.) HSPs are able to concentrate deeply, process material to deeper levels, learn new things without being aware that they’ve learned, are often highly conscientious, are better at learning languages, have high levels of empathy, and are often more “soulful” or spiritual. According to Aron, the trait is not a flaw or a syndrome. It’s an asset HSPs can learn to use and protect.

    5. If a person is highly sensitive, it’s obvious.

      Highly sensitive people often hide their trait out of fear of embarrassment. To the outside observer, they may appear to look and act like non-sensitive people, yet inside, they may feel anxious and overwhelmed.

    6. Highly sensitive people are making a choice to be overly sensitive.

      Highly sensitive people are born with the trait of sensitivity. Their nervous systems are actually biologically different from the nervous systems of non-sensitive people. “This is an innate trait that people don’t have a choice about, whether they have it or not,” says Aron.

    7. It’s better not to be highly sensitive.

      “There’s a downside to being so sensitive, and there’s downside to not being so sensitive, and there’s an upside to each… both types of people have a lot of value,” says Aron.

    8. Highly sensitive people struggle in relationships.

      Relationships can be challenging for highly sensitive people, but they’re challenging for non-sensitive people, too, says Licensed Professional Counselor and HSP Jacquelyn Strickland, who has a counseling practice called LifeWorks for highly sensitive people.  She also co-founded the HSP Gathering Retreats in 2001 with Aron. How highly sensitive people get hung up or hurt in relationships, she says, is that they often seek the perfect or “ultimate” relationship. Good relationships take work, communication, and healing from past wounds, whether the people in the relationship are sensitive or not.

    9. The environment in which a highly sensitive child is raised doesn’t matter.

      Sensitive children must be raised in environments that respect and accommodate their natures. It’s a scientific fact, says Aron, that sensitive children raised in good environments sometimes outperform non-sensitive children academically and socially, but sensitive children raised in bad environments are more prone to anxiety and depression.

    10. Highly sensitive people are very similar to each other.

      Not at all. “There’s a progression of empowerment that takes place,” says Strickland. The only thing that we can say for certain that all highly sensitive people have in common is DOES: depth of processing, overstimulation, emotional intensity, and sensory sensitivity. “How someone manages those four things is so different,” Strickland says.

    11. Being highly sensitive is the same as being emotionally weak.

      On the contrary, many highly sensitive people are considered emotionally intense. Strickland says, “Our emotional intensity can be a gift to the world, especially when it’s funneled toward causes that we really care about.”

Image credit: Rona Keller

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Read this: 21 Undeniable Signs That You’re an Introvert


  • 100% I’m HSP and Intro… it’s a fascinating life when you finally find out what’s going on!

  • Kelly says:

    Great article! I especially like the acronym DOES: depth of processing, overstimulation, emotional intensity, and sensory sensitivity. I will have to remember that!

  • Thanks for this helpful summary. One of the values of our high sensitivity can be creativity. Dr. Aron comments, “I know ALL HSPs are creative, by definition. Many have squashed their creativity because of their low self-esteem; many more had it squashed for them, before they could ever know about. But we all have it…” – From my post “Elaine Aron on the trait of high sensitivity” http://highlysensitive.org/46/video-elaine-aron-on-the-trait-of-high-sensitivity/

  • Jimbaux says:

    Regarding #3, think about how the expectation or assumption that HSP are women affects males like me who are HSP! and think of the things that we get accused of being! After a lifetime (so far) of it, I can tell you that it is not pretty!

  • Patricia says:

    Yay! Love it! I am offering an online class ~ EMPOWERED SENSITIVITY ~ that begins this Monday. Would love to know what you think.

  • Great article, Jenn – and I LOVE that you start off by differentiating introversion and HSP.

    One of my major bugbears with Elaine Aron’s work – at least back when she wrote The Highly Sensitive Person, anyway – is her claims that most of the signs of introversion are really signs of an HSP person who’s “retreated into the neuroticism of introversion”, and that those effects are manageable if that person just manages their incoming sensory input.

    Ummmm no. Seriously. It’s one thing to be highly sensitive to sensory input. It’s another to be drained by interaction with others even when you enjoy it. And of course, some of us are both.

    (Plus, OK, I’m still twitchy from the association of “Introversion” with “neurotic”, and it’s been over 4 months since I read the book!)

    But yes. Thanks for reminding folks that there is a difference!