There Are 3 Types of Sensitivity. Which One(s) Are You?

a woman smelling flowers represents the three types of high sensitivity

Knowing which type(s) of sensitivity you have can help you understand how you react to different situations.

This article has been adapted from my book, Sensitive, which I co-wrote with Andre Sólo.

Have you ever been told that you’re “too sensitive?” Well, being highly sensitive is a real thing! It means you pay more attention to details in your surroundings, and you reflect on ideas, emotions, and experiences more deeply than others do.

In fact, a better word for “sensitive” might be “responsive,” because your body and mind respond more to the world around you. As I write in my book, Sensitive, which I co-authored with Andre Sólo, sensitive people respond more to heartbreak, pain, and loss, but they also respond more to beauty, new ideas, and joy. The sensitive mind goes deep where others only skim the surface.

People who are sensitive share similar characteristics, like feeling stressed in busy environments and having a rich emotional world. (Here are 27 “strange” things that most highly sensitive people do). But everyone’s sensitivity is unique. Researchers have found that there are three different types of sensitivity that people can have, and some people may have more than one of these types. Knowing which type (or types) of sensitivity you have can help you understand how you react to different situations. Which type(s) are you?

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The 3 Different Types of Sensitivity

1. You’re a “super sensor” (low sensory threshold).

If you’re what we call a super sensor, you are sensitive to information you take in through your senses, such as sights, smells, sounds, and textures. This type of sensitivity determines, on the one hand, how attuned you are to your environment and, on the other, how quickly you become overstimulated.

You might be a super sensor if any of these tendencies apply to you: 

  • You tend to be observant and perceptive, and this quality can make you a valuable asset in any situation that requires attention to detail, such as planning an event, proofreading, or troubleshooting.
  • You know what needs to be changed to improve an uncomfortable environment. For example, you might notice that a room is too cold or too hot, and suggest adjusting the thermostat to make it more comfortable. Or, you might notice that the lighting is too harsh or too dim, and suggest changing the bulbs or adjusting the fixtures to create a more pleasant atmosphere.
  • You get tired easily or feel overwhelmed when you’re in a loud or busy place, such as a noisy restaurant, a crowded store, or a large networking event.
  • Your body is sensitive to caffeine, alcohol, medication, or other substances. Even small amounts of these things can trigger strong reactions in your body, and you may feel their effects more intensely than most people. For you, a little bit goes a long way.
  • You might feel uncomfortable by certain things you see, hear, or touch. Loud noises like alarms or shouting can make you feel anxious or upset. Scratchy clothes or textures can irritate and distract you. And bright lights or glare can make your eyes hurt and give you headaches.

2. You’re a “super feeler” (ease of excitation).

If you’re a super feeler, you easily respond to emotional stimuli, both from inside yourself and from other people. This type of sensitivity often comes with an innate ability to read people, but it also means you may stress over details or struggle more with painful emotions.

You might be sensitive in this way if you experience these behaviors or feelings: 

  • You feel things deeply and have a rich emotional life.
  • You have high levels of empathy, which can strengthen your relationships, improve your communication, increase your emotional intelligence, and build trust with others.
  • You often absorb the emotions of those around you. When someone close to you is upset or stressed, you might start to feel that way too, even if you were feeling good before. This happens to everyone to some extent, because emotions are contagious. But for you, it’s stronger and more frequent.
  • You need plenty of downtime to process your emotions and experiences and recharge your energy. You don’t necessarily have to be alone during this time, but it’s important to be in a quiet and peaceful place while doing something calm and relaxing — like reading a book, watching a show, or lounging in bed.
  • You try hard to avoid making mistakes. For example, you might double-check your work multiple times to ensure accuracy or spend extra time researching a topic to make sure you have all the information correct. You may feel very uncomfortable or anxious if you think you’ve made a mistake.
  • You feel stressed or frazzled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time.
  • You get hangry (hungry + angry) easily.
  • You’re very sensitive to physical pain (you have a low pain tolerance).
  • You jump easily (you have a high startle reflex). 

3. You’re an aesthete (aesthetic sensitivity).

If you’re an aesthete, you pay close attention to details in your surroundings, especially artistic details. You have a special appreciation of art and beauty.

Signs you might have high aesthetic sensitivity include:

  • You notice artistic details that others might miss. For example, you may notice a particular flower blooming amidst a garden or slight hint of blue in a paint color.
  • You really enjoy and are deeply affected by music, poetry, artwork, novels, movies, TV shows, beautiful scenes in nature, or a nicely decorated room. For example, you may feel very happy when you hear a cheerful song or cry easily when you watch a sad movie.
  • You have a strong appreciation for delicate scents or tastes (like those of a fine wine).
  • You have a rich, imaginative inner world. Perhaps you like to imagine stories, characters, and different situations in your mind. You may also be good at picturing things in your head, like what a scene would look like or what something might feel like. This ability can help you come up with new ideas and ways of thinking.

Remember, sensitivity is in your genes, but it’s also influenced by your experiences and upbringing. This means that sensitivity is a complex trait, and it varies from person to person — so you may identify with one, two, or all three types of sensitivity to different degrees. Understanding your sensitivity can help you live a more fulfilling life — and embrace the strengths that come with it.

For too long, society has told us that sensitivity is a weakness, when it’s actually your greatest strength. To learn more about your superpower, check out my book, Sensitive. It was named an Amazon Best Book of 2023! Susan Cain says, “This important book reframes the way we think about sensitivity and shines a light on the great power of being highly attuned to the world.” Click here to buy it on Amazon.

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