We the highly sensitive people

by | Jun 28, 2013 | Uncategorized

I’ve just spent the evening with my local psychology colleagues, learning about about Highly Sensitive People (thanks Claudia).

Apparently 15-20% of us are considered to be ‘highly sensitive.’  High sensitivity isn’t a psychological weakness, but is an innate trait…. the brains of highly sensitive people are actually wired differently to others’.

Highly sensitive people:

  • feel things deeply
  • can feel overwhelmed by strong smells, loud noises and chaos
  • are intuitive and empathic
  • have a rich inner life
  • avoid violent movies and TV shows
  • are affected by other people’s moods
  • tend to burn out and develop chronic conditions like chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia
  • enjoy deep conversations with individuals rather than small talk in large groups
  • react strongly to caffeine, medication and drugs
  • were often called ‘sensitive’ or ‘shy’ as a child

Does this sound like you too?  If you’re interested, you can take a quiz on High Sensitivity by Dr Elaine N Aron, the psychologist who coined the phrase here.

While my colleague was describing the attributes of a Highly Sensitive Person this evening, I found myself nodding to a large number of the items, and when I interrupted her halfway through to confess that I fitted the description, I noticed that the majority of my colleagues joined me with their own nods of self acknowledgment.

You see, high sensitivity is not a weakness, it’s a strength that makes us intuitive and empathic (and not surprising really that it would be common in therapists).  Highly sensitive people are in the minority, enough so that we’re often misunderstood and dismissed as overly sensitive, but we’re a large minority, and we have a lot to offer the world.

Highly sensitive people actually process the world more deeply and are more aware of subtleties.  And as a result we’re also more easily overwhelmed, as we get overstimulated when there’s a lot going on. Our nervous systems are easily over loaded.  We need time to ourselves to unwind and unravel from all this stimulation.

Dr Elaine N Aron says it’s important to recognise if we’re highly sensitive, so we can make full use of it’s advantages and compensate for it’s other effects.  Elaine suggests:

  • reviewing our past, and taking note of times when we felt we failed, and reinterpreting the failure in light of being a highly sensitive person in a world that does not cater well for this trait (perhaps being overstimulated at the time)
  • stop living like non-sensitive people – you may need more down time and more meaningful work
  • work on your self esteem (our culture largely does not always value high sensitivity, so our self esteem can take a battering at times)
  • help the important people in your life understand your needs as a highly sensitive person – such as your need for down time and for gentler communication (and that these needs are just who you are, they’re beyond your control)

Are you (or someone you love) highly sensitive?

Leave me a comment below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts……



  1. Jo Haas

    It was such a relief and release when I found out why I was exhausted after shopping areas. To know that I am not lazy. Thank you for your article , I know so many people like this, however, they are not ready to own their power. Namaste

    • Lauren Tober

      You’re so welcome Jo… lovely to hear from you here. Yes, it seems high sensitivity is pretty common, and you’re right, it is a power! A superpower perhaps! 🙂

  2. Krishna Sadhana

    Ermmmm… are describing Aspergers (especially in girls /women)

    • Beccy

      It is not the same as Aspergers. Being an HSP is characterised by extreme sensitivity to emotions and HSP’s are exceptionally empathetic because they feel everything so intensely. From what I understand, people with Aspergers find it hard to connect emotionally and understand emotions. It’s the opposite really.

      • Lauren Tober

        Nice to meet you here Krishna and Beccy…… both individuals with Aspergers and high sensitivity can be sensitive to sensory stimuli (like smells, sound, taste, touch etc), but as far as I’m aware, that’s the extent of the similarity. There’s an interesting article by Elaine Aron about this here:

  3. Kirsty

    This is me 100%
    So nice to read about my ‘traits’ in a warm and non judgemental manner

    • Lauren Tober


  4. Zanni Louise

    Hi Lauren, I heard about HSP recently, and it gave words to what I felt about my oldest daughter. She is remarkedly outgoing but has always been particularly sensitive to stimulation and experiences. When she cried a lot as a baby, I felt this was the reason, and as she’s matured, I see it expressed in other ways, like fear of all animals. I am empathising with her, and trying to see it from her perspective. I think she’s doing great.

    • Lauren Tober

      So pleased to hear your daughter is going so well …. and lucky for her to have such an understanding mum. The research shows that highly sensitive kids with supportive parents THRIVE!
      PS: Love your website x

  5. Fuyuko

    Thank you Lauren for this sharing. I nodded as I read… It is a blessing to be sensitive I feel, as I could see beauty everywhere and feel Love in everyone…in vivid rich full scale of colors that Life is offering us!!!
    We perhaps won’t miss quiet messengers who is sent from beyond 🙂

  6. Maxine

    Yes, yes and yes! x

  7. Glenn Brace

    Dear Lauren,
    Thank you for enriching the world wide web with such a lovely site. I have been very sensitive all of my life and been told by others in all my growing years that I was soft and it was a trait that was not looked on very well at all. I suffered at the hands of two predatory teachers at my school and my self worth suffered as a result for 40 years. Recently I met a beautiful lady who looked within me and for the first time in my life I am truly in love with this lady. She moves me into areas of my life and being that have never been used and dormant for most of my 51 years on the planet. I have started eating Ayurvedic food, practising yoga every morning and my entire outlook on life is changing. I bought a new camera and I am starting to enjoy life once more.
    Its never to late to try, its never to late to start again and make yourself a better person for yourself and for another who loves you.

    Above all else to thine own self be true.
    Glenn Brace.

    • Lauren Tober

      Thanks for sharing your heartfelt story and wisdom Glenn…. much appreciated x

  8. Martin Killips

    I think this article is founded on weak ground. It reads more like a horoscope to me – there are aspects to it where we can all identify some feeling of mutual kinship, but the truth is we are all capable of all of the indicators described, in varying degrees, depending upon our mood at the time.

    • Lauren Tober

      Welcome Martin… thanks for taking the time to comment. I hear what you’re saying about all of us experiencing sensitivity at certain times of our lives. If you’d like to read more about the research underlying the theory of high sensitivity, Elaine N Aron’s website is a good place to start…..

  9. Dom Coulthurst

    Aloha Lauren … You have described me! I am so relieved as I have been made to feel there is something wrong as I cry at the beauty of things like dolphins and sunrises and love!! And I d o not enjoy parties but thrive in small intimate conversations with like minded people … Much prefer a dinner party than a huge party. Also have difficulty understanding our cultures need to have alcohol to have a good time my partner is often angry at me for not having a drink with him… So I’m not a party pooper!!! Thank you so much

    • Lauren Tober

      You’re so very welcome Dom. Congratulations on claiming your super power x

  10. columbina

    Yay! Thankyou, Lauren. I so relate, and more recently have been finding myself loving myself more and more for my empathy and deep feelings, as well as standing up for my needs. Best wishes to all.

  11. Jennifer

    Such a relief. Has there been much researh on passing down this trait? I myself certainly have this trait, as well as my son.

    • Lauren Tober

      Hi Jennifer! Yes, high sensitivity is considered to be an inherited trait, and there has been much research done. Check out Elaine Aron’s work. She has written several books on HSP, including one for children, which you might like to read with your son in mind. Lauren 🙂

  12. Maria

    I am very surprised and happy to have heard you yesterday, on ABC RN Drive. Never before I heard/read Hyper Sensitivity explained like this and I do identify with it. I am 53, a professional Counselor. Light and excessive noise are a serious issue for me, chaos…I cannot stand shopping malls, they absolutely drain my energy. Also,I feel like crying at the sight of neglected children. Thanks lot for creating this website and sharing your research.

    • Lauren Tober

      Thanks for stopping by Maria! Check out Dr Elaine Aron’s book called the Highly Sensitive Person, it’s a great place to start on your journey in understanding high sensitivity. She’s also written a book for therapists that might be useful in your work 🙂

  13. Nikki

    Wow this is exactly what I am like. I enjoyed reading this as it makes me feel ok with it. I have been trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. I’ve been trying to fix what’s wrong with me. It’s so hard being this way in our society. This now confirms to me that I’m fine as I am. It also reconfirms what I need to do to feel better. I have been fearful about stepping into an Art Therapy career but I think taking the steps will actually really help me and how I feel about myself. Thankyou

    • Lauren Tober

      I love that reading this helped you feel ok just as you are! All the best in your journey Nikki and thanks for stopping by 🙂


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