HSP Topics: Introversion, Extraversion and the Highly Sensitive Person
This article is part of an ongoing series about the joys and challenges of living life as a Highly Sensitive Person (or HSP) and everything that entails.
If you're not entirely sure what an "HSP" is, or whether or not you even are one, yourself... please consider visiting Dr. Elaine Aron's web site, where you can find a short (free!) self-assessment quiz for sensitivity.
In addition to this article about introversion, extraversion and the HSP, I highly recommend reading my introductory article about the HSP trait, which also has a listing of all my HSP-related articles at the very end.
If you haven't already, you owe it to yourself to read this book!
Dr. Elaine Aron's original book about being a Highly Sensitive Person-- it's a must-read for all HSPs, as well as those who think they might be an HSP; those who who have HSPs in their lives, as well as anyone wanting a deeper understanding of what it means when someone says "I'm highly sensitive."
The Myth of the "Quiet Retiring HSP"
A lot of people-- including many HSPs, themselves-- make a broad-based assumption that if you are a highly sensitive person, you are automatically an introvert.
This (incorrect!) conclusion is typically reached because those people misinterpret the fact that almost all HSPs need quite a bit of quiet time alone to "recharge their batteries" following periods of social activity and stimulation. They conclude "Oh, this person wants to be alone and quiet-- they MUST be an introvert!"
In addition, this assumption is somewhat supported by the fact that "HSP Overstimulation" very often tends to be connected to activities involving crowds and interaction with groups of people.
In her original research about high sensitivity, Dr. Elaine N. Aron actually found that about 70-75% of HSPs are introverts, while 25-30% are extraverts. Thus, it is fair to say that the majority of HSPs are introverts.
That said, it is important to realize that the trait also affects a considerable number of extraverted people, giving them a unique set of challenges as HSPs. We must also keep in mind that it is impossible to establish broad based conclusions that "all HSPs look the same." Because they certainly do not.
So let's take a moment to examine some of the HSPs who "don't look like stereotypical HSPs."
The Extraverted HSP
As stated above, Elaine Aron's research suggests that somewhere between 25-30% of highly sensitive people are extraverts. So how are the extraverted HSPs different from their introverted peers?
The most important thing to know is that the extraverted HSP has exactly the same sensitivity attributes as an introverted HSP. That is, a tendency to experience everything deeply and potentially get overstimulated, leading to the need for quiet time and periods of "low stimulation."
As a result, extraverted HSPs face additional challenges typically not well understood by the introverted members of the HSP community. Primary among these is the fact that whereas extraverts do get their energy and "charge" from being around people... at the same time, the extraverted HSP also gets overstimulated by too much interaction and activity.
So, the very thing that "energizes" can also lead to overstimulation, at the same time!
If you are not fairly familiar with the nuances of the trait, you might even conclude that an extraverted HSP is "actually an introvert" because they periodically find it necessary to spend time in a quiet and solitary place. Most of us have been taught that such behavior is "for introverts," and that extraverts are the eternal "social people persons" of the world.
In the world of HSPs, that doesn't necessarily hold true.
Understand yourself better: The Highly Sensitive Person's Workbook
The companion workbook to Elaine Aron's original book about high sensitivity is extremely useful for those wishing to gain a deeper understanding of the HSP trait, and how it has influenced their lives since childhood. Lots of exercises to help you taker a thorough look at the context of your Sensitivity. Don't mind the "Buy Now" button... you will just end on a page with the book's description and user reviews and other useful info!
The Push-Pull Existence of the Extraverted HSP
Life is not so cut and dry, when you're an extraverted HSP.
What's important to remember about extraverted HSPs is that whereas they do get a feeling of getting "re-charged" from being around other people (as extraverts-- in general-- do), it is extremely important to them to be around the type of people with whom they can feel comfortable and authentic.
For them, it's not about "just people," because they share with introverted HSPs the desire to form deep and meaningful connections, and to discuss things with "deeper meaning," rather than engage in endless small talk.
Extraverted HSPs may also have to face certain biases because society sees extraversion as being "fun, social and outgoing," but for many the "deep thinking" of the HSP trait overrides the ostensible "gregariousness" of extraversion.
Being HSPs, they still have deep feelings. Maybe they'll encounter an unjust situation and become deeply emotional (just like the introverted HSP) and feel compelled to speak up about it (perhaps UNlike the introverted HSP). Doing so may-- in turn-- cause them to get labeled as an oddball or "overreactive." And "pressing the point," even though it may feel natural to them, can lead to overstimulation, and the need for time alone...
For the extraverted HSP, it becomes especially important to develop a thorough understanding of the trait and its impact on their daily lives.
The "High Sensation Seeker" (HSS) HSP
In addition the the fundamental issue of distinguishing between extraverts and introverts as HSPs, it should also be said that not all HSPs prefer quiet and "soft" lifestyles, typically marked by comfortable routines without too many changes or excitement, or by quiet activities and only minimal interaction with other people.
A small segment of the HSP population are what Dr. Aron calls "High Sensation Seeker" (or "HSS") HSPs. HSS HSPs are often on the lookout for new things to do, and often crave excitement, novelty and change in their lives.
It's important to understand that "sensation seeking" can be quite different from what we conventionally think of as "thrill seeking" behavior. HSS novelty seeking can be intellectual, spiritual or creative, in addition to physical. It may be something as simple as liking to try a new type of cuisine, every time they go out. Maybe they like traveling alone, to exotic or unusual destinations. It is not-- by definition-- about "riding rollercoasters" or "extreme rock climbing."
Novelty seeking can be very challenging for the HSS HSP, as they are just as prone to feeling overstimulated as any other HSP. So, on one hand they face almost certain overstimulation from their favorite interests and activities; on the other, the face almost certain boredom and restlessness if they stay quietly at home, to avoid the overstimulation.
High Sensation Seekers can be either introverts or extraverts. In some ways, HSS HSPs look the least like "stereotypical HSPs." For a more complete description, and a brief self-assessment questionnaire (free) please take a moment to visit this page on Dr. Aron's web site.
Meanwhile: Questioning a Few False Myths About Introverts
Last but not least, let's look at some of the common "myths" about introverts, as they relate to the HSP trait.
A common fallacy is that "introverts don't like people," as a result of which some folks assume that HSPs tend to keep to themselves because they don't like people. Liking-- or not liking-- people actually has little to do with being an introvert. Some introverts like people-- some don't. Introversion is determined by whether or not you feel energized by the company of other people (extraverts typically do), or you gain more energy from being by yourself. Similarly, some HSPs like people, and some do not.
For example, I am an introverted HSP myself, and I like people very much. However, if I have to spend more than a couple of hours with a larger group of people I end up feeling completely emotionally and physically drained-- even if I was having a great time with those people!
In short, "introverted" does NOT mean "anti social."
Susan Cain's book "Quiet" has become the world's most read book on the topic of introverts. What is worth noting is that Ms. Cain is an HSP, as well as an introvert... and what makes her book especially worthwhile for HSPs is that she sees introversion through the perspective of a Highly Sensitive Person. Highly Recommended!
Another "myth" is that introversion is basically the same thing as shyness or even Social Anxiety. This is simply not true. Shyness and Social Anxiety are both learned responses to social situations, while introversion is an innate quality of a person's temperament. Some introverts are shy... some are not.
And shyness can be helped. As a child, I was quite shy, but I overcame my shyness during my university years. On the other hand, I was born an HSP, and remain Highly Sensitive.
Whereas it may hold true that HSPs-- because we process and internalize experiences more deeply than the rest of the world-- are more likely to be shy or socially anxious from negative experiences than other people, there are no conclusive studies to document this.
For me, the question that helps clarify is to ask yourself if people overwhelm you or exhaust you (the HSP part) of they actually scare you (most likely shyness/anxiety).
HSPs Are as Unique as Any Other Group of People!
In conclusion, it's important to remember that HSPs are just as unique and different as any other group of people.
This sometimes comes as a surprise to people who believe that HSPs are "recognizable" because they always "look and act a certain way." But let's take a closer look at that. What we HSPs share is one specific trait, but outside that we are still individuals with different tastes, backgrounds, behaviors and personalities.
That said, it is definitely true that being an HSP tends to draw us towards certain interests in life. For example, there are disproportionately many HSPs who work in the Arts, or in healing professions; many are drawn to professions where they can fulfill idealistic desires to help make the world a better place.
We can also look at HSPs and basic temperament. Although almost any personality is possible for an HSP, uncommonly many fall within specific types according to popular temperament assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram. But even so, it can still be difficult to "categorize" HSPs.
And perhaps the best lesson here is to simply allow people-- Highly Sensitive, or not-- to simply be themselves!
What type of HSP are you?
Based on what you've read-- and what you might already know-- what "type" of HSP do you believe you are?
What else can I Learn about being an HSP?
In this article, we looked at the various temperaments that can be associated with being an HSP. Along a similar vein, you might also be interested in the article Not All HSPs are the Same, which examines interests and more.
Since we are talking about personality types and how we relate, you might also find "HSPs and the Challenge of Friendships" worth a read.
Of course, if you'd like some more general background information, there's always this fairly thorough Introductory article, which I also like to recommend to people who need to share information about the trait to NON-HSPs.
Sharing is Kindness!
Thank you for reading!
If you enjoyed this article and/or learned something from it, please share it with others and help spread greater awareness of the HSP trait. Please use the nifty "social sharing" buttons at left here. Thank you!
© 2012 Peter Messerschmidt