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Highly Sensitive People: the gifts and challenges of this inherited trait

Updated on January 25, 2016

Highly Sensitive People

People who have been labelled 'too sensitive', 'overly focused' or introverted can learn through a self-test if they actually are among 'Highly Sensitive People' - a term coined by Dr. Elaine Aron who wrote "The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You."

About 15 to 20 percent of the population, HSP are hardwired differently - with an inherited trait and sensitive nervous system. Carl Jung originally called the trait "innate sensitiveness" and empaths are considered by some to be HSP or vice versa. However, an article on HSPs says, "By contrast empaths are HSPs with something more. Not every HSP is an empath. But every empath is an HSP."

And a reader suggested, to my agreement, these distinctions:

Empath: A person who is capable of feeling the emotions or physical symptoms of others even if they themselves are not going through the same situation or events.

Highly Sensitive: Used to describe a person who has high sensory awareness and often feels extremely emotional or in-tune with their surroundings.

This article is to introduce the term and provide links to resources for more in-depth learning about the subject. The intention is not to over-emphasize the HSP category, as the trait is just one aspect of a person. However, it was significant for the writer to discover that his sensitivites, which had such influence in his life, are an inherited trait shared by many. If he had known earlier, it would have shortened his attempts to understand and manage the challenging side of HSP through consulting specialists and professionals in both allopathic and alternative medicine - though it was all learning, and all good. There are other Hubpages on this topic as well for those who want to delve further.

Also, as the Hub writer recently learned how the term applies to him, a personal account of his experience with HSP is included here.

Traits of HSP can include:

  • Super sensitivity to environmental conditions or situations
  • Heightened awareness of subtleties
  • A rich, complex inner life
  • Processing information in more detail
  • Being quiet, introverted, timid, or shy as a child (but 30% of HSP are extroverted)
  • Easily overwhelmed
  • Very creative
  • Highly intuitive
  • Preference for cooperation over competition

If you feel you may be HSP, know someone who is, or are just interested in the subject, the resource links can give an overview. Videos on the subject are available on YouTube and other services. There is space for writing about your own experience with HSP in a short essay at the bottom of the page.

Thank you for your presence.

Photographs are by Gary R. Smith

About The Highly Sensitive Person

*** ***

"Abraham Lincoln....Carl Jung....Dr. Pat Allen....Princess Diana. They are all HSP! (Highly Sensitive Persons)" - Jim Hallowes' Highly Sensitive

*** ***

Reflection in Water

Highly Sensitive People often feel well around water.
Highly Sensitive People often feel well around water.


Highly Sensitive People tend to have a deep, rich inner life, be very spiritual and may also have vivid dreams.
Highly Sensitive People tend to have a deep, rich inner life, be very spiritual and may also have vivid dreams.

Visual Processing: Attention to Detail

Highly Sensitive People "have greater activity in areas of the brain concerned with high-order visual processing...."
Highly Sensitive People "have greater activity in areas of the brain concerned with high-order visual processing...."

Reflections on the Extraordinary in Ordinary Life


"....a significant percentage of other species - including dogs, fish, and various primates - also display this sensitivity trait." - Helen Kirwan-Taylor


Life Experience as a Highly Sensitive Person

by the Hubmaker

I called it hyper-sensitive hearing for years, then dropped labels until recently when the term 'Highly Sensitive People' came to my attention. On a Self-Test, I scored 26 of 27 traits of HSP. My first memory of the effects of being highly sensitive is from the age of four, when it was challenging to sit at the table with my family due feeling so disturbed by the normal sounds of eating. Even more recently, the medical community has diagnosed sensitivity to eating noises as 'misophania,' which is considered a neurological disorder. This specific sensitivity is interwoven with the overall of being an HSP, in my experience.

The next significant memory comes from age fourteen when I wrote a paper titled 'Man.' It expressed my anger towards the inhumanity of man, and the way animals are often treated as objects and possessions.

I gave it to my 8th grade teacher and asked for confidentiality. He showed it to the school counselor, they brought in my parents, then I went to a psychologist. I also made an elaborate plan to hike the Rocky Mountains at the foothills from northern Colorado to Mexico and free animals from cages and zoos! Using money from a paper route, I had started to outfit myself when the plan was revealed. The outcome was that they decided it would be beneficial for me to spend the summer in the wilderness of Idaho where my dad had done a Bighorn Sheep study, and learn to appreciate society.

So my dog Kiche and I spent the summer of '68 in the 'River of No Return' wilderness. We were based in a two man pup tent pitched under a leaning spruce tree near Cougar Creek. From there she and I hiked the trails through rattlesnake country, up into the Bighorn Crags, an area of pristine high mountain lakes, and along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

For supplies, we hiked up Big Creek, a river tributary to the Middle Fork, to the Taylor Ranch where an elderly couple kept to themselves over the summer but radioed my requests. A bush pilot landed on the grass strip with canned goods and mail. At the end of summer I wrote my parents that I would only come out of the wilderness if they would agree that I would not have to go to school or eat dinner with the family. It was not easy for them, either, of course. It took me awhile to realize that side of it, as I saw myself as the victim. The realization came with growing awareness and compassion.

As a gift, being 'highly sensitive' brings a rich inner life, creativity and heightened intuition into my experience.


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