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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.

What is your experience with the traits of HSP?

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    • Quirinus profile image

      Queirdkus Ω Ibidem 

      5 years ago from Sitting on the Rug

      Emanate Presence, you inspired this hub from me: . Namaste.

    • HSP Connections profile image

      Peter Messerschmidt 

      5 years ago from Port Townsend, WA, USA

      Thank you for sharing this... especially enjoyed the personal aspects of your journey. Finding acceptance within ourselves is SO important... there was a time I thought I was just "broken" in some way, because of the ways others around me would respond to my sensitivities. Even though I have never been much into giving a lot of power to "labels," it is nice to have a "name" for this, now backed up by science.

    • Emanate Presence profile imageAUTHOR

      Gary R. Smith 

      6 years ago from the Head to the Heart

      True of many. Thank you for reading and responding.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Diana...dear Princess Diana...if only she had been able to access Elaine Aron's book and see this site and find out more about her trait, she would have been spared so much agony and the humiliation of feeling "defective" and as if something was "wrong" with her.

    • Emanate Presence profile imageAUTHOR

      Gary R. Smith 

      6 years ago from the Head to the Heart

      Crafttothecore, the story you shared in your comment, of your son's sensitivities and abilities, is very interesting. Have you written a hub around this?

      We wrote a story from our experience as houseparents for a young man on the low function end of Autism Spectrum Disorder. It was an incredible learning experience:

    • CraftytotheCore profile image


      6 years ago

      This was very fascinating! My son has Asperger's Syndrome. He is high-functioning on the Autism Spectrum. He has a high level of sensitivity in his environment. I think it's remarkable he can hear things and feel things magnified beyond what most people can hear or feel. He was also tested and scored way above his age in many topics, especially math. He creates lego structures without instructions by visualizing something from his imagination. His latest creation was a metal helicopter he dreamed up from an erector set! He created a horse barn with 3D horses and a tractor once within 10 minutes. He creates whatever he sees in his mind. He is only 7.

    • Quirinus profile image

      Queirdkus Ω Ibidem 

      7 years ago from Sitting on the Rug

      Thanks for sharing a great eye-opener, Emanate Presence. I think we might just be able to use your hub and links among three generations. Will thus be sharing on. Voted up and useful!

      P.S. I read part II, and you are correct, I believe "acceptance" of self (e.g. appreciation of gifts) and external circumstances can be a strong ally in dealing with one's weaknesses as an HSP. Thanks for an important reminder!

    • Sensitive paws profile image

      Sensitive paws 

      7 years ago

      It is most generous of you to share your personal story and your sensitive artwork/photography. I continue to share your HSP hubs widely and have posted this on my F/B page. Your articles are not only consoling HSPs who have been at a loss to know or explain their characteristics, but they enlighten non-HSPs who fail to appreciate or understand us. I too, scored 26 out of 27 on the HSP quiz.

      Thank you, Kindred Spirit.

    • Emanate Presence profile imageAUTHOR

      Gary R. Smith 

      7 years ago from the Head to the Heart

      I am happy to know the hub was helpful, and will watch for yours on 'Teaching Dreams.'

    • onegreenparachute profile image


      7 years ago from Greenwood, B.C., Canada

      I am also an HSP but have not read the book. I find it particularly interesting to read that sensitive people often have detailed and intricate dreams. Dreaming has been a huge part of my life and I plan on writing a Hub on what I call "Teaching Dreams". Thank you for this Hub. Through it I have understood that both my daughters and my mother are highly sensitive and that my psychic ablilities probably stem from this sensitivity.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      7 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Finding out that I am a highly sensitive person and reading a book on it was one of the best things I ever did. It helped me to understand myself, and to understand why other people respond to me the way that they do. Highly sensitive people accomplish much good in the world, but often at the expense of their own feelings of self-worth. It is good to know that there are other people with similar characteristics. I don't feel quite so alone.

    • Emanate Presence profile imageAUTHOR

      Gary R. Smith 

      7 years ago from the Head to the Heart

      Nice to see you here, ananceleste. I just read one of your hubs, too, your "Message in a Bottle," and enjoyed it much.

    • ananceleste profile image

      Anan Celeste 

      7 years ago from California

      To be one with everything and everyone , can be overwhelming at times. Great hub.

    • Emanate Presence profile imageAUTHOR

      Gary R. Smith 

      7 years ago from the Head to the Heart

      Hi CR Rookwood from Moonlight Maine! Thank you for your insightful comments. I lived in Maine also. Glad to make the connection and start to know you.

    • CR Rookwood profile image

      Pamela Hutson 

      7 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Wonderful hub! Elaine Aron's work also helped me appreciate my different-ness and not feel like I was 'broken' or something. We like to think that anyone can change themselves into anything if they just get the 'right attitude' and try hard enough, but it seems clear to me after raising three kids that each person is born with certain traits and gifts that ARE 'hard-wired. Thanks for this, and welcome to Hub Pages!

    • Emanate Presence profile imageAUTHOR

      Gary R. Smith 

      7 years ago from the Head to the Heart

      Good to see you again, Vinodkpillai.

    • Vinodkpillai profile image


      7 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      I have to mark my presence here and add my two words to thank you for sharing this information which will be of very great use to any HSP who visits this page.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      7 years ago from Western NC

      Very thorough and interesting hub. You actually got me wondering if I have this. I have already opened the link to do a self-test. Great information and awesome explanations. Keep up the good work and welcome to HubPages!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Very interesting hub. I was also intrigued by B.Leekley's question as well, since I am currently raising my nephew who is on the 'higher functioning' end of the autism spectrum.

      I believe that your parents did you a huge favor setting you up in the Idaho wilderness that summer. You must have felt that was 'heaven' on earth.

      Thanks for shedding some light on a subject that normally falls under, 'shyness'. Rated Up/U/I Beautiful images, BTW.

    • Emanate Presence profile imageAUTHOR

      Gary R. Smith 

      7 years ago from the Head to the Heart

      That is an interesting question, B. Leekley. Kati and I were houseparents for a young man with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The spectrum is very wide, and some on the 'high function' end have extra-ordinary capabilities such as Temple Grandin, an American doctor of animal science and professor at Colorado State University, bestselling author, and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior. The young man we lived with was on the very low function end of the spectrum. From the movie about Temple Grandin and our experience with the young man, within an agency which specializes in raising the life quality of people with autism, I would say yes, people with autism generally have acute sensitivites to certain kinds of sounds. I don't know what studies have been done regarding, or if any correlation has been made within the scientific community, between HSP and autism. If you find out, please let me know!

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      I've read that a trait often found among autistic persons is sensitivity, such as to certain sorts of sounds. Is that coincidental, or is there a connection?

    • Zayleen Pain profile image


      7 years ago from lost in my own minds lines

      I am also an overly sensitive person , so i can relate well to this

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting subject and Hub. I took the test and was surprised at the results and look forward to learning more about the subject. I also hope you will write more about your experiences.

    • Emanate Presence profile imageAUTHOR

      Gary R. Smith 

      7 years ago from the Head to the Heart

      Yes. I also struggle sometimes to find words to write beyond the usual 'thank you for writing.' or 'great comments.' I feel both from reading your entry and more, an appreciation that you would take from your time to read my articles and give energy into responding. Reading each other increases awareness and understanding and can lighten the load or light the path.

    • Dame Scribe profile image

      Dame Scribe 

      7 years ago from Canada

      I think to be such a state, one has to experience 'trials by fire' upon their person that affects their views of people and surroundings. We are frail and vulnerable. Some don't see it whereas others, experience and struggle to come to terms with it. Great info!


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