It is an awesome explanations of the common attributes of HSPs. This clarifies a lot of things!
Common Attributes of HSPs
Sensitivity can vary considerably from person to person, and manifests in different ways. Indeed, getting one’s feelings hurt easily can be a large part of the picture. But there is much more.
- HSPs are often very sensitive to pain, both physical and emotional.
- HSPs often respond to much lower doses of medications than most people.
- HSPs tend to be easily startled, and often feel overwhelmed by loud sensory inputs.
- HSPs tend to be uncommonly cautious when facing new situations.
- HSPs are often highly conscientious and tend towards perfectionism.
- HSPs are easily shaken up and distressed by changes, and don’t do well in “multitasking” situations.
- HSPs are often negatively affected by loud noises, strong scents and smells, or bright lights.
- HSPs tend to be “cooperative,” rather than “competitive,” and often underperform in competitive environments
- HSPs get easily rattled in stressful situations.
- HSPs are often deeply empathic and frequently “pick up moods” from other people.
- Even when extraverted, HSPs tend to be introspective, have rich inner lives, and need a lot of time alone.
- HSPs are disproportionately drawn to the arts and music, and tend to be very easily moved to tears by expressions of beauty and intensity, as well as images of horror and violence.
If some of this sounds like you, or someone you know, you might consider looking at this free self-test for sensitivity, on Dr. Aron’s web site. It is only 27 questions, and takes no more than about five minutes to complete.
What is an HSP, Not?
In addition to understanding some of the many aspects of being an HSP, a lot can also be learned from looking at some of the things that are not High Sensitivity– yet these “lookalikes” are often mistakenly attributed to the trait.
An HSP is not, by definition, “an introvert.” Whereas being highly sensitive does have a high correlation with introversion, approximately 30% of HSPs are extraverts. The extraverted HSP faces additional challenges in that they feel a strong need for stimulation and want to be among people… yet doing so often leads to overstimulation.
An HSP is not “a shy person.” Shyness is widely recognized as being an issue centered around self-perception– typically excessive self-consciousness, irrationally negative self-evaluation, and irrationally negative self-preoccupation. People are not born shy, and the psychology profession has established that there is really no “sense of self” prior to ages 12-18 months. As such, shyness is a learned behavior, while sensitivity is not.
An HSP is not “socially anxious.” Social Anxiety is a mental/emotional disorder, typically the result of some kind of emotional trauma or ongoing condition that makes social situations particularly difficult for that individual. Social Anxiety deals with fears, while being an HSP deals with nervous system arousal levels. It should be noted, however, that because HSPs tend to be both introspective and more attuned to social stimuli, they are somewhat more likely to encounter situations that may lead to developing Social Anxiety. An HSP can have Social Anxiety, but having Social Anxiety doesn’t mean you’re an HSP.
An HSP does not have Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID). Whereas this disorder does involve the central nervous system, it essentially refers to a condition in which a personsenses physical stimuli normally, but perceives them abnormally. This is not true about being highly sensitive… whereas an HSP may feel sensory overload, he or she senses andperceives consistently. However, an HSP can suffer from SID, just like anyone else.
An HSP does not have Asperger’s Disorder (formerly Asperger’s Syndrome). There are a lot of overlaps between the diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s (a form of high-functioning autism) and the description of High Sensitivity. That said, the two are not the same, and while an HSP may have Asperger’s, being an HSP doesn’t mean you have the disorder. One of the primary ways to tell the two apart comes in the context of social interactions. Individuals with Asperger’s generally have difficulty understanding social cues and reading such things as body language and facial expressions, while HSPs tend to be attuned to these in a much above average way. If you’d like to learn more, there’s a useful article on Elaine Aron’s web site, explaining the differences.
An HSP is not, by definition, “neurotic.” This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the HSP trait to explain since– after all– the word “neurotic” is directly linked to nervous system disorders, and being highly sensitive is all about the nervous system. What perhaps should be kept in mind is how we define neurosis: A non-psychotic mental illness that triggers feelings of distress and anxiety, and generally results in impaired functioning. One way to distinguish is to remember that neuroses center around pathological responses, while sensitivity represents healthy/normal (albeit possibly extreme) responses. Sensitivity does not involve mental illness, although (as in the case of Social Anxiety) HSPs may be more prone to neuroses than the population at large.
An HSP is not “superior,” in some way. As stated earlier, the trait is basically “neutral,” with associated upsides and downsides. For example an HSP may be able to hear your baby crying even when you can’t (“positive”), but potentially may never enjoy a live concert because it’s overwhelmingly loud (“negative”) to their ears. Or, an HSP may be able to smell a gas leak before anyone else (“good”), but might get repeated headaches from being exposed to the smell of common household cleaning products (“bad”).
HSP is not a synonym for “nice person” or “milquetoast.” Again, it’s important to remember that behaviors tend to be a choice. I have met a number of HSPs I would by no means characterize as “nice people,” nor does sensitivity necessarily make someone a “pushover.””