11 signs of a highly sensitive person: An essential guide

I’ve often been labelled as sensitive, and not in a nice way either.

“You’re so sensitive”, my boyfriend remarked, rolling his eyes after making what felt like a particularly jarring joke, to which I responded with a wobble of my bottom lip.

I also bawl my eyes out at every movie fighting scene. 

You know the ones at the end, where everyone unites to fight the bad guy, and there’s some heart-wrenching element of solidarity and sacrifice. 

Narnia, Avatar, etc. 

The scene in The Hunger Games where they break down the well. 

I turn into a blubbering mess.

The term Highly Sensitive Person was coined first in 1991 by psychology researcher Elaine Aron. 

It grows in popularity alongside labels such as ‘empath’ and ‘introvert’, and although not diagnosable, it’s a term which is generally used to describe people who are more sensitive to their emotions and external stimuli.

Being highly sensitive has actually been linked to being gifted by Linda Silverman (director of the Gifted Development Center), if you think you do fit into this category and you’re having any doubts about how much your sensitivity benefits you.

So hopefully you recognize some of these 11 superhero signs within yourself: 

1) You feel things deeply

Feeling things deeply is not a weakness.

Imagine a world in which you felt nothing at all?

Obviously, feeling everything turned up to max volume can sometimes be stifling. 

It means that you’re easily overwhelmed by loud noises and big crowds.

Breakups and arguments can cause you such immense emotional distress, you spend weeks isolating yourself and trying to pick up the broken pieces of your heart.

2) You feel like you carry the weight of everyone else’s emotions on your own shoulders

Whilst being a highly sensitive person doesn’t necessarily equate to being an empath, HSPs do tend to feel the emotions of the people around them in a similar manner.

The presence of a friend going through a hard time likely dampens your own mood, and you feel their pain as if it were your own.

You can also tread into a room full of people and sense the general atmosphere. 

Your ability to study minor gestures and facial cues is second to none, and small details that often go unnoticed you easily detect.

Whilst your sensitivity encourages you to feel and share the pain of others, this can also be incredibly overwhelming. 

You frequently find yourself exhausted after supporting someone in their own struggles, or even after reading about a particularly heavy hitting news article.

3) You find yourself having to withdraw often

Maybe you don’t really find this as such, but after a few weeks of heavy socializing or a particularly gruelling work week, you might disappear for a few weeks. 

Or a month. 

Or several months.

Hibernation periods are when highly sensitive people take the time to recharge their social batteries and decompress.

As a HSP, you might be aware of when you’re in need of a time-out.

Equally, you might suddenly find yourself having a meltdown owing to a sensory overload and hit breaking point – forcing yourself to withdraw to heal until you’re robust enough to take on the world again.

Related: If you’ve stopped growing as a person, say goodbye to these 14 behaviors

4) You’re deeply moved by beauty

By beauty, I don’t just mean a pretty face.

I mean all the goodness life has to offer.

You can likely get swept away by a good film, immerse yourself for hours in a riveting book, or spend a lifetime gazing at illustrious artwork.

The riches that life has to offer have a deeper and more profound effect on people with a sensitive nature. 

This means that many creatives and artists would themselves fall within the category of HSPs.

A blessing and a curse, the intense nature in which HSPs experience their surroundings can bring tremendous happiness and joy as well as great despondence. 

Often, different forms of artwork and media are the only channel which HSPs can use to bridge their inner and outer worlds.

5) You’re ponderous

Even if you don’t ask these questions out loud, you might spend a lot of your time wrapped up in your inner world; processing information and trying to get to the bottom of things.

(Often knowing that everything is bottomless, but you still love asking questions).

Whether it’s mulling over someone’s intentions or questioning the meaning of life, HSPs have a tendency to get wrapped up in overthinking – which can also lead to a great deal of anxiety if those thoughts are allowed to spiral.

6) Clothing also affects you

most resilient zodiacs who can bounce back from anything 1 11 signs of a highly sensitive person: An essential guide

And not just in a ‘god I look good today’ kind of way when you’re really feeling your OOTD.

Scratchy fabrics and tight waistbands are your nightmare. 

Velvet, personally, is my mortal enemy.

You often shop in accordance not with just what looks good, but what also fits you comfortably.

Maybe, like me, you live a life in leggings or sweatpants and find yourself reaching for baggy tees over skimpy tops. 

One ill-fitting piece of clothing and your day is ruined.

7) You abhor any form of violence or cruelty

For you, the notion of suffering and war makes you incredibly unsettled.

Horror movies or gory films are likely not your go-tos.

And the idea of animal testing or abuse appals you.

Equally, you frown upon people who actively hurt others in social settings. 

Petty gossip or cruel comments aren’t in your nature, and you don’t understand why other people would want to mistreat anyone else.

8) Criticism cripples you

Even a little side comment about your hair being messy or how you appear a bit more tired than usual can throw you off kilter.

HSPs can also be confident people, don’t get me wrong. 

Being highly sensitive does not equate directly with having a low self-esteem, although this is a common misconception.

However, criticism, particularly when not presented in a constructive nor considerate manner will often hit HSPs the hardest.

Passing comments made about your demeanor or your appearance might pop up in your head weeks after the initial remark was made.

Having a nice warm shower, and boom – you’re thinking about that one time in kindergarten when you were teased for your button nose.

Related: If you really want to change your life, say goodbye to these 12 habits

9) Your manners are next to none

Being incredibly conscious of the world around you means that you’re also incredibly aware of the people in it.

And in doing so, how you present yourself to them.

Aside from sometimes worrying a little too much about how you come across or how you’re perceived, you likely have exceptional manners.

You’re gracious and welcoming, and always make sure to observe everyone in the room in which you’re standing.

You’re not the type to overlook a newcomer or let someone’s narrative be spoken over. Instead, you’re the person everyone treasures who, in that situation, looks them straight in the eye and tells them that you were listening.

(Although should you be the one to be spoken over mid-narrative, it will probably leave a bit of a scar).

10) Loud noises scare the hell out of you

Sudden sirens and screeching cars lead you to jump out of your skin.

HSPs are thought to have an increased or deeper central nervous system, meaning that they’re easily startled and have a lower threshold for sensory input.

A bit like a nervous and jumpy street cat, you’re quick to fall into fight-or-flight at the smallest signs of danger.

11) Change is stressful and upsetting

Your favorite coffee shop closing down, having to take a new route to work, or dating a new partner is likely far more stressful for a highly sensitive person than for your everyday individual.

Even good changes can be alarming.

Surprise birthday parties?

No thank you please.

Opening the door to a room full of people yelling and screaming my name would probably give me a heart attack.

Don’t get me wrong, the affection and consideration would be greatly appreciated, but surprises tend to be less favored by the highly sensitive.

To drill it home one more time (for the people at the back) – being sensitive is not a bad thing by any means

Feeling things deeply means to feel greater highs that life brings and to revel in experiences that others overlook. It’s a quality you should be proud of.

Even if it takes being a little kinder to yourself and making sure to keep on top of your emotions to make sure you avoid overwhelming yourself: champion your sensitivity.

The empathy and awareness that being a HSP brings differentiates you as one of life’s more tender and emotive individuals, who we could definitely use a great deal more of in the world.

Or at least whose praises we need to start singing.

And if this list doesn’t apply to you, perhaps it’ll give you more clarity on people close to you who you might have considered overly sensitive in the past…

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Liv Walde

Liv Walde

London-based writer with big thoughts, big dreams, and a passion for helping others.

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