7 signs you’re dealing with a highly sensitive individual, according to psychology

Ever met someone who seemed to feel things more deeply than everyone else?

Who got overstimulated easily, could discern every subtle mood shift, and had an intense appreciation for the beauty of the world?

You might have crossed paths with a highly sensitive individual.

While they are often accused of being “too sensitive” for their own good, they are simply wired a bit differently than the general population.

Learning what makes them tick will only strengthen your relationship.

Here are 7 signs you’re dealing with a highly sensitive individual, according to psychology.

Turns out, their emotional radar operates on a different frequency.

1) They react differently to external stimuli

A highly sensitive individual (HSI) is usually easily overwhelmed by external stimuli, according to psychology.

That includes loud noises, bright lights, huge crowds, or even uncomfortable clothing.

Since they feel everything at a stronger intensity than the general population, they might have difficulty processing all these stimuli at once, so stadium concerts or noisy festivals might be too much for them to handle.

The blinding array of lights and the crush of bodies can cause distress and discomfort.

What you perceive as excitement and energy, HSIs perceive as chaos and sensory overload.

If you attend a big event together, you will likely catch them seeking refuge in quieter environments.

They do this to decompress and regain their balance. Respecting their occasional need for space can go a long way toward supporting their well-being.

Additionally, you might suggest hanging out in smaller groups at quiet cafes to accommodate them.

2) They get (very) emotional 

Psychology Today notes that highly sensitive individuals may have seemingly inappropriate emotional responses in social situations.

They may react more strongly or differently than others expect in certain contexts.

This doesn’t mean their emotions are unjustified, but rather that they experience emotions more fiercely or are more affected by subtle social cues.

I had a friend in high school who seemed to be moved by everything.

Even commercials made her cry, and romantic comedies would leave her gasping for breath between sobs.

Plus, whenever something sad happened, she would take it harder than everyone else.

I used to think she was exaggerating, but now I’m pretty sure she’s highly sensitive.

I wish I could go back in time and give her a hug.

3) They avoid violent entertainment

Speaking of my high school friend, she would generally avoid entertainment that was too violent or scary.

Whenever I recommended a horror or thriller movie, she would say it wasn’t for her.

And when we watched such movies as a group, she would leave the room during high-intensity moments or play on her phone instead of paying attention.

Again, I used to think she was being quirky when in reality she might have just been overwhelmed by the on-screen shenanigans.

Highly sensitive individuals tend to avoid TV shows or movies that are violent, according to psychology.

Watching violent scenes can evoke feelings of fear or sadness which they find difficult to shake off.

Fictional violence is distressing because they can’t help but imagine themselves in the shoes of the characters experiencing it.

This brings me to my next point.

4) They are empathetic

Highly sensitive individuals notice subtle social cues others miss and resonate with what others go through, according to psychology.

They have a knack for observing all the nuances of social interactions.

In other words, they pick up on changes in tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, and even the energy in a room.

This heightened awareness allows them to perceive underlying emotions that would go unnoticed otherwise.

They also possess a generous sense of empathy and intuition, which enables them to connect with others on a profound level.

As they sense the feelings of those around them without the need for explicit verbal communication, this understanding allows them to offer support and insight to their loved ones in times of need.

If you’re friends with a highly sensitive individual, you’ve pretty much hit the jackpot.

5) They need plenty of alone time

Man in comfort zone 7 signs you’re dealing with a highly sensitive individual, according to psychology

All the empathy can get to be too much for someone highly sensitive, which is why they need downtime to recharge and recover.

They are more affected by the joys and sorrows of people around them, sometimes to the point of experiencing similar emotions themselves.

However, constantly processing the emotions of others can lead to exhaustion for HSIs.

When you add the demands of everyday life on top of their empathetic nature, you get heightened stress levels and the need for regular periods of relaxation to restore balance.

If you’re looking to help out someone who you suspect is highly sensitive, recommend they take breaks in between social outings and work.

Ideally, these should include activities that keep them centered:

  • Spending time alone in nature
  • Practicing mindfulness or meditation
  • Engaging in creative pursuits
  • Resting and recuperating in a peaceful environment

Furthermore, HSIs should set boundaries in their relationships and environments.

If their friends constantly bombard them with problems, they will eventually succumb to emotional burnout.

Self-care should come first.

6) They appreciate beauty

Highly sensitive individuals have a strong appreciation for beauty, according to psychology.

They may find themselves deeply moved by the colors, shapes, textures, and patterns that make up their environment.

They might also be very into art, including music or cinema, insisting that a powerful painting, movie, or song evokes a sense of awe.

Not only that, but they often engage in artsy endeavors themselves.

They see creativity as a means of exploring and celebrating beauty.

Consequently, they might use painting, writing, photography, or music to capture the wonder of the world through their eyes.

7) They have a rich inner life

Is there anyone in your entourage who daydreams on the regular? 

They might be highly sensitive.

According to psychology, highly sensitive individuals have a rich inner life and are frequently labeled as being “too in their heads.”

I also like to fancy myself as someone with a vivid imagination, and I find that plain rude.

Maintaining an intricate inner universe is a strength, not a shortcoming.

Highly sensitive individuals can spend hours lost in thought, imagining future possibilities, reflecting on past experiences, or exploring philosophical questions.

Their reflective nature helps them gain insight into themselves and the world around them.

Moreover, HSIs may use their imaginative skills to solve problems and generate innovative ideas.

If you need the assistance of someone who thinks outside the box, don’t hesitate to consult them.

Final thoughts

If you suspect that a loved one happens to be a highly sensitive individual, make sure to validate their feelings.

Just because something doesn’t move you as deeply as it moves them doesn’t mean that they are “weak” or “fragile.”

When it comes to emotions, there’s no right or wrong.

Everyone experiences them differently – and these variations should make you appreciate the diversity of the human condition even more.   

By being a bit understanding, you can foster a supportive environment for the HSI in your life. 

Picture of Alexandra Plesa

Alexandra Plesa

Alexandra Pleșa is a freelance writer obsessed with television, self-development, and thriller books. Former journalist, current pop culture junkie. Follow her on Twitter: @alexandraplesa

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