10 signs you’re a highly sensitive person

While it’s true that highly sensitive people come from all walks of life, inventors, explorers, artists, musicians, mystics, and poets past and present tend to be some of the most sensitive people of all. 

People like Princess Diana, comedic actor Robin Williams come to mind for their deeply sensitive sensibilities. But actually so were Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

English primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall is also notably highly sensitive by nature: she’s known for her love and study of the wild and social interactions of chimpanzees.

Of course, you don’t have to be famous to be highly sensitive. 

“With or without fame, fortune, or genuine-level intelligence and talent, Highly Sensitive People [HSPs] intrinsically know they are somehow different,” says Dr. Layne Daniels.

“The High Sensitivity (HS) that defines their neurological makeup from birth steers them in the direction of supreme qualities like creativity, empathy, and intuition.”

Dr. Daniels says that most profoundly sensitive people will fall under the world’s radar. “They are, after all,‘part of a small-but-significant slice of humanity,” she emphasizes. “And our fast-paced, competitive society doesn’t leave much room for understanding, let alone embracing, people who live outside the bell curve.”

Do Dr. Daniels’ words resonate with you? Have you always suspected yourself to be a highly sensitive person? 

Here are ten signs that the special tag of an HSP most likely applies to you.

1) Your emotions are never far below the surface

Are you one of those people who can cry on cue? 

All it takes is someone pushing past you on the subway, or a film about a father whose wife dies and he has to put the children up for adoption because of poverty?

Well, then you’re probably a certified HSP. 

If you’re someone who startles easily, it could be because you have a sensitivity chip according to psychologist Olivia Guy Evans.

“Many HSPs have a highly sensitive ‘startle reflex’ and find that if someone sneaks up on them or there is a loud noise, they are more likely to be very startled,” explains Dr. Evans. “This may be because, even in non-threatening situations, their CNS is very sensitive and can react as if there is a danger.”

2) You even absorb other people’s emotions 

A few years ago, brain imaging research found that the brains of highly sensitive people are wired somewhat differently. 

Intriguingly, the study showed that HSPs consistently showed higher levels of activity in key parts of the brain related to emotional and social processing, says self-development writer Lauren Tritten. 

“This higher level of activity was seen even in tests involving strangers, showcasing the highly sensitive person’s incredible ability to extend compassion to people they don’t personally know. However, not surprisingly, the effect was still highest with loved ones.”

As a result of these mirror neurons, highly sensitive people have a heightened sense of empathy.

This means that you can take on other people’s emotions very easily. You may all of the sudden start feeling sad, moody, or stressed out even though they were feeling perfectly fine previously. 

Blame it on your neurons!

3) You’re a certified worrier and tend to analyze things from every angle

behaviors secretly a deep thinker 10 signs you're a highly sensitive person

Do you happen to be someone who holds their breath with worry when you haven’t heard back before long to a text you sent? Does your mind start to strum up worst-case scenarios?

Or maybe you take point-by-point mental notes of a casual conversation you had with your boss, for example. Was she alluding to potential cutbacks down the road? Could your job be in jeopardy?

“Overthinking and worrying is common with highly sensitive people,” says James Killian, who is a therapist and owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, Connecticut. 

“You notice every detail and overthink what should be a simple decision, like where to go for lunch. You are prone to getting stuck in the rehashing of the “what-if” rut.”

4) You feel like you don’t fit in

It’s very common for HSPs to feel misunderstood. Conventional society doesn’t seem to value the more delicate nature of highly sensitive people.

“In general, society still values toughness and practicality over sensitivity in many social environments, from politics to business to education,” says Peggy Liu

“In fact, one of the earliest major studies on high sensitivity found that HSPs are very conscious of being different in terms of their needs, their priorities, and the way they arrange their lives compared to others around them.”

Liu says that when we experience the world through a more sensitive lens, sadly the validity of our experience is often sidelined by people who just can’t understand it. 

“We HSPs are more easily overstimulated, and not everyone is willing to hold space for our sensitive feelings,” she says. “The natural conclusion many HSPs reach is that we’re better off alone than misunderstood, so we withdraw.”

5) You are prone to anxiety

It’s no wonder then, that highly sensitive people are prone to anxiety. 

“HSPs are anxiety-prone because they process thoughts and feelings deeply,” says Dr. Daniels. “Because of how deeply they experience the world, they’re more easily and quickly overstimulated.”

Their heart can start pounding when they feel obligated to go to a party for example. HSPs tend to thrive with one-on-one conversations and can start to feel claustrophobic whenever there’s a crowd. 

6) You avoid stressful situations 

Highly sensitive people tend to avoid any situation that leaves them feeling overwhelmed. 

“HSPs may be more affected by certain situations such as tension, violence, and conflict, which may lead them to avoid things that make them feel uncomfortable,” says therapist and writer Elizabeth Scott, PhD.

But it could also be things that most people take for granted. 

For instance, highly sensitive people can go through life never having gotten their driver’s license because the very idea of driving makes them so nervous. Many highly sensitive people may also have a fear of flying. 

7) You are thoughtful by nature 

Highly sensitive people are the ones who don’t need a Facebook notification to remember the birthdays of friends and family. 

They’re the people who will dog sit for their neighbor and visit even an acquaintance in the hospital. 

As professionals, HSPs are deeply committed to fairness, and have a knack for leading teams of people in a way others simply can’t, says Dr. Daniels. 

8) You try to avoid upsetting others

signs your strong personality is intimidating others at work 10 signs you're a highly sensitive person

Highly sensitive people are highly focused on avoiding conflict as well as inadvertently offending others. So much so that they’ll often go out of their way to make sure they are being sensitive to others’ feelings.

HSPs care deeply about their friends and tend to form deep bonds with people. Few things are more important to them than being a supportive friend and loved one. Harmony and peace are also paramount to them. 

9) They can be decidedly self-doubting 

Highly sensitive people can be their own worst critics, so it’s no wonder they have regular bouts of self-doubt. 

They will remember an embarrassing episode from ten years ago with extraordinary detail and even put themselves through reliving the humiliation once in a while. 

They are also averse to being watched and often feel like they are being judged. 

10) You pick up on nuances and have a high attention to detail

HSPs are known to be highly observant, innovative and creative—so much so that managers consistently rate people with higher sensitivity as their top contributors. They also have a meticulous eye for detail.

“This is especially true for Sensitive Strivers–highly sensitive people who are also high achieving,” says Melody Wilding, author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work.

Wilding, who has spent the past decade researching and coaching driven, top performers at Fortune 500 companies like Google and Facebook. 

“Sensitive Strivers not only have typical traits of HSPs (including depth of processing and emotional responsiveness),” she says. “But they also show above-average ambition and an appetite for continual growth.”

While this “hyper-attunement” might sound like some kind of superpower special to highly sensitive people, this inner experience can be draining, says Wilding. 

“Situations that might be moderately stressful to the average person can cause a sensitive person to spiral into emotional reactivity and overthinking,” she says.

There is nothing wrong with being an HSP

In our society, the word “sensitive” is sadly loaded with negative connotations such as being weak, fragile or vulnerable, says life coach Jules De Vitto.  

“This is not what it means to be sensitive, and it is definitely not a disorder or disease! It also shouldn’t be confused with things like autism or being introverted,” she says. 

Being highly sensitive simply means that you have a rich, complex, and absorbing inner life. You’re also aware of any subtle changes that happen in your outer life.

The sensory input that comes from your environment can make you feel overwhelmed and sometimes you just need a sufficient amount of downtime to regroup and bounce back. 

Highly sensitive people have a plethora of talents and they are a beautiful gift to the world. 

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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