How to Know if You Are a Highly Sensitive Person

Approximately 20 percent of the population experiences the world a little differently than the rest. They’re strongly affected by sounds, images and other sensations and have greater empathy for others. A highly sensitive person (HSP) feels life in a big way. And while this can be beautiful, it’s also overwhelming at times. Psychologists Elaine and Arthur Aron first coined the term highly sensitive person (HSP) in the mid-1990s when they developed the Highly Sensitive Person Scale (HSPS). According to the Arons and other researchers, HSPs have higher emotional reactivity and more in-depth cognitive processing than the rest of the population. This sensitivity isn’t a psychological weakness, but rather a highly attuned experience of life. Sound familiar? Here are 10 signs to watch for that will help you understand what’s really behind those big feelings.

1. You feel all the feelings.

Joy. Anger. Sadness. Fear. You name it, you feel it strongly. You can’t hold back your intense emotions, even when you try. If you’re happy, you literally jump for joy. When you’re sad, it feels like the world is coming to an end. You fall in love fast and hard, but you’re also easily agitated. You may skip from one emotion to the next in fast succession or feel a mixed bag of emotions all at once. Highly sensitive people are more reactive than others and can’t help but wear their hearts on their sleeves.

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2. You take on the emotions of others.

When someone tells you “I’m fine” and doesn’t really mean it, you know right away. You’re incredibly empathic, and that can be a double-edged sword. You’re a great listener and a loving and supportive friend, and you celebrate other’s successes as if they were your own. But you also feel other peoples’ pain, both emotional and physical — sometimes literally in your own body. Because you are extra perceptive, you can tell when someone is lying or trying to hide something from you, and you can also usually predict what someone will say or do next.

3. You cry easily and often.

You cry at movies, weep while reading books and even shed a tear during commercials. Both a kind and a harsh word can uncork your waterworks. It’s rare for a day to go by when you don’t cry at least a little bit. Often, you don’t even know why you’re crying — it may just be because it’s tender and beautiful to be alive. You’re frequently embarrassed about your hair-trigger lacrimal glands, especially when they’re activated at work or in a professional situation.

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4. You have a low tolerance for violence.

Images you see in movies and TV shows — even those that you imagine while reading a book — stay with you forever. When those images are violent, they haunt your memory, popping up when you’re walking alone at night or trying to fall asleep. They may even creep into your dreams and give you nightmares. Because you feel others’ pain so deeply, you can’t bear to see or hear people suffering — even when the suffering is make-believe. Your vivid imagination fills in all the emotional details of any story, so you prefer your entertainment to be funny, romantic and inspiring.

5. You can’t stand loud or irritating noises.

Elaine and Arthur Aron describe highly sensitive people as having sensory processing sensitivity. That means your five senses are, well, sensitive. You react more strongly to noises, textures, smells, tastes and images. You’re likely often the one asking others to turn down the music, dim the lights or lay off the strong perfume. You’re not trying to be annoying, it’s just that sounds and other input that seem normal to others can be a bit overwhelming to your sensitive nervous system.

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6. You notice the little things.

Nothing slips past you. If someone gets a haircut, wears a new pair of shoes or has a spring in his or her step for some reason today, you notice. Highly sensitive people are extremely observant of their surroundings and take in many details all at once. They recognize when something or someone in their environment has changed — and they take note.

7. You’re extremely polite.

Because you are so aware of the impact others’ words have on you, you’re very conscientious about the impact your words have on others. You’re attuned to the sensitivities of others, even when they aren’t actually all that sensitive. You may even be too polite at times, sacrificing your own best interests in order to avoid upsetting or inconveniencing someone else.

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8. You’re deeply moved by music and art.

Beauty enraptures you. You’re drawn in by stunning works of art and music and feel their impact deeply in your soul. You could be moved to tears by a painting, or inspired to fight for justice by a song. You are likely highly creative yourself and have a profound appreciation for the creative expression of others. You may have a hard time containing your personal art and music collections.

9. You’re easily overwhelmed.

When you have too many things to do at once, you can have a mini meltdown. You’re more easily overwhelmed than others because you’re constantly processing more information than most. You like to take your time to accomplish tasks and do things carefully and thoughtfully. When you have too many to-dos or feel too rushed, you can be overcome with anxiety.

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10. You’re exhausted after social activity.

It’s not that you don’t enjoy the company of others, but all the emotions you feel when you’re with other people can be exhausting. While some can go all night, your energy in social gatherings may tap out more quickly. At party time, you might want to drive separately so you have the option to leave earlier than your less sensitive counterparts. After you’ve spent time in a social situation, you need quiet time to recharge and process your thoughts and emotions, preferably alone.

What Do YOU Think?

Based on these traits, are you a highly sensitive person? What are some tips that highly sensitive people can use to navigate the world? If you have a highly sensitive person in your life, how do you make the world more comfortable for them?

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