Are you a highly sensitive person? Up to twenty percent of the population could be classified as highly sensitive. This term was coined by researcher Elaine Aron, and the classification has helped many people understand themselves and others with greater clarity.
If you aren’t sure if you are highly sensitive, or if someone you love is a highly sensitive person, eight traits may indicate high sensitivity. All of us have sensitive areas. But a highly sensitive person (HSP) usually has almost all of these eight traits in combination.
1. Highly sensitive people have strong responses to internal and external stimuli.
What other people see in general, HSPs look at in specifics. Not just background noises in a restaurant, but snippets of conversation from the surrounding four tables and the clinking of dishes. Not only the scent of fried food at a fair, but the individual scents of fried potatoes, funnel cakes, and corn dogs.
Those external stimuli can create strong responses, and so can internal responses. Positive feelings produce a higher high than average people experience, and negative feelings produce a lower low.
2. A highly sensitive person is highly empathetic.
Because HSPs are so in touch with their own emotions, they can sense emotions in others. They often sense the deeper emotions in someone else that the average person may overlook.
For example, an HSP may look at body language, tone of voice, and mannerisms to sense that someone else is hurting. Though the other person may be trying to hide their hurt, an HSP has an uncanny ability to notice the details and identify with their feelings.
3. Highly sensitive people are very creative.
Since HSPs are so aware of their environments and are naturally reflective, they enjoy expressing themselves in many creative ways. Whether it is through art, music, theatre, cooking, gardening, fashion, crafts, or another avenue, many HSPs highlight their talents and reveal glimpses of their inner worlds.
4. A highly sensitive person has a rich inner life.
With minds so attuned to so many stimuli, HSPs need a space to process everything they experience through their senses and feelings. Many of them are deeply reflective, taking a long time to analyze their experiences before filing them away in carefully organized memory storage systems.
Their rich inner lives are a safe place to withdraw from the noise and regroup so they can return to the world stronger and wiser. The majority of HSPs are also introverts, who need plenty of downtime to feel recharged. During this downtime, they use their powerful imaginations to create dialogues about what has happened to them, so they can process situations on a deeper level than average people normally do.
5. Highly sensitive people place a high value on relationships.
HSPs enjoy deep, meaningful conversation with others. They not only love giving back to others with their powerful listening and observation skills, but they also enjoy being affirmed and appreciated by others. It can be challenging for HSPs to find people who truly understand them. When they find this kind of person, they are often loyal for life.
Since HSPs place such a high value on relationships, they are at risk of disappointment when others don’t reciprocate or worse, criticize the HSP for being too sensitive. They need to keep striving to connect with people who accept them for who they are.
6. A highly sensitive person has a great appreciation for beauty.
Since HSPs have a vibrant creative side, they are always looking for inspiration in creativity. They have a great appreciation for beauty in the natural world and the arts.
Many of them can get pleasantly immersed in a song, play, piece of art, or another form of artistic expression. They will be able to find greater meanings in these creations because they process beauty on deeper levels.
7. A highly sensitive person may struggle to adapt to new situations.
HSPs are highly attuned to their environments. They have carefully studied the details of their bedrooms, homes, offices, and other places with which they regularly interact. They have a detailed mental map of their schedules and activities, and it brings them comfort to review these details as familiar touchstones.
When new situations arise, a whole batch of new internal and external stimuli result. To get his or her bearings, the HSP needs to perform many mental tasks to process and sort all the incoming information. This can be exhausting and difficult, so HSPs need extra grace and time to adapt.
8. Highly sensitive people are easily disturbed by overwhelming situations, tension, or violent images.
Just as HSPs have a high appreciation for the beautiful things in life, they have a strong aversion to the negative things in life. Most HSPs crumble under pressure because they have too many new stimuli to process. Tense or overwhelming situations can easily cause an HSP to withdraw in self-protection, to a space where he or she can process emotions away from chaos.
An HSP may also avoid violent images on the news or in movies because their high level of empathy goes into overdrive. The lines between fiction and reality blur in their vivid imaginations, so they may prefer to engage with less provocative content. They will also avoid situations in which others are loud or aggressive because they become overwhelmed.
Best Practices for an HSP
Highly sensitive people are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14 NIV). They do not need to be treated for HSP, because it is not a disorder. However, due to their special wiring, they need to take several steps to care for themselves well. Here are the best practices for HSPs.
Self-care isn’t a luxury for HSPs; it’s a necessity. When they face stress, they will crumble unless they have a plan in place to take care of themselves. Time alone every day is critical for them to process their feelings.
Practice a Healthy Lifestyle
An HSP will be better equipped for all the stimulation by prioritizing sufficient sleep, eating healthy, and limiting caffeine and alcohol intake. Regular exercise will give an HSP an outlet for negative energy while also promoting the production of endorphins, which naturally boost their moods.
Meditate on God’s Word
Meditation is a wonderful practice for HSPs in their alone time. They can enrich their relationship with God by using Bible verses as their focus for deep thought and reflection. Even a few minutes per day to meditate on God’s Word will bring peace into the HSP’s life.
Speak Scriptural Affirmations
Since HSPs are so easily misunderstood by others, they need to be reminded that God made them highly sensitive, and their high sensitivity serves a great purpose in enriching the world. They can speak affirmations based on scriptures like Psalm 139, stating the truth about themselves aloud to affirm their worth in Christ.
HSPs can be very generous with their time and attention. But they need to be on guard against others who will take advantage of them. HSPs need to remember that it is okay to say no to others and set boundaries around their relationships and schedules to preserve their sense of self-worth. A Christian counselor can help an HSP set healthy boundaries.
Because HSPs need a lot of downtime to process everything, they need to build margin into their schedules. Without margin, an HSP will be constantly stressed out and not at his or her best. By padding transitions with a ten or fifteen-minute window of quiet activity, HSPs will feel more in control of their days.
HSPs need safe physical places for their downtime. Clutter in that space will produce a chaotic feeling. But if HSPs simplify their environments, they will feel more peaceful when they are processing all the stimuli. An organized yet cozy place will ease them into their reflection time.
Connect with Supportive People
Because HSPs often have high emotional responses, they need trustworthy people to support them. They need time to verbally process their emotions with others. This can be an encouraging friend, a pastor, a lay minister, or a Christian counselor.
If you are an HSP who needs a trustworthy person to help you sort out your emotions, don’t hesitate to reach out to a Christian counselor for help. Your counselor will affirm your high sensitivity and suggest practical strategies to help you engage with the world in more effective ways.