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Wednesday, 24 Mar 2021

What Does it Mean to Be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?

By Dr Becky Spelman
What is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? | Private Therapy Clinic

We’re all emotional and somewhat sensitive beings. And to be completely devoid of all emotion would render us a nation of sociopaths. But there’s a subset of society that is far more susceptible to the up and downs that life has to throw our way. Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is a term used to describe someone who’s considered to have an increased central nervous system sensitivity. This means they’re more attuned – but also more liable – to be overwhelmed by physical, emotional and social stimuli than their peers. It has often been referred to as Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS).

Unlike conditions such as depression and borderline personality disorder (BPD), being highly sensitive, while not necessarily a desirable state of being, does have some upsides. While the connotation of being highly sensitive is often one of negativity, another way of looking at it is of possessing heightened awareness and a greater ability to display empathy towards others. It’s a personality trait that brings both strengths as well as presenting some uniquely challenging moments.

How Common Are Highly Sensitive People?

It’s believed that highly sensitive people account for around 20% of the general population. That means roughly one-fifth of the people in your life are potentially highly sensitive, and you may not even be aware of it. There’s a potential that you may have written-off their behaviour or thought-processes as being irrational or illogical. But really, it’s not so much by choice as it is by the design of their own unique physiology and genetic inheritance. No one chooses to be ‘overly sensitive’ just as no one chooses their sexuality. It just is – it’s an endemic part of what characterises that person.

5 Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Person

If you feel like you or someone you know is possibly on the borderline of being classed as a highly sensitive person, being aware of the core qualities and behavioural patterns can help you better understand those around you in your life and accept yourself more fully. Here are some of the most common markers:

You Can’t Stand Violence: This is an obvious one. But if you’re highly sensitive, it will likely mean you won’t get on well with violent movies, stories and even be disturbed at some of the more abhorrent crimes in the news.

You’re Emotionally Drained by Other People’s Issues: Another name for a highly sensitive person is being an empath. If you’re of this disposition, it means you’re likely a magnet for other people’s emotions, and it can be very hard to distinguish what yours and what are another’s feelings.

The Pressure of Time Really Gets to You: Multi-tasking and pressure cooker situations don’t tend to be where HSP’s thrive. Anything that involves speed will likely make you feel stressed and anxious, leading to poorer performance than if you could work under your own steam.

Change of Any Sort Can be a Big Deal to You: Routine can often be another big factor that HSP’s rely on to provide a sense of groundedness and stability. So when this is jeopardised, it can often result in frayed nerves due to the ‘over-stimulation’ of doing something new.

Your Environment is Often Your Biggest Enemy: This one is two-fold and leads off from the last point about change. Moving or changing environments can often be overwhelming, as can noisy or oppressive environments such as inner-city or chaotic offices.

The Positive Impact of Being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)

As we’ve already touched on, being a highly sensitive person isn’t all bad. There some side benefits that can make knowing an HSP an enriching experience or being one yourself, a more desirable person to be around.

You’re able to easily sidestep situations that have the potential for drama: While being overly sensitive and taking things in the wrong light can be sometimes detrimental to inter-personal relationships, having such a keen sense for animosity can help you negate any potential conflict or flair ups.

You can appreciate the beauty of art on a much deeper level: As someone who’s deeply entrenched in feeling into the world around them, positive stimuli such as art, music, poetry and cinema will resonate with you on a much more profound level than those who aren’t HSP.

You have deeper relationships with others: As an HSP, and empath of other people’s feelings, you’re far more likely to be in-tune with their emotional needs and as a result, be a much better communicator and facilitator in maintaining your relationships.

You’re far more grateful for what you have in life: The opposite of being prone to existential worry and fraught nerves is being more predisposed to feeling grateful for the blessings that life has to offer. You’re just as likely to appreciate a small gesture as a large gift.

3 Methods You Can Use to De-Stress If You’re Highly Sensitive

Just because you’re a highly sensitive person doesn’t mean you have to passively accept your circumstances if you’re finding them too much to handle. As always, the best form of care you can provide is that you do for yourself. Here are some methods you can use to help alleviate both the intensity and frequency of your reactions to external stimuli.

1. Set up Effective Boundaries for Yourself

With boundary setting, what’s being referred to are the boundaries in your relationships. And these can work both ways. You may find it necessary to let people in your immediate circle know that certain things cause you to experience an adverse internal reaction and whether they’d be mindful not to use, say or present these behaviours in front of you. But it might also necessitate you having to review your current boundaries and asking yourself whether it might be helpful for you to relax them a little.

2. Try Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is something that’s often recommended here on the blog, and for the simple reason that if you’re willing to invest the time and effort into giving it its fair chance, you will reap the rewards. You may feel a little uneasy practising it at first and maybe like it’s even challenging your belief system. But as far as the former is concerned, it’s completely normal to ‘not get it’ at first when you’re learning a new skill, which is precisely the way you should view it. And secondly, mindfulness is a non-denominal form of self-care and it absolutely in no way infringes on your currently held beliefs in any way.

3. Know What Primary Triggers

This is perhaps the most important thing to remember and if you were to only take one of these methods away from this article, it would be this – knowing yourself is vital if you’re going to navigate the choppy waters of being a highly sensitive person. The chances are you likely already will to a large degree know what you can and cannot withstand. But it doesn’t hurt to really zero-in and identify what, how, why, when and where your triggers have the highest potential for throwing you off course. By holding this information, it will then enable to set more effective boundaries.

About the author:

Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.

***If you’re struggling with being a highly sensitive person and think you might benefit from speaking to someone, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here


Very Well Mind (18th Sept 2020) What Is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)? Retrieved on 22nd February, 2020 from,

Psychology Today (10th Dec 2019) This Is What It Means to Be a Highly Sensitive Person. Retrieved on 22nd February, 2020 from,

Healthline (10th Dec 2019) T Being a Highly Sensitive Person Is a Scientific Personality Trait. Here’s What It Feels Like. Retrieved on 22nd February, 2020 from,

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