Social Question

Haleth's avatar

Have you heard of the Highly Sensitive Person trait?

Asked by Haleth (19518points) March 20th, 2010

Or HSP. The idea is that a person is more sensitive to their environment than normal, which leads them to think and act in certain ways. This person will be very perceptive of subtle emotions in others, which can make them very conscientious and also more afraid of rejection. For this reason they might also take perceived slights more personally than others. (I’m just summarizing here; websites on the subject go on for pages and pages.) They reflect deeply and realize the possible implications of actions, so they prefer alone time and don’t take many risks. They are very imaginative and can be artistic, with a rich inner life. They are easily overwhelmed and prefer quiet, relaxing environments, and don’t work well when being watched. Here is the wiki.

Do you know anyone like this, or feel that you are like this? Part of me thinks that it makes a lot of sense because I identify with many of the characteristics here. But the other part of me thinks this is just a way to put a positive spin on being a wimp. Supposedly, about 20% of the population is highly sensitive.

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26 Answers

figbash's avatar

I have heard about this (I think there’s actually even a book about it) and I have mixed feelings about it. I think I know at least a few people with this trait, including at least a few people I work with.

I think a lot of people who are sensitive or conscientious carry some of these traits. I think the problems with it play themselves out heavily in the interpersonal relationships of people who have many of these characteristics. I’ve noticed that some of the people with these traits tend to constantly victimize themselves, won’t take responsibility for their actions and are hard to communicate perspective to.

j0ey's avatar

that would be me…..I tend to feel what other people are feeling to the extreme.

the happiest time in my life was when I was living alone.

I can relate to this very much.

I don’t think that i constantly take the role of the victim in situations though.

HOWEVER, I’m a psyc major and I have never heard of it before.

augustlan's avatar

This is me. The way I see and interact with the world has been described as if I were a camera with a lens permanently stuck on ‘wide angle’, unable to narrow my focus. I take in everything around me with the same intensity, whether it be an important conversation, background traffic noise, or a bird flying by. If there is too much going on, I end up with a panic attack. For the most part, anti-anxiety medication enables me to function in the world day to day but I avoid certain situations like the plague. No going to the fair, or an amusement park, or Chuck E. Cheese’s for me.

Just_Justine's avatar

It seems based largly on Freuds theory of the ego, super ego and Id. In that a person who had “suffered” great distress in their lifetimes, experienced a “wearing” down, for want of a better word of the superego and ability to filter information. Healthy individuals it was said had well developed super egos (not over developed) and so therefore were able to filter stimuli more effectively (like noise, subtle cues like none verbal communication, vibes people give off). So in this case had an “under developed awareness of subtle “feelings” of the people around them.

One would experience those people as maybe hypersenstive, psychic or some of the traits you mentioned above. If this becomes particularly uncomfortable for an individual it is said that tactile activities like, sewing, drawing, sculpting were able to build back the superego and encourage filtering in daily life. This could be where the artistic slant comes in, in this new theory.

Of course I have met many highly developed superego less emotional people who are artistic and not able to socialize well as a converse of this idea. My psychology degree has whiskers on it, however, this seemed to be an idea stemming from this theory.

Vunessuh's avatar

I don’t know much about it, but my friend’s daughter immediately came to my mind upon reading your question. She’s everything you described.
She’s 12 and cries at least 2–3 times a day. For example, when they go to Sam’s Club or Costco and they’ve run out of samples or don’t have samples out for a particular food, she cries.
She gets upset when her younger sister gets even a tad bit of attention. She says that her mother loves her sister more because of this. She can’t be fulfilled. She sucks as much attention from her mother as she can, but continues to think she’s loved less. She’s incredibly sensitive to most everything. It’s rather strange. She cries as much as a 4 year old does. She has a lot working against her though. There’s depression and bi-polar disorder on both sides of the family so I’m sure her behavior is a combination of all of these things.
Her imagination is so incredibly vivid that she sees things that aren’t there. Her mother did the same when she was young.
The kid’s a genius (and I’m not kiddin’) but her sensitivity really holds her back in life. She’s afraid to try new things. She’ll never take that risk. She’s too kind to the point where she never sticks up for herself. It backfires in her face and hurts her.
I know for a fact she’s not sensitive just because she’s young. When I speak with her, I feel like I’m speaking with an adult. It’s bizarre. She’s very, very mature, but her over-sensitivity blinds her from being rational and doesn’t allow her to emotionally develop at the pace she should. I feel bad for her.

Personally, I am some of the things described. I do like to be alone, I am imaginative and artistic, I do reflect deeply and I don’t like to be watched. However, I wouldn’t call myself a highly sensitive person. I prefer to be overwhelmed with things to do. I have reverse-anxiety so at the end of the day when I start to unwind and reflect on the day, that’s usually when an attack hits me. They won’t hit me as long as I’m distracted and busy.
I’m not sensitive in a way where I get my feelings hurt easily, but I do have the ability to feel some pretty strong emotions when listening to certain music, watching certain movies or observing the beauty in the world. I’ve teared up at amazing sceneries before. Perhaps I’m describing the wrong kind of sensitive.

I’m not sensitive to the point where I am afraid of failure or rejection or get overwhelmed easily or avoid taking risks. I love challenges.

I’m very indifferent about the information in your link. It describes a HSP has being introverted, anti-social, shy and having anxiety issues. That composites part of who I am. I never took it has there being something wrong with me.
None of it has held me back tremendously from success or achieving goals.
I guess there are people who manage to use their sensitivity to their advantage and others who don’t. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you feel. You’re feelings are always relevant and acceptable. What matters is how you react to those feelings.

shpadoinkle_sue's avatar

Holy crap, I think I am one. I just thought I was weird.
On the one hand, I think that sometimes it’s people over-analyzing stuff. But, I could see where it could be useful to help someone understand themselves or others.

ucme's avatar

Sounds pretty much like a fair percentage of jellies to me.

thriftymaid's avatar

Yes I’ve heard of it in the context of the law in that there is no elevated duty regarding the HSP.

Trillian's avatar

Yes, that could be me, only I can work under any pressure, I think.

j0ey's avatar

…...maybe its just a bit of depression, with a touch of social phobia.

tedibear's avatar

This is a link to the website of a doctor, Elaine Aron, who has done research and written a couple of books on the subject. There is also a link to a self-test to see where you land on her scale of HSP-ness.

I’ve read both “The Highly Sensitive Person” and “The Highly Sensitive Person in Love” in an effort to better understand my husband. She directs her writing to people who are HSP’s, so if you read any of her work, that’s a good thing to know. She doesn’t write to try to help those of us who live and/or interact with HSP’s. I bring this up because her writing can come off a bit biased; as though HSP’s are “better” than the rest of the Non-HSP population. I doubt that’s what she was trying to do though.

@Just_Justine – Dr. Aron claims that this is a trait that starts at birth, so I’m not sure that great stress has happened yet. I’m not saying you’re wrong, just remembering out loud from the reading I remember.

One way to tell if this is a trait for you or someone else is how you feel after social interactions. Do you feel a bit energized, as in, “That was fun/nice/pleasant. I look forward to it happening again,” or do you feel emotionally and physically tired, as in, “Those were nice enough people but I’m really glad to be away from all of them. And if it never happens again, I wouldn’t really care.”

IMHO, someone needs to do more research to see if this is an actual trait, or if, as j0ey says, it’s depression and social phobia mixed together. I think it’s certainly possible.

@Haleth – If you’re really interested in this, I suggest that you read Elaine Aron’s “The Highly Sensitive Person.”

semblance's avatar

Haleth, if you don’t develop a thicker skin and stop being so introspective you are in danger of becoming a self-absorbed crybaby, so get over it. LOL. (Sort of.)

phillis's avatar

Jesus! This sounds just like my internal world, and maybe my daughter’s, too! I thought the extreme lows I felt were simply byproducts of bipolar disorder and depression, but now I’m not so sure. It goes a long way in explaining so many of the reactions I have on a given day, even though I’m not depressed or in the throes of a bipolar episode. Wow, what a revelation! It will be a long time before I am able to seek an official diagnosis. For that reason, I am especially grateful to those who have listed additional sources on this thread. You guys have no idea how many questions this answers for me that have defied explanation for so long. Thank you very much.

Just_Justine's avatar

@tedibear39 I can feel energized by some people, and drained by others, I blamed them loll.

Coloma's avatar

I think knowing ourselves is very important. However, I also think there is danger in attaching a ‘story’ to the totality of who we are.

Answers are fine but they should not define us.

Neither should they become an excuse for behaviors that we could change.

I have tested and met better than 90% of the criteria for a ‘gifted’ person.

Yep, lots of connections there, cool, but…...does this mean that I don’t need to pay attention to my tendencies towards a lot of free association that can confuse and overwhelm others at times? No.

Labels are just labels, take what works and dump the rest, and, especially resist the pull towards creating an identity out of anything.

Bi-polar or sensitive, ‘gifted’ or ADHD…...pick your poison….lololololol

tedibear's avatar

@Just_Justine – there certainly are draining people out there in the world, aren’t there?

Just_Justine's avatar

@Coloma Ah! at last some sense, thank you thank you. I am bipolar and nothing fucks me off more than people “revelling and making excuses for being idiots because they are bipolar.Sure I get super bad days, this is when it hits me I have bipolar. I am a mess. But they are not everyday, and notice I say I have bipolar, it does not have me.Most of the time I am aware of behaviour = result. At times I am not. But I would never “blame” my bp for bad actions, being unfaithful, spending too much or basically being a twat. I reckon we all have something, I also reckon there are more bipolar 2’s out there than we realize just muddling along. @tedibear39 yes there certainly are, I make a point of not going back to visit them if it is possible. Since I got a healthier outlook.

TheBot's avatar

I had never heard of the term HSP before today, but the description certainly fits me.

Upon realizing that I had these traits (about 2 years ago) however, I have tried to steer clear of taking things personally, fearing rejection etc, because I now see how I can beat myself up for such little things sometimes… and it’s just not very healthy.

gailcalled's avatar

Having just thrown up in the car carrier after the ignominy of having my nails clipped, I feel I am a Highly Sensitive Feline. I barf every time Gail hauls me to the local animal shelter for a manicure. I also startle easily and twitch a lot.

Love, Milo

elenuial's avatar

I’ve never heard of this, but even if it is true, judging by the reactions around here it seems to be functioning more like a horoscope than a trait. Unless everyone here really is a neurotic mess.

EDIT: Judging from the citations on Wikipedia, it looks like a case very common in academia. This concept was invented by somebody, who champions it like a madperson Maybe a couple of other researchers catch on, and there’s some activity around it, and then when nobody else seems to think it’s a good idea, they drop it. This leaves the bitter original creator to soldier forward and write a pop psych book, which makes a fairly convincing case to the layperson.

It’s very possible it could even catch on in layperson land, for some bizarre reason. Maybe the theory is particularly compelling intuitively. Almost any popular personality profile is a good example of this phenomenon.

escapedone7's avatar

I am reading this very very closely. It describes one of my family members very well. I will pass it on to him. Thank you. I never heard of this before, but I think it helps me understand him better.

Mariah's avatar

Oh, wow. I’ve never heard of this before, but most of what you wrote there describes me to a T. Interesting. I’ll have to go read the whole article.

squirbel's avatar

Hmmm. I never heard this term, but this describes my experience in this world. I know it as being an “empath”.

Pseudonym's avatar

I had something called Henoch-Schoenlein Purpura, and every time I googled “HSP” it came up…

augustlan's avatar

My middle daughter is like this too, and has been since the day she was born. I’d venture to say trauma had nothing to do with it for her.

wundayatta's avatar

My wife read the book and decided she was highly sensitive. She also thought I am.

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