If you’re a highly perceptive person, you may also be highly sensitive. “Highly sensitive person” (HSP) is a term coined by psychologists Elaine Aron and Arthur Aron in the mid-1990s. It’s a type of neurodivergence, but it’s not used as an official diagnosis. It’s not a mental disorder, rather it’s an idea of a certain personality type. “Highly sensitive people are built more deeply, emotionally and mentally than most people,” says psychologist Chivonna Childs, PhD. “It’s more than their emotions. It can also be sensitivity to textures and sounds. You might not like big crowds or bright lights.” There are perks and difficulties involved with being a HSP. If you resonate with this concept, learning more about it could help you make the most of your natural attributes.  Here are seven traits of a highly sensitive person.
1. Strong empathy
One of the most key traits of HSPs is that they tend to feel emotions on a deep level. As a result, they are also attuned to the feelings of others. This helps highly sensitive people connect meaningfully with those around them. But this trait can have a dark side if left unchecked. “HSPs can pick up on the needs of others, which can be a good thing because you want somebody who’s empathetic,” says Dr. Childs. “But the other side of empathy is compassion fatigue. If we’re always picking up on others’ feelings and others’ emotions, what does that do for us? What does that do for the highly sensitive person?”
Sensitivity does not only extend to emotions. A highly sensitive person can also notice subtle details about their surroundings that others might miss. This can help them appreciate little things that people might dismiss, but it can also make them feel easily overwhelmed and overstimulated. “Highly sensitive people are more attuned to input from their environments, which includes anything that activates the five senses, as well as heightened attunement to emotional experiences,” says Elizabeth Tulsky, associate director of youth and family services at Community Counseling Centers of Chicago and associate therapist and clinical supervisor at Sage Therapy Chicago. 
3. Slow to make decisions
Because HSPs are attentive to all kinds of details, they may struggle with making decisions. Even seemingly simple choices may feel more complicated because HSPs try to consider every effect and outcome. However, once they decide what is the right thing to do, they are quick to repeat it. But until then, Aron advises people not to stress over indecision. “Take as long to decide as the situation permits, and ask for more time if you need it and can take it,” she says. “During this time, try pretending for a minute, hour, day, or even week that you have made up your mind a certain way. How does that feel? Often, on the other side of a decision things look different, and this gives you a chance to imagine more vividly that you are already there.” 
4. Deep appreciation for art and nature
However, keen observation skills and deep emotions have a notable perk. They make people more appreciative of art, nature, and all good things in life. A highly sensitive person may resonate with a piece of music more intensely than someone else. And they might pick up on subtle flavors in a food that others don’t notice. And they’re often the ones who can sit in a forest and feel enamored with all of the sensations, beauty, and movement around them. At the same time, they are just as negatively affected by scary or violent things, such as horror movies.
5. Rich inner life
Just as HSPs can appreciate external details, they can apply that level of attention to themselves. They don’t just feel emotions deeply; they like to observe, reflect, and ponder. Moreover, they enjoy being alone with their thoughts to unpack and understand what’s going on around them. “They like to process things on a deep level,” Ted Zeff, Ph.D., author of The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide. “They’re very intuitive, and go very deep inside to try to figure things out.” Be careful though because this affinity can veer into overthinking, self-criticisms, and self-consciousness. 
6. Prone to anxiety or depression
Highly sensitive people don’t automatically struggle with mental health issues. However if they suffered trauma, they may be more susceptible to developing symptoms of anxiety or depression. “If you’ve had a fair number of bad experiences, especially early in life, so you don’t feel safe in the world or you don’t feel secure at home or … at school, your nervous system is set to ‘anxious,‘” Aron says. However, highly sensitive children raised in a supportive environment are much less likely to struggle emotionally later on.
7. Often called out for being “too sensitive”
Emotional sensitivity is viewed differently in every culture, especially when it comes to highly sensitive men. As a result, some HSPs may experience teasing for “taking things so personally” or “being too sensitive”. They may be made to feel embarrassed of their emotions, especially because HSPs can feel things so deeply. So they are often the ones to cry at a wedding or during a sad movie or even a sad commercial. They may also struggle with moving on from criticism or insults. “People can say something negative, [and] a non-HSP [highly sensitive person] can say, ‘Whatever,’ and it doesn’t affect them,” Zeff says. “But a HSP would feel it much more deeply.”
Does HSP Overlap with Introvertism, ADHD, and Autism?
The short answer is yes. “While HSP and other medical conditions are not the same thing, high sensitivity can happen in conjunction with mental health conditions,” says Dr. Childs. “For example, you can have ADHD in addition to HSP.”
But remember, the two are not synonymous. Sensory processing sensitivity often shares certain traits with disorders and characteristics but don’t confuse them. For instance, some introverts are HSPs, but not all HSPs are introverts even though both types tend to enjoy spending downtime alone. Furthermore, people with ADHD may experience heightened sensory sensitivity but HSPs generally don’t have issues with concentration and impulsivity. And people with autism may also feel overwhelmed by stimuli but HSPs don’t struggle with social and developmental difficulties. 
In any event, it’s important for HSPs to figure out the best way to manage and maximize their traits. There’s no one-size-fits-all lifestyle, but they can begin their journey by changing their home environment, ensuring they have enough downtime, practicing gratitude and mindfulness, being careful when choosing close friends and partners, and learning how to say no.
Keep Reading: 12 Of The Biggest Life Secrets Forgotten By Mankind
- “What Is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?” Cleveland Clinic. January 20, 2023
- “What Is A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?” Forbes. Wancy Cho. July 6, 2023
- “16 Habits Of Highly Sensitive People.” HuffPost. Amanda L. Chan. February 26, 2014
- “14 Traits of Highly Sensitive People.” Psychology Today. Melody Wilding, LMSW. June 28, 2021
- “What Does It Mean To Be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?” Health. Sarah Schuster. August 2, 2023