The Highly Sensitive Person

Does the sound of your loved ones chewing their food drive you crazy? Do you get irritated by the sound of a computer or a fan humming in the back ground? Do you find it difficult to sleep with the sounds of the sea outside your window? Do you avoid noisy cafes? Do you long for the peace and quiet of the countryside? Do you also notice smells or food textures or the feel of fabrics or bright light – when most other people don’t seem to?

If you’ve answered “yes” to most of these, and it’s always been like that for you (especially when you’re tired or unwell or upset), you’re one of the 15% to 20% of the population who were born with a “sensitive” brain, and can be called a Highly Sensitive person (HSP). It’s almost as though your brain notices sensations at a lower level than most other brains and sometimes you wish there was a thicker “skin” around your brain that could protect you from the world’s noisiness.

As you will know, there is a huge downside to being an HSP. From the time you were little, you were startled by loud noises, and put your hands over your ears when your mother was vacuuming or there were fireworks. After an hour or two at a child’s birthday party, you just wanted to go home or could lose the plot quite easily. You found it hard to get to sleep at night because it took you a long time to wind down at the end of the day. You could get overexcited easily in loud, busy situations, and either withdrew or became really boisterous and got into trouble. Hopefully, as you grew up, the people around you helped you to recognize what you need to keep your emotional states in balance, and not become overwhelmed by the intense stimulation of school and socializing or your workplace.

However, there’s also a huge upside to being an HSP. When you were young, people commented on your sophisticated awareness of other people and the world. You were drawn to the visual and auditory arts and had a vivid imagination. As an adult, you notice the subtleties in art and music and nature more easily than other people; you are attuned to other people’s emotions and can be a really good listener; and you have a natural curiosity about the world paired with creativity and conscientiousness, which means that you can be a high achiever. Your intuition can be really highly developed – although you may need to learn to resist the impulse to always share your insights with others…

So, next time you feel like yelling at someone who is chewing loudly, or feel like you have to leave the party “right now!”, or feel like you’re going to throw up at the smell of raw shrimp paste, remind yourself about the upside of being an HSP, and make sure that you get the rest and quiet that you need to make the most of your unique brain.
Dr Elaine Aron has published a number of books on the topic of HSPs (about adults and children) and you can find out more about her work at She also writes a blog on the website called Comfort Zone, which provides insight and advice for people who struggle with the intensity of the world.


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