Being a highly sensitive person (HSP) is like having your internal dial turned up just a little more than other people’s dials. You notice subtle details that others don’t notice, and certain situations impact you more than they impact non-HSPs. Your sensitivity is your greatest strength — it makes you a perceptive, compassionate, creative person — but it can also be your greatest challenge. Often, you do things to protect your sensitive system, and other people don’t realize the real root of your actions.
(Check out our complete explanation of high sensitivity.)
Here are 27 things that people don’t realize you’re doing because you’re an HSP. These things may not be true of every HSP (we’re individuals, after all), but I believe this list is generally true; it draws on research by Dr. Elaine N. Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person.
1. When you’re in a loud, busy place — like a bar, restaurant, or party — and you shut down because you’re overwhelmed by so much sensory input.
2. When a commercial that shows abused animals comes on TV and you have to change the channel, because seeing such cruelty nearly makes you burst into tears. Likewise, you cover your eyes during a gory fight scene in a movie because the blood and violence make you feel sick to your stomach.
3. When you have a particular bedtime or morning routine because doing things the same way each day brings you comfort. Chaos, change, and the unknown can be quite stressful and overwhelming for you.
4. If your roommate or significant other walks up behind you without making noise, you jump sky-high like a frightened cat when you do notice them. Because of your sensitive nervous system, you tend to startle easily.
5. When a friend, coworker, or partner raises their voice slightly at you and you immediately become anxious. Dealing with conflict — even minor disagreements — can quickly become overstimulating. Likewise, when there is ongoing tension in a close relationship, such as with your spouse or a family member, you might feel physically unwell and have trouble sleeping.
6. Even when people who are complete strangers are fighting (like a couple at a nearby table in a restaurant), you get uncomfortable.
7. In school, when the teacher scolded another student for something, you became anxious, even though you had nothing to do with the situatoin.
8. When you have to finish an assignment or a task by a deadline and you become increasingly stressed out to the point where you can only think about that one task — HSPs tend to be quite sensitive to time pressure.
9. When you fall in love, you fall hard. It feels like your whole world is changing. This can be exhilarating, but so exhilarating that it’s almost overwhelming. You’re happy about this exciting change, but regardless, it’s still a change, and that can make you feel overstimulated.
10. Being a sponge that constantly absorbs the moods of the people around you. Sometimes this gets to be so overwhelming that you want to be by yourself, just so you can feel only your own feelings.
11. When you feel so exhausted after a busy day at work that you head straight home and lie down in a darkened, quiet room to calm your overactive senses.
12. When someone who is wearing very strong perfume walks into a room and you have to move away from them because the smell is overpowering to your ramped-up senses.
13. When you refuse to eat certain foods, like seafood or berries that are very tart, because the smells/tastes cause a very strong reaction in you.
14. When you get so hungry that you can’t concentrate on what you’re doing — HSPs tend to be especially sensitive to dips and spikes in blood sugar.
15. You don’t drink coffee because caffeine has a strong effect on you. Likewise, alcohol affects you very strongly, more so than most other people.
16. When you can pinpoint exactly what makes a room physically uncomfortable or unwelcoming — bright florescent lights, chairs with hard backs, or the way the furniture is arranged.
17. When you have a very strong reaction to art, music, or other beautiful things. No one else seems to be as moved as you are; beautiful sounds or sights can put you into a near trance-like state.
18. Because you have a vivid inner world, your daydreams and nightmares are intense. Similarly, you tend to be a creative, artistic, and imaginative person.
19. When you’re in pain — like a headache or an injury — you really feel it. HSPs tend to have a lower pain tolerance than non-HSPs.
20. When you tell your friends that you can’t hang out tonight because you feel so overstimulated already — from a busy work day, a busy weekend, or stress in your life.
21. You avoid going to stores when you know there will be a lot of people there; it’s too much noise and activity for your sensitive system.
22. When you’re sensitive to the volume of music or other things. You’re always trying to move the controls by a millimeter or two to get the level just right.
23. When you notice little things in your surroundings, like how your friend’s mood subtlety changed when you brought up a certain topic. When you point this out, your friend is surprised that you picked up on that detail.
24. When you don’t get enough sleep so everything feels literally awful the next day.
25. At work, you end up doing a worse-than-normal job when your boss is watching and evaluating you. For HSPs, the mere presence of a person who is watching them can be overstimulating.
26. When you feel things very strongly — sadness, anger, and joy.
27. You seek meaning in everything you do, from the career you chose to the relationships you maintain to the conversations you partake in. As an HSP, you want to engage with the deeper aspects of life.