Highly Sensitive Refuge
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5 Literary Characters You’ll Relate to as a Highly Sensitive Person

If you’re a highly sensitive person, you’ll see some of your HSP traits reflected in these characters.

One of the main reasons storytelling is universally enjoyed is that it gives us people to relate to and makes us feel as though we belong, even if these characters don’t really “exist.” How many of us have related to the “outcast” character, found solace in their being shunned, and even felt a sense of vindication when that character finds acceptance and understanding in the end? Or maybe you’ve pined away with the jilted lover and cheered them on in their quest for love. 

And what about the HSP character? I thought it might be interesting to establish some parameters for this exercise. I wanted to base it on something that many HSPs might find themselves doing a lot of: Reading. Given that reading is universal, I thought about some of the most well-known books in literature — stories we may have read in school, or growing up, or even just because they were considered part of the “literary canon.” And, with that, here’s my list of some of the most famous literary characters who I believe are also highly sensitive people.

5 Literary Characters You’ll Relate to as an HSP

1. Sherlock Holmes: His attention to detail makes him a great sleuth.

There’s some controversy when it comes to the world’s arguably most famous sleuth: In the world of all things Holmes, there is a debate as to which version is the actual Sherlock Holmes. He’s gone through many different iterations, and while you could make a case for Conan Doyle’s being the Sherlock Holmes (that is the original version, after all), I’d actually like to use a composite Holmes and take pieces that all of them have in common. (So that means sorry, Robert Downey Jr. fans — no superhero-fighting abilities for our HSP Holmes.) 

When it comes to Holmes’ number-one HSP trait, the most immediate thing that comes to mind is his ability to notice everything. His keen and astute observations of all things, like body language, is something that we HSPs can relate to. This, of course, spills into his ability to read people; like HSPs, he’s a great judge of character. Depending on which version you’ve read/watched, Holmes will also retreat into his mind to figure out a particularly difficult puzzle. He literally just tunes out the world around him. All noise, all stimulation is shut out, and he enters the safety and confines of his mind-world. (I sometimes wish I had a place like that to go to, like a mental HSP sanctuary.)

2. Holden Caulfield: Crowds — and the world — overwhelm him.

Okay, hear me out. While some might find it offensive to be associated with J.D. Salinger’s most famous character, from The Catcher in the Rye, I believe that all the negative things that people say about Holden Caulfield are ultimately redeemed at the end of the novel (or the very beginning, if you’re looking at the story from a chronological perspective) and that he becomes an admirable person. “Admirable” may be giving him too much credit. Let’s say likeable. 

Now, having established Holden as one of the “good guys” of fiction, we can certainly see aspects of him that many HSPs can relate to. Holden hates crowds of people. Sure, he got kicked out of school and so, technically, wasn’t allowed at the football game at the beginning of the book, but I’m sure he wouldn’t be caught dead there with all of those “phonies.” And it’s not just Pencey Prep either. Holden finds the world too overwhelming and seeks to run away from it all (he even asks Sally Hayes to run away to a cabin in the woods with him!). 

Holden’s ability to see the harsh, cruel realities of the world — and in people — is something that you could argue an HSP can do. (He also has a strong sense of his own shortcomings, too. He’s always bragging about them to the reader.) Finally, Holden feels things so very deeply that it nearly crushes him. 

3. Huck Finn: He finds solace in nature, away from the bustling towns he visits.

Huck is similar to Holden Caulfield in that he is able to see a lot of the immoral and unjust in society; like Holden, he seeks to escape it. Huck finds solace in nature, in the peace and tranquility of the river. Like any HSP, he is able to rejuvenate and re-energize by being away from the noise and bustle of the towns he visits. As Huck evolves in the book, he becomes more empathic and is able to feel for Jim. As a matter of fact, it is this empathy that Huck has that leads to the ultimate heroic decision at the end of the novel to turn against society, give up his chance of going to Heaven, and to steal Jim out of slavery. But the decision isn’t an easy one. 

Huck is constantly weighing, agonizing, and thinking about his choices. Like an HSP does, Huck processes things deeply and feels the gravity of his decision so much that he’s described as “trembling” in that crucial moment. Huck also tells us that he “studied a minute,” making sure that whatever he decided would be a conscious and deliberate conclusion. He reflects on the past, on the friendship that he and Jim shared, and he thinks over the great times they had on the river together, bonding and connecting. Through that, he finds himself at the resolution that Jim isn’t a bad person; rather, he’s a great friend, and one that he’d be willing to risk going to Hell for.  

4. Emily Dickinson: She can feel every little thing.

I’m cheating a little bit here. Okay, a lot-a-bit. Dickinson isn’t a fictitious person, but I think that her being a real person actually scores her even more cool points as far as having an HSP literary hero to relate to. Her poetry is considered to be among the most beautiful and insightful in all of literature. And much of that insight, I’d argue, can be attributed to her sensitivity. 

It is said that she once described her ability to feel things as though she were missing a layer of skin. (Sound familiar, HSPs?) It’s no surprise, then, that she could feel every little thing in life. How else does one write lines such as this? “Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.” Like many HSPs, Dickinson was misunderstood. Part of that, though, was due to her eschewing the public and being very reclusive. And while it was not due to high sensitivity per se, I think we can all relate to Dickinson’s sensitivity to light (she suffered an eye condition that required her confinement in dim light). 

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5. Belle: She’s able to see Beast for who he truly is.

I’m going to cheat a little bit again. The original Belle from the original Beauty and the Beast, written by French writer Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, is perhaps not the best example to use here, so we’ll use the more Disney-fied version (she’s the more famous version anyway). Belle of the Disney variety is a great example of an HSP. She’s able to read people very well. Unlike the entirety of her town, Belle can see Gaston for the jerk he really is. This allows her to turn Gaston away and, more importantly, it allows her to see Beast for who he truly is. And she’s the only one who can do it. 

Like many of us highly sensitive types who people don’t “get,” Belle is seen as “strange” and “funny” — “head’s up on some cloud.” It is perhaps fitting we end our list with a reader here, as Belle’s voracious reading helps feed her lively inner world. 

Hopefully, We’ll Continue to See More HSP Characters in Literature (and Beyond)

And there you have it: a short (and certainly incomplete) list of famous literary HSPs. I must admit, it was tough to come up with even just these five (especially the female figures!) when I limited myself to only the most famous in literature. I kept wanting to go straight back to movies and television (Deanna Troi from Star Trek, anyone?), but perhaps that can be another list for another day. 

Since HSPs make the greatest writers, hopefully they’ll continue to create characters with HSP characteristics, too. This way, not only will we be able to continue seeing ourselves in them, but perhaps society will finally begin to see sensitivity as a strength, not a weakness. One can only hope… 

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