A brief look at some of the most popular fictional stories will show you that high sensitivity is extremely common among some of the most beloved characters.
Highly sensitive people can thrive in so many different spaces. Because of our appreciation for the arts, and often vivid imaginations, it’s no surprise that some of our most beloved authors have the sensitivity trait. During my literary adventures, I’ve learned that sensitivity also rubs off on the characters we create — from the way they process things more deeply to the way they easily get overstimulated to the way they absorb others’ emotions (often more so than their own!).
If you were a bookworm as a child, maybe you’re familiar with the feeling that your closest friends lived in a fictional story. That’s how I felt. In school, I was an outsider and didn’t always understand my classmates, but I could understand the characters in my books most of the time. I liked to think that they would be able to relate to me, as well, if they were real.
Many HSPs feel out of place in the world but there are so many heroes, leaders, and icons who share our trait. Of course, there are the non-fictional ones, like Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt, but what about the ones we’ve grown to love through popular books and movies? Just a brief look at some of the most popular fictional stories will show you that high sensitivity is extremely common among some of the most beloved characters. They are not loved despite their sensitivity, but largely because of it.
Here are seven fictional characters I’ve fallen in love with through my TV screen and via some of my favorite books. They all display characteristics that have led me to believe that they are highly sensitive people. When I struggle to feel good about my sensitivity, which is a big part of who I am, it often helps to find inspiration in other HSPs whom I admire — real or fictitious.
7 Highly Sensitive Fictional Characters To Inspire You
1. Jane from Jane Eyre
I read Charlotte Brontë’s masterpiece, Jane Eyre, at the age of 15. I remember being impressed by the protagonist’s grace and maturity even through her nightmarish childhood. Raised by an aunt who hates her, Jane is sent to an abusive boarding school called Lowood School. Through it all, she stays true to herself, led by her deep commitment to her personal value system.
Since childhood, Jane’s been strong-willed and outspoken, two personality traits that are not usually associated with sensitivity. However, in getting to know Jane through her story, I learned that she drew strength from her tendency to think deeply and empathize with others — even the ones who had done her wrong. Her obvious depth of processing and her emotional responsiveness are two expressions of her sensitivity that make her the strong, fiery character we love.
As HSP expert April Snow mentions on her blog, many falsely assume that HSPs are “nervous wrecks” who can’t handle much. In reality, being a highly sensitive person is a survival mechanism — a gift from nature that has endowed us with amazing superpowers. Jane is an HSP who has tapped into her strength, and so can you.
2. Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Green Gables, by L.M Montgomery, is the story of a dreamy young orphan girl who is accidentally sent to Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, siblings who live on an idyllic property called Green Gables. When I first read this story as a child, I could relate to Anne’s imaginative nature. She’s a lonely child, and before arriving at Green Gables, her only friend is an imaginary girl named Katie Maurice. (I had an imaginary friend, too! Her name was Verandela and she lived in an imaginary country called Turtelan.)
Of course, many children have imaginary friends — as many as 65 percent of them, apparently; however, retreating from the tedium of everyday life is an especially HSP habit. We are known to have rich inner lives, which often play out in our creative and vivid imaginations. This is certainly the case for Anne, who loves to read and get lost in her head. Though she never feels completely normal around her peers or the adults around her, she finds comfort in her imagination. (My fellow HSPs, can you relate?)
Though Anne’s journey isn’t always smooth, she eventually finds her way to the feeling of stability she’s been searching for since her childhood. One of her main strongholds, when she has nothing else, is her rich inner life — even if it made her stand out from the staunch realists around her. We should all remember to honor who we are, no matter how “different” we might seem to others.
Here’s a perfect example from the book:
“Do you never imagine things different from what they really are?” Anne, wide-eyed, asked Marilla.
“Oh!” Anne drew a long breath. “Oh, Miss–Marilla, how much you miss!”
3. Eleven from Stranger Things
Stranger Things follows an endearing group of young, nerdy friends who discover supernatural forces and secret government schemes in their small Indiana town. It quickly became one of my favorite shows. The retro charm, the lovable characters, and the otherworldly elements all came together to create a unique, binge-worthy program. Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown, is a young girl with telepathic and psychokinetic powers. She’s my favorite character, and like most HSPs, Eleven is acutely aware of her surroundings and very intuitive.
Shady scientists who work for the U.S. Department of Energy perform unethical experiments on Eleven to learn how they might make use of her unique powers. These intense experiments, one being the controversial Project MKUltra (a mind control tactic), renders her traumatized.
When I first “met” Eleven, she seemed cold and unfriendly, but I later found out that her hard outer shell stems from this trauma. Evil Dr. Brenner, the scientist who exploits Eleven’s powers, reminds me of energy vampires, or narcissists who might seek to take advantage of an HSP’s empathy and willingness to help others. Dr. Brenner appeals to Eleven’s deep desire for a prenatal figure since she never knew her parents, but he ultimately betrays her trust.
Luckily, in the end, Dr. Brenner and his posse are no match for Eleven’s powers, but they do not leave her unmarked. It takes a lot for Eleven to open up to the residents of the town where she goes to escape — and she eventually sees that they only want to help her.
Because HSPs experience things more deeply than less-sensitive people, we may be more susceptible to the negative effects of unresolved trauma. Like Eleven, we might feel tempted to withdraw socially or refrain from opening up but we must remember the importance of connection. Eleven taught me that love, among other things, can counteract the effects of past abuse and trauma.
4. Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones (GOT), an epic fantasy based on a book series by George R. R. Martin, satisfied all my cravings for escape from the real world. It follows several characters in their fight to claim the “Iron Throne,” and there are dragons, epic battles, and sick costumes. When it was on the air, I looked forward to watching GOT every week for years. I always followed one character’s storyline especially closely. Her hypnotic beauty might have had something to do with that, but her personality (throughout most of the series) was most captivating. Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, is courageous, empathetic, and highly sensitive.
She is extremely resilient, having gone through many forms of abuse by her brother and her husband. Through it all, her kindness and empathy, which are rare among nobles in the series, never stops. It also gains her loyal followers as her story progresses. She dedicates much of her reign to building the perfect society — helping the poor and taking down tyrants.
Daenerys is an excellent reminder of how powerful highly sensitive souls can be. If Daenerys hadn’t used her sensitivity to understand the people around her, there’s no way she would have been able to garner such strong support. For instance, she is able to assemble a massive army of about 60,000 Dothraki horsemen and 8,000 eunuch warriors called the “unsullied.” Her army, coupled with her magnificent dragons, make her unbeatable at one point.
Conversely, Daenerys represents the shadow side of high sensitivity and reminds us how perfectionism can sabotage our happiness and success if we’re not careful. Because Daenerys has such high expectations of herself and the kingdom she is trying to build, she struggles to maintain a rational inner voice. The result is destructive. Who knows how amazing the new world could have been if Daenerys had known how to care for herself? Her sensitivity would have equipped her with the ability to lead a revolutionary society, that’s for sure.
5. Amélie Poulain from Amélie
Amélie Poulain, from the 2001 film Amélie, leads the dream life for many HSPs. She works at a quaint Paris café and lives quietly with her cat in a charming little apartment. She seems to get plenty of alone time like we sensitive types crave. The only thing missing from Amélie’s life is love and human companionship. She is extremely quiet and shy, and while some HSPs are actually extroverted, Amélie’s struggle with social situations is relatable for many of us.
Despite what appears to be social anxiety, Amélie manages to brighten the lives of those around her, albeit behind the scenes. When Amélie finds a tin of rusty old children’s toys hidden in her wall, she is determined to find the owner and return it. When she finally manages to accomplish her goal, Amélie feels a deep sense of satisfaction and decides to become a helping force in the lives of everyone around her, describing the world in detail to a blind man and inspiring her widowed father to go on a vacation. The only person Amélie can’t seem to help is herself: She’s in love with a quirky young man named Nino, but can only manage to admire him from afar.
According to a study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, individuals on the Highly Sensitive Person Scale may be more likely to experience some subtypes of social anxiety disorder. Amélie’s example reminded me not to be a slave to my own fears. Highly sensitive people are just as strong as less sensitive people, but since we feel everything more deeply than others, the world can seem just a little scarier to us. That doesn’t mean we should hide away from our fears forever. When anxiety gets in the way of our enjoyment, it’s important to intervene and ensure nothing prevents us from living a full and happy life.
Until Amélie sees the people she had helped living fully again, she doesn’t know how much she’s missing. Though she knows how to help others, she forgets how to care for herself (as so many of us do). Eventually, she has the courage to go after the love she’s been wanting for for so long. The courageous act can differ for all of us. For me, it was seeking help and finding a therapist when my anxiety became a significant hindrance in my life.
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6. Primrose Everdeen from The Hunger Games
In Suzanne Collins’ dystopian story, The Hunger Games trilogy, 24 young people from 12-18 fight to the death in an annual tournament-like event called the “Hunger Games.” (It’s even televised for everyone to see and sensationalized like a reality television show.) The brave protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence), volunteers to fight in the 74th annual Hunger Games when her sister’s name is drawn. Katniss knew that her sister Primrose would not survive the Hunger Games competing against participants who trained for them since childhood. (Although many HSPs are sensitive to violent or scary movies, I bet some still enjoyed The Hunger Games!)
Though Primrose (played by Willow Shields) lacks a talent for hunting, which is more her older sister’s thing, she is a gifted healer like her mother. She often helps to create remedies in her mother’s apothecary, nursing patients back to health in the impoverished District 12 neighborhood where she lives. She loves and rescues creatures like Buttercup, a stray cat who becomes her cherished companion. Even in an extremely cruel world, Primrose maintains her compassion.
According to Jenn Granneman in her Psychology Today piece, “Highly sensitive people are the artists, creators, and healers.” A highly sensitive person’s developed intuition and responsiveness to others’ needs make them the ideal healer — an extremely valuable role in any community. We can make a difference, even though our contribution isn’t always front and center, just like Primrose. She became a beloved member of her community who touched many lives with her healing hands and soft heart.
7. Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers
The quirky Belcher family is the staple of Bob’s Burgers, a charming, hilarious cartoon. Together, the Belchers run a (struggling) burger joint called Bob’s Burgers. The show follows Bob, Linda, Tina, Gene, and Louise’s adventures as individuals and as a family. Perhaps the quirkiest member of the Belcher family is Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz), the eldest daughter. Some of her strange habits include groaning incessantly when anxious and speaking in a low, monotone voice.
Tina demonstrates some of the telltale signs of an HSP: She’s very thoughtful and often gives deep, insightful advice. She leads a rich inner life — writing erotic fiction, watching movies, and listening to her favorite boy band, Boyz 4 Now. Tina is lovable, but undeniably weird. Many HSPs feel weird at some point, or at least different from the people around them. Watching Tina on Bob’s Burgers makes me remember the importance of staying true to ourselves. It’s not a bad thing to stand out sometimes, especially when our unique qualities, like Tina’s, can bring so much joy when we let it shine through.
Most of us know how influential role models can be. We shouldn’t forget about the ones that guided us through the TV screen and the pages of our most beloved stories. Perhaps then we can see how special and deserving each and every one of us is.
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