Highly Sensitive Refuge
A sensitive person thinking deeply with her hand to her chin.

Why ‘Highly Sensitive’ Is Just Another Word for ‘Deep Thinker’

Highly sensitive people take in every detail and see every connection. The result is a slower — but much deeper — thought process. 

If you’ve watched X-Men or Wolverine films, the X-Men animated series, or read X-Men comics, you know of superhero Jean Grey. Extremely powerful, telepathic, and telekinetic, she has always been one of my favorite “mutants” and superheroes. The deep-thinking Grey brings new meaning to the idea that being sensitive is a superpower, a gift we should embrace.

Her powers are both mental and empathetic — she can read people’s thoughts and feel the fullness of what they are feeling. 

As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I appreciate this paradigm shift of sensitivity as a strength. I bring this up because I think we all know that being called “sensitive,” and especially “too sensitive,” isn’t necessarily a compliment in our culture. Sometimes the word “sensitive” has less-than-positive connotations and may conjure up the concept of weakness. 

To address that, Grey’s deep sensitivity overpowers her at times. She can see, and even influence, way, way beneath the surface of people, animals, and the literal world around her. But because she has such deep mental powers, sometimes what she is sensing and feeling is almost too much for her to take. Like HSPs, she gets mentally and emotionally flooded.

Highly sensitive people may not literally be cosmically powerful like Grey (despite our strong intuition and sixth sense). But, like she demonstrates, “sensitive” is just another word for “deep thinker” (which is part of why our high sensitivity is a strength).

How ‘Highly Sensitive’ Translates to ‘Deep Thinker’

We HSPs are deep thinkers through and through. If sensory information didn’t hit us so deeply, for instance, we wouldn’t be so deeply moved by music or other works of art, as well as the happy and beautiful times in life (that others often miss). 

When I go to an art museum, for example, I might gasp out loud or start to tear up when I see an amazing piece of work — and I consider this a gift. And, sometimes, I will have a “thinking” expression on my face versus a smiling one. This doesn’t mean I’m not happy; it just means I’m absorbed in deep thought (part of my nature as an HSP).

We also experience things through our heightened five senses. Our brains combine this input with our experience, doing an involuntary Google search of our mind to see what that sensory input meant when we experienced it before. 

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, said: “There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.”

For example, I can quickly tell when my husband is ready to leave a gathering, even if he hasn’t dropped any hints in conversation. Without making a conscious Sherlock Holmes-like deduction, we HSPs “just know.”

Even if it’s not someone we’re super close with, when we look at another person and are able to infer their current mental and emotional state — since we HSPs excel at absorbing others’ emotions — well, we’re actually thinking deeply. When we are talking to someone and they avoid eye contact or make certain facial expressions, we notice. 

We are pros at reading the subtext and seeing below the surface. Our active brains synthesize all the sensory information we are getting and draw quick and informed conclusions about what is really going on. As a result, we may appear intuitive.

We sensitive types are not psychic, but we also won’t necessarily be able to walk you through every step of how we made our determination, even if it’s super accurate.

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How Our Intuition Helps Us Think Deeply, Too

Intuitive understanding happens when we sense certain things in the present based on past evidence and experience. 

HSPs are predisposed to look deeper, think deeper, and feel deeper. If you grasp what the physical evidence from another person tells you so readily, your empathy will also engage more deeply and so will your awareness of the experience of another. 

It only makes sense that highly sensitive people, being naturally able to take in so much sensory information, find it hard to avoid the intuitive conclusions it leads them to on a deeper level of understanding. We HSPs have trouble turning off the things we perceive that others often don’t.

Sometimes my HSP self, for example, will realize that someone feels sheepish or embarrassed about something. Then I feel worse because I know they didn’t want anyone to pick up on their embarrassment. We could get into a whole meta cycle about feeling embarrassed about feeling embarrassed!

The opposite of a highly sensitive person is probably someone whose five senses function highly, but who cannot process the emotional and relational meaning of what their senses tell them. For instance, they could probably repeat back what someone said, but may not pick up on typical social cues, like the way tone of voice indicates a joke or sarcasm.

Now, of course, there are some folks whose five senses are heightened, but who don’t always get the meaning of what they see, hear, and so on. This could be due to their particular neural wiring, and they deserve respect and love, too. Highly sensitive people, however, often feel, think, and perceive things more deeply than most people — and our intuition plays a big part, too.

Being Sensitive is Being Deep and Strong

Like fictional superhero Grey, even in real life, sensitive people who think deeply might experience inner conflict. We, too, want to use our power for good, but we also paradoxically feel the burden of exercising it.

In the X-Men stories, Grey cannot make her powers go away, though sometimes she wants to. She can choose, however, to use her abilities to help, rather than harm, others. Similarly, she can use her sensitivity and deep mental abilities to rebuild and heal rather than to destroy. And so can we.

When you are an HSP, you think and understand deeply. With your sensitivity, you also have deeper decisions to make all the time. It can be difficult to know what to do with all that a sensitive person understands and observes.

Let’s say I somehow realize, for example, that a woman I know has been through a miscarriage, even though she didn’t tell me. Now I have to consider whether she’d want to talk about it or not. What to do with that information feels like a big deal, and maybe I even feel a fraction of her pain.

That is part of why HSPs can become overwhelmed. The good news is, there are ways to make a difference and use our powers for good that fit who HSPs are. 

Thinking, seeing, and feeling deeply doesn’t have to be debilitating, even though it’s completely understandable if we need a rest sometimes. For me, when I am in a place with a lot of conflicting noises for a while, I need time afterwards to regroup in a quieter setting.

Being sensitive and a deep thinker are synonymous — both are strengths, our superpowers, not weaknesses. Like fictional character Grey, when highly sensitive people use their unique depths for good purposes, there is very little they can’t do.

Want to reduce stress and thrive as a highly sensitive person? We recommend these online courses from psychotherapist and sensitivity expert Julie Bjelland. Click here to learn more.

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