If you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP), it likely affects the way you think, feel, work, and even dress every day. Highly sensitive people have a finely-tuned nervous system that picks up on everything around them, from sensory information to people’s emotions — and processes it all deeply.
At times, that can feel isolating, but highly sensitive people are far from rare: They make up at least 20 percent of the population. So, if you’re sensitive and you feel like something you do is different or weird, remember, it’s probably completely normal to other HSPs.
Are you a highly sensitive person — or wondering whether someone else in your life is? Although every HSP is different, here are 19 habits that can help you identify (and understand) the sensitive souls in your life.
Habits of a Highly Sensitive Person
1. We notice the little things — and for us, they’re big.
The tap-tap-tap of someone’s nervous foot? The whining noise the AC makes when it kicks on? Maybe the smell of someone’s perfume, or the way a coworker frowns as they try to pretend everything is okay. Part of being a highly sensitive person is picking up on, and processing, even the smallest things in your environment. These “little” things take up a lot of an HSP’s mental space, and often, others don’t understand why a sensitive person won’t just ignore the little things. The truth is, they can’t — any more than the average person could ignore a monster truck roaring toward them.
2. We feel our emotions deeply.
One of the first things you typically learn about highly sensitive people is that they feel more deeply than others. A highly sensitive person’s brain is built to be very “in tune” when it comes to feeling and processing emotions.
Any time an HSP feels emotions like sadness, irritability, excitement, or fear, it’s like the dial is turned up. Others might think they are overreacting, but they are truly just feeling more. (Thankfully, the same thing applies to positive emotions like joy — which can be an almost transcendental experience for HSPs.)
3. We (usually) avoid gory or violent content.
Many HSPs don’t understand other people’s fascination with violent movies or books. They will typically avoid them completely or need time to recover afterward. Intense violence, even if it’s fake, is hard to process when you’re highly sensitive. Seeing violent acts on TV, reading about them, or just hearing about them may make them feel sick or as if the violence is physically happening to them.
Even worse, real cruelty or brutality (as seen on the news) can be deeply upsetting. HSPs might find themselves thinking about it long after other people have stopped discussing it.
4. Many of us cry more easily — or more often.
Since HSPs feel their emotions more deeply, it makes sense that they may cry more often when sad, frustrated, stressed, or yes, even happy. It can also take more time for an HSP to recover from strong emotions. They often need to take time to process through feelings before the tears can stop.
HSPs face judgment for being “too sensitive” to their emotions, but for them, crying is a completely natural expression.
5. We keep ruminating on negative comments or criticism.
Criticism is difficult for most people, but HSPs are prone to strong reactions to negative comments, even if they’re well-intended. This ties into an HSP’s high natural empathy: They strive to make others around them happy, and when criticism comes back, it feels like letting everyone down. As a result, HSPs can spend days or even weeks playing a comment over and over in their heads, trying to understand every meaning behind it. Unfortunately, this means they can be very hard on themselves, which is why self-love is crucial for HSPs.
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6. We avoid loud or overwhelming spaces like the plague.
Large crowds, concerts, or parties can cause HSPs a lot of anxiety — not to mention overstimulation. Loud music combined with many bodies and constant chatter gets overwhelming for them quickly. Your sensitive friend is usually the one leaving early or finding a quieter space to talk one-on-one with a friend. For us, this has nothing to do with being introverted or extroverted; it’s about the overwhelm of processing so much going on at once.
7. We take more time to “recharge.”
What happens if an HSP can’t leave that crowded space? Well, too much stimulation is tiring for HSPs. After being around a lot of noise or contact with other people, they need a longer reprieve before jumping back into the world. HSPs will favor more time at home where they can be comfortable and alone with their thoughts.
8. We are drawn to beauty and art.
HSPs are easily moved by beautiful music, novels, artwork, or other forms of creativity. Many works of art are born from deep, intense emotions. They often find beauty and meaning in places others don’t — and have creative hobbies that allow them to express their feelings. In fact, research suggests that creativity is linked to high sensitivity.
9. We spend a lot of time on introspection.
HSPs dive deep, especially when it comes to self-analysis. They will spend a lot of time soul-searching and thinking about what’s most important to them. This makes sense — since loud, flashy, or “extreme” activities are often too much for them, they’re much more able to find meaning and joy in the quieter things, like thinking and daydreaming.
10. We might choose a night in over going out.
Staying in to have fun versus going out feels safer and more comfortable for HSPs. They can control the stimuli around them and not worry about getting overwhelmed.
11. Yes, we taking longer to make decisions.
Because they think deeply about everything, HSPs can take a long time weighing the pros and cons before making a decision. Even simple decisions — like choosing what to eat for dinner — can sometimes be difficult.
A highly sensitive person will consider all possible outcomes of one choice over another. They may also get upset more easily if they feel they made a wrong decision since they have put so much energy into it. While this can make daily choices hard, it also means HSPs are great at seeing all sides when making an important life choice or helping a loved one through a dilemma.
12. We get annoyed by All. These. Noises.
Sounds that are loud, obtrusive, or repetitive can easily grate the nerves of someone who is highly sensitive. While others might get also annoyed with such sounds, HSPs have a lower tolerance for them and can become irritated or upset by them more quickly. They’re less able to “tune them out.”
Some HSPs may also struggle with misophonia, which means “dislike or hatred of sounds.” With misophonia, certain sounds that aren’t generally annoying (such as the sound of chewing) can trigger strong emotional reactions.
13. We’re sensitive to our clothing.
Itchy or tight clothing, even clothing tags, can be highly distracting and irritating for an HSP. They prefer soft fabrics and looser outfits that don’t cause discomfort. Otherwise, uncomfortable clothing can make it hard to focus on anything else.
14. We notice the texture, not just the taste, of food.
While anyone can be a picky eater, some HSPs have a particularly hard time with the tastes, textures, or consistencies of certain foods. They may have trouble with healthy or complex foods. If a food has a too-strong flavor or texture, it may gross them out and even make them nauseous.
15. We’re introverted (sometimes).
Being an HSP is different than being an introvert; introversion is internal, about where you get your energy, but sensitivity is about how much you’re affected by the external world. However, the two can go together: 70 percent of HSPs are also introverts. This means they will prefer a lot of solo time, especially when they’re tired, stressed, or overwhelmed.
That still leaves a healthy chunk of HSPs who are extroverts — almost 1 in 3. These HSPs have to balance their desire for social time with an HSP’s need for less stimulation.
16. We see right through to your soul.
Being highly sensitive means noticing subtleties in other people as well as yourself. HSPs are highly intuitive to the motivations of others — like a walking lie detector. Often, they can learn a lot about someone’s character after being around them for just a short while.
17. We feel other people’s emotions.
HSPs are natural empaths, and they’re the first to know when something is “off” with a friend, even if their friend hasn’t said anything about it. Small differences in their speech, movements, and overall energy can easily set off an HSP’s radar that someone has had a bad day or is going through strong emotions.
On a similar note, HSPs often take on others’ emotions as their own. They find themselves feeling sad or angry after being around someone else feeling these emotions — even if they had no other reason to be sad or angry.
18. We get startled easily — but please don’t take advantage of it!
Many HSPs don’t like surprises — especially if they scare or startle them. HSPs have higher levels of sensory-processing sensitivity (SPS), which means they have a more sensitive central nervous system. That means intense reactions to stimuli like loud noises or sudden movements.
If you have an HSP in your life, please don’t think it’s funny to sneak up on them — it’s not. That one jumpy moment can leave an HSP deeply shaken for an hour or more.
19. We care deeply about others.
Last but not least, HSPs are amazing friends and partners. Since they tend to see all sides of someone’s story, they can put themselves in others’ shoes and be greatly empathetic. They feel deeply — and that includes putting a lot of energy into their loved ones.