A highly sensitive person (HSP) experiences the world differently than others. Due to a biological difference that they’re born with, highly sensitive people are more aware of subtleties and process information deeply. This means they tend to be creative, insightful, and empathetic, but it also means they’re more prone than others to stress and overwhelm.
Although being highly sensitive is completely normal — meaning, it’s not a disease or a disorder — it’s often misunderstood, because only 15 to 20 percent of the population are HSPs.
Are you a highly sensitive person? If you relate to most of these signs, there’s a good chance you’re an HSP.
Signs You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
1. You absolutely abhor violence and cruelty of any kind.
Everyone hates violence and cruelty, but for highly sensitive people, seeing or hearing about it can be extremely unsettling. You might be an HSP if you can’t watch very scary, gory, or violent movies without getting upset or even feeling physically ill. Similarly, you may not be able to stomach a news story about animal cruelty or similar brutal acts.
2. You’re frequently emotionally exhausted from absorbing other people’s feelings.
Although highly sensitive people are not necessarily empaths, HSPs tend to “absorb” other people’s emotions, almost like an empath would. It’s not unusual for an HSP to walk into a room and immediately sense the moods of the people in it. That’s because highly sensitive people are very aware of subtleties — including facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice — that others may miss. Pair this with the sensitive person’s naturally high levels of empathy, and it’s no wonder HSPs feel emotions that are not their own. As a result, highly sensitive people tend to suffer from frequent emotional exhaustion.
3. Time pressure really rattles you.
In school, timed quizzes or speed tests made you extremely anxious — perhaps to the point of not being able to perform as well as you normally would. As an adult, when you have too many things on your to-do list and not enough time to finish them, you feel very stressed. HSPs are more sensitive to stimulation, and time pressure is no exception.
4. You withdraw often.
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you need plenty of downtime, preferably alone. You often find yourself withdrawing to a quiet, darkened room at the end of a long day — in order to lower your stimulation level, soothe your senses, and recharge.
5. You’re jumpy.
When someone sneaks up on you, you jump like a frightened cat. Many HSPs have a high “startle reflex” because even in non-threatening situations, their nervous systems are dialed up.
6. You think deeply.
The cornerstone of being an HSP is you process information deeply. This means you do plenty of reflecting on your experiences — more so than other people. Unfortunately, this also means you’re more prone to negative overthinking. Sometimes you obsessively play events over and over in your mind or spiral into anxious thoughts.
7. You’re a seeker.
HSPs seek answers to the big questions in life. They ask why things are the way they are and what their role in all of it is. If you’re a highly sensitive person, you may have always wondered why other people aren’t as captivated by the mysteries of human nature and the universe as you are.
8. Sudden, loud noises startle you.
For example, a loud motorcycle suddenly roaring by your window may really shake you.
9. Your clothing matters.
You’ve always been sensitive to what you wear. Scratchy fabric or restrictive clothing — like pants with a tight waistband or pantyhose — really irritate you. Of course, non-HSPs might dislike these things too, but an HSP will carefully select their wardrobe to completely avoid them. And if an HSP inadvertently wears one of these things out, the discomfort may detract from their entire experience.
10. Your pain tolerance is less.
Many HSPs are more sensitive to pain of all kinds — headaches, body aches, injuries, etc. — than non-HSPs.
11. Your inner world is alive and present.
Again, due to your deep processing, you have a rich inner world. As a child, you may have had several imaginary friends, enjoyed fantasy-based play, and were prone to daydreaming. As an adult, you may have vividly realistic dreams.
12. Change is extremely upsetting.
HSPs take comfort in their routines, because the familiar is far less stimulating than something brand new. For this reason, change — both positive and negative — can really throw off HSPs. For example, when dating someone new or getting a job promotion, HSPs may feel as equally stressed as they do overjoyed. Generally, HSPs need more time than others to adjust to change.
13. Sometimes your environment is your enemy.
Similarly, moving to a new home or traveling (even if it’s just a “fun” vacation!) can be quite difficult for you, because your senses are bombarded with so much new stimuli.
14. You’re misunderstood.
High sensitivity is often mislabeled. You may have been called “shy” or “anxious,” and perhaps it was implied that something was wrong with you. Similarly, many HSPs are labeled as introverts, because introverts and HSPs share many characteristics, such as needing lots of downtime. However, 30 percent of HSPs are actually extroverts.
15. You get hangry easily.
HSPs tend to be sensitive to changes in blood sugar levels, so they may get quite “hangry” (hungry + angry) if they haven’t eaten in a while.
16. Who needs stimulants…
…when your nervous system is already ratcheted up to the highest level? Some HSPs are sensitive to caffeine and need very little of it to feel its buzz. Similarly, some HSPs are also sensitive to alcohol’s effects.
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17. Conflict is your poison.
When there’s tension or disagreement in your close relationships, you feel it deeply. Many HSPs even report feeling physically ill during conflict. As a result, some highly sensitive people become conflict-avoidant, doing or saying almost anything to keep the other person happy. It’s because conflict hurts so much.
18. Criticism is a dagger.
Words really matter to HSPs. Positive words can make them soar, but harsh words will send them crashing to the ground. Criticism can feel like a dagger, and negativity is toxic to the highly sensitive person’s finely-tuned system.
19. You’re conscientious.
At work and in school, you try hard not to make mistakes. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re perfect — nobody is! — but you’re always giving things your best effort.
20. You’re deeply moved by beauty.
Fine meals, rich scents, beautiful artwork, or stirring melodies have a deep impact on you. You may find that music or certain sounds put you in a near trance-like state, or the way the wind catches the leaves in the autumn sunlight leaves you awestruck. You don’t understand how other people aren’t as moved by beauty as you are.
21. You’re perceptive.
Because you notice things that others miss, you’re seen as perceptive and insightful. Even as a child, you may have been wise beyond your years. The world relies on highly sensitive people like you to make it a more compassionate, understanding place to be.