A lot of TV and movie characters are highly sensitive and have the emotional equivalent of 3D glasses or Smell-O-Vision!
If you’re like me, then nothing beats cozying up at the end of a long, hard day and rejuvenating by getting lost in your favorite show or movie. With streaming services sometimes releasing an entire season of a particular show all at once, this is now easier to do than ever. Before you know it, it’s 1 a.m. and way past your bedtime, but all you want to do is get one more episode in… then another… and then another…
And, as an added bonus for those of us highly sensitive people (HSPs) with the ability to feel deeply, we also tend to feel the gravity of favorite characters’ stories on a deeper level, too. I don’t know about you, but personally I believe that only enhances our TV- and movie-watching and makes for a much more pleasurable viewing experience. We have the emotional equivalent of 3D glasses or Smell-O-Vision!
Relating to characters is one of the reasons we watch, and as an HSP, I sometimes can’t help but notice all the different characters that just might be a fellow highly sensitive person. That, or I’ll notice when characters exhibit traits that we can relate to. It got me thinking: Who are all the HSPs out there on the big and small screen?
It can be a daunting task to scour all of television and movie-dom to create a list of characters that could be HSPs, so I thought it might be easier to use highly sensitive pioneer Dr. Elaine Aron’s acronym to help with this little game. We’ll be using DOES and putting a character or two in each of the categories:
- D: Depth of Processing
- O: Overstimulation
- E: Emotional Reactivity and Empathy
- S: Sensing the Subtle
‘D’ for ‘Depth of Processing’
It would be impossible to not put Sherlock Holmes into this category, as his depth of processing is so famous that there have been both movie and television scenes that try to capture how the detective’s mind works. In the Robert Downey, Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes — where he can be heard uttering a line we HSPs can all relate to when he’s asked what he sees: “Everything. That is my curse.” — he offends Watson’s fiancée by reading all of the physical clues about her and exposing the fact that she was once engaged and broke it off.
In Benedict Cumberbatch’s BBC iteration, Unlocking Sherlock, we are allowed into Holme’s “mind palace,” where he gathers every little detail and processes them all in order to solve the case. But who else has this ability? Who else can take information in, read it, and think deeply about the tiniest details? Highly sensitive people, of course!
Similarly, Matt Damon’s portrayal of card shark Mike McDermott in Rounders demonstrates this ability, too, when he visits his professor’s poker game. Just by reading the room for a few minutes, Mike is able to figure out the exact hand that each of the card players has and helps his professor win the game, impressing all of the bigwigs in the room.
Another depth of processing character and scene involves Jake from Brooklyn Nine-Nine when he successfully guesses everyone’s Secret Santa assignment mere seconds after all the names have been pulled from a hat. When doubted, Jake explains to his fellow officers how he’s able to read people’s facial expressions, from lip movement to eye-rolling, among other things he notices. And, thus, he’s able to figure out everyone’s Secret Santas.
‘O’ for ‘Overstimulation’
Superhero origin shows have been very popular lately, and there is no superhero more widely known than Superman himself. And while he eventually learns to harness his powers and use them to save the world over and over again, shows like Smallville have shown his struggles with learning to control his powers as a youth.
In a scene in which many of us HSPs can relate to, the newest entry in the Superman universe, Superman and Lois, depicts Jordan Kent, Superman’s son, getting coached by his famous father in learning how to “focus on one sound at a time,” and control his hearing powers. Jordan can hear every little thing, even the sound of water dripping into a metallic sink. He soon gets overwhelmed by all of the auditory stimulation and retreats into his sound-blocking earphones. HSPs, too, may be sensitive to sounds and may even experience phonophobia, the intense fear of loud sounds.
In the 2003 Daredevil movie, a young Matthew Murdock wakes up in a hospital — only to discover his heightened senses. He becomes so overwhelmed by them (he can even hear the drip-drip of his IV) that he falls out of his hospital bed and crawls into a corner to hide.
Another movie scene featuring HSP-like overstimulation includes when Queenie, from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, breaks down crying on the streets of Paris when she’s overwhelmed by hearing everyone’s thoughts on the streets. We HSPs can certainly relate to the barrage of voices assailing poor Queenie as she sticks her fingers into her ears in a futile attempt to shield herself from all the noise. Sometimes, it can feel like a helplessly hopeless endeavor to try and escape, can’t it?
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‘E’ for ‘Emotional Reactivity’ and ‘Empathy’
Sticking with the superhero characters, there are a few that come immediately to my mind whenever I think of empathy. For the Trekkies out there, there is none other than Deanna Troi of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Troi is an invaluable part of the Enterprise — not just because she has psionic abilities, but because she is an empath. She has, on more than one occasion, been called upon for her empathy to help guide the decisions of Captain Picard. She has even helped the hotheaded Worf and counseled him!
From the movies, we have Mantis of Guardians of the Galaxy. There’s that humorous scene where the crew members are asking Mantis about her antennae. She tells them that they “have something to do with [her] empathic abilities.” She then proceeds to tell everyone that if she touches them, she can “feel their feelings.” She even distinguishes empathic abilities from mind reading before letting the cat out of the bag about Star-Lord’s love for Gamorrah!
Another possible HSP empath includes Jean Grey from X-Men. There is not a single iteration of X-Men, whether movie, cartoon, or movie remake, that does not feature Jean without showcasing her ability to emotionally empathize with her fellow X-Men. Perhaps, most importantly, her ability allows for her to draw closer to the one mutant no one else can seem to get close to: Wolverine.
And I believe that the entirety of the characters from the show Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
may be highly sensitive people. Austin Winsberg, creator of the show, was quoted in an interview in which he describes his main character’s ability to hear people’s thoughts through song. In doing so, she can “understand them better” and “gain compassion.” It’s a very unique and creative way in presenting someone who is highly sensitive — and empathic — to other people.
‘S’ for ‘Sensing the Subtle’
Related to the depth of processing is an HSP’s ability to sense very subtle things. While we are able to analyze and process tiny details, we first must take in all the little things.
We see this in Jason Bourne in the Bourne series. In the first movie, The Bourne Identity, for example, we see Jason in a diner listing all of the very specific details he’s just noticed, including license plate numbers and even someone’s weight! And although it’s technically a fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea has been adapted into animated films that showcase the famous sensitivity to the very subtle when the princess is able to sense a tiny little pea in her bed. She’s so sensitive that she’s unable to get a peaceful night’s rest all because she’s able to feel that tiny little annoyance!
Other sensing characters include both Spider-Man (for his all-around Spidey senses) and Wolverine (for his super smelling powers). While most people would point to Spider-Man’s high-flying acrobatics or his superhuman strength as being his biggest assets, I would argue that it is actually his Spidey senses. Peter Parker’s ability to sense oncoming danger has saved his, and other’s, lives on countless occasions. And like many HSPs, Wolverine has a sense of smell that would rival that of a bloodhound. He’s often depicted in comics and movies as using his sense of smell to track the bad guys down.
I’m sure there are many other possible entries under each HSP trait, but my goal was to at least come up with one from the silver screen and one from television. And I’ll admit, it’s not the easiest task to come up with who is definitively an HSP. Some of these characters just exhibit one HSP trait, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have others.
Since an HSP has more than just a single trait than the DOES acronym, and since our traits are mostly internal, it’s difficult to pinpoint which characters have all four traits just by watching the external. I don’t know how many screenwriters sit down, when developing their characters, and go, “Hmm… part of their backstory is that they’re highly sensitive!” But wouldn’t that be so very cool?
What’s neat — and perhaps even validating though — is that looking over the list, we can see how Hollywood paints many of these traits as positive things (look at all those superheroes!). And why not? It does make perfect sense that things like crime-solving, galaxy-saving, and ruling as a royal would all benefit from some of our highly sensitive traits and superpowers!
Now turning it to you fellow HSP. What TV or film characters do you think may be highly sensitive? Feel free to share in the comments below!
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