Why Highly Sensitive People Love to Read

A highly sensitive person reads a book by the window.

For highly sensitive people, a book is more than just a good story. It’s a refuge.

Books have been around since humans started printing words on pages, around the 4th millennium BCE. Before that, thoughts and ideas were hand-scratched on clay tablets, and “reading” was more of a social activity where one person read aloud from a scroll of papyrus or hand-written manuscript.

Thankfully, books are now personal objects that anyone can own — and they can even read from a digital tablet, phone, or computer if they please. (My how far we’ve come!) We highly sensitive people (HSPs) especially benefit from the quiet reflection books bring, and that’s why many of us cherish our reading time. 

For me, reading is a non-negotiable part of my self-care as an HSP, and I don’t think I’m alone — it seems that many sensitive types genuinely love their reading time. Let’s look at some reasons why.

5 Reasons Why HSPs Love Reading

1. Reading is a doorway to the deep thinking HSPs do best.

There’s no doubt about it: HSPs are deep thinkers. We love to spend time pondering life or working through the complexities of the human condition in our minds. 

And reading is the ideal vessel for “going deeper.”

Both fiction and nonfiction books can challenge our ways of thinking. Stories put us inside other people’s heads, often allowing us to explore the thoughts of those very different from us. 

HSPs adore all of the subtleties and details of a great book — and there are certain literary characters you’ll relate to as a highly sensitive person, too. (Sherlock Holmes or Emily Dickinson, anyone?) Many of them have us thinking about what we read for hours or days.

2. Books are stimulating… but in all the right ways.

Most of the time, HSPs seek ways to reduce stimulation in their lives. Even before I knew what an HSP was (or that I was one), I would instinctually be the one quietly hiding in my room — also known as my HSP sanctuary — or choosing activities that allowed me to be alone. I was trying to recover from too much stimulation and just “recharge.”

So how do books fit into all of this? Well, reading can be stimulating in a more comfortable way for HSPs. We can journey with a complex character, their life teeming with challenges, and explore difficult situations and emotions that would be too much in real life. Plus, there are several thought-provoking books that resonate with HSPs, like Quiet by Susan Cain.

Reading books might also help HSPs deal with the challenges of the real world, too. In one study, researchers had 100 participants read either a fictional short story or nonfictional essay.  After the participants read their assigned pieces, they were assessed on their “need for cognitive closure.” (The need for cognitive closure means someone desires definitive knowledge on an issue without leaving room for ambiguity or complexity.) When compared with those who read the essays, participants who read the fictional stories reported a significant decrease in the need for cognitive closure.

In other words, reading fiction might help HSPs open their minds further and move away from rigid ways of thinking. These ways of thinking could include strict thought processes HSPs might have about how they “should” behave (such as thinking they should be more social versus enjoying alone time).

3. HSPs can control the pace while reading books.

Some fiction stories can still be intense (read: extra stimulating), and an HSP might need to take breaks before diving back into the action. A stressful, tragic, or emotional story can be very stimulating to an HSP, and overstimulation is what we struggle with most.

But that’s what makes reading so great. If you need a break, you can put the book down and walk away or switch to something lighter. It’s also a lot easier to pause in the middle of a book versus a TV show or movie that you might be watching with others.

Reading is an activity you can do at your own pace — which is a relief for HSPs, who absorb so much external stimuli that they often find themselves drained.

When I’m particularly stressed or overwhelmed by something going on in the world, I’ll seek out lighthearted stories that are easy, yet entertaining, reads — like fun mysteries, dramas, or celebrity memoirs.

Additionally, books don’t present a clear image of how you’re expected to view a character, setting, or occurrence the way video-based stories do. Instead, you get to be the artist in your own mind, and I like the control (and imagination) that encourages.

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4. A book is a solo social adventure — without ever leaving home.

Through reading, you can experience thrilling new worlds, both semi-realistic and entirely made up. You get to know the characters of the story and see the world through their eyes. 

So, even though you’re reading a story on your couch at home, you’re exploring the human experience without direct contact with other humans. Isn’t that an HSP’s dream?

Plus, we can tap into our need for nostalgia or time-travel to another era. HSPs spend a lot of time processing their feelings and thinking (or overthinking) about the past. Many of us love to return to things that remind us of happy times in our childhood or adolescent years — and that often includes books. 

For me, that’s the Harry Potter series. I reread them every year because I loved them as a child and have many happy memories associated with them. Plus, the characters and plots feel like returning to a simpler time, which helps with stress relief and anxiety as an adult (and HSP).

Books can also take us way, way back — beyond the years that any of us would have been alive. The same can be said about stories of a science-fiction-based future. Time travel is real — it’s just enclosed in book-bound pages.

5. A good book can provide a much-needed refuge.

Although highly sensitive people are not rare — we may make up as much as 30% of the population — we can often feel like outsiders. Our society still favors the loud and proud in many ways, and that can leave an HSP exhausted. But books can provide just the escape we need.

As a sensitive person, I make time to sit down and read almost every day. Reading is my happy place — my sanctuary from the outside. I can dive into another world with rich character plots and unique conundrums. 

I also think books are a powerful form of self-care. When I know I’ll have my daily reading time, it makes anything that happens during the day that much easier. I know I can look forward to relaxing with a story (often with a cup of coffee, tea, or hot cocoa in hand and a fluffy blanket).

So, my fellow HSPs — what is your relationship to reading? Which books speak to you the most? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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