Yes, I’m Sensitive. No, I’m Not an Introvert. Here’s the Difference.

Highly sensitive women hugging

Being an introvert is a social orientation. Being highly sensitive is an orientation to, well, everything

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are introverts, right? At least, non-HSPs may assume this is the case, especially since HSPs are often lumped together with introverts and those who are “too quiet.” 

Yet, like myself, there are many highly sensitive people who would not consider themselves introverts at all. In fact, some of us HSPs would have no hindrance in stating that we are quite forthright in our social interactions. Yes: some of us are extroverts

Being Highly Sensitive Does Not Automatically ‘Make’ You an Introvert 

In a major study, Elaine Aron — who coined the term “highly sensitive person” — Michael Pluess, and other leading researchers found that nearly 30 percent of the population may be highly sensitive. Beforehand, this figure was estimated at around 20 percent.

Of course, that is a significant jump in the highly sensitive population. So you could also suspect our sub-population of highly sensitive extroverts are, indeed, sitting at a larger percentage, as well. 

As we know, the COVID-19 pandemic had a substantial impact on the world’s mental health — which arguably was already considered and labeled as a crisis prior to the seclusion the pandemic brought with it. According to research, the highly sensitive population is already scientifically more susceptible to mental health issues. Therefore, the pandemic likely had a larger impact on the HSP community. 

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As Aron described in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person, the environments we grew up in had a direct connection to how we handled loud, busy, or chaotic environments. If you were a highly sensitive child — and were an only child in a moderately quiet, and controlled home environment — you are probably more easily overstimulated compared to a highly sensitive child who grew up in a large, busy, and loud family environment. Moreover, if you were pushed to be outgoing, and adapted to those expectations, you are more likely to be able to manage those types of overstimulation.

In her book, Aron also noted that being highly sensitive does not automatically make you an “introvert.” In a Psychology today article, she noted that 30 percent of the highly sensitive community are, in fact, extroverts — or at least would describe themselves as being extroverted. Being an extroverted HSP is sometimes mislabeled as “outgoing introvert,” or other subcategories involving “extroverted” introverts or “ambivert.” In the article, Aron also said ambiversion does not take into account the other characteristics in the DOES acronym, which is what describes a highly sensitive person and the way their brain works.

DOES stands for Depth of Processing, Overstimulation, Emotional Responsiveness & Empathy, and Sensitivity to Subtleties. The other approximately-70 percent of the population, who are not highly sensitive, do not possess these four characteristics, nor the implications associated with them.

Plus, research shows that whether you are an introvert or extrovert depends on your biology. Introverts’ and extroverts’ brains differ — and neither are conditions that can, or need to be, “fixed.” While an introvert gets energy from being alone, an extrovert gets energy from the opposite: being around people. 

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Being a Highly Sensitive Extrovert in the World

As a highly sensitive extrovert in the workplace, I enjoy deep, meaningful conversations with strangers, customers, and my coworkers. It does not bother my sensitivity to have disagreements in this capacity. I also have no issues resolving customer complaints, and I’m asked to do so regularly. 

Furthermore, I enjoy large group activities, prefer to go places vs. staying home, and have new experiences with other individuals when I can. Although fast-paced work environments stimulate my extrovert tendencies, I have a hard time unwinding on breaks — I’ll feel rushed and sometimes flustered. And, when I get home from work, I tend to spend a lot of time by myself in my room (with or without my son, depending on the circumstances). Yes, just because I’m an extrovert does not mean I don’t need alone time — my sensitive side still craves — and needs — it; it’s essential to decompress. So, as an extrovert, I like to do something; but as a highly sensitive person, I also appreciate time to do nothing

It’s also worth noting that, ever since having my first child, I’ve found it increasingly more difficult to enjoy extroverted activities on a regular basis. Perhaps this is because I am already on the cusp of being overstimulated from my home life as a mom of a toddler. I just do not have the energy, or room, for many of the extroverted activities I used to really enjoy and look forward to. 

Although, when I can manage the energy, I very much enjoy shopping at busy malls, going to concerts, or attending speaking events. I also tend to show up late and leave events early. If I go out with girlfriends, I tend to be the “mom of the group,” and tend to want to leave first. 

Being indoors and staying home for long periods of time — like being snowed in or being on vacation without a car — also tend to put my sensitivity on edge. I can become overstimulated by being kept inside too long, being in a loud home environment, and even being around my toddler completely by myself without any small breaks. 

In the past, I remedied this by going somewhere — to get coffee, going grocery shopping, or going to the park with my son. I’d find any way possible to get external stimulation without being overstimulated by too much going on around me. This would also help me get a small break from all of my son’s attention being directed at me all at once. Plus, it would give him other things to concentrate on, too. Having the urge to be social — or go do something — is completed, and also pacifies my sensitivity. 

Although being a highly sensitive extrovert can vary from person to person, hopefully, by seeing my perspective, you can relate in some ways. Plus, there is no “wrong” way to be one — we’re all just doing our best to thrive, and survive, in this chaotic world.

Check out my Facebook page, where you can connect with other highly sensitive parents who are raising highly sensitive children.

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