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I used to sometimes joke around with friends and especially boyfriends that I was highly sensitive (maybe even oversensitive) sometimes, in order to rationalise my strong reaction or perceptions of stimuli. Thing like shouting, especially angry shouting. Or violence in films. I don’t like watching the news because it makes me cry. I get really, really scared watching scary films.

Then a few months ago I stumbled upon an article written about people who are highly sensitive. Dr Elain Aron is a psychotherapist who defines a distinct personality type that she has found to exist in one out of every five people known as HSPs: Highly Sensitive People. The HSD personality trait has been accepted into mainstream psychology due to much of Dr Aron’s work as well as her national bestseller The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overlooks You.

According to Aron, what all HSPs share is an uncommon ability to pick up on subtleties that others might miss – a look, a feeling, a deeper meaning.

I personally can strongly relate to this concept. I often have conversations with people and can see from their facial expressions and body language exactly what is going on. It is what they are NOT saying that I pick up on and process regardless of what words are coming from their mouths. This has benefits such as having a lot of empathy, but also negatives such as feeling overwhelmed by the strong experience of other people’s emotional worlds. The other factor that I have become aware of is that because this is a natural part of me, I assume everyone else processes information in much the same way. Therefore I often don’t express my thoughts and feelings clearly in words as I assume that the other person has already picked up on the subtleties that I am expressing. This is particularly true for me when I’m in a relationship and expect my partner to just “understand”. I feel frustrated when I realise they don’t – and now I understand why!

HSPs are hardwired to think differently than the rest of the population – they take longer to make decisions, need more time alone to think and pay closer attention to detail. In fact, this sensitivity trait is shared with a significant percentage of other primates including dogs and fish. Other research shows that this trait used to be linked with leadership. Wild animals with HSP picked up on subtle energies and changes around them and would lead their pack to safety before any danger could become a threat.

I don’t like boxing traits or people up and placing labels on them however I do find it interesting that human science does now acknowledge this highly sensitive trait in people, whcih gives me further understanding, insight and acceptance of myself.

Just for fun, take the test and find out if you are an HSP too!

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