Thanks to Julia enlightening me, I now know what it means to be a highly sensitive person. At first, the phrase “highly sensitive” carried negative connotations for me. I remember my mother once told me during my ornery teenage years I was too sensitive, likely in relation to my taking quick and excessive offense to a perceived slight or critical comment.
That’s just being thin-skinned, which is not the same as being highly sensitive. A highly sensitive person experiences acute and powerful responses to physical, mental, or emotional stimuli. You may feel things—just about everything—more deeply than other people, which is as exhausting as it sounds and may lead to being overwhelmed, overstimulated, and in dire need of alone time to decompress.
Like introverts, who make up 30-40 percent of the population, highly sensitive people are a minority group. Up to 20 percent of people have a gene that makes them a highly sensitive person. You’re likely a highly sensitive person if you test for having a high degree of a personality trait called Sensory Processing Sensitivity, defined as “an increased sensitivity of the central nervous system and a deeper cognitive processing of physical, social, and emotional stimuli.” You can test yourself here.
As is the case with any minority group, highly sensitive people are more likely to be misunderstood and underappreciated (among other things).
Highly sensitive people might hear from others statements like “I’m surprised you noticed that.” Or: “It doesn’t seem too cold to me.” Or: “Why does that bother you?” Or the old tried and true: “You’re too sensitive.”
Although these types of comments can lead highly sensitive people to think there might be something wrong with them, they in fact have a unique and powerful personality trait that has both advantages and drawbacks. Highly sensitive people tend to be empathetic, artistically creative, intuitive, and highly aware of the needs of others. They also suffer from exhaustion and burnout. They are often overwhelmed by loud and crowded environments. They may feel excluded in a culture and society that prizes solidity over sensitivity.
I say: “Highly sensitive people, please step forward.” We need you and need more of you. We need leaders who are compassionate. We need friends who can help us process our emotions. We need more empathy in our world. We need more artists and givers, and fewer pugilists and takers.
I possess some of the traits of a highly sensitive person, but Julia is a bona fide, and I am so grateful to have her in my life. Her insight, her empathy, her awareness. What about you? Are you a highly sensitive person? Here are the signs of one.