17 Traits Of Highly Sensitivity People

By Posted in - Blog & Highly Sensitive People & How To Improve Your Relationship & Psychology & Relationships July 27th, 2015 6 Comments traits of highly sensitive people

Sensitivity is a trait or quality we tend to misunderstand or overlook in ourselves and others. Chances are you know someone who is highly sensitive (HSP), as 1 in 5 people are. Yet, you might not know very much about sensitivity as a trait. Most people don’t. In this article, I will cover 17 traits of highly sensitive people to you know how to relate when in partnership with someone who is HSP.

What does the term “highly sensitive” mean?

  • Sensitivity is a characteristic or trait that everyone has to some degree or another. Some people have moderate amounts of sensitivity, whereas others are highly sensitive.
  • traits of highly sensitive peopleHighly sensitive people process sensory data more deeply and thoroughly due to biological differences within the nervous system.
  • 20% of people are highly sensitive.
  • The number of men and women that are highly sensitive is equal.
  • High sensitivity shows up in over 100 other animal species as well.
  • Elaine Aron, Ph.D., a psychologist, started studying sensitivity in the early 1990’s. She wrote The Highly Sensitive Person and has been the major thought leader on the topic.

17 Common Traits Highly Sensitive People:

Sensitivity has a huge influence on how people relate and how people navigate the world in general.

If you are highly sensitive (and do not know it), you may feel confused as to why things affect you more than they seem to affect others. You may compare yourself to other people and at times wonder if something is wrong with you. You may even feel shame or inadequacy in not being able to “hang” with everyone else. At times, you may feel lonely and misunderstood.

Even if you are not highly sensitive, it is likely that someone close to you is, as 1 in 5 people are highly sensitive. Being highly sensitive offers great gifts AND requires certain considerations. It is common to feel confused or even frustrated in trying to relate to someone who is highly sensitive, especially when you are not aware of their needs. It is helpful to gain awareness and understanding of these 17 common traits of a highly sensitive person in order to improve your intimate relationship.

1. Highly sensitive people experience life more intensely.

traits of highly sensitive peopleOne of the hallmark attributes of a highly sensitive person is that they are more aware of subtleties. They recognize and are more impacted by the richness of their senses, both positively and negatively. Strong smells, bright lights, and loud noises are very bothersome and annoying. Whereas, rich colors in nature, delicious cuisine, and beautiful music are very pleasurable and moving to someone who is highly sensitive.

2. They feel and reflect more deeply.

Another important attribute of a highly sensitive person is their capacity to feel more deeply. Highly sensitive people tend to be more aware of their inner world and emotional states. They describe themselves as having a deep, rich, and complex inner world. They tend to reflect on topics and process things more deeply than others.

3. They are easily overwhelmed.

Another major attribute of a highly sensitive person is they can easily become overwhelmed. Since they are so acutely aware of stimuli (i.e. sounds, smells, sights, etc.), they are more prone to being overstimulated by too much activity and chaos.

Highly sensitive people will find high pressured jobs and deadlines stressful and depleting. They tend to get rattled and fried easily when trying to get things done in a short amount of time.

4. They have stronger reactions.

Since highly sensitive people experience life more intensely, they feel more physical and emotional pain than others. They will respond and react more intensely than others in a situation, as they have a greater response to pain, discomfort, and physical experience. They will cry more easily and be more emotionally reactive. They may be more upset when they make a wrong or bad decision.

5. They are highly empathetic.

Highly sensitive people are particularly sensitive to emotion. As mentioned prior, they tend to feel more deeply, so they are going to feel emotions more deeply as well. They will also be sensitive to the emotions of others. They will have more concern for a loved one and feel more empathy (i.e. emotional understanding). They will also tend to worry about how others feel more often.

traits of highly sensitive people6. They are intuitive and can appear gifted.

Highly sensitive people tend to be very intuitive, as they are more perceptive and connected to their emotions. Also, they have the ability to process environmental subtleties unconsciously or semi-consciously. It is as though they are working with more information than others without even trying. It can seem as if they have a sixth sense at times.

7. They take longer to make a decision and to communicate.

Since highly sensitive people will pick-up on subtleties more than others, they will typically spend time thinking and processing the information before they engage and contribute to a discussion.

At times, highly sensitive people will have perspectives or insights that differ from others. They may be a little hesitant to bring them up because it may stray from common view or they may even find speaking up overstimulating.

They may even take longer to make a decision or take action because they are so aware of the complexities and nuances in meaning. They will be careful to consider options and possible outcomes.

8. They often feel misunderstood.

Highly sensitive people are used to hearing phrases like, “Don’t worry about it.” “Don’t make it such a big deal.” “Don’t take things so personally.” When compared to people who are not as sensitive, a highly sensitive person may feel like they are being perceived negatively.

In the U.S., highly sensitive men have often been teased, whereas in other cultures highly sensitive men are rarely or never teased. Studies have shown that sensitivity can be viewed as an asset or a negative attribute depending on cultural views.

High sensitivity is not to be confused with shyness, social anxiety, social inhibition, social phobia, fearfulness, and introversion. While many highly sensitive people are introverted, 30% of highly sensitive people are extroverted.

traits of highly sensitive people9. They are creative.

With a keen awareness, rich inner world, and great capacity to feel, highly sensitive people are often exceptionally creative; becoming artists, musicians, and actors.

10. They exhibit good manners.

Highly sensitive people are highly conscientious people. They are more likely to notice how they impact others and they make a point to be considerate and well-mannered.

11. They are sensitive to criticism.

With the combination of experiencing emotion more strongly and processing information more deeply, the effects of criticism can be more pronounced for highly sensitive people. They will often employ certain strategies to minimize the likelihood of being criticized. For example, they will avoid situations where they might experience criticism, resort to people pleasing, and become highly critical of themselves as a preemptive tactic.

12. They are detail-oriented.

As mentioned above, highly sensitive people take in more information than people who are not as sensitive. Not only will they notice more details, they are skilled at attending to all the details. They will naturally notice changes and be more able to address them.

traits of highly sensitive people13. They prefer calm environments.

Socially, highly sensitive people usually can only handle loud events for a short amount of time before they get overstimulated (i.e. concerts, festivals, and clubs).

In business, highly sensitive people have a lot to offer as they tend to be thoughtful, detail oriented, and loyal. They work best in work conditions that are quiet and calm. They enjoy being able to control their environment, schedule, and level of privacy. Open-office plans may be more problematic for someone who is highly sensitive.

14. They work well on a team.

Since highly sensitive people are such deep thinkers, they will offer perspective, insight, and wisdom to a conversation or a project. They offer great value in exploring different approaches and solutions, as well as analyzing the risks and benefits of possible avenues. However, they may not be the best fit to be an ultimate decision maker.

15. They don’t enjoy crude or violent forms of entertainment.

Many people enjoy watching violent and/or horror movies, whereas others enjoy shocking humor that is made to be provocative or degrading in some ways. However, highly sensitive people find these forms of entertainment difficult to enjoy. Since they are high on empathy and they perceive a high level of sensory data, they are more easily disturbed and agitated.

traits of highly sensitive people16. They tend to prefer individual sports and exercise.

Highly sensitive people often feel put on the spot in team sports. They can feel like everyone is watching them and are afraid to let their teammates down. They tend to choose individual activities (i.e. hiking, yoga, running, cycling, etc) so that they do not feel the pressure and stress of the group dynamic. However, with a supportive, encouraging, and understanding environment, highly sensitive people can perform well on a team.

17. They are more susceptible to anxiety and depression, particularly when they have had bad experiences in the past.

Negative experiences have an impact on everyone. However, a highly sensitive person’s nervous system may be more affected given the reasons stated above (i.e. experience life more intensely, feel more deeply, have stronger emotional reactions, more easily overwhelmed, etc.). Therefore, it is very important for highly sensitive people to feel safe and supported as well as confident and capable in the world.

Learn more traits of highly sensitive people by checking out these resources:

I think it is so important to remember the value of sensitivity as a trait. In the U.S., we often ignore, overlook, or look down upon being sensitive. To be honest, I am guilty of falling into this tendency as well. My husband is a highly sensitive person and I still forget to consider his preferences from time to time. Truthfully, he sometimes forgets himself to remember what works best for him.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave me a comment below.

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Thank you. ❤

(6) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Bill Millette - Reply

    March 8, 2016 at 6:09 am

    this was great info and thank you. I am interested in a link to the advice on expectations if that is still available. the reason being is that my mens group has shown a keen interest in the subject as well as I do

  • Phil - Reply

    September 16, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    All my life I’ve been a highly sensitive person people of called me too sensitive I seem to know when to leave a party when I was a teenager just before the police arrived that’s when it started I started noticing that I could tell when teachers were upset in class yet they were exhibiting anything outwardly he goes on and on and on upset when people around me would get hurt it was is that if I was hurt great love and care for animals I need to be by myself it goes on and on just like you said .

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      September 19, 2017 at 1:40 pm

      Hi Phil, Thank you for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate that you can see the value of your level of sensitivity. I am sorry you have had the experience of being called “too sensitive.” Most of the time people lack the understanding, as well as the ability to take ownership of their own feelings. A suggestion, if you haven’t already tried, consider helping them learn about the trait through Elaine Aron’s work http://hsperson.com/

  • Lora E - Reply

    October 12, 2021 at 6:23 am

    I knew from very early in my life that I was highly sensitive. I had extremely bad experiences growing up, both outside my home and in the home with my mother. I am now 57 and look back on my life and how this all makes sense now. I cared for a crippled girl who was my age for years when I was 8-14 years old. I’d lash out when I was misunderstood. I felt shame and guilt for being too sensitive. The list goes on and on and on. Now, I just move away when I am not relatable. I’ve had recent experiences where I’d call things out that I never saw with my eyes but my gut knew were true and I was right. I love children because I see their innocence and their non-threatening and I don’t have to worry about how I am being perceived. I’ve altered my life because of my condition but I still feel tremendous pain at times both from my past and my present. Thank you for letting me share.

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      October 12, 2021 at 8:41 pm

      Hi Lora, Oh my goodness. I really appreciate your sharing!! It sounds like despite some very painful experiences, you haven’t lost connection with your inner knowing. Super special to hear. AND I can appreciate how extremely painful it is to not feel seen and understood. I am so sorry for the attacks and harm you have experienced by others. Have you read Elaine Aaron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person? Also, did you know there are HSP groups in various areas?

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