The Highly Sensitive Person

Do you feel like you reflect on things more than everyone else? Do you find yourself worrying about how other people feel? Do you prefer quieter, less chaotic environments? If you have answered yes to the following questions you may be what we refer to as a “highly sensitive person”. In understanding more about these character traits you can create a more fulfilling life based on your own passion, values, and purpose.

Take the self-test (are you highly sensitive; is your child highly sensitive; high sensation seeking test) to help determine if you or your child share the characteristics of a highly sensitive person. The following list highlights some of the characteristics of a highly sensitive person’s personality:

You are highly emotional, experiencing more intense feelings.

You are very intuitive and have an increased awareness of your emotional feelings. This level of emotional depth can be overwhelming and cause you to engage in unhealthy coping strategies in order to lessen the emotional intensity. You may process comments and experiences at a much deeper level then others thus, without self awareness you may lean towards isolating behaviours.

Your emotionally reactive.

You may notice that you are more emotionally invested in a situation, causing you to feel more concern or worry over a problem. With poor self care and personal boundaries, you may easily become drained by others who are experiencing negative life events.

You may have people say to you, “Don’t take things so personally” or “Why are you so sensitive?”

Depending on your social environment and level of self acceptance (confidence) you may experience others treating you as an asset with an important skill or teasing you due to their lack of understanding and acceptance for who you are.

You prefer to exercise alone.

During a sporting event it may feel that everyone is watching you and relying on your performance ability in a team environment. This can create feelings of fear and prevent highly sensitive natured people from exercising in this type of environment. You may prefer sports such as cycling, running, and hiking to group sports. However, this is not always the case as there are some highly sensitive people who may have had parents who provided an understanding and supportive environment that made it easier for them to participate in group sports.

You spend time on making decisions.

You have a heightened sense of awareness around the smallest subtleties and details that tend to make decisions harder to process. This can create conflict in relationships when you are unable to make a decision and forgo using your voice to please someone.

You are highly attached to the outcome of your decision and how others view it. 

Due to the high level of emotional investment you have in the outcome of your decision and how others are impacted by them, you may lose sight of your true sense of self in order to please others. This can develop into a habit as it begins to feed the emotion of appreciation and seeking others approval.

You are extremely detail-oriented.

You will be quick to notice when someone gets a new hair cut or become very attuned to a sudden change in weather. You pay attention to such detail that it impacts your behaviour and thinking.

Being highly sensitive does not mean you are an introvert.

Being a highly sensitive person does not classify you as an introvert or an extravert, it helps to explain your emotional reaction to others and the stimuli around you.

You work well in team environments.

You are a very deep thinker that places great value on a team environment. You are good at weighing out the pros and cons of a situation but may struggle with making the final decision.

You are more prone to anxiety or depression (this can be based on family of origin and traumatic life experiences).

If you’ve had a number of bad experiences, especially early in life, you may establish a sense of fear, not feeling safe in the world or secure at home, therefore setting your nervous system to anxious. But that’s not to say that all highly sensitive people will go on to have anxiety — and in fact, having a supportive environment can go a long way to protecting you against this. Parents of highly sensitive children need to recognize their children’s emotional connection and response to their environment. It is essential to take the time to explain to the child their emotional process and teach them healthy ways of coping with their experiences. This will help them to feel confident and secure in their environment.

That annoying sound is probably significantly more annoying to you then the average person.

You are sensitive to chaos and noise, as you find yourself easily overwhelmed and overstimulated by too much activity.

You tend to cry more easily.

Due to the vast amount of empathy and compassion you have for others, this can create a higher sensitivity in vulnerable situations. It is important for highly sensitive people to not be shamed for their emotional response to situations in order to install confidence and trust.

You have above-average manners.

You are highly conscientious and aware of how others may feel in situations. Expressing kindness and respect is of great importance to you as you feel overwhelmed and stressed when seeing others in pain or upset.

The effects of criticism are especially amplified in highly sensitive people.

Your reactions to criticism are more intense than less sensitive people. As a result, you may employ certain tactics to avoid criticism, including people-pleasing (so that there is no longer anything to criticize), criticizing yourself first, and avoiding the source of the criticism altogether. Since you process everything at such a highly emotional level, criticism can be greatly impactful on your self esteem.

Dr. Elaine Aron has done years of research on highly sensitive individuals, writing six thought provoking books on the topic. You can find her books here.

If you find you are feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of your emotions, you will benefit from learning how to establish emotional regulation. This is when you consciously or unconsciously influence what emotions you have, when you have them, and how you experience and express them. For more information please feel free to contact me at heather@optimal-life.ca.

Kind regards,

Heather Kempton, MA, RCC, Life Coach

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