About HSP’s — Highly Sensitive People

My wife Lynda and I just watched a fascinating documentary titled: Sensitive – The Untold Story. It turns out, the genetic trait of high sensitivity is found in 20% of the population. It is found equally in men and women and in over 100 animal species. The scientific term for the trait is SPS or Sensory Processing Sensitivity. This trait is not a disorder, but it does pose challenges for people who possess it, as well as those with whom they live.

What SPS means is, certain people are more tuned into subtly of words, emotions, environments, threats, meaning, sounds, beauty, loss, poignancy, world events, human suffering, the list goes on. On other words, the brains of highly sensitive people (HSP) not only process more information, but they also process it more deeply. High sensitivity can be a blessing or a curse. Because practically speaking, HSP’s feel more. So their emotions are not only more keen and profound, sometimes they’re more gripping. For this reason, HSP’s can get easily overstimulated in environments that are chaotic, loud, or otherwise intense. Overstimulation is the challenging aspect of this trait, both for the HSP and for those with whom they live. I imagine many stress-related illnesses – addictions, depression, chronic pain, anxiety disorders, and more – are correlated with HSP.

Mark as a babyI am a highly sensitive person. I even joked about it in my guided meditation booklet when I wrote:

“When I was a kid, I don’t remember people thinking that I was spoiled, but I do remember being overly sensitive. I would throw a fit if there were wrinkles in socks when my mom put on my shoes. I’ve always liked things to be just so. I can recall my Dad even telling me to “unfuss myself.” So I guess that’s my life’s journey, learning to accept and allow.”

Being an HSP has been a journey – an educational one – where I’ve had to learn about myself. Learning to meditate and be more mindful has been a big part of that journey. Since I started meditating, my sensitivity has not toned down. Rather, it’s even stronger than ever. But the remarkably positive difference now is in the quality of my sensitivity. I’m no longer reactively sensitive, throwing a fit when I get tired, hungry, uncomfortable, or otherwise when circumstances don’t go my way. Instead, now, I can sit for extended periods of time, experiencing relative discomfort with composure. I’m still sensitive, but now, I’m groundedly sensitive. That’s the blessing that makes all the difference. I now know how to open up and have complete experiences, riding the waves of energy around me. In this way, I can experience the fullness of my gift for sensitivity without it throwing me into an emotional tailspin. The blessed gift of grounded sensitivity heightens one’s senses, and that, in turn, makes life more precious. If you are an HSP, you have the potential to make the shift from reactive to grounded sensitivity yourself. If you need support, I’m here to help.

If you think you’re an HSP, let us know. Add your comment to this post. We want to hear your stories. Also, if you know other HSP’s, share this post with them. They want to know they’re not alone.



9 thoughts on “About HSP’s — Highly Sensitive People”

  1. Do any other HSP’s sense when something really bad is going to happen? Before the 09-2008 economic collapse I sensed so strongly that something really bad was about to happen. It was so strong it put me into a depression. This is the only thing I hate about this gift is that it overwhelms you when there is danger ahead.

    • I’m not sure there’s data to answer your question. My wife, Lynda, had a dream about planes flying into buildings before 9/11. Many others did the same, but I don’t know if we can chalk that up to being an HSP or having a gift for precognition. Hard to say.

  2. Very interesting information, Mark. I’m going to look for that movie. I am a HSP too, but know very little about the subject. I have strong emotional resonance with others. Thank you for all the valuable insights you provide. Great work!

  3. Hi fellow HSPs!

    I relate to this as though it were written for me! I have always known there was something “different” about my level of sensitivity to so many things. I was fortunate that I think my mom had the HSP trait as well, or at least she seemed to understand that it was a part of me, because she would always cut the tags from my clothing, and make sure to pour the cream off the top of the milk bottle for me. (That one dates me for sure!)

    In times of frustration and exhaustion I have felt as though nobody “gets” me…. I have been called the one who the fable of Princess and the Pea was written about, and I have endured smells, noises, etc just so I wouldn’t bother others. For the most part though, those times of difficulty are experienced when I’m not taking good care of myself, and practicing the self-care that allows me to know that the Highly Sensitive trait in me truly does allow me to view things, emotions, feelings, etc. (life) in a special and uniquely gifted way. I believe I experience the world at a level that most are not aware of, and to do that I have to endure a little frustration. All in all, I’d say the gift outweighs the frustration. (Most of the time.)

    It has also allowed me some moments of great compassion for others…. When I was teaching kindergarten I had a little girl in my class who was dropped off at school very early every morning. She happily walked past the classroom stopping to give me a quick hug on her way to the playground to wait until school started for the day. One day, after the weather began to cool off, I noticed that she was crying and withdrawn in the mornings. After a few days I asked her what was bothering her. She told me her socks weren’t straight in her shoes, which were tied in double knots, and her mom wouldn’t let her wear her sandals anymore. I understood completely. For as long as was needed, I had her come into the classroom before going outside so I could help her learn to untie and tie her shoes, and fix her socks so she could be comfortable. I felt like I made a difference in that child’s life, showing her she could learn ways to deal with the things that make her uncomfortable, rather than feeling she just had to endure her suffering.

    Thanks, Mark, for sharing this tidbit of research. Next time I cut the tags out of my clothes, I’ll think of it and smile at the gift of seeing the world in a uniquely sensitive way.

    • Hi Mia,

      What a heartwarming story of you caring for that sensitive little girl. I often find myself caring for my sensitive daughter in the same way. I sometimes get confused, however, when I think about trying to increase my daughter’s tolerance for distress. I know that I’ve had to push into my sensitivities a bit to toughen myself up. That’s a delicate balance to strike, especially when it applies to my daughter. Anyone have a story that could help illuminated an enlightened answer for me?

  4. I met u at Sierra Tucson 1 1/2 go, amongst other therapist, researchers. I was much impressed with your lecture. This recent info seemed right on for me. Having been three so many therapies, I fell so over diagnosed for what my real source of anxiety, depression, lack of self worth is not identifying it, accepting it? So I can live with it. Are you running programs, retreats, etc. to help those of us. I am tied of buying smoke oil.
    Please help me as I am more insecure and isolating more than ever.

    • Hey Lynn, so sorry to hear you’re struggling. As you know by now, there is no quick fix. Healing and change require each of us to get personally involved. Our medical system is all about symptom management. People have to learn how to influence their own body and mind. What that means is, we have to learn how to meditate, so we can be more mindful. Meditation means calmly watching thoughts and sensations come and go. It means becoming a careful observer. That observer’s perspective allows you to watch thoughts and sensations without getting caught by them. Getting caught in thoughts and sensations is the cause of depression, anxiety, and lack of self-worth. Does that make sense to you? To answer your question, yes, I have a program that can teach you how to meditate and be mindful. You’ll learn to become your own therapist. My colleague, Dr. Ann Marie Chiasson and I are also holding a 7-day retreat Feb 19-26th. Check out the events page on this website. I hope this helps. Let me know if you need any further support. Best to you! Mark

  5. Thanks Mark for writing about the documentary and this blog on HSP. I discovered the HSP temperament years ago and it was super helpful to understand myself. It gave me permission to take better care of myself so that I am more grounded when I’m out in the world. I have a better appreciation for my difference (rather than feeling like I’m weird compared to others). It also validated the gift of HSP so that I leverage it more fully in my executive coaching work with clients. I’m looking forward to watching the documentary…many thanks for sharing it!

    • Thanks for your comment Lynn. It is comforting to know about the trait. Not only does the knowledge of the HSP trait allow me to be more compassionate with myself, it also helps me to think of my sensitivity as a gift. Best to you!


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