24 SIGNS OF A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON
Highly sensitive people often “feel too much” and “feel too deep”.
Are you a highly sensitive person? Do you know someone in your personal or professional life who may be highly sensitive? High sensitivity can be defined as acute physical, mental, and emotional responses to external (social, environmental) or internal (intra-personal) stimuli. A highly sensitive person may be an introvert, an extrovert, or a combination of both.
Although there are many positive attributes to being a sensitive person (such as greater ability to listen and affirm, greater empathy and intuitiveness, better understanding of others’ wants and needs, etc.), in this writing we will focus on aspects of high sensitivity which adversely affect one’s health, happiness and success, and often complicate relationships. Below are twenty-four signs of a highly sensitive person, with excerpts from my books: “Are You Highly Sensitive? How to Gain Immunity, Peace, and Self-Mastery(link is external)” and “How to Communicate Effectively with Highly Sensitive People(link is external)” These traits are organized into three major categories: Sensitivity About Oneself, Sensitivity About Others, and Sensitivity About One’s Environment.
While many people may experience some of these signs from time to time, a highly sensitive person will likely “feel too much” and “feel too deep”. Some individuals may be highly sensitive to just one or two stimuli, while others may be strongly affected by more on the list.
Category One: Sensitivity About Oneself
1. Often has difficulty letting go of negative thoughts and emotions.
2. Frequently feels physical symptoms (i.e. stress or headache) when something unpleasant happens during the day.
3. Often has bad days that affect eating and/or sleeping habits in an unhealthy way, such as eating or sleeping too much or too little.
4. Often experiences tension or anxiety.
5. Tends to “beat oneself up” when falling short of own expectations.
6. Is afraid of rejection, even in relatively minor situations.
7. Compares self with others often (in physical, relational, social, work, financial, or other scenarios), and experiences unhappy feelings from negative social comparison.
8. Often feels anger or resentment about situations in life or in society which seems unjust, aggravating or simply annoying.
Category Two: Sensitivity About Others
9. Often thinks/worries about what others are thinking.
10. Tends to take things personally.
11. Finds it difficult, when triggered by relatively small unpleasantness with people, to just “let it go”.
12. Feels hurt easily.
13. Often hides negative feelings, believing they are too strong, turbulent, embarrassing or vulnerable to share. Keeps a lot of negative emotions inside.
14. Alternatively, often discusses negative emotions with others because there’s a lot of “drama” in one’s life.
15. Has a hard time accepting critical feedback, even when given reasonably and constructively.
16. Often feels like people are judgmental, even when there’s no strong evidence.
17. Often over-reacts to real or perceived slights and provocations.
18. Often feels awkward in group situations, and feels uneasy/not being able to be oneself.
19. Feels self-conscious in romantically intimate situations. Excessively worry about partner’s approval. Unreasonably afraid of being judged or rejected by romantic partner.
Category Three: Sensitivity About One’s Environment
20. Feels uncomfortable in large public crowds, in a room full of people talking, or with too many things occurring simultaneously.
21. Feels uncomfortable when exposed to bright lights, loud sounds, or certain strong scents.
22. Startles easily by sudden noises, fast traffic, or other unpleasant surprises.
23. Often feels upset when watching or reading negative news in the media. Dislikes “shock” entertainment (i.e. intensely scary or violent shows).
24. Often feels unhappy when following people’s posts on social media.
Again, while some highly sensitive individuals may be acutely affected by just one or two of the traits above, others may be over-stimulated by more on the list.
For many highly sensitive people, the key to managing oversensitivity is to utilize emotional immunity and sensory immunity strategies (see references below), to smartly calm and alleviate over-stimulation. For those who live or work with highly sensitive individuals, effective communication skills are a must to foster positive and constructive relationships.
Ni, Preston. Are You Highly Sensitive? How to Gain Immunity, Peace, and Self-Mastery!(link is external). PNCC. (2017)
Ni, Preston. How to Communicate Effectively with Highly Sensitive People(link is external). PNCC. (2017)
Aron, E.; Aron, A. Sensory-Processing Sensitivity and its Relation to Introversion and Emotionality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. (1997)
Aron, E.; Aron, A.; Davies, K. Adult Shyness: The Interaction of Temperamental Sensitivity and an Adverse Childhood Environment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. (2005).
Booth, C.; Standage, H.; Fox, E. Sensory-Processing Sensitivity Moderates The Association Between Childhood Experiences And Adult Life Satisfaction. Personality and Individual Differences. (2015)
Boterberg, S.; Warreyn, P.. Making Sense of It All: The Impact of Sensory Processing Sensitivity on Daily Functioning of Children. Personality and Individual Differences. (2016)
Larson, R.; Ketelaar, T. Extraversion, Neuroticism and Susceptibility to Positive and Negative Mood Induction Procedures. Personality and Individual Differences. (1989)
Liss, M.; Mailloux, J.; Erchull, M. The Relationships between Sensory Processing Sensitivity, Alexithymia, Autism, Depression, and Anxiety. Personality and Individual Differences. (2008)