On what it's like to be a highly sensitive person

What it's like to a highly sensitive person

So, I'm one of those HSPs - Highly Sensitive People. 

It's estimated that 1 in 5 people could be considered highly sensitive. So it's actually pretty normal. And it's not an introvert thing either. Around 30% of HSPs are extroverts. 

Just like with introversion, sensitivity is a scale and the trait is different in every person.

So what's it like to be highly sensitive? Glad you asked! 

It boils down to being extra receptive towards your environment and other people, and often reacting more strongly to it. But it's often just certain circumstances or certain people that trigger you in this way. No two HSPs react and feel the same way.


Let's take me as an example:

My whole day is ruined if I happen to have put on a bra that's uncomfortable or pants that slide down or a shirt with a tag that scratches against my neck. I feel every little sharp edge and I can't filter out the sensation. 

I can't focus if the light is too bright. Can't stand fluorescent lamps or a spotlight in my face. Even being outside in really bright sunlight disrupts me. I feel exposed and vulnerable. More at ease in a dim, candle lit environment. 

I can't stand perfumes. Not on others and certainly not on myself. I just don't like the extreme, artificial smell of them. Same goes for most deodorants, body lotions and styling products. I only use 100% natural, organic stuff. 

Since I have an ear for music, I'm also sensitive to sound, rhythm and melodies. Out-of-tune instruments, out-of-pitch singing, too much repetition, overly gleeful, "major" tunes, or too much chaos in a song - that makes me cringe. Sometimes I even panic and have to flee the room. This is why I can't work out at one of those gym chains with the same braindead radio hits looping 24/7. 

And then there's people.

Hell is other people
— Jean-Paul Sartre

I feel fragile as glass in a crowd. Had I not cared so much about what others think of me, I would have constructed a giant hamster ball to walk around in. To automatically keep everyone at arm's length. My need for personal space seems to be at least double that of normal folks. 

When I'm in line at the grocery store, and the person behind me stands to close, almost spooning me, I feel extremely uncomfortable. I try to shield myself with my shopping cart, and step a little closer to the person in front of me. Whereby the other guy always follows, until I'm sandwiched in-between two strangers and just want to scream and push everyone away. 

This comic says it all. Click image for source.

This comic says it all. Click image for source.

When a car driver almost runs me over at a crossing, or some old lady snaps at me for standing in her way - it really offends me and I'll carry it with all day, thinking about things I could have done or said differently.

When a teacher or manager or other authority figure reprimands me, even for the tiniest little thing, I get extremely hurt and ashamed and can't shake it off. I'll feel about it for days. 

Or when I'm talking to a group of people and getting constantly interrupted or ignored. I'll lock myself in the bathroom to cry, out of frustration.

Only time I abandon all my shyness and fear of confrontation is when a neighbor plays loud music or is having a late night party. I go completely mental. I've been known to run across the lawn in my nightgown to climb up a ladder onto a neighbors balcony, storm into their living room and flame at them for five minutes straight.

I can't handle people hovering over my shoulder when I'm at the computer. I feel self-conscious and judged.

And oh, smokers. The ones who stand at bus stops, train station and entrances, covering them in a cloud of disgusting cigarette smoke. A normal person might just think "ugh, that's not very nice" and get on with it, but for me it's a serious abuse. I don't want some stranger's regurgitated 4000+ toxic chemicals stuffed down my airways. 

So I'll try to get away from it. Take detours, hold my breath for long periods of time, run ahead of people to avoid walking in their smoke trail. At one point, I even got myself one of those breathing masks to keep in my purse and haul out to make a statement. Problem is: most smokers don't take hints. Instead they spread out, like in some secret conspiracy, evenly over the platform to make sure there's no clean air to breathe anywhere. 

Being out and among people often feels like defending myself in a battle where I am the constant underdog. It's everyone against me. Every loud, intrusive, smoking, elbowing, perfume reeking person against me. 

And it's exhausting. Very exhausting. 


What about the positives?

You might be wondering. Is there nothing good about being HSP?

Well... Emotions are nice to have. They're what make us human, after all. I would not want to numb myself in order to feel less pain because that would take all of the joy out of my life. 

I get so immersed in video games, I lose myself completely. 

I get extremely moved by movies and tv shows, especially if they are based on true stories.

I could probably become a decent actor if I just had the mental fortitude required by the industry. I have been acting since I was a child and have sometimes pursued it as a career, but there's just too much drama outside of the stage or screen for me to work as an actress full-time. So instead, I do it sporadically and simply out of love. 


I realize I sound like such a cynical, people hating bitch in this post, but honestly: I do love people. When I get to know them one-on-one and get a chance to go beyond the pleasantries.

People fascinate me. I am capable of feeling very deeply for others, and really relate to their feelings and experiences. I want to comfort, uplift, entertain and help. I want long, sincere and open-hearted conversations. I crave meaningful and loving relationships. Small talk with casual acquaintances is boring to me, and a waste of my time and energy.

My sensitivity also enables me to experience spontaneous and intense appreciation for stuff in my everyday life. 

I get near ecstatic over a perfectly ripe avocado.

I enjoy the hell out of my morning cup of coffee every day.

And animals. How the world is full of such beautiful creatures. I adore birds so much, I'll drop everything I'm doing to look at a pigeon strolling by on the street. My eyes involuntarily tear up when I see videos with chickens or owls or parrots.

And maybe it's thanks to moments like these that I wouldn't trade my sensitivity away. I love feeling strongly and deeply. I love being vulnerable and wearing my heart on my sleeve. 

And I believe the world needs more empathic, vulnerable, loving people. 

Don't you agree?