Highly sensitive people (HSPs) see the world a little bit differently.
Are you one of them?
Being an HSP can be difficult, but it can also be a blessing in many ways.
Here’s a look at the top indications that you’re an HSP and what it means for your life path.
Let’s dive in.
1) You feel things more deeply than most
The first sign of an HSP is what you would think: experiencing intense emotions that are stronger than most around you.
This can be a visceral reaction to music, films, conversations, beautiful scenery or anything, really.
When you have a disagreement it touches you to the core. When you’re about to reach a landmark business deal you feel on top of the world.
You feel huge highs and backbreaking lows.
2) You’re introspective and tend to reflect on what you feel
When you’re an HSP, you reflect a lot on what you feel and why.
Whether you’re introverted or extroverted, you spend time by yourself contemplating your experiences and what they mean.
You try to get a handle on your emotions and make sense of them in relation to your journey in life and your next step on the journey.
“They like to process things deeply,” says Ted Zeff, Ph.D., author of The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide. “They’re very intuitive and dive deep into themselves to understand things.”
3) You’re often asked why you’re so sensitive
If you’re an HSP, then you’ve gotten used to being asked why you’re so sensitive.
It doesn’t offend you, but it can become quite repetitive.
You may not necessarily consider yourself sensitive, per se, and feeling deeply can also be perceived quite differently depending on what culture you’re from and your gender.
As Zeff notes, “Depending on the culture, sensitivity can be perceived as an advantage or as a negative trait.”
Men, in particular, are often expected to be less involved in their emotions in many cultures such as North America, although nations like Thailand and India have more space for men to express and reflect on emotions, according to Zeff’s research.
4) You have above average empathy for others
Another key sign that you’re an HSP is that you have above average empathy for others.
You genuinely care about what happens to those around you and you naturally try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when they confide in you.
When a friend or even a stranger is going through something, you want to try your best to understand and offer support.
It’s not that you’re a saint, it’s just how you’re built.
5) You’re very detail-oriented and perceptive about your environment
HSPs tend to be extremely perceptive and notice almost everything going on.
This is very useful in a variety of careers and makes you a witty, perceptive and intelligent companion as a friend and partner.
The only downside is if you experience sensory overload and find that loud and stressful environments become a bit much.
This can be quite common, such as when in very crowded traffic or dealing with aggressive drivers, for example.
6) Loud noises and interruptions cause you considerable distress
The tendency to find loud noises and situations overwhelming can be frustrating as an HSP.
It can make you feel like you’re too easily thrown off kilter.
Things like mindfulness meditation and prayer can help in cultivating an inner center of calm, but it’s not always easy to go back to that core and relax.
When things get too crazy you may find that it really throws you off balance and has you seeking a calm retreat away from the noise and confusion.
7) You take longer to deliberate over decisions
The HSP takes longer to decide things because they weigh the subtle aspects of decisions.
As somebody who feels deeply and is highly perceptive, you notice that decisions are rarely as clear cut as they first appear.
Even deciding what type of coffee to get in the morning or what shirt to buy can become a real chore.
Medical or career decisions and harder choices can tie you up even more.
This ties into the next point…
8) You get very upset when you make a wrong decision or a mistake
None of us like making mistakes, but if you’re an HSP then it cuts even deeper.
You find that you can’t let go when you make a mistake and are especially focused on how you might have hurt or been unthoughtful to other people.
Whether it was your fault or not, you tie yourself in pretzels and constant overanalysis to try to think how it could have been different.
You’re very hard on yourself, in other words.
Speaking of being hard on yourself…
9) You’re more prone to anxiety or depression as a result of self-blame
When you’re an HSP you’re quite prone to anxiety and depression.
The main reason is that you lean toward being an empath and taking the pain and discomfort of others onto your own shoulders.
You also beat yourself up when anything goes wrong.
This tendency to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders can go too far and lead to really suffering unnecessary pain, which is one of the vulnerabilities that the HSP has to watch out for.
Feeling deeply can be an immense strength, but it is necessary to build up filters and defenses to some degree so that you learn to empathize without necessarily adopting the pain.
10) Criticism cuts deep and you find it hard to take
I don’t know anybody who likes criticism, but I do know self-confident folks who don’t take it personally.
In fact, they try to see what positive feedback they can get out of it that’s useful.
But as an HSP, chances are you find criticism quite hard to take and it makes you feel unappreciated and devalued in a certain way that’s hard to bounce back from.
“People can say negative things and a person who isn’t highly sensitive can respond by saying, ‘So what?’ and it doesn’t affect them,” Zeff says. “But a highly sensitive person would feel that much more deeply.”
11) You find it easier to work in a quieter, private space
When it comes to your career and work, you prefer to work in a space that’s quiet.
This may be in a team or alone, but either way your work space itself is something you prefer to be quite quiet and sectioned off.
You want to be able to be quiet with your own thoughts and drill down to the work you have to get done.
Socializing is fine, but for the majority of your day you’d prefer it’s quiet and fairly low-key.
Busy restaurant kitchens full of shouting or investing firms full of flying papers and loud phone conversations aren’t for you.
12) Violent and disturbing films and music bother you at a deeper level
Horror films and violent mind-twisters aren’t usually your style if you’re an HSP.
Even if you find them intriguing, they leave a bitter taste in your mouth because the images and themes linger with you long afterwards.
You find that extremely dark music and atmospheres are also difficult for you to be around.
It’s not that you’re weak, it’s just that you absorb so much of the energy and mood around you.
13) You prefer individual sports and activities
The HSP usually prefers sports where they can get into the zone without feeling too pressured or monitored.
This can include things like hiking, running, cycling, badminton, tennis and canoeing or kayaking.
This is not to say that you can’t be an HSP and enjoy team sports, just that the HSP usually prefers more solo-oriented activities and sports.
Something to keep in mind: Not every highly sensitive person is an introvert
Around 15% of the population are HSPs, and of these, the majority are introverted.
This certainly fits our image of extremely sensitive folks: quiet, reserved, perhaps doing an artistic project or reading as they contemplate deeply.
This isn’t always the case, though, and HSPs come from all walks of life.
As Dr. Elaine Aron notes, around 30 percent of HSPs are extroverted. Many grew up in tight-knit communities and social situations where they were able to connect with a lot of people.
Whether introverted or extroverted, being an HSP gives you a number of unique challenges and opportunities.
Your sensitivity is something to respect, cherish and tap into as much as possible, while still ensuring that you respect your own boundaries and leave yourself time and space to recharge.