12 traits of people who seem cold, but are actually highly sensitive

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There are some people who seem cold. 

They rarely smile and come across as indifferent, frigid or even downright unfriendly. 

But in some cases they’re actually just highly sensitive people (HSP) trying to protect themselves. 

Here’s how to tell… 

1) Unresponsive in conversations 

When you’re talking to someone you never quite know how they’re going to react. 

But one of the hardest things to deal with is when they don’t really react at all!

This can be a definite sign of a person who seems totally locked down and indifferent to everything you’re saying but is actually just sensitive. 

People who are easily affected often put up a wall. 

The first indicator of that wall is usually that they just don’t react much to what people say to them. 

2) Not much facial expression 

People who have put up this wall I referred to often learn to adopt a kind of “stone-faced” expression in public and at work. 

That’s part of why they can come across as very cold and indifferent. 

In reality they are just scared of being hurt, tricked, disappointed or disapproved of. 

HSPs have experienced many of the same disappointments as the rest of us, but the difference is these experiences wounded them to the core. 

Whereas many non-HSPs might be able to get up, dust themselves off and continue on, it’s not an option for others. 

Hence the indifferent expression you may notice. 

3) Resistant to romantic advances 

HSPs also have above-average fear of being hurt in love

This may be due to past experiences or just due to knowing how risky it is to give your heart to someone. 

The result is the same:

A resistance to romantic advances and a reputation as “cold” or unfeeling can be the inevitable result. 

Sometimes it takes the right person to come along and break that icy shell, which in reality is just a protection mechanism. 

4) Irregular or infrequent communication 

The next attribute of an HSP in a cold shell is irregular communication or not talking much. 

This can be in the form of not answering messages on social media very often and speaking very minimally. 

There may be a shy smile now and then, but for the most part the HSP tends to have a quiet demeanor and not be overly communicative

There are exceptions to this, however, which is part of how you can end up connecting and getting through to this kind of person who only seems cold on the surface. 

5) Nerdy and into niche topics 

Because of his or her more withdrawn and cold nature, the HSP may seem like somebody who’s just on autopilot or emotionless. 

But behind the scenes, sensitive people often have some very strong passions for hobbies and niche topics. 

It might not be playing World of Warcraft or Dungeons & Dragons, but it could be collecting stamps or studying the history of imperial Japan. 

If you get a clue about what this quiet and seemingly cold person is into, it provides you an “in.”

You ask questions and try to learn more and there’s a very good chance their shell will begin to open, at least slightly.

Related: 7 things a man of high integrity does differently in a relationship

6) Introspective and bookish 

The cold-on-the-surface sensitive man or woman often has an introspective, bookish nature. 

This can clue into their nerdy hobbies and interests and also just their general demeanor.

Their bookish style is something you may notice if you work with this person or come across them in your daily life and wonder why they always seem to have their face buried in a book or the latest article online. 

The more you connect with this person over a book or their interests, the more you can make a connection with them and strike common ground. 

This is a great way to begin opening their shell. 

7) Zoning out or being absent-minded 

The cold-seeming person may often zone out or seem absent-minded. 

But they’re often just lost in their thoughts or feeling a bit overwhelmed by the outer world.

This can definitely become a frustration at work and in other contexts but it’s best not to take it personally. 

This is just the sensitive person processing what they need to and being lost a little in their own world. 

Which brings me to the next point… 

8) Ignoring what’s being said

The type of people who seem cold but are actually sensitive often get lost in their feelings. 

This can lead to zoning out, as I was saying. 

One symptom of this is simply ignoring or not hearing what’s being said. 

This can become a major issue, particularly in a work context, but it’s often just the HSP’s way of conserving emotional energy and recharging. 

Not that this makes it OK! 

9) Glued to their smartphone 

Many of us are quite addicted to technology these days, particularly the all-powerful digital devices we carry around…

I’m talking about our smartphones. 

The very sensitive person often relies on their smartphone as a kind of crutch, looking at it constantly and ignoring the world around them. 

How rude, you might think, and perhaps you’re right. 

But sometimes this is just a sensitive person’s way of feeling a bit of control and normalcy in a big, scary world that often overwhelms them. 

10) Not showing emotion during sad or happy moments

When you’re watching a film or at a concert or even just talking, happy and sad moments generally lead to some kind of strong emotions. 

But HSPs often, ironically, don’t display as much reaction to such things. 

This can make them seem pretty heartless, after all if you didn’t cry when Ol’ Yeller died you’re probably not a great person…


Very sensitive people do sometimes have this kind of emotional block that makes them resist emotion even at the saddest and happiest times. 

Think of them as a flower that takes time to open in the sun. It takes time, patience and love. 

11) Failing to show much gratitude for people’s help

When somebody doesn’t show gratitude for what others do for them, it’s easy to peg them as presumptuous and spoiled:

Maybe they are. 

But there’s also a fair chance they’re just a person who finds expressing emotions in general kind of difficult. 

To be grateful you have to express yourself and not everybody is very good at doing that, especially folks who are very sensitive and have difficulty showing any vulnerability. 

It’s not that they’re not grateful, it’s that they’re shy and sensitive!

12) Not laughing at people’s jokes 

We all want people to laugh at our jokes, especially people we want to befriend or be close to in some way. 

That’s why somebody who doesn’t laugh at our jokes can be so upsetting. 

But not everyone who remains impassive during a joke is a jerk.

Some of them are just very sensitive and withdrawn.

They have a default setting of being quite detached and withdrawn. 

It’s best not to take it personally, I’m sure you’re actually very funny and they probably secretly think so, too! 

Let your soul shine… 

If you’re an HSP who finds it hard to let your emotions show, try your best to slowly but surely start trusting people more and taking a risk. 

If you’re meeting folks who seem cold, try to crack a joke or let them know you appreciate them: see what happens. 

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