Are you are in a relationship with someone who has Highly Sensitive Person traits? Here are some commonly asked questions to help you learn about HSP:
Aren’t “sensitive” people drama queens and crybabies?
Step 1 of understanding HSPs is adjusting your personal definition of the word sensitive.
The first reaction many people have when they hear the phrase “highly sensitive person” is negative. But think about what the word sensitive actually means. It means observant and conscientious.
Dr. Elaine Aron, the person who coined the term Highly Sensitive Person, admitted in her documentary Sensitive that she named it HSP because she couldn’t think of something better. So, it could be said that HSP isn’t the greatest name for this trait, but we’re stuck with it. 🙂
Another phrase for the trait is sensory processing sensitivity. I like this better. It illustrates how HSPs’ senses are extra perceptive to the world around them.
Is “Highly Sensitive Person” a made-up thing people use as an excuse to act a certain way?
High Sensitivity isn’t a flippant categorization created by a psychologist to explain away certain behaviors. It’s a scientifically proven trait that approximately 20% of the population possesses, equally in males and females. Research of brain scans shows that HSPs have different brain characteristics than the rest of the population. If you are so inclined, you can read more about the scientific studies here. Or listen to my podcast episode about it.
Can’t you just toughen up?
Being Highly Sensitive isn’t something you decide to do. If you smell some dog poop when you are walking down the street, do you decide whether it smells bad? Nope it’s an instant reaction. Same thing.
Being highly sensitive is a personality trait just the same, and equal, as not being highly sensitive.
My partner was diagnosed as Highly Sensitive.
To diagnose means to “identify the nature of a medical condition.” But high sensitivity is not a medical condition.
To be “diagnosed” as HSP is like saying you are diagnosed as being left-handed or introverted. If a psychologist or therapist “diagnosed” you or someone you know, I’d ask for clarification, because that doesn’t sound right. Perhaps you misunderstood.
I equate being highly sensitive to being left-handed or introverted. These are traits, and things that are hard-wired in our brains; not medical conditions to be diagnosed.
I feel like I’m walking on eggshells around my highly sensitive partner/friend. They get upset at everything.
Several traits/diagnoses are often mixed up: high sensitivity, introversion, anxiety, shyness, asocial behavior, depression, and more. Not everything can be attributed to high sensitivity. Having the trait is not an excuse for bad behavior. It’s possible someone may think they are simply highly sensitive when they are struggling with other issues. I recommend seeing a therapist or trained professional for assistance sorting it all out.
Also, know that high sensitivity is NOT the same as hypersensitivity. One is a biological trait, the other is a coping style. Read a great blog post on that here.
How can I better understand my Highly Sensitive partner/friend/family member?
Try to understand that Highly Sensitive People:
- May not be able to answer questions or make decisions immediately. They need time to think.
- Are easily overwhelmed and overstimulated.
- Don’t like to feel like they don’t have some control over a situation.
- May be bothered or irritated by aspects of their environment (things that may seem trivial to you).
- May be easily startled by sudden or loud sounds.
- Feel strong empathy for other people (and creatures). We are conscientious and aware of others’ moods and emotions.
- May be deeply moved by music and art.
- May be averse to violence–like in movies, TV shows, and on the news.
- Don’t like having many things to do at once, and can feel overwhelmed easily.
- May be are extra sensitive to smells, noise, caffeine, and drugs.
- Are often introverted (but not always.)
For further reading, here’s a great article about dealing with HSPs by Jim Hallowes.
The most important thing…
Is that you are trying to understand and learn with an open mind. That is a sign of a supportive partner and friend.
A little understanding on your part can go a long way. Pay attention to your partner’s behavior and you’ll start to pick up their cues and make more sense of their actions and reactions.
The key for my husband was that he listened to me when I told him I was an HSP. He didn’t buy into it right away, but over time, he realized that it made sense. Now, he is great at sensing when I am overwhelmed, compromising on activities, and is gentle if we have a disagreement.
Know that learning about high sensitivity might have been a life-changing realization for your loved one. They might be discovering for the first time in their life that they aren’t weird, alone, or wrong. This is huge! So, show them you care by being a part of their life and their discovery. 🙂