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  • Writer's pictureJaveria Fatima Zaidi

What is High Sensitivity?

Updated: Jan 26


High Sensitivity – Early Research


Ever been told that you’re ‘too sensitive?’ Ever feel like the intensity of your emotions is out of this world? Ever feel abnormal due to how deeply you seem to feel EVERYTHING?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you may be a highly sensitive person.

For this blog post, I’ve spent days going down all the rabbit holes and shared all the research in one place – so you don’t have to!


High sensitivity, also known as sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), is a personality trait that refers to individuals who are highly aware of, and sensitive to, stimuli. The phrase "Highly Sensitive Person" (HSP) was first introduced by psychologists Elaine Aron and Arthur Aron during the 1990s to characterise individuals with a pronounced sensitivity to physical, emotional, or social cues. Initial studies on this HSP trait date back to the 1970s, when psychologist Albert Mehrabian conducted research on individuals with high versus low screening capabilities in relation to sensitivity to stimuli.① German medicine professor Wolfgang Klages also wrote in the 1970s about humans with heightened sensitivity being "biologically anchored" in a sensitive nervous system. ②


Dr. Elaine Aron pioneered much of the early research on HSPs in the 1990s, conducting extensive interviews to understand the experiences of sensitive people. This led to the development of the Highly Sensitive Person Scale questionnaire to measure the trait. You can access the test on Dr. Aron’s website: https://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/

Latest research suggests that sensitivity lies on a spectrum ③, with highly sensitive individuals making up around 30% of the populace. This trait portrays a unique personality profile that exhibits high levels of neuroticism and openness. ④


It's intriguing to note how research has extended across diverse cultural contexts, leveraging advanced and longitudinal study designs. The focus has notably shifted towards exploring the pros and cons of sensitivity. This comprehensive approach is helping to deepen our understanding of sensitivity as an inherent trait, consequently facilitating better support and appreciation for those with high sensitivity. Additionally, ongoing research efforts are moving a step further by examining the developmental, biological aspects, and mental health correlations of sensitivity.



What is High Sensitivity?


High sensitivity is a personality trait that exists on a spectrum – which means that every highly sensitive person may sit on lower, medium, or higher ends of the spectrum (but it doesn’t mean that every person is a little bit highly sensitive). People with this personality trait are often described as neurotic – or overthinkers, and they are usually creative. The neuroscience behind all this states that if you’re highly sensitive – you are simply wired that way. Nature over nurture in this case! ⑤


Traits of Highly Sensitive People


- Highly sensitive people tend to pick up on subtle details and nuances in their environment, including social cues such as microexpressions. They may have a heightened awareness of emotions, both their own and those of others. This can make them more empathetic and attuned to the needs and feelings of those around them.


- Highly sensitive people often find themselves easily overwhelmed by loud noises, bright lights, or strong smells. They may be more affected by violent or disturbing images in movies or TV shows.


- They may also be deeply impacted by criticism or negative feedback.


- HSP’s often have vivid dreams and imaginations, and are easily moved to tears by beauty, nature, or music.


- Due to their overanalytical nature, they are usually perfectionists, holding themselves up to impossibly high standards.


- They are prone to feelings of overwhelm. This may manifest as persistent anxiety, and even positive changes need acclimating to.


- Signs of depression are prevalent, particularly in individuals who lacked stable emotional bonds during their childhood or meaningful connections in their adult life.


- They often grapple with shyness or social unease, primarily because of the overwhelming nature of large group settings. Those with high sensitivity generally prefer personal interactions and deeply meaningful relationships.


- Establishing boundaries and managing disputes can frequently be challenging for them. Due to their heightened empathetic abilities, highly sensitive individuals often experience guilt when expressing dissent and harbour concerns about causing others pain.


- Loneliness can be a significant issue. The common feeling of being misunderstood or distinct from family and friends can result in diminished self-worth.





My HS Journey


Show me a trait of highly sensitive women, and I most likely have it. Yet I was unaware of this for most of my life. All I knew was that I moved through life with a ‘fragile, glass heart’ (to borrow a friend’s phrase), and sometimes I wished I had a ‘feelometer’ through which I could dial down my feelings. I seemed to experience all my feelings in HD – my hopes were the biggest and boldest; my dreams were the most colourful; my despondency was the lowest of the low, and my loneliness could eat me alive. It was a painful existence, to say the least. And because I didn’t understand myself, I was a mess.


I would set these lofty goals and craft the most detailed plans…yet I never seemed to achieve anything I truly wanted. So I made evermore detailed plans, wove myself into ever tighter standards… and ended up with nothing but self-inflicted punishment. Not surprisingly, I gave birth to 2 daughters who seemed to embody these same traits, albeit in very different ways.


Armed with the fierce love and curiosity of a mother, I began searching for answers to better help my children; and along the way, found myself, and the secret to achieving my goals.

So You’re Highly Sensitive. Now what?


High sensitivity can be a double-edged sword for women. While it fuels empathy and creativity, it also brings challenges like overwhelm, social anxiety, and self-esteem issues, which can hinder goal achievement.


But here's the good news: an Expressive Writing Life Coach can be a game-changer. Writing allows for safe exploration of feelings and thoughts, fostering better emotional management. Guided by a coach, highly sensitive women can clearly define their goals and devise suitable strategies to reach them. You’ll learn to set healthy boundaries, boost self-care, and navigate life's hurdles without feeling swamped. Most importantly, you will understand the ingredients that make up stellar goals, and learn the framework to apply them.


Think of it this way: I can help you turn your sensitivity into a superpower, propelling you toward your dreams. Now, that's a transformative journey worth embarking on!


You can schedule a free, 20 minute initial consultation by sending me an email here:


Read what others have said about working with me, here.


I look forward to helping you combine the powers of high sensitivity and expressive writing!


References:-

③ Lionetti, F. et al. (2018). Dandelions, tulips and orchids: Evidence for the existence of low-sensitive, medium-sensitive and high-sensitive individuals. Translational Psychiatry, 8(24).

④ Smolewska, K.A., McCabe, S.B. & Woody, E.Z. (2006). A psychometric evaluation of the Highly Sensitive Person Scale: The components of sensory-processing sensitivity and their relation to the BIS/BAS and "Big Five". Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 1269-1279.


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