Is loud noise overwhelming to you? Is time alone every day as essential to you as the air you breathe? Do people call you ‘over-sensitive’? Does it break your heart when you see suffering?
You may be a highly sensitive person – someone who feels intensely and is unusually intuitive, aware and perceptive.
Our sensory system is like an antenna, receiving information from our surroundings. Some of us have a body that is naturally more highly tuned to stimuli in our environment – things like bright lights, confusion, strong emotions or energy – that other people barely notice. As a result we may feel easily overloaded and need to retreat.
Research psychologist Dr Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, has made an extensive study of high sensitivity. Her research shows that being sensitive is a personality trait, and is usually inherited. According to Dr Aron, around 1 in 5 people are highly sensitive.
How to tell if you are highly sensitive
You may have lived all your life without having a name for the qualities that present such challenges – and such gifts – to you.
1. Do you feel things deeply?
As a sensitive soul, you experience emotions as profound and intense sensations. You may find yourself overcome by inexplicable emotion at odd times, seemingly out of nowhere, and you've no idea what has triggered it.
2. Are you easily affected by your surroundings?
Because your nervous system is so finely attuned to your environment, your threshold for what is ‘too much’ is significantly lower than for other people. You are disturbed by such things as flickering lights or strong smells, you find coarse fabrics uncomfortable to wear, you easily feel too hot or too cold, you feel overwhelmed when there's too much talking around you, and you cover your ears when a police siren wails past.
It's such a relief to be quiet. You feel at peace in a beautiful garden or sacred space. You may have a room or spot in your home that you're drawn to when you need respite from a frantic world.
3. Are you intuitive?
Your perceptive skills aren’t just about being susceptible to your surroundings. You are sensitive not only to what is happening inside yourself, but also to what people around you are feeling. You may feel a subtle discomfort when someone is isn’t being straight with you, or you may have flashes of insight about something that hasn’t happened yet.
Everyday life can feel chaotic, as you pick up on the emotions and energy around you. This over-stimulation may lead to tension, fuzzy brain, anxiety, depression, headaches, digestive disorders, sleeplessness, chronic pain, and many other challenges.
4. Do you respond intensely to beauty?
The flip side of your high sensitivity to challenging stimuli is that sublime experiences are more intense for you. Appreciating beauty in all things, you may be highly artistic and creative yourself. Fine scents or tastes, stirring music, poetry or works of art, breathtaking scenery or a child’s smile can all awaken your sensitive nature.
5. Do you love your inner life?
As a sensitive soul you are inspired by the deeper levels of your being. You may be highly imaginative and have vivid dreams. You drop easily beneath the material world, to enjoy your rich, complex interior landscape.
6. Do you need time by yourself so you can be yourself?
Highly sensitive people often feel better when they’re alone. Even if you’re an extravert sensitive, you need to withdraw after a busy day or after being around people, into a place where you can have privacy and relief from the stimulation, so you can revive.
You prefer to work independently and in your own time, with the freedom to create and express in your own unique way.
7. Do you have a strong spiritual connection?
If you are highly sensitive, you have a depth of understanding of realms beyond what our society validates as the ‘real world’, and an openness to mystical or transcendent experiences.
You have a natural transpersonal perspective, and while most people would like to have a sense of meaning in their life, for sensitives this is an absolute need.
8. Do you find some health treatments ‘too much’?
Many sensitive people find strongly physical treatments uncomfortable or even invasive, and you may be drawn to a light-touch or energy-based approach. However for you, the most important factor is the practitioner and how well you feel she understands you.
You often react to medication and prefer a lower dose where possible. If you have had surgery you may find that it takes longer to recover from the anaesthetic than from the operation itself.
9. Have you grown up feeling that you don’t fit in?
When you were a child, your parents or teachers may have seen you as shy, a dreamer, or ‘too emotional’. People said you should toughen up. As an adult, you may have thought of yourself as a social misfit because a ‘normal’ night out involving a violent film, thudding music or a crowded nightclub is just unbearable for you.
10. Are you drawn to helping, creative or humanitarian work?
Sensitive souls are born teachers, healers, counsellors, artists, writers, seekers, visionaries and peacemakers. Lovers of aesthetics and form, they may create interior designs and built environments that lift the spirit, or use their intuitive skills to be wonderful facilitators, coaches, mediators and therapists.
Many sensitive people have a natural respect for the earth and a passion for social justice. They often become change-makers who do things differently, preferring collaborative over adversarial working relationships.