12 Signs You May Be a Highly Sensitive Person
Language plays a huge role in shaping our culture, and gives us a lens through which to see and understand the world.
Several years ago the Wall Street Journal published an article on this topic by cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky, who's now an Associate Professor at UC San Diego (where I studied Linguistics! Can’t make this stuff up.) The article was full of fascinating examples of how the language we speak influences the ways we remember events, interpret our environment, and even how we behave.
For example: the Russian language includes several different words for different shades of blue – and when they were tested, Russian speakers were actually better at visually differentiating between those shades than speakers of other languages.
Another example: members of the Pirahã tribe from Brazil speak a language that doesn’t include words for exact numbers, and instead uses broader terms like “few” and “many”. As a result, they struggle to track exact quantities.
There is a definite connection between the words we have available to us to describe our experiences, and the way we understand the world we live in.
By the same token, language can also be an incredible source of validation. Think of how frustrating it is when you can’t find the words to describe a specific feeling, or idea, or experience to other people. If you’ve ever struggled to find the right words to convey your thoughts in a way that others understand, you know how aggravating it can be when that connection is missing.
It may have made you start to doubt yourself – Am I crazy? Does this idea even make sense? Am I the only one who experiences that thing? – or at the very least, maybe you felt like an outsider in that moment... like you weren’t quite in familiar company, or even like there’s something wrong with you.
On the other hand, finding the words – suddenly having the language to describe a feeling, experience, or idea you understand vividly – is one of the best feelings there is. Think of how it feels to find the exact word you were racking your brain for. The perfect word for conveying your idea.
For me, it’s not only validating – it evokes this awesome sense of belonging. As in: if there’s a word for this thing I’m feeling or experiencing, I must not be the only one who experiences it. It’s suddenly safe to be me, because there are others out there like me, too.
I don’t remember how or where I learned the term Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), but I vividly remember what it felt like to suddenly have a name for the things I’ve always known (and even disliked, at times) about myself.
Suddenly, I wasn’t just or ‘too emotional’ or ‘easily irritable’ – I had a new language, and a new tool to help make sense of the complex, and sometimes intense person I’ve always been.
I also watched a good friend experience similar feelings of relief and fascination a few years ago when she learned that being an HSP was an actual thing – and not just the sum of the traits she’d noticed, disliked, or found immensely confusing or frustrating about herself over time.
We talk a lot around here about being a Highly Sensitive Person - but we’ve never really paused to look at what that means. And for many of us, untangling this term and recognizing that there are others like us can unlock whole new levels of self-understanding, self-compassion, and even self-forgiveness.
Being highly sensitive is so much more than just 'crying a lot' or 'feeling all the feels', and understanding the richness of this term can be hugely validating.
So let’s break it down.
Below is a list of signs that you might be an HSP; the more strongly you relate to the experiences listed below, the more likely it is that you may be highly sensitive. I encourage you to read it with the understanding that this is not a complete list, and that different people experiences different combinations of these things to varying degrees.
A select few might ring true for you, or maybe the full list feels like reading a description of yourself. No matter what you find, know that your experience is valid, and that there is no right or wrong way to be sensitive.
Now onto the list. There’s an entire website dedicated to the Highly Sensitive experience, and if you’re intrigued by what you see here, I absolutely encourage you to head over there and keep digging. The goal here is to simply introduce you to this term if you’re unfamiliar with it, and to help give you a new framework for understanding your experiences and feelings through a lens of understanding and compassion.
12 Signs You May Be a Highly Sensitive Person:
You’ve been labeled as ‘sensitive’ and/or ‘shy’, possibly since you were a kid.
You feel energetically drained or overwhelmed by large crowds or other chaotic situations.
You feel extra rattled and overwhelmed when there’s a lot to get done in a limited amount of time.
You feel especially plugged-in or in-tune with how the people closest to you are feeling.
You are particularly sensitive to pain.
You notice you regularly search for a deeper meaning – in your relationships, your day-to-day experiences, and your general worldview.
You feel especially sensitive to strong smells and/or loud or annoying noises, and have trouble ‘just ignoring’ them.
You startle easily.
You feel shaken up by lots of change at once.
You feel deeply moved by the arts, including music.
You are a keen observer when it comes to your surroundings, and you appreciate small details that often go overlooked by others.
You avoid movies or TV shows that are especially violent.
So… now what?
By adding this term to your vocabulary, you’ve already done yourself a favor! You can now use this as a lens to broaden your understanding of yourself, and start replacing some of that frustration around questions like 'why do I react this way?' or 'why can’t I just be more ____?' with more forgiveness, understanding, and self-compassion.
There will still be times when it feels frustrating and challenging to exist in the world as an Highly Sensitive Person, and that’s ok. In fact, part of being an HSP means knowing that you will continue to understand and experience the world differently than many of the people you’ll meet and interact with. You will struggle with things that they don't, and you will realize that certain perceptions that come easily to you don’t come nearly as easily to others.
The best advice I can offer is to simply notice how this aspect of yourself shows up, and to recognize that it’s not your job to change yourself for the world. Instead, see if you can leverage this new awareness of yourself as a tool – one that allows and invites you to navigate the world with more consciousness and to lead with patience and understanding, both with others and with yourself.
What is one aspect of your sensitive nature that you'll start to show yourself more forgiveness for today? I'd love to hear in the comments below.