For as long as I can remember, I’ve considered myself oversensitive. As a young child, I was labelled by my teachers and friends as shy, sensitive and emotional. It was never meant as an insult — actually, many people saw my disposition as a positive thing — but my delicate nature designated me as inherently different.
I remember feeling so overcome by emotion on my first day of school I had to retreat to the corner bathroom and cry because I missed my parents so much. I reacted to change, made uncomfortable by unfamiliar places, situations and scrutiny from others.
As I entered high school, I was jokingly deemed the “dramatic one” by my friends. Whenever I had qualms about how someone treated me or how my peers perceived me, others would promptly dismiss me as hypersensitive.
When I discovered the existence of highly sensitive individuals, or HSPs, I was instantly relieved. High sensitivity is an innate biological characteristic marked by increased emotional awareness and a predisposition to mental illnesses. A whopping 15–20% of the general population classify as HSPs.
When I discovered the psychological label for my unique personality type, I was better able to understand myself and develop healthy coping strategies to manage my mental health.
If most of the following traits apply to you, you may also be a highly sensitive individual.
1. You have struggled with mental illness
One marker of high sensitivity is the predisposition to mental illness. While mental illnesses are caused by several varying factors, the highly sensitive nervous system associated with HSPs can trigger increased anxiety and depression. This can be because of HSPs possessing unrealistic expectations and the inclination to compare themselves with others.
The good news is that these mental health issues are highly treatable. Anxiety and depression can be overcome through a combination of therapy, lifestyle choices, positive coping mechanisms, medication and other treatment options.
Being highly sensitive doesn’t mean you are doomed to live a life of utter mental anguish. You may have to put some extra work into caring for your mental health, which is a positive change all of us can make.
2. You are sensitive towards your environment
Another trait of highly sensitive people is sensitivity towards one’s environment. You may dislike hearing certain sounds, like the classic nails on a chalkboard or wearing certain fabrics because they feel itchy against your skin. When I was younger, I would cut the tags from my clothing.
You might be uncomfortable in large groups where many people are talking at once. For this reason, you need plenty of “alone time” to navigate your personal thoughts and emotions.
The danger in too much isolation is becoming inward-looking and neglecting the positive relationships in your life.
Likely, you feel unhappy when you scroll through social media because this leads you to compare yourself with others. Their houses, jobs, cars, relationships and appearances seem superior to the aspects of your own life, although these posts are often highly filtered and contrived.
You are also profoundly disturbed by what you see on television — including when violence, gore, disasters and other negative news — to where people say you’re overreacting.
In fact, if you hear the last sentence often, there’s a good chance you’re a highly sensitive person.
3. You are sensitive about the opinions of others
Almost everyone cares what others think about them at one point or another. Negative comments about our appearance, personality, or even something insignificant can make us feel insecure.
The difference with HSPs is that this normal sensitivity about the perceptions of others is amplified. As a highly sensitive individual, you take constructive criticism personally, even when it’s strictly meant to be professional. This motivates you to work harder at school and work, designating you as a polite and conscientious person.
Small things like being ignored by a co-worker or peer are deduced to the worst-case scenario when, in reality, the co-worker likely meant nothing by their perceived rudeness.
HSPs are concerned with what others think of them. For this reason, you might ask for validation and reassurance more than is common.
However, being sensitive about the opinions of others also means you are especially empathetic and care deeply about other people, leading to positive emotional connections.
4. You are artistic
A positive trait attributed to highly sensitive people is creativity.
Perhaps you enjoy art as a hobby, or perhaps you work in the arts as a profession. Either way, you are a creative or artistic person, appreciating the beauty in literature, visual arts, film, music, and other art forms.
You are deeply moved and become emotional when witnessing beautiful art, finding profound beauty in what others might consider mundane. Maybe you are even moved by television commercials, like Pam was in that episode of The Office. (Speaking of which, Pam also seems like an HSP!)
5. You were described as sensitive and shy as a child
As I mentioned before, one way I first knew I was a highly sensitive individual was from remembering the many instances in which my elementary school teachers described me as “sensitive” and “shy.”
My report cards were peppered with positive comments about how attentive I was since I didn’t act like the other kids in my class (at least, not usually).
Though I came out of my shell, I am sure people who knew me as a six-year-old still remember me as quiet and sensitive. If these traits also characterized you as a child, probably, you are also a highly sensitive person.
Overall, being highly sensitive can be a blessing in disguise.
While it comes with unique challenges — especially since western culture devalues people who are deemed oversensitive — it is frankly a gift to see the world in such a unique way.
Once you’ve recognized you are a highly sensitive person, it is possible to adopt healthy coping strategies and use your high sensitivity for good.