A highly sensitive person is a term created to describe a group of people whose brains process all information very deeply, including emotions, thoughts, and sensory input. This makes them more physically sensitive and emotionally sensitive than other people. High sensitivity is considered a normal, healthy personality trait, although one that — like all personality traits — comes with its own advantages and drawbacks The same trait is referred to as Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), environmental sensitivity, and differential susceptibility.
HSPs are often negatively described as “too sensitive.” But being an HSP isn’t a bad thing. Like any personality trait, it comes with challenges, but also many strengths. For example, highly sensitive people tend to excel at creativity, empathy, and the ability to notice things that others miss or make connections that others do not see. In fact, according to Linda Silverman, the director of the Gifted Development Center, high sensitivity is linked to giftedness. The tradeoff for these gifts is that the sensitive mind can become overworked easily, which makes HSPs prone to becoming overstimulated or emotionally overloaded.
Based on these traits, you might recognize a friend, coworker, or even your partner or yourself as being a highly sensitive person.
Still, although high sensitivity is completely normal — meaning, it’s not a diagnosis or a disorder — it’s often misunderstood, because HSPs are in the minority. Recent research suggests that roughly 30 percent of people are highly sensitive — less than 1 in 3 — and some researchers put the number as low as 15 to 20 percent. Either way, highly sensitive people often feel like they are rare or “alone,” perhaps because our culture does not value sensitivity, and tells us to hide our sensitive side.