Highly sensitive people are sometimes described as weak, thin-skinned, overly sensitive and sulky. They may be told to toughen up or get over it.

However, recent research has indicated that highly sensitive people, or HSP’s, actually have differences in the way their brain’s work. Their sensitivity is not a weakness or a choice, it’s just part of who they are. So it’s not really fair to use negative labels such as overly sensitive.

Researchers from Stony Brook University in New York and Southwest University in China used MRI scans to see what went on in the brains of HSP’s. They found that HSP subjects have greater activity in areas of the brain concerned with high-order visual processing.

Even more fascinatingly, they discovered that a significant percentage of dogs, fish, and various primates also display this sensitivity trait. Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychotherapist and researcher, estimates that 15-20% of people have what she calls Sensory Processing Sensitivity. These people have nervous systems that process stimuli intensely.

Despite high sensitivity being a recognized trait, HSP’s are still criticized for being overly sensitive. Here are five things sensitive people would like others to understand.

1. I am not weak

Overly sensitive people are often labeled weak. They are also often repeatedly told to toughen up. However, though highly sensitive people feel things intensely, that doesn’t make them weak.

Our society may have decided that showing emotions and feeling things deeply is wrong, but that doesn’t mean it is. Sensitive people are self-aware and empathetic and these are great skills to have.

Never apologize for being sensitive or emotional.

Never apologize for being sensitive or emotional. It’s a sign that you have a big heart, and that you aren’t afraid to let others see it. Showing your emotions is a sign of strength.
-Brigitte Nicole

2. I am not sulky

Highly sensitive people are also often described as sulky. People accuse them of taking offense if they go quiet or remove themselves from the situation if they are criticized.

But this is not necessarily a sign of taking offense or sulkiness. It’s just that sensitive people often need time to think things through. They may be feeling hurt, but they also want to process information to see what might be true and what might not before they react.

3. I am not attention–seeking

Highly sensitive people sometimes are accused of attention seeking. This may be because they react quite strongly to certain things. If they get upset, or go quiet or do anything that shows a reaction, they may be accused of being dramatic. In fact, the last thing HSP’s usually want is attention.

Mostly, they would rather feel things less intensely as it is often very uncomfortable. What they really need is patience as they process things. Something that might be easy for a less sensitive person to deal with could be much harder for a sensitive person.

4. I don’t hate people

Often highly sensitive people need to spend some time alone to get a break from the intense reactions they get from a variety of stimuli. This does not mean that they are shy or hate people. It has nothing to do with how sociable they are. Sometimes they just need a quiet space, with few distractions to rest their over-stimulated nervous systems.

5. I deserve respect

Highly sensitive people perceive things differently from others, but that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with them. They still deserve respect. Accusing someone of being overly sensitive or criticizing his or her sensitivity is disrespectful.

We are all different, but when we try to understand each other better, with patience and love, we can all learn from those with different traits from our own.

Closing thoughts

Describing someone as overly sensitive or too sensitive implies that there is something wrong with him or her. But there isn’t anything inherently wrong with being sensitive. In fact, it can be a gift.

Sensitive people are often empathetic, creative and artistic. Some have exceptional physical senses and can use these in fantastic ways, such as food critics, or perfumers. It can be helpful to the highly sensitive person to learn strategies that help them cope with their sensitivity.

However, the problems in society often begin when we expect everyone to fit into the same mold. It is often more helpful to accept ourselves and others with patience, learn to understand those who are different in some way and offer compassion rather than criticism whenever others are struggling.

Is there something you’d like others to know about your sensitive nature? Share your insights with us in the comments section below.

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Ax1464

    “Highly sensitive” is OK but “overly sensitive” is negative and bad? Does my finding that ridiculous make me highly sensitive or overly sensitive? I’m so confused.

    1. Ralf

      “Overly” implies “unnecessarily”, thus getting the connotation or association “bad”.
      I consider myself overly sensitive and i do not consider that a good trait. Not for me and not for the world around me.
      I do not consider myself weak at all, but i tend to envy those that seem to be a little more indifferent towards things than i generally am. Speaking of bad or negative traits: Indifference and envy are both far worse in my humble opinion.

  2. Pat

    What some HSP’s of my acquaintance do that frankly, is very rude, is when they insist that they know what I’m feeling. Worse still is they feel obligated to hound me to share my feelings with them. Take “no” for answer. Accept that even if your observation is correct, that doesn’t mean anyone is obligated to discuss it with you. It’s arrogant and makes unpleasant situations more difficult and diminishes pleasant ones.

    In fact, stating that you “feel more deeply” and have “rich, meaningful interior lives” is another way of looking down at other and stating that we are inferior. Yet so often you depend upon those who aren’t HSP to be steady and reliable. You dump on us. You conflate being sensitive with being more intelligent and guess what? We, the merely common, know when you talk down to us and we resent it. Immensely.

  3. Brian

    I remember going to play with my sister was playing a part I felt the part was overly emotional and negative I struggled to watch it as it was biting into I I could not do this if I was an actor it would tear me apart I had to bow my head down shielding my self In those days was very difficult although I could get used to it to a degree depending on the situation I’d walk into I will not hide my self away because of what we are unfortunately a lot do thinking it’s a mental illness

  4. Veronica

    Well firstly I’m nocturnal and now my eyes are the most sensitive organs I have at this time. I also find that I travel a lot in past memories and have defined them as passing through “roles” I’ve lived; I also have an older brother who is also highly sensitive and has his physical sensitivities with his ears. We both have dreams of people; since I’m an visual developer, I specialize in illusions in the arts and have now made peace with myself. But it hurts that I may not fit into anything in this world.

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