What Does it Mean to be a Highly Sensitive Person?

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Do you find yourself feeling easily overwhelmed from hectic environments or busy schedules? Do you feel exhausted when over stimulated and feel the need to withdraw? Do you have a rich and complex inner world? Do you experience your emotions more deeply than others, or worry that you’re “too emotional”? If these sound like they fit you, it’s possible that you may be a highly sensitive person, otherwise known as an HSP.

Also known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), HSP’s experience acute physical, emotional, and mental responses to their direct surroundings and inner experiences. According to Dr. Elaine Aron, the author of The Highly Sensitive Person, roughly 20% of the population shares this personality trait! Being highly sensitive is not a disorder or a diagnosis; your high sensitivity is a trait related to your temperament, meaning that what you feel and how you feel it is normal.

HSP’s have an innate biological tendency to have a deeper response to stimuli. Dr. Elaine Aron developed the acronym DOES to describe the ways in which HSP’s function and thrive within their environment.

Depth of Processing – The overall foundation of this trait is the depth in which an HSP processes information. HSP’s weigh out all of their options and examine them carefully, so they may take longer to come to a decision. HSPs are observers by nature, and they take in their surroundings and experiences and process them deeply, noticing big and small details.

Overstimulation – Considering the depth of processing characteristic of this trait, overstimulation is a common experience for an HSP where they need to tap out and withdraw. While in situations where there is an overwhelming amount of stimuli to process so deeply, it makes sense for an HSP to feel worn out in busy environments and schedules. HSP’s may need more frequent self-care routines than non-HSP’s.

Emotional Reactivity – HSP’s are intuitive about the way those around them feel, and often adopt another person’s emotional experience through their strength of empathy. The mirror neurons that are responsible for feeling empathy are so active that sometimes the awareness of someone else’s experience and their personal experience becomes difficult to distinguish.

Sensing Subtleties – Considering that HSP’s process all of the details in their environment, they are aware of small changes or shifts in the mood of a room. HSP’s don’t necessarily take in subtle information quicker than a non-HSP, but rather they spend more time carefully understanding the subtle changes around them.


Dr. Elaine Aron developed a self-test to determine if you believe you might be a highly sensitive person, which you can find on her website


Authored by: Helen Pieracacos, LPC-Intern 

Michael Primeaux