Describing the many benefits of being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) might come across as peddled optimism, especially if you are an HSP.
Perhaps people have repeatedly told you you’re “so emotional,” “can’t take a joke,” or are just “tooo darn sensitive.”
As much as the judgmental lack of understanding stings, you’re not alone. Many HSPs hear the same things.
But please hear this hint of consolation: Knee-jerk criticisms and platitudes are really statements about those dishing them out, not about you.
Those who don’t understand (or even seek to understand) High Sensitivity often need to cover for their own insensitivity. And what more convenient way to do that than to project the burden of understanding onto you?
(Not sure if you’re Highly Sensitive? Take this quiz to find out.)
What is a Highly Sensitive Person?
Highly Sensitive People experience the world differently than non-HSPs do.
HSPs feel deeply and are easily moved by little things.
Environments with a lot of stimuli (loud noise, bright lights, strong smells) can be especially stressful due to overstimulation.
The natural ability to think and feel deeply means HSPs can easily get lost in their rich inner worlds. They enjoy reflecting deeply about life – so much so that downtime is necessary to refuel and recalibrate.
HSPs’ brains process emotions, thoughts, and sensory input deeply because their nervous systems are uniquely wired. (And science provides evidence for why and how HSPs are neurologically wired differently than non-HSPs.)
There is no “nervous system hierarchy.” Neither HSP nor non-HSP is superior to the other. They’re just…different.
At the same time, there exist what HSPs (and non-HSPs in-the-know) consider to be benefits of being a Highly Sensitive Person.
Some of those benefits, as you will see, are nothing short of remarkable…even unbelievable.
What is “DOES”?
Understanding the characteristics of High Sensitivity may help you to recognize and celebrate the unbelievable benefits of being a Highly Sensitive Person.
A simple way to remember the defining characterizations of High Sensitivity is by the acronym “DOES.”
D: Depth of Processing
Highly Sensitive People tend to think a lot. And their thinking is deep.
They’re also reflective and take longer to make decisions.
If you’re an HSP, you will quickly recall being told you “overthink” things or “take things too seriously.”
HSPs are “intense” and feel their feelings deeply.
As a child, you may have been told you’re an “old soul” – usually a nod to perceived maturity for your age. Especially in comparison to other children.
Highly Sensitive People notice a lot. They naturally pick up on others’ feelings (even if unexpressed), features in the environment (e.g. that lovely lavender scent), and internal experiences (e.g. their own delight).
As a result, a sense of “too muchness” and overwhelm is common. It’s not so much that HSPs have a lower threshold for stress. It’s that they have so much processing going on all the time that overarousal happens sooner and more easily.
E: Empathy/Emotion Responsiveness
Highly Sensitive People have strong emotional responses to all kinds of situations.
As an HSP, you’re highly attuned to others’ feelings and can sense others’ “vibes.”
You may feel feelings that belong to people you’re standing with and who don’t even have awareness of their own emotions. You feel their energy and “take it on.”
You’re deeply moved by nature, music, and the arts. You are often easily moved to the point of tears when you encounter something poignant. Regardless of how simple it may seem or whether anyone else notices what has moved you.
Empathy is another “E” aspect of High Sensitivity, and is one of the most beautiful, socially necessary benefits of being a Highly Sensitive Person.
As an HSP, you’re extremely in tune with emotions and may even have been asked if you’re clairvoyant or psychic.
Another example of empathy is your aversion to injustice and torture.
Horror films aren’t your idea of entertainment. Even commercials to raise money for abandoned puppies can be too emotionally weighty. If you look back in your history, you can probably draw connections between terrors you have witnessed and the nightmares you have had (and may still have).
S: Sensory Specific Sensitivity
HSPs are more attuned to sights, sounds, smells, and tactile features of the environment than are non-HSPs.
For instance, you notice and are easily touched by sunrises, the breeze, and birds chirping.
You are also more easily affected by bright lights, loud sounds, textures, and flavors.
The effect could be in either direction – pleasant or unpleasant. What registers is the intensity of sensitivity to the specific circumstance or stimulation.
Understanding the trait of High Sensitivity is like hitting ‘refresh’ on the keyboard.
The understanding brings the benefits of being a Highly Sensitive Person to light. The benefits are definitely there, yet need to be recognized to be maximized.
The most common reaction to learning about “DOES” and the associated benefits of being a Highly Sensitive Person is something like, “Oh wow! My whole life makes sense now!”
For HSPs, learning about the trait is a complete game-changer. Most HSPs have felt judged for being “too sensitive.” Or have been treated as if their sensitivity is a weakness or flaw.
And yet, it’s the opposite that is true: The powerful and amazing benefits of being a Highly Sensitive Person are a strength, a gift.
In our fast-paced, extraversion-valuing culture, advantages to being Highly Sensitive may not be apparent. And that’s one reason that recognizing the upside of High Sensitivity and leveraging its features are so important.
Here are 10 remarkable benefits of being a Highly Sensitive Person:
HSPs are readers of people’s energy. To the point of people asking if we are psychic because of our depth of intuition.
HSPs “just know” things that other people who aren’t Highly Sensitive don’t know.
Because of innate creativity and a tendency to introspect, HSPs can be hilarious – especially in a quirky, nerdy, punny way.
The intrinsic empathy HSPs have is refreshing. HSPs are naturally phenomenal at caring.
They can’t, for example, watch a scene in which a person or animal is being hurt. They’re well aware of how much suffering there is in the world. Being a witness to another’s suffering is a call to end it, not find entertainment in it.
Systems of oppression and social injustice concern them greatly. Long after observations and relevant conversations have ended.
4. Environmental awareness
HSPs seek refuge in nature, where every sense beautifully activates. Sounds of birds, warmth of the gentle breeze, scents of flowers. It’s almost like being immersed in a scene on high-def television.
Another example of the way HSPs value nature is their respect for it. It’s safe to say there may never have been an HSP who has thrown plastic bottles onto the beach or who dismisses climate change!
5. Appreciation for the little things
The saying, “God is in the details” is, to the HSP, a mantra for being.
You’re astutely aware of such microscopic details that others may not even notice what you are reveling in. You linger on the variety of oval shapes of raindrops on your windshield. And the way the flower bud sways in the breeze.
You’re that rarity who, without struggle, discovers “a world in a grain of sand.” And a microscopic photo of a tiny bug’s face will only serve to expand your compassion to all life.
A benefit of being a Highly Sensitive Person is that even “the little things” in life are not little things. “Everything contains everything.”
One benefit of having such a rich internal world is HSPs’ innate creativity.
To the HSP, there’s no other way to exist. Creativity is our natural state. To ignore it is to go against the essence of who we are. (So say the Highly Sensitive ones.)
The world around the HSP takes joy in the creativity that she sees as simply “being who she is.”
She makes the world a more beautiful place because she elevates all those microscopic details that others miss. She glorifies them, brings awareness to them. And makes them desirable and approachable to an otherwise mundane world.
In a nutshell, the HSP draws others into the gifts of heightened awareness and appreciation of the little things in life.
The active imagination of HSPs is noteworthy. The creative mind is the “engine” of the HSP. Ideas may spark at any moment.
“Being a sensitive empath is a beautiful thing as an artist…”
“I am very sensitive to the interactions I have with people. Whether it’s a momentary glance in an elevator, or a deep philosophical conversation over dinner, or a brush-by in a café, I feel attuned and affected by the subtle exchanges that pass seemingly benignly between us as human ships. Being a sensitive empath is a beautiful thing as an artist, and it fosters a deep burning curiosity about why we do the things we do.”
― Alanis Morissette
7. Deep friendships
Quality over quantity for sure. HSPs tend to have fewer friends than their non-HSP peers, but the friendships they have run deep. Very deep. They are meaningful and often long-lasting.
8. Desire to nurture
With the innate empathy of HSPs, nurturing others comes naturally. Having a sixth sense of what others need also lends itself naturally to a joy of nurturing – children, animals, the environment, or people in general.
9. Skillful at observing minor differences and details.
HSPs naturally scan the environment like Sherlock Holmes, often without even realizing it.
Let’s say, for example, you ask what the people at the table next to you ordered from the menu. No problem! The HSP will remind you in vivid detail.
When an HSP looks at something like fruit, for example, he notices nuance in color, shape, size, and other features.
10. Love of nature
The likelihood of an HSP littering or walking by a plastic bottle on the beach without picking it up is tiny.
What is likely is that an HSP will be at the beach early in the morning to witness the sun rise or at dusk to watch the sun set.
There are tradeoffs with just about every aspect of who each of us is.
In other words, there are pluses and minuses to nearly all personality characteristics.
Why not discover ways for your High Sensitivity to work for you?
Imagine if you and your High Sensitivity were on your own side?
In our go-go-go, win-win-win culture, many benefits of High Sensitivity are unappreciated. But that doesn’t mean you have to lack appreciation for being Highly Sensitive.
Good news! You can intentionally create your own space for appreciating how you are wired.
How? By being aware of your needs and prepared for hiccups. Finding ways to protect yourself from feeling overwhelmed. Getting enough sleep, and not letting your blood sugar destabilize.
Celebrate Your Sensitivity
Being sensitive is not a bad thing! Your hard-wired nature brings you benefits of joy and happiness. Your awareness of and empathy for other people are sources of strength.
You naturally wonder why people and things are the way they are. You’ve likely wondered why so few other people are as enchanted by the mysteries of the universe as you are.
Lead with your enchantment. The world desperately needs its vibrant inspiration.
Be kind to yourself. Make a plan to take care of yourself in stressful situations. Celebrate your sensitivity each day.
Dr. Elayne Daniels is a psychologist in the Boston area whose passion is to help people celebrate their High Sensitivity…and shine their light!