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High sensitivity

Definition, characteristics,
Challenges in everyday life

High sensitivity is a personality trait that is expressed through an intense perception of stimuli. Here you will find an overview of characteristics of high sensitivity, everyday challenges for highly sensitive people and tips on how to deal with them.

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What is high sensitivity?

High sensitivity is associated with a higher sensitivity or responsiveness to the environment and social stimuli. There is a genetic and biological basis for a person's sensitivity. For example, people with highly sensitive traits have been shown to have stronger brain responses related to consciousness, memory, self- and other-perception, and empathy.


High sensitivity is not a disorder or diagnosis, but a normal trait that occurs as part of a person's innate characteristics.

What are the characteristics of high sensitivity?

Highly sensitive people experience everything very intensely, have strong emotions and quickly withdraw when overwhelmed. Emotional exhaustion is the result. If you identify with the following statements, you are probably highly sensitive:

  • You feel everything very intensely and often have strong emotions

  • You tend to let stress in relationships or at work overwhelm you

  • You withdraw/isolate yourself when you are overwhelmed

  • You are a perfectionist or want to please everyone and you can be very self-critical

  • You feel more affected by busy places/large crowds, loud noises or strong smells than other people

  • You have difficulty with change and making decisions (especially under time pressure)

  • You need time for yourself to relax after a busy day or a social event

  • You find it difficult to let go of what has happened or been said

  • You often feel worried, anxious or emotionally exhausted and don’t know why

For a more accurate assessment, you can find a test on my website to find out if you are highly sensitive . Don't worry, this doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. According to research, high sensitivity, also called sensory processing sensitivity, is an innate trait that affects about 20% of the population and is also found in over 100 animal species, from fish to elephants.


Every highly sensitive person is unique and has their own type of sensitivity. However, research also shows that there are four characteristics that all highly sensitive people have in common.

Evolutionary theories suggest that sensory processing sensitivity evolved to ensure the survival of species. Highly sensitive people are more sensitive to opportunities and threats and are more responsive to their environment - they are more likely to pause and examine new situations first. Other benefits include social advantages, such as the ability of highly sensitive people to respond to other people's needs.


Each highly sensitive person is unique and has their own type of sensitivity. But research shows that there are four characteristics that all highly sensitive people have in common: depth of processing, overstimulation, emotional reactivity, and sensitivity to subtle stimuli.

1. Depth of processing

Research studies using fMRI brain scans have shown that the brains of highly sensitive people are more activated to the same stimuli than the brains of non-highly sensitive people - suggesting a greater depth of processing of the same information. They have a high level of self-awareness and an expanded perception of the world around them. This depth of processing includes things like deep rooted memory of events and seeing what is beyond the mind's eye. Research has shown that highly sensitive people think deeply, are interested in spiritual ideas, and are likely to do meaningful work.

2. Overstimulation

Highly sensitive people have a very sensitive nervous system, which means they can easily be overwhelmed or overstimulated by their environment. Everyone is influenced by their childhood experiences, but a highly sensitive person's childhood plays an even greater role - and this can have both positive and negative effects. Those who grew up in a nurturing and supportive environment are less likely to suffer from overwhelm, stress and anxiety later in life.

3. Emotional reactivity

Research has shown that highly sensitive people have more mirror neurons, which are responsible for empathy, and there is also more activity in the areas of the brain responsible for processing emotions. Highly sensitive people experience their emotions more intensely, and this can sometimes be overwhelming. Highly sensitive people have been shown to be deeply moved by art, nature, and connection with other people - their brains register these experiences with greater reward and more emotion.

4. Sensitivity to subtle stimuli

Highly sensitive people are more sensitive to subtle stimuli in their environment. This includes their physical surroundings and things like food, social events like large crowds or the moods and nonverbal cues of other people. They are also more sensitive to sensory stimuli like bright lights, noise or strong smells. Finally, they are also sensitive to subtle changes in their internal environment like thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.


Being highly sensitive is a true gift – if you know how to deal with it.

What are the challenges for highly sensitive people?

Considering that highly sensitive people are aware of everything around them and tend to process things deeply, it is easy for them to become overwhelmed or emotionally exhausted. Some common challenges that highly sensitive people may face if they have not been given the right tools and techniques to regulate their emotions include:

  • Overwhelm/overstimulation

  • Anxiety, depression, addictions

  • Shyness or social anxiety

  • Aversion to small talk or superficial relationships

  • Strong emotions (both good and bad)

  • Difficulty with changes or making decisions

  • The feeling of being misunderstood/isolated/alone

  • Stress from relationships or work

  • perfectionism

  • Setting priorities

  • Setting boundaries towards others (e.g. say "no")

This all sounds so negative, also because the term "highly sensitive" has a negative connotation in our society. But being highly sensitive does not mean that you are weak or somehow wrong.


Highly sensitive people simply have a more finely tuned nervous system than the rest of the population, which enables them to absorb and deeply process information and stimuli that most people do not even notice.

What are the positive aspects of high sensitivity?

Being highly sensitive is a real gift if you know how to deal with it. Highly sensitive people

  • are very intuitive and perceptive, often noticing nuances that others miss

  • are highly empathetic, compassionate and considerate of the feelings of others

  • are very connected to nature

  • resonate with a spiritual path or healing journey

  • Appreciate the little things in life

  • build deep friendships

  • are creative in one or more areas of life (art, music, writing and so on)

  • are quick learners and deep thinkers

  • thrive in a nurturing environment and have the potential to be great leaders and healers of this world

High sensitivity has so many positive aspects that dispel common myths. For example:

  • It's not about being introverted, because 30% of highly sensitive people are extraverted. Even if many highly sensitive people are introverted or enjoy spending time alone, this does not mean that they cannot also be extraverted.

  • It is not a disorder like autism, sensory processing disorder, attention deficit disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. There may be some similarities between these traits, but it is important to differentiate between them.

  • High sensitivity is not more common in women; the percentage of men and women is about the same. It can even be more difficult for men to identify with the traits or acknowledge their sensitivity because we often see it as a "stigma" to be sensitive as a man.



Am I a highly sensitive person?

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