The MLRA Therapy Blog

Insights and ideas from the therapist team at Meghan L. Reitz and Associates.

Highly Sensitive Person - Is it Real?


Today, everyone is ready to slap a label on just about everything. The term “Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)” is one you may have been hearing more about lately, but knowing how powerful a label can be, we hesitate to start incorporating it into our vocabulary without further investigation.

Dr. Elaine N. Aron began researching the personality trait “highly sensitive person” started in the early 1990s. Dr. Aron research indicates that 15 - 20% of the population is classified as an HSP. She describes HSP as an innate, not learned, trait. It can be classified as a survival strategy - observing before acting. However, since HSPs are more aware of details, they can lead to HSPs becoming easily overwhelmed. According to Dr. Aron, this trait is not a new discovery but often confused with being “shy” or “introverted.”

Traits of HSP:

 A “Highly Sensitive Person” is someone who has high sensory processing sensitivity. Examples of an HSP include:

  • Easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby
  • Flustered when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time
  • Actively avoiding violent movies and TV shows
  • On busy days, needing to withdraw into bed, a darkened room, or some other place where the person can have privacy and relief from the situation
  • Arranging your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations
  • Noticing or enjoying delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art
  • Having a rich and complex inner life
  • Described by parents or teachers as sensitive or shy when person was a child.

If the majority of these traits sounds like you, you may be an HSP. Take the self-test to see if you are a highly sensitive person or if you have highly sensitive child:

The Positives:

Initially, the term “highly sensitive person” can be seen as negative. But there are positives associated with it including:

  • Sensory Detail - HSPs take in more information than other people, which can increase the richness of life (i.e. enjoying the differences in hues, flavors of food, sounds of music)
  • Awareness of subtle differences in meaning - allows the individual to be more cautious about taking action and to more carefully consider options and possible outcomes
  • Emotional Awareness - more aware of inner emotional states
  • Creativity - the high sensitivity fosters creativity
  • Greater Empathy - HSPs tend to have greater empathy because they have more awareness of other’s emotions.

Managing It:

The brain of HSPs work differently than others. Therefore, it can be important to be aware of this trait as it can lead to erratic behavior and drive you crazy. If you determine that you are an HSP, below are some tips to help manage the increased sensitivity:

  • Take care of yourself - make sure you get adequate sleep, eat healthy,and limit caffeine
  • Utilize noise reducing headphones - provides the ability to control your setting and helps to maintain peace
  • Have a space and time to decompress - allow yourself the time and space that is quiet and relaxing
  • Provide yourself adequate time to get things done - avoiding the feeling of being rushed allows an HSP to feel less overwhelmed in an overwhelming world
  • Keep the lights low - minimizes light simulation
  • Get things done at off hours - allows an HSP to avoid crowds and the noise stimulation
  • Surround yourself with beauty and nature - it is important to take time to be in setting that are conducive to a HSP’s needs

As with any self-diagnosis, don’t over-examine the label but use this self-knowledge as a way to better manage your day-to-day activities and regulate your moods. If you feel like you are experiencing Highly Sensitive Person traits and struggling to manage it, then seek professional help of a counselor. They can talk you through better management and coping skills so that the HSP in you won’t interrupt your life, but making it better!


Kelsey Wechter, MS, LPCKelsey Wechter is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Meghan L Reitz & Associates. She provides experienced counseling to children, adolescents, and adults to identify issues they are experiencing and overcome problems through a variety of innovative, evidence-based strategies. Learn more about Kelsey HERE.

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