Are you a highly sensitive person? Or a covert narcissist?

Photo by: John-Mark Kuznietsov

Have you always reacted to situations differently than others? Are you often plagued by a sudden and overwhelming wave of emotion? Have you cried over something knowing full well that it was not worth tears? If these scenarios sound familiar, you may be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).

Before the mid-90s, there was no recognition for HSPs, so it’s still a relatively misunderstood term. Most people hear the label “Highly Sensitive Person” and think it’s a way to describe someone who can’t take a joke or cries too easily.

While being easily offended and highly emotional are traits found in an HSP, it’s nowhere near that simple. Between 15 to 20 percent of the population struggle with a constant hyper-awareness of everything around them.

Put simply, HSPs process sensory input (smells, sounds, emotions, etc.) more deeply than everyone else. HSPs have more sensitive internal physiological reactions, meaning they have strong gut instincts and immediate responses to situations or people.

But since we know so little about the traits that make up an HSP, people that show these characteristics are often misunderstood. They are incorrectly referred to as weak, insecure, needy, or in worst case scenarios, a covert narcissist.

Highly Sensitive People Are NOT Covert Narcissists

Narcissism is one of popular culture’s most misused personality disorders. It’s an easy insult to hurl when someone is passive aggressively selfish, arrogant, and dismissive of others.

I recently explained the seven traits of a covert narcissist and how they greatly differ from the well-known traits of a traditional narcissist. But because the covert narcissist is mainly characterized by worry, insecurity, and vulnerability, the personality disorder overlaps the traits of an HSP.

BUT. Repeat after me: Highly Sensitive People are not covert narcissists.

HSPs aren’t even on the narcissism scale. In fact, they’re basically the opposite of narcissists, even if they do show some of the same outward traits.

So let’s take a look at some of the traits on the narcissism scale and compare them to what an HSP would believe or feel.

My feelings are easily hurt by ridicule or the slighting remarks of others.

Narcissist: The person ridiculing them must be too stupid to see their worth.
HSP: An HSP feels everything more intensely and takes everything to heart.

When I enter a room, I often become self-conscious and feel that the eyes of others are upon me.

Narcissist: A narcissist believes that they are the most important person in every room, so why wouldn’t everyone be looking at them?
HSP: An HSP is hyper-aware of their surroundings, so they notice every little thing when they walk into a room.

I often interpret the remarks of others in a personal way.

Narcissist: Because they think the world literally revolves around them, a narcissist believes that any comment made is a reflection or based on them.
HSP: Since HSPs feels everything more deeply, they immediately react to anything that is said, particularly a critical comment. An HSP starts to think back to why someone would say this, how their own behavior impacted such a thought, and so on and so on.

These three examples demonstrate how although the covert narcissist and HSP may appear to have similar traits on the outside, they stem from polar opposite beliefs on the inside.

Characteristics Of A Highly Sensitive Person

There are also a number of traits of a Highly Sensitive Person that aren’t close to anything a covert narcissist would think or feel. Here are just some of the characteristics of an HSP:

  • You greatly enjoy alone time, and often need it to decompress after social interactions.
  • You are intensely affected by other people’s emotions.
  • You are detail-oriented and consider yourself to be a perfectionist.
  • You have a low tolerance for loud noise, glaring lights, strong odors and intense environments or situations.
  • You are extremely conscientious and often burn yourself out by working too hard.
  • Your gut instincts usually turn out to be accurate.
  • There’s no such thing as TMI for you — coping with intense emotions and situations are your bread and butter.
  • Getting a good night’s sleep is your personal Everest. You have trouble shutting down your brain from the overexertion of the day’s events.
  • You cry. A lot. When you’re happy or when you’re sad, the tears flow freely for you.
  • You’re a problem-solver. Your family and friends turn to you because they know you are always there to listen with an empathetic ear.

An HSP is highly attuned to the world around them, while a covert narcissist believes they’re the only person that matters.

Are you a Highly Sensitive Person?

It may be exhausting to be so on edge to what others feel or say; if you are around happy people, you will feel great! But if you’re around drama, you will feel stressed and anxious. If you witness the mistreatment of a person or animal, you will feel devastated.

But remember that being an HSP is far from a burden. While it may take some getting used to, you have been blessed with an ability to feel things others can’t feel. You have a creative mind, a natural kindness, and you won’t always feel overwhelmed by your acute senses.

Note how you react to situations and then learn from the experience. With a little bit of patience, you will find your balance and start to appreciate everything that comes with being a Highly Sensitive Person. Do you think you’re an HSP?



Chicago transplant living in San Diego and writing about relationships, psychology, and anything else that wanders into my mind.

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Meredith Kavanagh

Chicago transplant living in San Diego and writing about relationships, psychology, and anything else that wanders into my mind.