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The Secret Life of a Highly Sensitive Person

And why the trait can actually be an advantage

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What High Sensitivity Is (And What It Isn’t)

Over the years, I’ve come to realize what a powerful advantage sensitivity can be. Today, as a coach and writer, empathy is part of my job description, and I view my sensitivity as a gift. But it wasn’t always that way. I used to beat myself up and feel like I was operating by a different set of rules. That’s another common experience for HSPs: internally struggling with self-doubt and low esteem because you feel broken.


How to Tell If You’re a Highly Sensitive Person

When I first encountered a description of what it means to be an HSP, it was like looking at myself in the mirror. I hadn’t realized there was a specific term to describe my way of perceiving the world. It brought me incredible relief to know I wasn’t alone.

  • You have a vibrant inner life. For you, being alone is grounding, not lonely.
  • You think before you act. This means you excel at strategy and planning — that is, if you can move past second-guessing yourself and perfectionism-induced procrastination.
  • You are conscientious and prepare, which makes you trustworthy and reliable. But if you’re caught off-guard in a meeting or conversation, you get easily overstimulated and may recoil.
  • You’re able to sense conflict and mitigate it before it becomes a problem (and often before others are even aware of it). This is one reason HSPs are great problem solvers and team members.
  • You have a low annoyance threshold. It’s particularly hard for you to work in noisy (sirens going by are the worst), overly bright, or aesthetically abrasive environments. You have trouble concentrating if you feel slightly uncomfortable. You also might be extra-sensitive to fragrances or coarse fabrics.
  • You love connecting with people, but at a big party you’re most likely to be found in a quiet corner chatting with a few people, getting into deep, far-ranging topics (or hanging out with the resident dog or cat).
  • You are deeply moved by art, literature, or music and often unexplainably affected after witnessing the pain or suffering of other human beings. This is why HSPs tend to excel in careers like medicine, teaching, and even social entrepreneurship, but it also means HSPs need to be mindful about the news and content they consume.
  • You cry more easily, both from sadness and happiness.

The Stigma of Being Sensitive

Being sensitive is stigmatized in some cultures and not others. For instance, according to Aron, studies showed that shy and sensitive children in China were “among those most chosen by others to be friends or playmates.” In Western societies, it’s common to view high sensitivity as a flaw. Crying, frequently feeling deep emotions, or needing to retreat and recharge are seen as weaknesses, whether in the context of the workplace, romantic relationships, or beyond. This is particularly tricky for men who face intense bias and shame when it comes to being open and honest about their sensitivity.

Melody Wilding, LMSW

Written by

Executive coach to sensitive high-achievers. Professor. Feat. NYT, NBC, CNN. Get your free copy of The 5-Minute Inner Critic Makeover: melodywilding.com/guide

Melody Wilding, LMSW

Written by

Executive coach to sensitive high-achievers. Professor. Feat. NYT, NBC, CNN. Get your free copy of The 5-Minute Inner Critic Makeover: melodywilding.com/guide

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