What Is the Meaning of Being Sensitive?

Reviewed on 3/17/2021
Sensitivity is a broad term used to describe one's response to the environment
Sensitivity is a broad term used to describe one’s response to the environment

Sensitivity is a broad term used to describe one’s response to the environment, either physical or emotional. For example, sensitivity to cold means there is a decreased tolerance to cold, sensitivity to pain means a person has a relatively lower pain threshold, and sensitivity to pollen means developing an allergic reaction to pollen. This is the same with emotions. Being sensitive is being kind, caring, able to pick up on the feelings of others, and aware of their needs and behaving in a way that helps them feel good.

Being sensitive is often a good thing. It helps respond to the environment and people. It helps us being alert of the danger. Sensitivity is also the basis of sympathy and empathy. Being sensitive helps build and maintain personal and professional relationships. It helps in decision-making, personally and professionally. For example, introducing a new rule with sensitivity means being considerate of how it will affect others and how they will react to it. However, being overly sensitive can have its drawbacks. It can affect relationships, work, and mental health. Highly sensitive people are often negatively described as being “high strung.” Highly sensitive person (HSP) is a term for people who are thought to have an increased or deeper response to physical, emotional, or social stimuli. It is also called sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). HSP is not a diagnosable medical condition; it is a personality trait that has its own strengths and challenges. Highly sensitive people are believed to make up around 20% of the general population.

Being an HSP has strengths and challenges. Highly sensitive people can get offended easily by people who mean no harm or who are trying their best to be kind or just joking. It is also possible to overreact to daily stressors or simple relationship issues. Highly sensitive people don’t necessarily imagine negative motives or situations when they are not there. It is just that they are more sensitive and perceive them more easily or may be affected more deeply by negative experiences than some people, which is not necessarily a weakness. The strengths of highly sensitive people, their kind and caring nature, and being empathic and sympathetic make them extremely likable by others and good friends. Their deeply caring nature may often be taken advantage of, which can result in negative emotions.

How do you know if you are a highly sensitive person?

A highly sensitive person (HSP) would have often heard the words “you’re too sensitive,” or “don’t think so much,” or “you’re overreacting.” However, these comments heard are often subjective, and they may not always be true.

There are several positive and negative personality traits or characteristics seen in an HSP; they include:

  • Quick to empathize and sympathize
  • Well aware of the feelings of others
  • Wanting to behave in a way that is appropriate and makes others feel good
  • Being extremely helpful, caring, and kind
  • Taking care of the needs of others
  • Being grateful for everything
  • Having a close relationship with others and caring deeply about them
  • Avoiding violent movies, TV shows, or news because they feel too intense and result in an emotional discomfort
  • Being deeply moved by beauty, either expressed in art, nature, or the human spirit or sometimes even a good commercial
  • Being overwhelmed by sensory stimuli such as noise, big crowds, lights, or uncomfortable clothing
  • Easily offended
  • Reacting aggressively to trivial matters
  • Worrying excessively of what others think
  • Excessive fear of rejection
  • Difficulty accepting criticism
  • Setting high standards for oneself and feeling overwhelmed when they are not met
  • Bursting into tears easily and often
  • Having a need for downtime and to retreat to a quiet room alone, despite having a busy schedule
  • Feeling exhausted because of taking on other people’s feelings
  • Feeling overwhelmed under pressure for time, for example, during exams or deadlines at work
  • Overthinking and overreacting to things
  • Difficulty letting go of negative emotions
  • Difficulty coping with change, such as change of routine or in environment
  • Having a rich and complex inner life, complete with deep thoughts and strong feelings that go with it
  • Feeling self-conscious, anxious, or depressed

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Coping as a highly sensitive person

Being highly sensitive has its challenges that should be addressed because they can affect the quality of life and mental health. The principle of coping is by dissociating from the sensory stimuli that feel overwhelming and identifying and avoiding triggers.

Some ways to manage the challenges of being a highly sensitive person (HSP) include:

  • Adding positivity by creating more positive experiences to life such as doing new activities, pursuing hobbies, having pets
  • Avoiding toxic people and considering switching jobs in case of a toxic work environment
  • Stress management to cope with daily stress and other stressful events
  • Avoiding stressors such as violent or disturbing movies, videos, news, and certain people who trigger stress
  • Learning to say no; highly sensitive people have a difficult time saying no to other people’s demands, including unreasonable demands, which can become overwhelming
  • Learning to detach when needed because an HSP usually burdens themselves with other people’s feelings
  • Setting up a safe space such as creating a soothing environmental home or work to distress
  • Seeking the help of a psychologist, a counselor, or an elder can help deal with stress, relationship issues, and other triggers

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References
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886905004228

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