Are you HSP?

Half a year ago I discovered that I am HSP – this means that I have a highly sensitive personality trait. This was quite surprising to me because nobody ever called me too sensitive, more to the contrary. What triggered the insight was my sensitivity to noise and the feeling of being half-deaf in group settings (which seems contradictory). Once I did the self-test in the book by Elaine Aron, it became very obvious – I am HSP. When I read the first two chapters of her book during a flight, I ended up with a list of more than 20 items, unrelated things that I knew about myself and that were mentioned as being typical for HSP. I had lots of aha-moments. Since then I read several other books and discovered more about myself. I also discovered over the last few months that all my best friends are HSP. Interesting!

Here some examples of things mentioned in the self test on Elaine Aron’s webpage:

  • being easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input
  • being aware of subtleties in my environment
  • being affected by other people’s moods
  • feeling the need to withdraw during busy days
  • being overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by
  • having a rich, complex inner life
  • being uncomfortable by loud noises
  • being deeply moved by the arts or music
  • trying hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things

For the complete test go here.

Excerpts from HSP descriptions found online:

“HSP is a normal biological individual difference in personality and physiology inherited by about 15 to 20% of just about all higher animals. Those with this trait notice more subtleties and process information more deeply.
“Anyone noticing more subtleties would logically also have to be more easily overwhelmed than others by prolonged, intense, or chaotic sound, sights, etc. (I think that this is probably similar to the problem people have with hearing aids, the natural filtering of important from unimportant sounds is missing and therefore it often becomes overwhelming.)
“The difference is quite profound, affecting everything HSPs do and many bodily responses—for example, as a group we are more sensitive to pain, caffeine, medications, temperature, light, and hunger. We are more reflective, learn more slowly but thoroughly, and tend to be unusually conscientious.
“About two thirds of HSPs do reduce the stimulation in their lives by being introverted—preferring a few close friends rather than being in groups or meeting strangers. But about a third are extraverts. (

“Being a HSP isn’t a flaw. It’s actually a genetic character trait that can be used to your advantage. (

Based on the insights from reading Aron’s book, I started to observe myself and realized that I am actually often “over-stimulated” (term used by Elaine Aron) by sensory stimulants when I previously thought that I am just tired, stressed out, peopled-out, etc. or just being a typical introvert. HSP are also very perceptive to other people’s emotions which is one reason that they easily feel overwhelmed in group situations. I probably experience that more often than I originally thought.

I realized that I have been pushing myself too hard over many years, by trying to be like “normal” people, support as much noise, stress, people, work load, etc. as others. On the other hand, I also discovered that God has helped me make adjustments in my life over the last few years that are just right for HSPs and helped me ‘survive’ in the high-people and high-noise environment of Africa.

  • I know I need more sleep than others do and starting the day with an alarm clock is not good for me.
  • HSP in general need a lot of downtime. I am glad that I have adapted my day to this need before knowing that I am HSP.
  • I need a long time of fellowship with God in the morning before being ready to start the day. For me this means spending time in his presence, not the usual checking off of an activity called ‘quiet time’ consisting of structured prayer times and reading the Bible according to a plan.
  • Time to unwind in the evening after having been out is very important for me.
  • I need a good routine, including regular times for eating, a nap at lunch time and physical exercises.
  • HSP in general have a hard time adapting to change. That explains why I find traveling very difficult and it takes me fairly long to settle back into my routine or adapt to new circumstances.
  • I am working better in a quiet and uninterrupted environment.
  • I can’t handle constant exposure to music, talking or other noise.
  • I drink a lot of water, much more than others, which Elaine Aron mentions as a way to reduce stress. This explains why I can’t go very long without drinking water, even in colder climates. The more I am stressed, the more water I need.
  • HSP are profound thinkers. They have an innate preference to process information more deeply, to compare the present situation as completely as possible to your knowledge of similar situations in the past. This explains why it takes me such a long time to think through things, including analyzing movies or TV shows. The same applies to theoretical problems or tensions in relationships. It also explains why it takes me so long to formulate my contribution to a discussion, when others have already moved on to the next topic.
  • I am realizing that I need to trust my intuition more. So far, when I did not have a good reason or name for what I felt, I disregarded it. Thinking back, I realize that there are many situations where I correctly sensed something but did not pay attention.
  • I enjoy being together with a few close friends more than attending a big party. One reason is the higher noise level, the second reason is that there is often no opportunity to go deep in conversations with people.
  • I think I am a good observers and I am now learning that I do often make correct deductions from the things observed.
  • Being HSP also means being very gifted in different areas (theory building, analysis, artistic expressions, empathy, ..), even though HSPs often underestimate their abilities and sell themselves badly. But these gifts can only develop when we manage to create or find an HSP friendly context. This is an ongoing challenge.

Typical for an HSP, I am very detail oriented and conscientious – which is why it is hard for me to stop here with the list before I have mentioned all the relevant points. 😉 But this is definitely enough for a starter. If you are interested I can recommend reading Elains Aron’s book.

Here is a list of resources about HSP:
Online introduction
If you want to know whether you are HSP, do the self test.

The first and most well known book on the subject is from Elaine Aron “The Highly Sensitive Person.” She also wrote several others, for different sub-fields – child raising, relationships / love, work environment.

A very interesting treatment of the topic from a Christian point of view comes from Carol Brown: “The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity.”

There are several websites that offer help and/or networking for HSPs

There are also several Facebook groups on the topic.

HSP is sometimes misinterpreted as ADD or Asberger Syndrom /Autism. Here is one article that addresses this question.

Now I am, of course, very curious who of my readers is HSP or just discovered it through my blog post.

3 thoughts on “Are you HSP?

  1. There are several things on the list that resonate for me, but I’m not ready to claim the tag “Highly” Sensitive. It’s good though to know that there are many people who share traits that I recognize in myself.

    Of course, being “Moderately” Sensitive, if that’s what I am, interacts with my other traits and characteristics as well to make that fascinating blend that makes me, me.

  2. How curious that people who tend to be sensitive to the moods of others, and to be attentive to means of promoting their comfort (HSP) have been confused with people who exhibit a lower capacity for empathy, including a blindness to the moods of others (Asperger’s syndrome)!

  3. @Douglas, do the self-test and find out how ‘highly’ or ‘moderately’ sensitive you are. Like myself, you don’t need to *feel* highly sensitive to be HSP.
    As to the confusion with Asperger, you are right that seems strange, but empathy – though crucial – is the only difference, and the other sensitivities (noise, smells, etc) are more obvious.

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