Have you ever been told that you are “too sensitive”?
Revealing that you are hurt by such a statement only serves to strengthen the other person’s (and maybe your own) opinion of your personality. You have probably suspected this about yourself for years, but still wonder: How can I know for sure if I am a hypersensitive person? And if so, is there anything I can do to make life a little easier?
Traits of a Hypersensitive Person
Below is a list of some of the common traits seen in hypersensitive people; as you read through, tick any that you feel apply to you.
- Find that you are easily distressed by situations where you feel you are being judged by others (eg being watched as you complete a task, taking a timed test);
- Feel overwhelmed by strong sensory stimulation (eg loud noises, bright lights, crowds);
- Consider that you have stronger emotional reactions than others;
- Feel uneasy with change and unfamiliar circumstances;
- Have difficulty regulating emotions;
- Need more assurance from others;
- Get nervous easily, suffer from chronic stress;
- Feel awkward in a team environment, and usually avoid large social groups;
- Feel more comfortable in private and quiet places after a busy day;
- Have a reputation for being highly conscientious and extremely polite;
- Remember hearing yourself described as “sensitive”, “irritable”, or “shy” by parents or teachers;
- Pick up easily on the “vibe” in a room or meeting, and the thoughts and moods of others;
- Take longer than most to get to know others, or adapt to a new environment;
- Find you are extremely sensitive to criticism, or perhaps easily offended?
If you have ticked several of the above criteria, you may be what is known as a hypersensitive person.
Being hypersensitive, or over sensitive, is an innate trait. Like every other personality trait, it is something we are born with; we all inherit a mixture of the “good” and “bad”.
As you can see from the list above, hypersensitive people have a number of traits that are highly valued: they are conscientious, excellent with details and have a lot of empathy with others. On the other hand, they are more emotionally vulnerable and likely experience psychological distress more often than others.
Becoming aware of your innate traits means that you can develop any areas of weakness, and maximise your potential by utilising your strengths wherever possible. Whether you are a hypersensitive person, have leadership (some might say domineering!) tendencies, or are laid back to the point of being comatose, taking steps to manage any extremes is vital if you want to enjoy positive relationships, and live a more fulfilled life.
Help for the Hypersensitive Person
Fortunately, there is a number of strategies that have proven to be helpful in the reduction and management of the physical hyper arousal symptoms and emotional reactivity, commonly found in hypersensitive people.
For people who frequently feel overwhelmed by the environment, the state of hyper arousal becomes “normal”, to the point that they usually do not notice the differences between their relaxed and tense states. Therapy can help by equipping the individual with methods of relaxation that enable them to firstly recognise tension in themselves, and then learn how to release that tension from the muscles. Research has shown that self soothing strategies and meditation can also be effective.
Handling Feedback and Criticism
One of the goals of therapy for a hypersensitive person, is to be able to receive feedback without over-reacting. Due to their innate need to “get things right”, highly sensitive individuals are likely to perceive any feedback as criticism, becoming overwhelmed by a broad range of emotions such as powerlessness, shame and anger, feeling falsely accused or wrongly done by, or being fearful of being judged or falling short of expectations.
However, not all feedback is criticism, and truly constructive criticism, when accepted in the spirit in which it has been offered, can help us learn and grow. How an individual interprets comments from others has a huge bearing on how much emotional distress they experience. By learning to interpret feedback more constructively, the hypersensitive individual will gain a more balanced view about feedback, and thus experience less emotional distress.
There are many benefits to learning to better manage a hypersensitive personality – from reduced stress and anxiety levels, to enhancing personal relationships – all of which will contribute to improved health and wellbeing.
Author: Claire Pang, B Psych (Hons), Masters of Clinical Psychology.
Claire’s work in the hospital environment, the disability sector and private practice has expanded her knowledge and skills in helping people dealing with life’s challenges, such as better managing the pitfalls of having a hypersensitive personality. She gains great fulfillment and inspiration through witnessing human resilience again and again in her clinical work.
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- Aron, Elaine N. 2010. The Highly Sensitive Person.
- Cooper, Colin. 2010. Individual Differences and Personality.
- Szymanska, Kasia, and Palmer, Stephen. 2012. Understanding CBT: Develop Your Own Toolkit to Reduce Stress and Increase Wellbeing.