I've only just come across this term after being recommended the book by Elaine Aron. HSP stands for Highly Sensitive Person and I feel it sums me up quite well. This term describes a trait which encompasses about 20% of the population.
"We are a package deal, however. Our trait of sensitivity means we will also be cautious, inward, needing extra time alone. Because people without the trait (the majority) do not understand that, they see us as timid, shy, weak, or that greatest sin of all, unsociable. Fearing these labels, we try to be like others. But that leads to our becoming over aroused and distressed. Then that gets us labeled neurotic or crazy, first by others and then by ourselves.” Elain Aron.
Here are a ten traits that HSP's often possess, this is definitely not a comprehensive list but a few I resonate with very strongly.
1. They feel and think more deeply. HSP's often take on a lot of emotion and think things through very thoroughly. For me personally, this makes me rather emotionally affected about things that are happening in the world and makes me think deeply about the meaning of things. I think this makes me more empathetic and gives me the ability to think and feed off how others are feeling and react accordingly.
2. They are often more predisposed to anxiety and depression. "If... you don't feel safe in the world or you don't feel secure at home or ... at school, your nervous system is set to anxious". I suppose this is one of the more difficult aspects of being a HSP. Feeling insecure, unsure and thinking about things over and over can lead to unhelpful thinking patterns which are often hold a significant role in anxiety and depression.
3. They are hypersensitive. This is one I have wondered for many years what on earth was the matter with me. I don't deal well with loud noise, especially if it is all coming from different sources. This is in addition to hypersensitivity to touch, sound and light - it can be overwhelming if there is too much stimulation.
4. They struggle to work when people are watching. This is a big one for me personally - I struggle to perform if people are watching (try micro-pipetting in a biosafety cabinet in a lab with 5 people over your shoulder = shocking tremor!) and even writing if others can see. The same thing often goes for open plan work spaces where everyone can see each other - too much pressure!
5. Decision making can prove difficult. HSP's are often very aware of the details and intricacies of situations, often wanting to make sure that they make the 'right' decision. Aron advises to "take as long to decide as the situation permits, and ask for more time if you need it and can take it, during this time, try pretending for a minute, hour, day, or even week that you have made up your mind a certain way. How does that feel? Often, on the other side of a decision things look different, and this gives you a chance to imagine more vividly that you are already there." However if HSPs do make the wrong decision, the emotional response is often much stronger than it would be with non-HSPs.
6. HSPs are often more conscientious & polite. Aron explains that HSPs are more likely to be considerate and conscientious. You're a good egg who wants the best for others.
7. Alone time helps to recharge your batteries. HSPs need time alone away from overstimulation to calm down and get ready to go out into the busy world again. However, this doesn't mean that they are introverts (in fact only 70% of HSPs are). Not only do you need some alone time, HSPs usually really like and benefit from it.
8. Other people's emotions affect you. HSPs are known to be empaths which can be good and bad. It does make you more sensitive to the feelings of others but since others emotions effective you deeply, so do the negative ones. They can have quite an impact and aren't easy to brush off.
9. Others often misunderstand you. Non HSPs often don't get that you become overstimulated easily, that emotions effect you deeply. Others might call your oversensitive, maybe a 'cry baby' or really shy. Sometimes you're misunderstood but thats just the way you are. Some HSPs do have an 'anxious streak' but that just depends on the person - it isn't necessarily innate to the trait. “It has also been called inhibitedness, fearfulness, or neuroticism. Some HSPs behave in these ways, but it is not innate to do so and not the basic trait.”
10. Being a HSP can be a great thing. "Highly sensitive people make excellent leaders, friends and partners," notes Aron. HSPs are sensitive souls and are often the most genuine, compassionate and honest people you'll come across. HSPs will be there for you.
Here is a test to see whether you are highly sensitive - count each of the options which applies to you. Copyright, Elaine N. Aron, 1996
I am easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input.
I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment.
Other people’s moods affect me.
I tend to be very sensitive to pain.
I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days,into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation.
I am particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
I am easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells,coarse fabrics,or sirens close by.
I have a rich, complex inner life.
I am made uncomfortable by loud noises.
I am deeply moved by the arts or music.
My nervous system sometimes feels so frazzled that I just have to go off by myself.
I am conscientious.
I startle easily.
I get rattled when I have a lot to do in a short amount of time.
When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable (like changing the lighting or the seating).
I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too many things at once.
I try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things.
I make a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows.
I become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around me.
Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me,disrupting my concentration or mood.
Changes in my life shake me up.
I notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art.
I find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once.
I make it a high priority to arrange my life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations.
I am bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes.
When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise.
When I was a child, my parents or teachers seemed to see me as sensitive or shy.
If you answered more than fourteen of the questions as true of yourself, you are probably highly sensitive. But no psychological test is so accurate that an individual should base his or her life on it. Here is the original test - it belongs to Elaine Aron. So the self test really does give a succinct summary to some of the traits that HSP's often possess.