How do you recognize that you are a highly sensitive person (HSP)? And what are the consequences of being born with a sensitive, reactive nervous system? Although there are of course many differences between highly sensitive people, there are also typical patterns and reactions that can be observed in highly sensitive people. But what are the characteristics of high sensitivity exactly?
Aron’s high sensitivity characteristics
- D: depth of processing
- O: overarousability
- E: emotional intensity, including empathy
- S: sensory sensitivity
According to Aron, all four characteristics for high sensitivity must be present since early childhood. In addition, these indicators may not be the direct result of a psychological illness or a short or long-lasting traumatic experience, such as sexual, physical or emotional abuse or violence.
Information processing refers to the power of the impression that an experience or incentive leaves in us. It is a sensitivity to both positive and negative impressions. Processing these stimuli is done completely automatically.
If you are a HSP, you process everything you experience. This means that it leaves deep traces in you in the form of thoughts, feelings, impressions, physical sensations, memories and fantasies. Thus, you process stimuli and information more than others who are less sensitive to their environment. And sometimes it’s nice, because it can enrich your life. But other times it is tiring because you would very much like to notice, perceive, think or feel less.
If you react very sensitively to your environment and process the information and stimuli around you more thoroughly, it is obvious that you can get overstimulated. A high level of stimulation leads to a higher excitement level in every person though.
However, if the excitement is too high, our well-being and cognitive performance level decrease. This can manifest itself in the form of concentration problems or blackouts. Likewise, you can also feel physically and emotionally tense and/ or anxious. Being overly stimulated from time to time is unpleasant, but ultimately harmless. However, chronic irritation can have negative consequences for our mental and physical health. As a result to the associated cortisol levels our health decreases. That is why it is important that highly sensitive people find ways to deal well with their (over)stimulation.
Emotional intensity is the tendency to react to things more emotionally than others would do in such a situation. This refers to all pleasant and unpleasant feelings.
The capacity to be highly empathic, which is associated with a stronger activation of the so-called mirror neuron system, is also a characteristic of highly sensitive people. It is part of emotional intensity. Mirror neurons are nerve cells in our brain cells. When we observe a certain action, mirror neurons show the same activity pattern like we are performing that action ourselves. They therefore form the neurological basis for our empathy with others.
Sensory sensitivity does not mean that the senses of highly sensitive people are better developed. However, this concept means that stimuli are processed in depth, which determines the high sensory sensitivity. Hence, it means that highly sensitive people cannot hear or see better. No, the perceived is processed more thoroughly and therefore echoes longer in them. HSP can perceive changes in the environment with their ears, eyes, nose, tasting buds and touch. In addition, the nervous system can also affect the experience of pain and temperature.
Help with high sensitivity
All in all, high sensitivity is a beautiful characteristic that can be of great use to you. Because highly sensitive people process information in a complex way, they can be easily overstimulated, tired and feel misunderstood. By resting enough and being aware of how you can best relax, you take care of yourself. How do you do that, you’re wondering? More about that in the next blog!
Aron, E. N. (2013). The highly sensitive person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you.