What are Characteristics of A Highly Sensitive Person?

What is a highly sensitive person, you may ask? As with many terms, this one comes loaded with connotations—not always easy to deal with. From a therapeutic perspective, however, a highly sensitive person has heightened emotional and sensory attunement to the world around them. Little details may jump out at them, and small social cues may loom large in their imagination.

What is a highly sensitive person?

In simplest terms, a highly sensitive person is someone who is very responsive to their environment. Sometimes, this covers a broad spectrum of stimuli. Other times, it’s something specific—like the volume of the TV playing in the other room. HSP is another way of perceiving and processing the world—neither good nor bad—but something to understand and harness.

With that in mind, here are a few key characteristics of a highly sensitive person:

Emotional Awareness

Highly sensitive people are often hyper-aware of the emotional states of people around them. They pick up on subtle changes in the body language, tone, and posture of others. Think of this as awareness of the hidden subtext of conversations. Many people will often hide their feelings by choosing their words carefully. For people who aren’t highly sensitive, they are none the wiser. But, a highly sensitive person picks up on underlying feelings regardless.

For these individuals, their brains are tuned to look for these changes. As a result, they may pick up on subtle shifts in someone’s mood. A romantic partner may be struggling with something they’re not ready to discuss, or a friend may be upset with the person but isn’t directly communicating their feelings. These circumstances can be difficult for highly sensitive people because they can feel these changes and they may not be clear on how to navigate these feelings. 

Emotional Accessibility

Beyond awareness, a highly sensitive person’s emotions live closer to the surface. This expresses itself in many different ways. Books, films, and art may hit them differently—tears come a little more easily than they do for others. As a result, they may also find it easier to connect emotionally with others, and put themselves in another person’s shoes. Frequently, they exhibit high levels of kindness and empathy.

Sensitivity to Criticism

Because their emotions live closer to the surface, a highly sensitive person may be more sensitive to critical feedback. What might be intended as gentle criticism or guidance could be felt like burning one’s hand on the stove. Accordingly, highly sensitive people often adopt people-pleasing, perfectionist qualities in an attempt to head off the threat of criticism.

Different Priorities

While highly sensitive people are often rockstars at work, they frequently struggle to find meaning in what they do unless it’s something that appeals to them on a spiritual or humanitarian level. Money and professional success may not mean as much as creative success. A paycheck is nice, but they need may need to feel a deeper meaning in their work to feel valued in their role.

Easily Overwhelmed

Itchy fabrics, bright lights, and loud noises are classic examples of sensory inputs that can make life difficult for a highly sensitive person. These things tug at their awareness, making it difficult to focus on other tasks or enjoy a night out with friends. Accordingly, highly sensitive people often feel higher anxiety levels when prepping for social events or going out into unfamiliar spaces. If this is something you struggle with, consider trying anxiety therapy.


For better or worse, highly sensitive people tend to have imaginations that run wild. A highly sensitive person may lose themselves in internal dialogues and inward reflection. This can be thought of as a way of processing the world around them, or as a kind of defense mechanism that allows them to recharge and reset by turning to their inner world.


It can be helpful for a highly sensitive person to understand differences in how they perceive the world from others. If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to schedule a consultation today—I would love to help you explore this aspect of yourself through therapy for HSPs.

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