Sensitive Style (HSPs)

In a fast, thrill-seeking, skimming, self-promoting world, it is a challenge to thrive as an emotionally aware, ‘in-depth’ person who needs breaks from stimulation (Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP)

  • Do others annoy or hurt you by saying you are ‘too sensitive’ or ‘think too much’?
  • Are noises or certain textures, smells, types of light, annoying or uncomfortable?
  • Do you first feel, identify, and learn from art and media–and criticize or analyze only secondly?
  • After a party or gathering, do you need a recharge from a creative, relaxing, or imaginative activity?
  • Does it seem the person who yells the loudest is the one with the success…but you are not the type to yell?
  • Do you want enjoyment in life but are not to be found in the mosh pit or skydiving (or need a long break after)?
  • When involved in something are you easily startled when someone interrupts?
  • Does the term ‘multi-tasking’ make you sigh wishfully, smirk because it’s highly overrated, or both?

These qualities might suggest you are an HSP. Another facet of my work is helping this approximately 20% of people who show higher sensory sensitivity, emotional sensitivity, and depth of processing than most.

Aron (1997)  and them as ‘Highly Sensitive Persons’ (HSPs).

Higher-than-average sensitivity is often misunderstood and described negatively in today’s toughness-focused, hustle-oriented, ‘look at me’ society. That is unfair, short-sighted, and wrong.

I am listed as a therapist who is HSP-knowledgeable (see here):

California (Southern)

‘Highly sensitive person’, as Aron uses it, is a neutral term—there are positive and difficult aspects. What are some basic strengths of HSPs?

Often highly sensitive persons make leaps of insight in their chosen areas of focus.

This is because of their depth of knowledge and deep processing of it, keen senses, and independent but balanced values. Obviously, this applies quite well to creative artists, or workers in one-on-one areas in which mentorship and connection are important.

You may not juggle five tasks extremely well or make lightning fast decisions, but you can dive down, understand subtle emotions, and find unexpected connections between data points.

Because of this quality, you may be a leader and highly effective—but at unique times or in specialty roles. For example, in a group you might be a special helper regarding what people might be feeling / wanting, what process is occurring, or what people might want to plan for.

Who are HSPs socially and with others?

You probably understood what was happening the last time something intense happened with others, and had to do with sensory comfort, emotions, or a misunderstanding of someone.

Were most people confused and unable to ‘get’ what was happening? You probably got it. That’s your area and, therefore, your cue. Maybe you took the cue, maybe you didn’t.

People may come to you for counsel or advice, or just to be heard. Emotional detection and noticing patterns is a strength of yours and you are probably good at helping and teaching. However, too much of being the unofficial therapist or mentor may be draining and fatiguing. It is important that you set some boundaries for yourself.

If you are HSP, friends will probably say that they appreciate your loyalty, kindness, deep thoughtfulness, unique outlook, and creativity.

Others are rarely offended by you, except perhaps sometimes when you need to be alone. If you ever do offend, you are almost certain to apologize and make up more than sufficiently–or feel silently guilty / upset.

Another strength of HSPs: once you’ve processed everything and clarified your desires and needs, you can more easily cut through the b.s. of life. That b.s. is what many people, usually in a misguided or well-meaning attempt to help, try to ‘sell’ you. It is also found in advertising, the latest fad, subtle (or not-so-subtle) social pressures, and so on.

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) can feel burnout if they do not get some down time.

Needed downtime can sometimes cause conflicts with others or misunderstandings. However, if you understand and accept your needs, you can avoid burnout and overstimulation while you and others get the benefits of your acute senses and perceptions, your access to feeling, and your tendency to think deeply and thoroughly before acting.

As Aron notes, sensitive types use a wait-and-see, check-it-out-first strategy, unlike the approximately 80% of other people, who (to oversimplify) approach, jump in, and figure it out. Both strategies are adaptive in different situations but, as we know from social psychology research, if you are in a minority it can be difficult to stick to your convictions and ways.


As noted on the people-pleasing and toxic relationships page, burnout is feeling that your work, relationship, or passion asks more than you can possibly give. Along with that, come emotional and productivity consequences. People with a sensitive personality style sometimes need support to feel fully and consistently good about themselves and need purposeful downtime to avoid burnout.

Our society favors the 80% non-HSPs, by default. It usually considers the needs of the more sensitive 20% to be something to brush off, or even a ‘problem’ (for them). Sensitives can feel like an outsider, misunderstood, or bored by cheap thrills, but sometimes confused because they are still figuring out what they do feel passion for, and whether that is ‘ok’.

Until they better understand themselves, see their strengths, and accept their needs, sensitives may wish they could be someone else.

That is regretful and undeserved. It is not that you or other sensitive people are purposefully ‘refusing to buck up’ or ‘refusing to adapt’. Sensitivity is a trait of its own and is a valid way to experience the world, navigate it, and have an important impact. While sensitivity can be adapted and modified, it cannot be erased—and shouldn’t be.

Finding a reliable and manageable community is important for HSPs.

Sensitive types need time to consider and decide based on personal values, feelings, and making sure they have ‘covered all bases’. They need to develop richness and meaning by getting to the bottom of things. Being with others who understand their gifts and needs—and who accept them for who they are—is when sensitive people feel engaged, understood, and fulfilled.

Yet, in today’s hyper-paced, ‘shiny-objects’ world, it can be hard to find your tribe and home if you are one of this ~20% of the population. That is because although you need a network of your own, you also need more insulation from stimuli, more time to reflect and refine, and more space to understand, protect, use your emotional responses.

Sensitive, deep processors need to be identified and respected, not misunderstood.

First, HSPs are not necessarily ‘shy’. Most sensitives, even introverted ones, are socially competent and greatly enjoy talking to people. However, if the activity involves a big group of people, speaking at a meeting, lots of high-energy people, or a lot of brash sensory stimuli, all sensitives will need a break, and sooner than most of their friends. Also, not all sensitives are ‘introverted’. In fact, some are extroverts. Some sensitives are even ‘sensitive sensation-seekers’, meaning that they like thrills but must pace themselves because they can get frazzled from too many thrills at a time.

Having sensory, emotional, or processing sensitivity is not a ‘disorder’.

Sensitive types are not ‘too’ anything. It is easy to wrongly think so. One reason is that sensitive people may react more strongly to life events that would not affect others as much. They may be even more affected by life events that would cause harm generally. Also, some mental health diagnoses obviously include a sensitivity to something. However, none of that means being sensitive is an illness. It is a more vs. less trait, not a disorder.

HSP men can have a hard time figuring themselves out and accepting themselves.

In our culture, there is the idea of the stereotypically ‘expectable and acceptable’ man: extroverted, dominant, intense interest in sports, minimally domesticated, sexually aggressive, and emotionally connected only to pleasure vs. anger. At least, that is the extreme version of that trope. While this has been changing for years, recent years have shown a bit of a setback in some parts of society.

Many men, HSP or not, must accept that the stereotype is not completely accurate for them. For HSP men, it can be hard to accept that they differ from it more than most. They will need to recognize their different strengths and interests compared to most, and will need to find people with whom to relate.

I can provide support and insights while you get to know the nature of your sensory, emotional, and processing sensitivity. I can also help in your quest to accept it, value it, adapt it, and capitalize on it.

A major resource:

For a different but generally matching take on ‘sensitive style’, see here.