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High Sensitivity

Tammy Goen

What is High Sensitivity?

High Sensitivity is a genetic personality trait experienced by approximately 20% of the population. The technical term, Sensory Processing Sensitivity, suggests the main characteristic of the trait is deep processing of information and reaction to stimuli. As though they're sponges, with fewer or less effective filters, Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) take in much more information from the world, and their own experiences, than is typical. Without awareness and the right tools, this can lead to intense overwhelm, anxiety, even depression; life can seem just 'too much.'

Brains of Highly Sensitive People

High Sensitivity is not a disorder, has no diagnosis and can't be changed or corrected and doesn't need to be. It’s just a different way of experiencing the world not right or wrong, good or bad. There are physical differences in the brain that reveal the deeper level of processing of information:

  • The area known as the amygdala is more activated. This can find the highly sensitive in a near-constant state of fight/flight/freeze/fawn, which can lead to exhaustion, anxiety, difficulty regulating emotions and physical conditions such as digestive issues, headaches or other tension related pain, and depression.
  • The area called the insula is also more activated. This creates a higher level of awareness or consciousness. HSPs can often think about the implication of things, their part in the greater picture, the meaning of everything.
  • Everyone has mirror neurons that help us recognize what others are experiencing. These are what lead us to yawn or smile, cry or laugh when others do. For Highly Sensitives, this system is heightened, and this leads to greater empathy, and sometimes an overload of input.

HSPs can compare being highly sensitive or not to being left handed or right handed. It's just the way they're wired. They don't grow out of it, they will always sense and process things at a deeper level.

While there can be some overlap regarding sensory processing, High Sensitivity is not the same thing as Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, autism or various personality disorders (including Narcissism). It’s simply a trait. The experience of parts of the trait can be exacerbated by trauma, but it's innate and not the same as a trauma response (such as hypervigilance).

Experiences of Highly Sensitive People

Seeing the world through a different lens, HSPs may feel like outsiders, like they're misunderstood, not supported for who they are, expected to change their way of perceiving and interacting to 'fit in' with the majority.

Some common experiences of Highly Sensitive People, which can be challenges--or strengths, are:

  • High level of empathy and compassion
  • Attention to detail, noticing the little things
  • 'Knowing'/sensing what others are feeling and needing
  • Feeling the energy of others and spaces
  • Thinking things through extensively (often overthinking), seeing all sides
  • High creativity
  • Experiencing emotions intensely
  • Deep appreciation of beauty and connection with nature
  • High reactivity to external stimuli, lights, textures, sounds, movement, etc.
  • Sensitivity to supplements, medications, foods and caffeine
  • Concern for others, not wanting to upset others, wanting to be liked

Coping with High Sensitivity

Fortunately, there are many benefits of High Sensitivity. It truly is a gift to be honored and appreciated. Living in a world that's created for the 80% who are non-highly sensitive, it can be challenging to see and acknowledge these benefits. With awareness, the right self care and tools for managing all of the external input and personal emotions, and for some guidance by an informed or Highly Sensitive coach or counselor, HSPs can develop self compassion and self love, set and maintain healthy boundaries and learn to embrace the trait so that it becomes a strength...a SuperPower.

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High Sensitivity


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About the Author

Highly Sensitive herself, she understands what it's like to navigate the non-highly sensitive world as an HSP. She loves to help her clients develop tools to minimize overwhelm and embrace their trait and move from surviving to thriving. Her work encompasses mind-body-spirit practices and includes the use of art and connection with nature, as well as mindful practices, meditation and energy work. EFT/Tapping is a key component of her coaching approach, helping clients release beliefs limiting them from accessing their SuperPower. Check out her website, HSP quiz, online course, free ebooks, blog here.