06
Jul
11

the highly sensitive person

Reader S. I. writes:

I have a friend who freaks out about everything, and it’s really starting to bother me. She takes everything really personally. Like, one of our friends got her email address wrong in an email about a girls night out, so she didn’t hear about it until I forwarded the email, and then she said she didn’t think she was really invited, so she wasn’t going to go. Stuff like this happens all the time. What can I do?

Dear S.I.:

I understand the frustration you feel. It sounds to me like your friend is a Highly Sensitive Person, and the bad news is: if it really annoys you, there’s not much you can do about it, beyond leaving the friendship altogether.

The good news is, you can be aware of what’s going on, and maybe clue her in, too.

A Highly Sensitive Person is someone who exhibits traits of higher sensitivity than others. (Kinda’ obvious from the title, I think.) It’s not a diagnosis of  mental illness, it’s not on the autism spectrum, and it’s not caused by eating too much gluten, so don’t get too excited. It’s a personality trait that some scientists estimate 1 out of every 5 people is born with. Your friend was born this way.

sensitive

Image: Naito8 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

HSPs tend to take things more personally than others, and many HSPs are also shy. However, the sensitivity doesn’t just center on their personal interactions; they also tend to be sensitive to physical stimuli, like noise, light, and even caffeine. HSPs get overwhelmed easily because for some reason, they are more sensitive to what’s going on than many of the people around them. If your friend is an HSP, she can’t help “over-reacting” — her sensitive nature just processes stimuli differently, and she honestly feels like your other friend left her out of the email chain on purpose.

As someone who is apparently HSP herself, I can tell you that it kind of sucks. I am often convinced that people don’t like me because of flippant comments, or how they react to my blog, and I don’t respond well to teasing. It’s embarrassing sometimes how personally I take things. Also, I can’t have more than one cup of coffee in the morning, because I get shaky and can’t sleep at night. I also get overstimulated by jack hammers in the street, loud parties, barking dogs, and screaming babies. It makes me feel really impatient and kind of ridiculous. I’m aware of what’s going on, but there’s not much I can do about it other than accept that it’s happening, and/or try to escape into a dark, quiet room.

However, there are benefits to being an HSP. People who have this trait tend to be more aware of nuances around them, and are great hosts at parties because they know exactly what someone else would need to feel comfortable. HSPs are also deeply moved by music, theatre, and art, which is kind of a bonus. We’re supposedly a bit more empathic, too; I’ll bet when your friend isn’t freaking out over some misunderstanding, she’s one of the best friends you’ve got.

Your friend probably has no idea that she’s an HSP. The best thing you can do for her is understand her condition yourself, and be a little forgiving. You can also let her know you think she may be HSP. Send her a link to an article about it, like The Highly Sensitive Person. (NB: She will probably be upset that you felt you had to send her a link about her behavior, but that will pass.) Let her read up on it, and if she can be more self-aware about it, she may be able to pick up on when she’s being over sensitive, and at least temper her reactions in a more positive manner. Why don’t both of you take the self-test and see where you land?

If you don’t think you can handle her sensitive nature, you may need to cool things in the relationship. It’s not your job to make her personality change, and if you are still annoyed with her even after you know what her condition is and have talked to her about it, maybe you two weren’t meant to be friends. That doesn’t make either of you bad people. Sometimes you can’t be friends with everyone.

Hopefully you can both come to terms with her sensitivity, and enjoy a less frustrating friendship.

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1 Response to “the highly sensitive person”


  1. August 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    I agree that being too sensitive does have its perks.


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