As a highly sensitive person, I scour the Internet and search bookshops on a regular basis in search of more material that may help to shed yet more light on this wonderful gift we highly sensitive people know as the HSP trait. Amazingly, though, on my travels both through cyberspace and countless bookstores, I experienced a strange phenomenon that has filled with me with hope. Once upon a time, I, like many other highly sensitive people, had no inkling as to why I was unable to toughen up, despite repeated exposure to trying situations and enough public humiliations to fill two lifetimes of a normal person, I was still as sensitive as ever! Then I found The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, a fellow HSP, and to cut a long story short, I stopped feeling like an alien among humans from that point onwards.
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon Rocked My World
First of all, let me just explain what the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is. This phenomenon occurs when a person discovers information that was previously unknown to them, like a name or a concept—and very soon afterwards encounters the same information again, and again, and again! As I mentioned earlier, once I discovered that I was a highly sensitive person (HSP) I began to see references to sensitivity everywhere' I looked. It was incredible just how many types of sensitivity I discovered that all differ slightly from one-another in subtle ways, but are most assuredly the same thing—HSPs—just labeled differently. This led me to want to share this information with other highly sensitive people out there and so without further ado, here are the other 10 terms for highly sensitive people. Enjoy!
Are You Highly Sensitive?
The Orchid Child
Although the term includes the word "child," I'm certain that the children who were and are being studied are simply HSPs. This most colorful term was coined by a professor of family studies and human development so it is no surprise then that only children and their parents are being studied.
According to Professor Bruce Ellis, orchid children are "biologically sensitive to context" which simply means they are somewhat more sensitive than their "dandelion" cousins who are able to thrive in and adapt to any environment they may find themselves in.
Commenting on a recent article written on the issue, Professor Ellis had this to say on the matter:
“Most children survive and even thrive in whatever circumstances they encounter, like dandelions,” Ellis said. “Nurtured with quality parenting and programs, orchid children can blossom spectacularly into society’s happiest, most productive people. Conversely, given poor parenting and sketchy surroundings, they are at greater risk to end up wrestling with depression, substance abuse issues and even jail.”
Thank you for that most valuable information, professor. I'm 100% certain that these children are highly sensitive people (HSP). The similarity is unquestionable and this "orchid child" discovery only serves to strengthen my sense of hope for the future of HSPs.
The Sensory Defensive Person
Patricia Wilbarger, an occupational therapist and counseling psychologist, coined the term "sensory defensiveness" some time in the 1990s—but it wasn't Professor Wilbarger who became famous for the term. It is Sharon Heller, a college professor, who is most associated with this term. A sensory defensive person herself, Heller discovered Wilbarger's work on sensory defensive infants in 1996 and it was a discovery that was to both help Heller understand herself more and reveal the condition to the rest of the world. Heller went on to write a book on sensory defensiveness called Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight, which needless to say, no doubt drew the attention of many a HSP.
Here is how Professor Heller describes sensory defensive people:
- Annoyed by certain textures that come into contact with their skin
- Startled easily by sudden, loud noises
- Sensitive to touch and very ticklish
- Are uncomfortable with bright lights and too much visual stimuli
- Uncomfortable in crowds
- Sensitive to strong odors
- Dislike certain foods because of the texture and feel
Once again, highly sensitive people are the subject of study but it seems that each study is approaching sensitive people from a slightly different perspective. Each researcher's research and findings tend to be limited to the area of their expertise and so there has yet to be any correlation made between the many studies and cases of each particular researcher. All in good time...
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Thin Boundary Person
Ernest Hartmann, MD, of Tufts University came up with his "boundaries" concept in the 1980s while studying people who suffered from nightmares. During his research, he was intrigued to discover there was a small percentage of people who were able to recall their dreams in rich and vivid detail, even when the dream was particularly sketchy. How interesting that the ability to recall dreams with clarity is an ability attributed to HSPs! Clearly, these "thin boundary" people and HSPs are one and the same. Here is the irrefutable evidence. Hartmann also discovered these people:
- Become overwhelmed and tired when bombarded with sensory and emotional input
- Feel pain or pleasure much more than the average person
- Are more at risk of allergies and illnesses
- Suffer more when experiencing trauma as children
- Are overly affected when exposed to bright lights, loud noises, strange smells and all sensory stimuli
Is it just me or are thin boundary people exactly like HSPs? Interesting.
During my research I have not been able to discover the first person to coin the term 'sensitive' as a noun, however, I did stumble upon many different websites, videos and books which have been written about the 'sensitives' as they are called.
As well as the usual traits and behaviors always associated with highly sensitive people, in regards to sensitives there is always mention of psychic ability and extra-sensory perception beyond that of normal human beings. Sounds far-fetched, I know but then the proof is in the pudding right? Here are some of the extra-sensory abilities mentioned:
- Sensing of other people's feelings
- Able to 'know' the future
- See shadows or movement out of the corner of his/her eye
- When making wrong decisions, experience physical discomfort such as knots in stomach
Well, once again as a HSP the aformentioned abilities remind me of myself and the experiences I have almost on a daily basis with occurrences such as those caused by our innate abilities. I have probably been using (you too) these abilities unknowingly my entire life, in fact I can recall many instances where extra-sensory perception could be responsible. Can you?
The Fantasy-Prone Person (FPP)
In 1981, American psychologists Sheryl C. Wilson and Theodore X. Barber discovered the FPP trait in people, and stated that it affected about 4% of the population. Obviously, these fantasy prone people spend much of their time fantasizing and are also said to experience the paranormal. Many of these individuals are also deeply religious and have visions and hear voices, much like Joan of Arc was said to have experienced.
Traits of fantasy-prone people:
- Have imaginary friends as children
- See apparitions
- Claim to have psychic abilities
- Have vivid and colorful sensory perceptions
- Fantasize often as children
- Are able to heal others
- Can experience imagined sensations as real
Intriguing indeed. Although some of what is said of the fantasy-prone-person is a little disturbing, once again, there are several similarities with the HSP trait and I have experienced most of the things on that list save for seeing ghosts and healing people. There is a definite connection between Elaine Aron's highly sensitive people and the FPP, that much is certain. Do you see it?
The Electrical Sensitive
In the 1980s, British researcher Michael Shallis surveyed hundreds of people who claimed to be electrically sensitive and the results were quite interesting as for starters most of them were women and what's more, they exhibited the same traits and behaviors as HSPs.
Here is what really stood out in Shallis' survey:
- 70% of those interviewed suffered from allergies
- 70% were averse to loud noises and bright lights
- 23% had been struck by lightning
- 60% either became physically ill before thunderstorms or were able to sense the approach of one
- 69% had experienced psychic phenomena
I get the feeling that were Shallis to have conducted his research on a more intense and wider scale, he would have discovered many more similarities between HSPs and electrical sensitives. Perhaps it is a certain percentage of HSPs that are susceptible to the electrical forces of household appliances and street lights etc.
As a youngster I always seemed to have an effect on street lights. Whenever I would walk by them they always flickered and buzzed slightly, as If I were somehow having some affect on them. Have you ever experienced this electrical sensitivity?
The Social Anxiety Sufferer
Some researchers are completely against the idea that 15-20% of all people are highly sensitive and instead blame good old anxiety for the heightened sensory sensations experienced by HSPs. So in other words, we all have social anxiety because we experienced trauma at some stage in our lives, usually as children and we should probably go and seek help from a therapist!
I'm completely against that train of thought as there are highly sensitive people out there who are extroverted and extremely successful due to being brought up in loving families where they were nurtured and supported. However, these people are the minority because most HSPs are misunderstood as children and as a result of this, develop high levels of anxiety and stress, which only then leads to PTSD or social anxiety.
The Over-Excitabilities (OEs) of Gifted People
Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980), a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist, developed the Theory of Positive Disintegration as a simple means of understanding gifted people. Dabrowski studied gifted children and identified five areas of extreme intensity that he termed "over-excitablities," or more appropriately to this article, "supersensitivities."
I won't share all of his findings with you—just enough to show you how similar those deemed to be gifted are to HSPs. It is universally known, that many gifted people were and are extremely sensitive, but the question remains, were they and are they highly sensitive people (HSPs)? Judge for yourself.
Overexcitabilities of the Gifted
- Impulsive behavior
- Nervous habits and ticks
- Physical expression of emotions
- Extremely acute senses
- Prone to allergies
- Experience discomfort with some textures
- Pleasure seeking
- Need comfort
- Deep curiosity
- Theoretical thinking
- Always asking questions
- Vivid Dreams
- Love Poetry, music and drama
- Love fantasy
- Timidity and shyness
- Concern for others
- Strong memory for feelings
- Extremes of emotion
Reading through that list, only one word comes to mind: HSP. Right?
The High Reactor
In 1989, a professor of psychology, Jerome Kagan discovered the "high reactor" temperament while observing the behavior of babies that were being exposed to new objects and situations. In his study, he observed 19 babies but the temperament wasn't revealed until he observed the 19th baby. The baby grew distressed and irritable when faced with new and novel objects and Professor Kagan knew he had found the temperament he was searching for.
During the study, which is still ongoing today, Kagan also observed the baby as a 15-year-old teenager, and from his observations he was able to deduce that babies grew into their temperaments as the young teenager was awkward and shy and always worried what other people were thinking of her.
Kagan and his colleagues have discovered that 15-20% of people are born predisposed to be anxious, in other words highly sensitive!
15-20%? Isn't that the same percentage that Elaine Aron stated, in regards to the number of HSPs in the human population? More food for thought.
The Emotional Empath
Empathy is a trait all highly sensitive people possess in abundance, some much more than others but this empathic nature is nothing new as emotional empaths have been around for far longer than HSPs, at least as far as the name is concerned. Personally, I am pretty sure that anyone classed as an emotional empath is basically just another highly sensitive person with far more gifts than just possessing extremely acute empathy.
Here are just some of the gifts an emotional empath possesses:
- Empaths are extremely uncomfortable in crowded places and become overwhelmed with the immense amount of stimuli present in large gatherings of people
- As is normal for HSPs, empaths not only sense emotion in others but also soak up the emotion and feel it as if it were their own
- Empaths sense dishonesty in others
- Empaths often feel drained and fatigued especially after a prolonged period in the presence of a group of people
- Are highly creative
- Empaths are drawn to nature
- Love to daydream
- Possess excellent listening skills
- Cannot stand to be around narcissistic people
Another sensitive type that bears all the hallmarks of a HSP. By now, we can see that there is a familiar pattern here. Each of these classifications is merely the same thing, only it is labeled differently.
The Labeling May Be Different, but the Package Is Most Definitely the Same!
There are even more classifications out there than I have shown in this article, believe it or not. However, for me to include them all would be pointless as I'm sure you have already fathomed that although the label is different, the packaging is without a shadow of a doubt, the very same thing - a highly sensitive person!
Isn't it wonderful to see just how many studies have been carried out on sensitive people and children over the last few decades. I was once of the opinion that nobody really cared about the sensitive branch of humanity but after all my research and information gathering I realize I was mistaken. Perhaps there aren't many types of us, but it is refreshing to see so much interest in our trait. Boy, oh boy, do I love being a highly sensitive person!
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed. It is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead
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- Highly Sensitive People and Social Anxiety - Highly ...
Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.
— Edgar Allan Poe
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Are you a HSP? What are your thoughts? Please Share.
Jan Hagglund on May 22, 2017:
Couldn't tick any box, all of them described me.
Julie L Gibson-Vasquez - The Proactive Parenting Coach: Supporting Gifted, Highly Sensitive, Highly Creative Children and their families on May 03, 2017:
I am a Highly Sensitive Person, my daughter is as well. I agree with your findings. I just wanted to add that today it is thought (findings of recent studies) that, "All gifted people are HSP's, but not all HSP's are necessarily gifted." However that depends on your definition of gifted, of which I won't go into here, but all HSP's definitely have their own special gifts to offer the world. Thanks for your article, I had just written my own article on parenting the Highly Sensitive Child, and came across yours in a search.
Sam on January 23, 2017:
What if I have all of them? I am an HSP but I refer to it as highly conscious person. I just discovered hsp term but there are many traits and characteristics I doam not share, some other are exactly they same but by now I am conscious of my sensitivity and I can control it. I want to know if I amam crazy or is it possible.
David from Kingston on September 17, 2015:
very interesting article. i am one of the emotional ones as well. I enjoyed reading this article.
Peggy Salvatore from Mid-Atlantic States US on March 20, 2013:
So glad to see someone writing on this. I read Aron's book several years ago, and it helped me understand my personal history. You've added some new info for me here that is very helpful. Thank you for your work on this article, Richawriter.
Peter Messerschmidt from Port Townsend on January 12, 2013:
Thanks for this great hub!
The more quality information about High Sensitivity is available in the public arena, the better off we all become. I think the most important thing to emphasize is the fact that being "sensitive" is so much MORE than merely "getting your feelings hurt easily."