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Life as an HSP: Highly Sensitive People Are More at Risk for Social Anxiety

Highly sensitive people: keeping to the edges.

Highly sensitive people: keeping to the edges.

Highly Sensitive People and Social Anxiety

As children, highly sensitive people (HSPs) were once labeled as "shy," or special," by their parents and those who came into contact with them, including their teachers, doctors, and classmates at school.

In fact, I have no doubt that in many households around the globe, these labels are still slapped on highly sensitive children due to the lack of knowledge about the HSP trait. In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron had this to say on the matter:

"HSPs only appear inhibited because they are so aware of all the possibilities in a situation. They pause before acting, reflecting on their past experiences. If these were mostly bad experiences, then yes, they will be truly shy. But in a culture that prefers confident, "bold" extraverts, it is harmful as well as mistaken to stigmatize all HSPs as shy when many are not."

I completely agree with this statement, as do most of you reading this, I'm sure. However, in spite of that, I do believe it is possible for highly sensitive people to be converted into shy people. Shy in the sense that they are "afraid" of people and interaction.

It all depends upon how much trauma is experienced while young and how much support is received during the trauma.

In other words, should you be surrounded by the caliber of person that instills fear, helplessness, sadness, inferiority, and misery, you are more likely to develop a social phobia, due to your hyperactive nervous system.

Let's look at this in more detail.

Social Anxiety Ensues When HSPs Experience Childhood Trauma

Social Anxiety Ensues When HSPs Experience Childhood Trauma

Why Highly Sensitive People Are More Susceptible to Social Anxiety

Highly Sensitive People (HSP) CharacteristicsNegative ExperiencesMost Likely Result

Empathic - Highly aware of emotion and emotional stress in themselves and in others

Grew up in a stressful home environment and witnessed traumatic events occurring

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which leads to social anxiety

Sensitive to Pain, both physical and mental

Experienced mental and/or physical abuse whilst growing up

Fear of people - Social Anxiety

Extremely vivid dreams and nightmares

Witnessed traumatic events, or was part of traumatic events

Fear of certain situations. Re-experiencing those situations in dreams and nightmares - Again, social anxiety/phobia

Considerate to others often at the expense of their own comfort

Bullied and physically abused at home or at school

Fear of people - Social Anxiety

Easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation

Grew up in a noisy, aggressive and overwhelming environment

For some, Social Anxiety. For others, a second personality develops. One which is almost impervious to the effects of loud, noisy or normally overwhelming places - essentially a mask.

Easily influenced by others (at a young age)

Physically abused, sexually or otherwise. Mentally abused and coerced into actions that demean and humiliate

Fear of people, especially authority figures - Social Anxiety

Often withdraw within themselves

Long hours and days spent alone with nothing but fearful and negative thoughts spiralling out of control

Depression, Social Anxiety/phobia

Many HSPs suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Many HSPs suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Misunderstood, Misinformed, and Mistaken: The HSP With Social Anxiety

Although there have been numerous studies on both social anxiety and sensitivity in people, during my research on the net and in several books I have yet to find any studies done on HSPs with social anxiety.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that the HSP population 'is' replete with social anxiety sufferers due to our hyper-active nervous system which notices every little detail in our environment, even the unwanted stuff that most normal people would ignore.

From Potential Empath/Healer/Teacher to Potential Nobody

It's sad to see so much potential go to waste. Thousands of highly sensitive people with such incredible potential; almost invisible, hidden away on the periphery of a world dominated by extroverts. I am grateful, however, as a HSP, that there are highly sensitive people out there such as Elaine Aron, who are leading the way and allowing the world to see that there 'is' a place for the gentle HSP tribe. Slowly but surely, the world is beginning to understand highly sensitive people. There is a long way to go but we have taken the fundamental first steps towards acceptance and appreciation.

A Double Dose: High Sensitivity + Social Anxiety

I haven't gone into great detail in this article on highly sensitive people with social anxiety, but as you may have gleaned from the table above, HSPs are highly susceptible to social anxiety and PTSD.

I am convinced that I myself, as an HSP previously suffered from severe social anxiety which has since steadily abated to mild social anxiety with the occasional panic attack.

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My teens were fraught with painful and humiliating experiences as a result of my not only being an HSP but also having social phobia. I even began to repress my sensitivity as I'm sure many other HSPs have done in an effort to be "normal." The answer though is not repression of our innate 'gift' but rather an expression!

If you are reading this and you are a highly sensitive person, then it means you are on a journey of discovery about your trait, your gift and that is why it is so great to be an HSP these days. The information on our traits abounds all over the internet and in countless books all over the world. We are finally being understood.

If you feel you are an HSP and you have social anxiety then the best advice I can give to you is ... STUDY! Yes, study everything you can get your hands on about HSPs, social anxiety, PTSD, etc. The more understanding you gain, the more you begin to accept your trait and embrace the wonderful possibilities on offer for you.

It's good to be sensitive!

A light, tender, sensitive touch is worth a ton of brawn.

— Peter Thomson

Further Reading

I've written a number of other articles about being an HSP. Here is one that you might find helpful:

Many HSPs Are Still In the Dark Regarding Their Condition

Many HSPs Are Still In the Dark Regarding Their Condition

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.

Share your thoughts with me.

Floss A on June 05, 2020:

@Peter Messerschmidt the internet also really helps me join in like minded conversations that im not able to have in real life because ive never had anyone in real life that i felt i could open up just never really happens for me they dont seem like they want to know... I find myself watching YouTube videos and cackling out loud fo myself or my favourite tv series and getting lost in them. I also find myself to be a part of certain 'communities' where were sort of bonded by being fans of a certain tv show. I have enlightening conversations and also gain lots of knowledge including ones like this article. I discovered that i had C-PTSD literally through a pinterest pin..After several years of therapy ,meds,workshops a lot of it didnt really sit as well. I seem to meet more kindred spirits online in long distance connections like this one. Hopefully i can also manifest them in real life.

@Richard O Neill

Being an HSP IS indeed A WILD still learning what it means to me to be an HSP because im still understanding the past 8 years of much life too much has happened.

Ana on September 26, 2017:

I like this post bcz I have problem of social anxiety to childhood.i think that is reason of ignorance in my family due to many problems in home.but still I have that problem I fight with this fobiya

Elizabeth Hannah on July 02, 2017:

Thank you, at long, long last I can and will fully embrace and understand who I truly am. No more dwelling, ruminating on that which does not serve me. Lovely, truly lovely, which is all us HSP's ever wanted the world to be. God's world.

Ollie B on May 24, 2016:

I am the highly sensitive who has had childhood trauma and I ALWAYS feel like I am invisible. I have wanted to give up ---- but, I care so much I don't want to hurt my family. This article is an eye opener, and actually provided help. I love that.

McKenna Meyers on June 07, 2015:

I've just learned about HSPs and am starting to read about them. I took anti-depressants for seven years to deal with extreme sadness and intense social anxiety. They definitely were needed in the beginning. However, I wish that I had gotten off them sooner and discovered ways to take better care of myself and learned how to enjoy social situations. I think the drugs just delayed doing the work that's inevitable for someone with social anxiety.

kayson on January 26, 2015:


nice post.

I was physically and mentally abused as a child, it messes up your fear response .Just for simple things like watching butterflies, because 'boys didn't do that'.I grew up and sadly still live in a horrible ghetto. Trust me, if you are HSP and you grow up in a ghetto type environment, you are going to come out with lots of issues. You missed out OCD. This is another mental illness that can develop in HSP's when abused.

Sarah Rose from Washington on October 24, 2014:

I completely agree with you. I think sensitive people are also very intelligent, which is why they really take notice of their surroundings. I loved the tables you put in here to describe what these people are going through. Hopefully more people will come to realize the reasons behind their anxiety, and learn to live up to their full potential. This hub is so valuable I am going to share it on my Facebook page. Happy Hubbing!

Richard J ONeill (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on December 06, 2013:

Hey Autumn!

Thanks for coming over and checking hubpages and my hubs out. I have some early disasters still published here from 2 years ago but I'll get them cleaned up and as they should be.

Oh and thanks for coming and commenting on this specific hub. I noticed a repeated paragraph with a huge gap between them!!!!

All cleaned now.

Thanks and I look forward to seeing you here.


Autumn on December 06, 2013:

Ah Richard, you do faboulous work!

Peter Messerschmidt from Port Townsend on January 12, 2013:

I did do battle with Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD-- a severe version of social anxiety) for some years... probably the product of leaving home suddenly to "become an adult" at age 18, after my father suddenly passed away. I was ill equipped to deal with the world and fared BADLY because what made sense to me (as an HSP-- although unaware of that, at the time!) didn't seem to make sense to anyone else... so I withdrew from my environment, to whatever degree I could.

Interestingly enough, the Internet helped me come out of my shell-- I was one of the very early people online in the 90's... and learned how to communicate from the safety of my apartment, and grew from there. Today I give workshops and presentations to groups about high sensitivity, so it's certainly possible to move on!

Good hub!


Richard J ONeill (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on September 07, 2012:

Ah, my good buddy Alastar!

Thanks for yet more supportive words in my direction, my friend. You are right, though. I do feel like I have really settled into a nice steady rhythm with these type of hubs. I always loved writing about psychology and metaphysics etc, but writing about being sensitive is not only passing on information to others but also healing me. It's hard to describe, but I feel like I'm growing stronger the more I write on this subject. Have I found my calling?

Thanks Alastar. Once again my two best hub buddies showering me with support. I'm lucky to have Countess Cardisa and Arch-Angel Alastar! hahah

Peace to you today my friend. :)

Richard J ONeill (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on September 07, 2012:

Hello, Faith Reaper.

Thank you for your most thoughtful words.

I love it when people are able to learn something new from my articles. It makes everything so much sweeter.

Have a great day, and please continue to reap that faith!


Richard J ONeill (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on September 07, 2012:

Hello, Kysmith.

I'm so pleased that you have discovered that this is a trait you share with me and many others. It may not always seem like a gift but once we learn to harness this unique sensitivity, life can be so much more ...

Yes, please do read up on it. I found that reading, studying and writing about it imbues me with a respect for this trait that I never had. I once hated being this way. Now, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Welcome to the HSP club, Kysmith!


Richard J ONeill (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on September 07, 2012:

Hello again, Mama Kim 8.

I love that name. Got such a nice friendly energy about it!

I am so glad to have met you here Mama Kim. You are very supportive and seeing a comment from you brings a smile, always.

See you very soon my friend. Peace.

Richard J ONeill (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on September 07, 2012:

Hello Alecia Murphy and thanks.

Yes, sharing this information with others is greatly comforting to me and I find myself growing stronger and more empowered with each article I write. It is truly invigorating.

Hopefully this information will reach thousands out there like me, but if it only reaches a few hundred I'll be over the moon anyway!

Thanks for stopping by Alecia. Peace.

Richard J ONeill (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on September 07, 2012:

Hey dear friend Cardisa!

It has been a long while hasn't it, but I never forgot you. I knew you were busy with the apprentice program and probably working very hard but you were always in mind Countess Cardisa!

Yes, indeed there must be a lot of highly sensitive people out there who aren't aware of their condition or at least why they are the way they are. It can be lonely. Not knowing.

Thanks for your wonderful support Cardisa. You are one person I will surely never forget in this lifetime or the next.


Alastar Packer from North Carolina on September 07, 2012:

Your doing good with these type hubs Richie. Know some, or used to, HSP people, wish they could have read your fine article on it. So glad you've gotten over the worst of yours. I believe you have the power within you along with your studies to beat the anxiety and panic attacks completely one day too my friend. Up n awe Rich!

Faith Reaper from southern USA on September 04, 2012:

Very insightful hub. I have never heard of HSP. Excellent hub. In His Love, Faith Reaper

Kyndall Smith from Milwaukee on September 04, 2012:

This was a great hub! I have identified with many points in this hub. I have never heard of HSP but I would fall under this description. I never thought of it as a gift but I'll take it lol. I'm off to learn more about it!

Aloe Kim on September 04, 2012:

Another fantastic hub on HSP! Very interesting and helpful! Voted up and shared.

Alecia Murphy from Wilmington, North Carolina on September 04, 2012:

I am a sensitive person but I don't believe I am socially anxious to this extent. But I do agree with the findings that what you experience in childhood affects how you interact as an adult. This information is very interesting and I am glad you are able to deal with this by sharing your insights and knowledge with others. Great job!

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on September 04, 2012:

Hi Richard, this is really something. I may know a few people are affected by this but I don't think they have been diagnosed. There are many people who don't know that they do have this trait.

I am so proud of you that you are dealing with your social anxiety. Many people are crippled by it and live in fear. I am glad your students have you as a positive example too.

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