Tag Archives: HSP

HSPs and Empaths – Pros and Cons of Being Sensitive

Dr. Chotka going within

I walked into the post office recently early one Saturday morning to mail a package. The empty station’s radio was playing commercials; a loud, bright and annoying jingle. The female postal clerk finished helping her customer and left to take the package to the back.

Commercial #2 comes on, just as loud, even more annoying. I realize I am able to avoid commercials these days, either by switching a station or muting. When the 3rd commercial comes on, I’ve had it. I walk up to the boombox, ready to . . . OK, not go postal, but at least turn the volume down. But I can’t find the volume button. Back in line, the postal clerk returns; it’s my turn. I mention the noisy commercials, and the clerk nods and laughs. No big deal to her. I conduct my business with my finger in my left ear, the one nearest the radio. . .


“Sensory processing sensitivity” first appeared in 1997 as a new human trait. Later termed Highly Sensitive Person or HSP, it applied to 15-20% of humans born with a more sensitive nervous system. Shyness, introversion, inhibition, and low social interest had been studied before, but author Elaine Aron maintained that the HSP was different. They were not always timid, some were extroverts, some were male. Cultural views had impact too. In cultures like Japan where this is valued, “sensitive” and “shy” children were more popular, but in Canada, those traits were not the popular ones.

Further proof came from the animal kingdom, where this same 15-20% of HSP creatures were found. And that’s lucky it turns out – the caution of HSP animals probably helped the species survive!


So what’s an HSP? This is the type of human who was born with a more sensitive nervous system. An HSP is more aware of subtle factors in their surroundings. If that’s you, you will notice and even change the lighting and music volume when entering a room. Or, you might wish to adjust radio volume at the post office! HSP is similar to today’s term “empath”, coined by Judith Orloff and others.

Here is a list of some common HSP traits, and in parentheses, (how these translate to real life.)

  • HSPs process things more deeply (longer time for decision making)
  • Easily overstimulated by lights, noise, smells, crowds (tire more easily, need quiet time)
  • More empathy and reactive emotions (feel more impact from positive and negative events)
  • Sense more subtleties (advanced ability to read people, and sense and intuit moods etc.)

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