HSP: Being Highly Sensitive in a Desensitized World

Updated on September 20, 2011

The Curse of Being Highly Sensitive

"I'm not going to fight your battles for you. Get thicker skin!"

My former boss said that to me. My crime? I told him that a female in a different department was bullying our department and asked him to speak to her boss about it. He was a riddiculously incompetent boss and clearly said that to shut me up. He knew I was sensitive and used it against me often. After three years, I can still hear his voice in my head when I let my sensitivity get the best of me.

I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and it feels like a curse. My senses are fine tuned. I'm sensitive to sound, pain, emotions, medicine, alcohol and just about everything else. I can't count how many times I've beat myself up over a mistake, felt guilty about something that wasn't my fault or held back tears instead of defending myself. I have a tendency to avoid people and situations so I don't get hurt. I'm easily annoyed and offended. If someone is angry or upset, I can sense it, even if they are trying to hide it. I'm easily distracted. I'm emotionally drained after listening to another person's troubles. I need at least a day alone to recouperate from a few days of social activity. I am even known to mourn for a day after seeing movies like The Titanic and Terms of Endearment.

Basically, I feel the world around me intensely and I hate it.

One of the worst aspects of being an HSP is that we are easy prey for manipulative people. They will play up on our emotions with a guilt trip or a sob story. My grandmother did this to me for years. I'd find myself dropping everything to go see her because she'd cry to me about how 'all alone' she was. This is just a mild example of how an HSP can be manipulated. Mind you, we are far from stupid. We usually know we are being manipulated on some level, however the intense guilt or shame we feel is unbearable. It's another reason why many of us are careful about who we trust and why many of us come off as detatched or aloof.

The Truth About Highly Sensitve People

Around 15 to 20 percent of the population is Highly Sensitve. Contrary to popular belief, sensitivity is not a female trait. In fact, sensitivity is equal in males and females. My mother is not sensitive. I take after my highly sensitive father. So does my brother.

We live in an aggressive society and sensitivity is frowned upon, especially in males. Men are expected to be tough. Men are riddiculed for crying. Women are not immune to riddicule. Femininity is seen as weak in our society and women are encouraged to 'act more like men', especially in the workforce.

Sensitivity is also not a synomyn for weak (although it can feel that way sometimes), nor is it a symptom of depression. Sensitive people may be more prone to depression, however, there are other risk factors to consider.

Many HSPs are in constant pursuit to find the meaning of life. Some are very spiritual. Others reject organized religion because it does not give enough answers.

They may also have trouble sleeping at night due to so much thinking and inner dialogue. It is hard, if not near impossible to turn it off. Highly sensitive people may use alcohol and drugs to deaden some of their emotions.

Benefits of Being Sensitive

In the concentration camps across Europe during the second World War, it was the sensitve people who fared better than those who were less sensitive and appeared tougher. The theory to this is that HSPs are highly imaginitive and could easily slide into a dream world. It protected them from the horrors around them and helped them to survive their ordeal.

Sensitive people tend to be unusually creative. Many famous musicians, artists, actors and writers are highly sensitive. Among them are Johnny Depp, Steven Spielberg, Elton John and Barbara Streisand. Virgina Woolfe and Walt Disney were believed to be HSP. So were Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and John Denver.

Highly sensive people can understand things deeply and because of this are more intuitive. People who are highly sensitive are deeply compassionate, empathatic and conscientious. HSPs are the givers of the world. They are the caretakers and helpers. In a crisis, you can count on an HSP to help pull you through.

After going through the benefits, being so sensitive doesn't seem so bad. In fact it almost seems like a gift. Imagine what a world this could be if we had more highly sensitive politicians, doctors and lawyers. It's a brutal world and a few extraodinary compassionate souls in these fields can really make a difference in this world.

Pearl S. Buck, (1892-1973), was an American writer and Humanitarian who won both the Pulizer Prize and Nobel Prize in Literature. She once said this about highly sensitive people:

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:
A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive

To him…

a touch is a blow,

a sound is a noise,

a misfortune is a tragedy,

a joy is an ecstasy,

a friend is a lover,

a lover is a god,

and failure is death.

Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create. So that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”

Is Being Highly Sensitive a Curse or a Gift?

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    • profile image

      CNJ 4 years ago

      If only I could have met Diana and told her about this trait...she could have been spared so much suffering and pain...I've read that she often felt "different" and "inferior" because she reacted so strongly to things.

      I remember seeing her blush uncontrollably in so many stories on her and my heart would go out to her because she often looked so uncomfortable and overwhelmed. I just wanted to hug her and pull her to a quiet place.

    • profile image

      CNJ 4 years ago

      Princess Diana sure was a classic HSP...cried easily, was overwhelmed by all the attention she received, highly intuitive, spent most of her life holding back tears, so caring, knew just what to do to help others, heart of pure gold.

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 5 years ago from Chicago IL

      Thank you Vicki. That is wonderful advice!

    • profile image

      Vickiw 5 years ago

      Hello amymarie, as a fellow HSP I understand how painful ended relationships and losses hurt. The great thing though is that because you have this ability to be introspective and reflective, you also have the power to learn a lot from these events, instead of just skimming over them and carrying on the same way.

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 5 years ago from Chicago IL

      I'm glad your experience has been good. I'm prone to depression, I think that is the one downside of it. Yes, I definitely bond better with people, but break ups and, ended friendships and loss tend to hurt more. I do try more to focus on the positve side of being this way. Once I accepted that I was this way and stopped trying to change my nature, I definitely started to appreciate being HSP more.

    • profile image

      Vickiw 5 years ago

      I think that being highly sensitive allows you to have much better relationships in life too. Because you are concerned about the feelings of others, even when they don't seem as concerned as you, it helps you feel some compassion for them, and happiness that you are who you are! I know people often don't understand my joy when I engage in bird watching, or admire my lovely garden, full of flowers and plants. Those are just some of the reasons it is my pleasure to be a HSP.

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 5 years ago from Chicago IL

      Hi Vicki! Yes, I am starting to become more comfortable with my sensitivity and seeing it more as a blessing than a curse. Especially when it comes to helping others. It's more and more acceptable to be selfish in this world, I do believe it is people like us who can bring positive change. You are so right about that! Thank you for commenting!

    • profile image

      Vickiw 5 years ago

      I think I am a HSP too! I am often amazed by others and their insensitivity. But it might be that they are 'normal', and I am just too sensitive. I do mange to keep my sensitivity under control most of the time, after many years of practice, but privately, I shake my head sometimes. I don't know if it is a gift or a curse, but at least as far as I am concerned, being sensitive to the needs of others is the biggest hope that our world will manage to achieve peace.

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 5 years ago from Chicago IL

      Hi Kris! Thanks for commenting. Yes, you do sound like your highly sensitive. When my friend's cat died of cancer, I cried. She didn't and it was her cat. We are definitely wired differently!! Thanks for commenting.

    • KrisNick09 profile image

      KrisNick09 5 years ago from Kentucky

      Enlightening hub! I think I must ne highly sensitive too. My sister was in an accident where she had to have her pinky finger removed. The whole family was in the room when she found out. I just stood there like a dummy with tears pouring down my face, I'm still not entirely sure what exactly was making me cry! And my sister didn't cry, she just kept asking me why I was! lolz, yeah, highly sensitive... :)

    • annaglomesh profile image

      annaglomesh 6 years ago from Australia

      Amy...brilliant hub ... this is my partner all over. I read it out to him and he agreed ... loved the quote at the end..

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Thank you Peter. I appreciate that and I think you're right. Its difficult sometimes, especially at work.

      Take care,


    • Denmarkguy profile image

      Peter Messerschmidt 6 years ago from Port Townsend

      I hope you find a way to feel more welcoming towards your sensitivity, and not "hating" it. For me, that has come through embracing the idea that I am NOT "like other people" and it would be futile for me to "expect" or "pretend" that I am.

      It's not easy, and I think part of being human is that we always want to be something OTHER than who we are: If we are short, we want to be tall; if we have straight hair, we want curls, and so on.



    • profile image

      djlinus 6 years ago

      we come in five all sisters we feel each other across miles we know when something not right we lost a sister to a car reck it funny cause we can steel feel her spriit around its more than just a family bond ....

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Hi Zepboy,

      Yes, that's true too. I do feel my heartbeat when it's quiet. I can usually tune it out though. )

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Hi Monetteforjack,

      That space is driving me crazy too. I've been fiddling around trying to fix it.

      Thank for commenting & for voting Gift instead of Curse. :)

    • profile image

      zepboy 6 years ago

      interesting hub ...HSP's may also be hyper tuned to their autonomic and sympathetic bodily functions ie feeling their heart beat, their lungs expand and contract, twitches, spasm's ache's and pains. This has both positive and not so positive side effects also.

    • MonetteforJack profile image

      MonetteforJack 6 years ago from Tuckerton, NJ

      You have an interesting hub here. I don't believe in curses, so I voted gift. Being an HSP is truly a gift because if you put your feelings to use positively, many are benefitted. HSpeople tend to please others and go out their way to make peace. I remember when I was young, my mom who is very sensitive person, she'd give me the eye that means I have to stop yakking because the person I am talking to is not in a good mood. I learned from her. Now, I do glare at people who aren't sensitive to their surroundings or to others.

      By the way, as I was reading your hub, I noticed a huge gap between the paragraphs. Perhaps you can edit this? Thanks and this really is an interesting hub.

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Thanks stcyprian! Yes I believe it is also both curse and blessing but I sometimes wish I weren't this way. It's important that I remember the positive side of it.

      That's hilarious about my former boss. You're probably right. He was

      certainly the type! Thanks again for stoping by,

    • profile image

      St.Cyprian 6 years ago

      Good article! It is definitely both a blessing and a curse. I think it can be a real life saver because you can sense a lot about people around you. The curse part is that most of what I sense is very negative.

      People who have very little empathy are sociopaths and psychopaths and they pretty much make up the rest of the percentage. They are predatory and we are their prey. You have to be able to get over your sensitivity and humanity where these people are concerned. I think that is a life lesson.

      I'd be willing to be that your boss in your introductory paragraph had something going with the bully. That's usually how that dynamic goes when you peel back the curtain.

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Hi Angeltrader,

      I know exactly how you feel. It isn't easy being so different from most people. I never feel like I fit in. My family and friends rarely reach out or go out of their way for me. They come to me for support, advice and help but never give me equal treatment. Maybe it just feels that way or maybe it's because they've learned to expect this from me. At the same time I am always being teased because of my sensitivity. I react differently and see things differently than other people. It's hard to see being this way as a gift. I'm glad you liked the quote and thank you for stopping by. :)

    • AngelTrader profile image

      AngelTrader 6 years ago from New Zealand

      This is me down to a tee! I am empathic and highly sensitive...which hasn't served me too well. While I may understand and feel others pain or sadness no one appears to reciprocate which leaves me feeling separate and alone most of the time. It is all well and good reaching out to support it would be nice if it was returned some time.

      I love the quote at the end, boy does that ring true!

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 6 years ago from Chicago IL

      Thanks for commenting timcga70. Yes highly sensitive person is a new term. It was coined a few yrs ago. I only just came across it myself and was inspired to write this hub. I have all the traits. Another way to know you are an hsp is by recalling all the times you've been told 'you take things too personally.' if I only had a penny for all the times my mom said that to me! Thanks again for commenting and voting my hub up. Means a lot, especially from a fellow sensitive soul who gets it. Take care!

    • tlmcgaa70 profile image

      tlmcgaa70 6 years ago from south dakota, usa

      great hub...i have been thinking of writing a hub on empathy...and what you write about HSP sounds very much like an empathic person. perhaps people have begun using the term highly sensitive person because like me they dislike being associated with psychics. voted up and interesting and useful. btw...it is a gift because it helps us to understand others better and we are better able to help them.


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