Are you a Highly Sensitive Person?

I’ve just finished reading a book by Elaine Aron, called The Highly Sensitive Person. In the book, Dr. Aron explains that being sensitive is an inherited trait and not a dysfunction. In fact about 15 to 20 percent of the population have this trait. Introversion is also inherited and affects approximately 25 to 30 percent of the population. I have come to realise that many aspects of my personality are more attributed to sensitivity, rather than introversion.

I find that I am easily overstimulated by loud noises, strong smells and a lot of people around me. I need time to retreat and to recover from outings and busy environments. Dr Aron provides some wonderful tips for when we find ourselves overstimulated in social situations. We can remove ourselves from the environment, engage in self-talk or deep breathing to induce calm and change our posture.


Being sensitive is not something that is highly valued in our society, and is often seen as a weakness. However, there are great advantages to being sensitive. Dr Aron provides many examples including being conscientious, excellent at detecting errors, being able to concentrate deeply and the ability to process materials at deeper levels of what is known as semantic memory. We notice things, we have stronger intuition and we tend to have a rich inner life, spending time thinking about the meaning of life and how complicated everything is. If you follow my blog regularly, this might sound familiar.

it’s not just our brains that are different – our bodies tend to show marked differences to our less-sensitive counterparts. We are typically morning people, sensitive to caffeine, very good at holding still and we have excellent fine motor skills. Dr Aron encourages us to value our strengths, and not to undervalue ourselves and what our sensitivity offers us and the world.

There were parts of her book I found earth-shattering considering my experience of burnout. She says that HSPs are highly prone to burnout. We are people-pleasers and tend to put ourselves in the front line, not understanding that there are others who are more suited to the task than we are. This passage talks of exactly what I experienced:

“It is true that even when exhausted you are still providing something to those you serve. But you are out of touch with your deepest strengths, role-modelling self-destructive behavior, martyring yourself and giving others cause for guilt. And in the end you will want to quit or be forced to by your body.”

And boy, did my body quit. My adrenal function collapsed and I developed a lifelong disease. If only I had understood my trait better, I could have prevented such a health collapse. I would not have put myself through so much. I would have fought harder for more time alone to restore, in the knowledge that my brain and body are actually built differently to others.

It was no surprise to read that sales is not well suited to the sensitive person. I was doing a lot of sales in my old job and I mostly didn’t enjoy it. I was thrilled, however to learn that public speaking and performing are actually well suited to HSPs. That is because we tend to prepare better than most, and with a lot of preparation, we perform well. That’s good news for me since I’m pursuing public speaking in earnest lately.

I can also use what I have learnt to be a better parent. Dr Aron states that about 30 percent of sensitive people are extroverts. That was surprising for me and I have realised that my five-year-old fits into that category. She loves people and thrives on fun, but she is very sensitive to loud noises and feels deep empathy.


I can now use Dr Aron’s strategies to educate my children how to handle themselves. Certainly, they will have to learn that balance between being out in the world, and recovering from excess stimulation. But the knowledge of why others don’t need that recovery will help them in life, and they will learn to self-regulate better than I did. I now realise that being a sensitive parent is a great asset for our family.

I have felt misunderstood a lot in my life and it is understandable since the majority of the population are not like me. People cannot understand why I’m bored with small talk, and perhaps find my conversation a little intense. There are many social activities that I’d rather skip, and my recovery from burnout has been a great opportunity to learn this. Luckily, I am at a stage in life where I can choose how I spend my time, and I know myself well enough to know when I’d be happier at home. Not everyone understands this, but it’s important I do what’s necessary for my well-being.

I’m often judged for worrying too much about a ‘vibe’ I picked up. I realise now that I’m not being paranoid – I’m just more attuned than the average person is. I can use this knowledge to accept myself in a way that I wasn’t able to before. I can also make sure that I care for myself properly, giving myself what I need to recover from too much stimulation. I’m excited to see the world through new eyes, appreciating myself more for this new knowledge.

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I am a champion for living your passion. Writing is my passion, my destiny and my calling. I am a mother of two beautiful daughters and a wife and live in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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