Every individual reacts differently to certain situations or stimuli. In some cases, people can easily break down in a stressful circumstance or a high-pressure situation. These people are often susceptible to high sensitivity.
However, it does beg the question on how can high sensitivity be identified. Firstly, there is the HSP-scale test, which recognises four symptoms of high sensitivity.
Some common phrases used by highly sensitive people are, “I react strongly to criticism.” “I wish I had thicker skin.” “I’ve been really sensitive ever since I was a child.” “I get quickly stressed and ﬁnd noisy surroundings hard to deal with.”
According to experts, to be highly sensitive, the below factors need to be present in a person from childhood onward.
Depth of Processing
Depth of processing is the key characteristic of high sensitivity. It only manifests indirectly in people who think deeply about things and experience strong feelings in response to their surroundings and the experiences that they have.
On a practical level, if someone entertains a lot of spiritual and philosophical questions, decisions may difficult to make. They may like to think analytically and laterally about problems.
It is as if the mind and the body of a highly sensitive person are a seismograph that is able to pick up subtle vibrations in the ground, responding far more quickly and reacting far more strongly. Sometimes this can be pleasant, because it can be an enriching experience that makes life vital and varied. But sometimes it can be tiring and stressful.
If a person reacts particularly sensitively to a given environment, then this overstimulation can quickly lead to a feeling of overarousal. Everyone inevitably reach a high level of arousal when experiencing a very high pitch of stimulation.
When this arousal level is too high, their well-being and cognitive abilities begin to decrease, which can manifest itself in difficulties concentrating, struggling to come up with ideas, and blanking.
Often, people with high sensitivity will describe overstimulation as just “stress,” “tension,” or “irritability,” and it is usually the biggest challenge that their high sensitivity poses, because it is often very hard to avoid in daily life, be it work meetings, children’s birthday parties, or even a brightly lit, busy supermarkets.
Emotional Reactivity (Including Empathy)
The third indicator of high sensitivity is a generally high emotionality, which is not limited to certain situations or speciﬁc feelings.
Again, this must have been present from childhood and relates to both positive and negative feelings and is not related to very speciﬁc situations in which these feelings relate to a person’s negative life experiences. In other words, a tendency to react to things more emotionally than others do in similar situations and to do so whether such things are pleasant or unpleasant and in whichever situation they take place.
Also typical for highly sensitive people, and connected to emotional reactivity, is a high capacity for empathy, supported by ﬁndings that show that the area of the brain containing “mirror neurons” is more activated in highly sensitive people. These cells in our brains are activated when we witness something, exhibiting a pattern of activity that corresponds to the pattern that would have been activated if the same thing had happened to us.
Sensitivity to Subtle Stimuli
If as a highly sensitive person you find particular fabrics unpleasant, have trouble sleeping in noisy environments, or quickly notice small changes in your environment, this does not, in fact, mean your sensory organs are better developed than other peoples’, but rather that you processing the stimuli more deeply. This is a marker of high sensitivity. In other words, highly sensitive people don’t hear or see better than other people, but what they do perceive is processed more deeply and resonates in them longer.
Our sensitive, physiological perception of the world through our sensory organs can be related to hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching, and also to our perception of pain and temperature. It’s very typical that highly sensitive people have a marked aversion to extremes of temperature, whether hot or cold; that they often ﬁnd loud, full, or busy places quickly overstimulating; and that they are often very sensitive to smells and sounds.