I first heard the term "highly sensitive person" a few years ago when I came across a quiz about the subject in one of my favorite magazines. As I checked off "yes" to nearly every single question, I felt as though the person who wrote the quiz just got me. I was extremely relieved to finally learn that I'm not the only one who cries over certain songs, feels physically sick when faced with the most mild confrontation, and simply cannot deal with any sort of sensory overload.
Highly sensitive people have high sensory processing sensitivity, which means they're more impacted by sensory information, from loud noises to crowded streets. And although we make up 20 percent of the population, being an HSP is often discussed only as a challenge that we have to work around, something we should strive to overcome. But while I won't deny that being an HSP can sometimes be overwhelming and difficult, there are also many benefits to being a highly sensitive person that aren't discussed nearly often enough.
Plus, being an HSP comes from our genetic makeup, so it's not something we can simply switch off. Since this is how we were born, we should embrace it and focus on the benefits that being an HSP can give us, such as our empathy, creativity, and ability to feel positive emotions very deeply.
Here are six reasons being a highly sensitive person can be a great thing both for us and those around us — taken both from research and my first-hand experience:
1. We Feel Positive Emotions More Deeply
Yes, HSP tend to get upset more easily than others. Our feelings are easily hurt. But feeling things deeply goes both ways — so when something good happens, even if it's small, highly sensitive people feel the happiness and gratitude on a deep level. A kind compliment or a wonderful conversation with a friend or family member can totally make our day. And when something really great or exciting happens — well, there are no words for how over the moon we are with happiness. We love deeply, and we also feel other people's love for us on a deep level — and that's an amazing feeling.
2. We're Empathetic
In a recent study, a group of HSPs and non-HSPs were each shown photos of both strangers and loved ones with facial expressions exhibiting either happiness or sadness. For HSP subjects, it didn't matter whether the photo displayed a positive or negative emotion — HSPs displayed higher levels of activation in the areas of the brain associated with empathy.
Of course, HSPs aren't the only people who experience empathy, and non-HSPs are equally capable of being amazing friends, partners, and parents — but our high levels of empathy are a special quality we can bring to our relationships.
3. We Have The Potential To Be Great Leaders
In the workplace, there's a misconception that extroverts make better leaders than introverts, when in reality, introverts can become very successful leaders. Similarly, HSPs (who are often introverted) are typically written off as not having leadership potential because, well, we're viewed as just too sensitive.
But psychologist Sherrie Campbell points out that many inherent qualities of HSPs are precisely the qualities that allow us to be great leaders and an asset to any team: emotional awareness, dedication to treating colleagues fairly, and passion. She also notes that since HSPs have a high level of emotional awareness, we often have good intuition about what will move other people emotionally — a quality that is a definite benefit in any business that relies on connecting with consumers.
4. Sensitivity Encourages Creativity
There's a strong correlation between sensitivity and creativity. Which makes sense — HSPs have a whole lot of feeling and emotions, so we naturally seek outlets to express ourselves, often through interests like art, writing, music, and dance. We experience life in different ways than our non-HSP peers, and this is a huge benefit when we choose to pursue a creative hobby or career. Since we see the world through a unique lens, we're able to tell a creative, interesting story through our chosen art form. Plus, our emotional awareness means we pick up on the many subtleties around us — and those small details and observations are a huge asset during any creative process.
5. We're Detail-Oriented & Conscientious
Being highly conscientious and having a keen eye for detail are two of the most common characteristics among HSPs. Because our brains process things differently, we pick up on little things that others may not notice — such as a small indication that someone is upset or a minor change in our environment. This attention to detail can be extended to many things we do, and allows us to excel at projects that require a detail-oriented, conscientious worker.
6. We're Often Great With Animals
OK, so this one doesn't have as much scientific evidence as the others — but it has been observed that animals can detect sensitive people and are drawn to them. And Psychology Today notes that many HSPs are sensitive towards animals and how they are treated. So, if we happen to be animal lovers, we make really great pet owners because our empathy extends to our four-legged friends. And, in return, they of course provide us with unconditional love and joy — which we feel really deeply, because that's one of the perks of being an HSP.
So next time someone criticizes you for being too sensitive or tells you to toughen up, just remember that you have plenty of amazing qualities that are tied to your sensitivity. Instead of beating yourself up for being too sensitive, focus on cultivating your empathy and creativity — because those are tremendous assets and you can use them to do amazing things for yourself and others.