What does it mean to be Highly Sensitive?

Information about the Highly Sensitive Trait

Everybody hurts sometime.  It is part of our human nature to experience emotional ups and downs in response to the words and behaviours of others or certain situations. We’ve all faced conflict, rejection, embarrassment, disappointment or tragedy in some shape or form, and perhaps we felt really sad, angry, fearful or extremely stressed out for a while.


However, not everyone experiences these emotional ups and downs in the same way. Research has found that up to 20% of the general population are highly sensitive. That 20% includes as many sensitive males as there are females. 


The research of Dr Elaine Aron has helped develop our understanding of what it is to be highly sensitive, and it is her work that has inspired this Service to specialise in high sensitivity.  


What does it mean to be “highly sensitive”?


High sensitivity is a normal, innate trait that has been confirmed through many studies that have called the trait “Sensory Processing Sensitivity”.  Alongside the general population, an highly sensitive person might seem different. 

According to Elaine Aron PhD, almost every highly sensitive person will experience these 4 facets:


Depth of ProcessingSome examples: process emotional situations very deeply, give careful and thorough analysis to decisions/tasks/situations sometimes to the point of being unable to decide or take action, excessive concerns, over-thinking, extremely conscientious, do life on a deeper level and may be considered insightful, value deeper meanings, seek spirituality, and pause to check for danger before engaging etc.


Easily OverstimulatedSome examples: nervousness, chronic stress, burned out, fatigued easily, trouble sleeping, low tolerance for sensory input, performance impaired due to stress, headaches, highly strung, avoidance of overstimulation, panic, life feels out of balance, need more down time than others etc.


Emotional IntensitySome examples: strong emotional responses, highly anxious, concerned about emotional overreaction, reactive, negative feelings overwhelm, strong empathy for others, may have low self-esteem, cry easily etc


Sensitive to Subtle StimuliSome examples: react to environmental conditions, notice details and subtle changes, sensitive to a range of stimuli, fussy about food/fabric/comfort, additional stress due to conditions, low tolerance for high input etc. 


Extroversion and Sensation Seeking Sensitives


Elaine Aron PhD found in her research that a small minority (30%) of highly sensitive people were extroverted and sensation seeking. Down time requirements to keep up with their enthusiasm can reveal their high sensitivity even though they are out seeking high stimulation activities.  


The Challenges of Being Highly Sensitive


For the highly sensitive person, living with all of these challenges above can be intense, exhausting, depressing or anxiety provoking. If you think that yourself or a member of your family may be highly sensitive, and there are problems in your life, please contact SenseWell for professional help. SenseWell aims to help you move past distress and into a place where life feels manageable and enjoyable. 


Is “High Sensitivity” a disorder?


There is no specific “disorder” that is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) published by the American Psychiatric Association for being "highly sensitive". This is because high sensitivity in itself is a normal, innate trait, present from birth that can be experienced positively. However, some highly sensitive people experience their trait as distressing and they may find that it interferes with their quality of life. There are also a range of symptoms across some mental disorders that point to or relate to high sensitivity. According to the DSM V description of disorders, if there is clinically significant distress for a person that impairs social, occupational and important areas of function, then it is possible that a person may have a mental disorder.




It is important to understand that the highly sensitive trait:
•    Can occur alongside a mental disorder, or 
•    Can be overstated as a mental disorder when it is a natural trait, or 
•    Can be understated as simply a trait when there is actually a mental disorder present. 


Choose the right professional:


If you or one of your family members think you may be highly sensitive and are experiencing distress and problems, and/or if you suspect you may be suffering from a mental disorder, it is important to choose a professional that understands the high sensitivity trait and mental disorders.


SenseWell has specialised training in providing talking therapy (counselling) for those suffering with a range of mental disorders and problems including depression, anxiety, personality disorder etc. The primary forms of therapy offered are person-centred Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and Acceptance Commitment Therapy in this Service. 


SenseWell is endorsed as an highly sensitive aware practitioner, listed on Dr Elaine Aron’s Website. We are devoted to best-practice for assisting distressed highly sensitive people with or without mental disorders, and have years of experience working with families in complex and crisis situations where mental illness is involved.


Disclaimer: the information on this site is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. 



Video  of Dr Elaine Aron talkng about High Sensitivity 

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who understands the high sensitivity trait as well as mental disorders.

Highly Sensitive