5 Things Your Highly Sensitive Friends and Colleagues Want You to Know

Your friend, coworker, or family member has just told you they are a highly sensitive person or HSP.

What does THAT mean?

It’s not secret code or Internet-speak for something that’s trending.

It’s not the name of a new religion, diet, or music fad.

15-20 percent of the population are HSPs or Highly Sensitive People.

One of the best-known researchers on HSPs has even created a handy quiz to determine if you, too, might be highly sensitive.

Even without a test, most HSPs have long suspected they were different.

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

A Highly Sensitive Person is super tuned in to their environment.

They notice everything—every sight, sound, and smell.

This awareness extends beyond the physical, as HSPs are hyper-aware of moods and emotions, their own and everyone else’s.

Such awareness means they can read between the lines and pick up on subtle communication cues others might miss.

Highly Sensitive People tend to have rich inner lives; their brains work overtime and are apt to be creative.

Yet, these sensitivities can lead to feeling overwhelmed.

HSPs need quiet time to reboot, refresh, and recover to combat this.

Not understanding this reality can lead to misunderstandings between you and the Highly Sensitive People in your life.

We toss out words like overly sensitive or hypersensitive toward others when we mean, “You’re more sensitive than I am” or “You don’t react to the world the same way I do.”

Diversity, in all its forms, makes life rich and interesting.

What Highly Sensitive People Want You To Know

Yet, it is not always easy to understand people with a different temperament.

So, if someone takes the incredible risk of telling you that he or she is a Highly Sensitive Person, here are a few things they want you to know but may not be able to say immediately.

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1) Highly Sensitive People are not weak, mentally inferior, or broken and need fixing.

They are simply tuned into the world differently and more intensely.

In the same way, you’d never send your left-handed friend off to obtain right-handedness therapy and resist the urge to tell your HSP friends or loved ones where to seek help.

Certainly, we all need to adapt at some time to work and play well with others.

Highly Sensitive People are aware of this, sometimes painfully so.

However, there is no reason to try to change all our friends or coworkers into clones of each other.

2) The rich inner lives of HSPs can be inspiration generators.

All of that awareness and consciousness of the world needs to go somewhere.

It usually bubbles out of the sensitive mind as creativity.

Given the opportunity, the Highly Sensitive Person in your life will probably create beautiful things and solve stubborn problems innovatively.

This creativity is a win-win situation for all concerned.

  • First, you or your organization or community can enjoy the results of a sensitive, creative mind.
  • Secondly, a creative outlet is a necessary safety valve for the HSP, giving him or her a way to exercise some control over a chaotic world.

The fear of being harshly judged can stall these necessary creative impulses.

If you want to support your HSP, encourage creativity whenever possible.

3) You, too, might profit from the Highly Sensitive Person’s “early warning system.”

Most of us could benefit from reducing the stimulus and stress we allow into our lives.

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Take the example of your sensitive friend or colleague and carve out time for quiet reflection and recovery from daily strife in your day.

At the end of life, there is no reward for spending time overworked, over-stimulated, or overwhelmed.

Yet we know that many people, especially at the end of life, reflect upon missing tender moments or not taking the time to appreciate a loved one.

4) HSPs are not “thin-skinned,” as we now understand.

Traditionally, the term thin-skinned was used to describe those deemed overly sensitive, especially to criticism.

In today’s media-obsessed world, thin-skinned is no longer used to describe those who wilt under criticism but instead those who lash out publicly when offended.

It’s this new modified version of thin-skinned that really does not apply to HSPs.

Highly Sensitive People are painfully aware of how much criticism hurts, and they are unlikely to lash out and risk stomping the feelings of others.

So the social media version of thin-skinned, a person who is reactive or cruel in response to comments they don’t like, is NOT your HSP colleague or friend.

5) It is possible to give feedback to HSPs.

Does knowing or working with a Highly Sensitive Person mean you are doomed to walk on eggshells and never ever have an opinion or disagreement?


Having a Highly Sensitive Person in your network doesn’t mean you can never voice your views.

However, to get the best results, keep a few things in mind:

  • Don’t try to give important feedback, especially constructive criticism, in a chaotic environment. Vibrant places like coffee shops or parties may be enjoyable for you, but they are not the places to drop important information onto an HSP. Dealing with or filtering out all the stimuli will consume all their energy. Your efforts will be wasted at best. In the worst case, you will add to your HSP’s discomfort.
  • Talk to HSPs about important issues when they’re fresh and not at the end of a busy day. At the end of the workday or after a big social event, Highly Sensitive People have enough noise, smells, and people and long for alone time. This is not the time to start an intense discussion.
  • Stay honest. In addition to being hyperaware of their own emotional state, HSPs can read others easily. If you try to hedge against the truth, the Highly Sensitive Person in your life will pick up on it and become more uncomfortable.
  • Watch out for “sympathetic over scheduling.” Since Highly Sensitive People are so highly attuned to the emotions and needs of others, they are reluctant to say no and risk disappointing you. If you work with or supervise a Highly Sensitive Person who hasn’t mastered time management, you must resist the urge to ask for the impossible. Your HSP will make themselves sick trying to deliver.
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Embrace who you are

True confession time: I am a Highly Sensitive Person.

I’ve been told if roaches ran across the neighbor’s kitchen, I’d hear it and be bothered.

Why didn’t I say so at the beginning?

Because sensitivity has become a negative label, it sometimes blocks people from hearing what I say.

Like any other personality trait, sensitivity happens on a continuum.

Highly Sensitive People want what you want—what we all want—to be seen and appreciated as individuals.

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