All your life you thought something was wrong with you. You were uncomfortable around noise. No one understood your
need to be alone. You seem to know things without being told. The good news is that you are not dysfunctional. You are a
highly sensitive person (HSP). You are not the only one; you share this trait with at least 20% of the population who are
referred to as shy or touchy.

HSPs respond strongly to external stimuli, and become exhausted from taking in and processing these stimuli. They are born with a nervous system that sees, hears, smells or feels more than others. As adults, they also think, reflect or notice more than others. The processing is largely unconscious or body-conscious. HSPs grow up feeling flawed, especially when loud music, crowds of people, or simply a busy day stresses them. At such times, they need quiet time alone to recover.

Problems can begin in childhood if their sensitivities are not recognized. They can be deeply traumatized, even in the
womb. They may know that they are not wanted. The baby is more peaceful when alone. Certain people terrify them, toy
mobiles upset them, rocking irritates them, and changes in weather make them restless. They may be colicky, and their
digestive systems may not tolerate food that is too hot or too cold. If the needs of the baby are ignored the child becomes

Sensitive babies are also very creative and aware. They may walk early or smile a lot. When they begin to crawl they
search out ways to alleviate their apprehension. When old enough, they spend time alone to regain their balance and energy.

This hyper-awareness to their environment makes HSPs cautious. They are not known for their rash actions. They foresee
the consequences of words and actions. Any kind of change can be difficult. HSPs can feel happy in their hearts on a joyous
occasion but are unable to express it. They are seen as inhibited or unsociable. They do not like social situations and prefer
having deep intimate conversations with someone.

Rather than forcing themselves to fit in and be more outgoing HSPs need to learn to appreciate their sensitivity in
non-stimulating ways. Developing boundaries for safety and comfort becomes important. If they are sensitive to bright
fluorescent lights, chemical odours or certain kinds of people, HSPs need to use their creativity to find ways to avoid such

HSPs often try to hide themselves. They rarely appreciate that many other people also have their traits. Sharing quiet meals and talking about spiritual matters can become intimacy heaven. Accepting that they really do enjoy long walks in nature, rather than tennis matches, alleviates stress.

Their tendency towards withdrawal presents unique difficulties in relationships. HSPs turn inwards for protection against
what they are experiencing. Relationships of mutual respect provide a safe, consistent haven of acceptance. HSPs must be
wary of being people-pleasers. A lack of self-esteem can turn into a habit of satisfying the needs of the other person. They
can end up feeling overwhelmed and alone in a relationship they cannot let go of.

A sensitive person’s ability to pick up subtle cues and ambivalence in the unconscious processes of the other can affect
communication in relationships. Even though they can tune into what is going on, they either can’t say it, or they blurt out a
negative judgment. At these times, they are acting out their own past experiences of being humiliated for their sensitivities.
The way out of this dilemma is to become more conscious of their habitual reactions and to take more time out to be alone.
They need partners to accept this strategy. They may require an entire night’s sleep to be clear enough to express how they
feel about an issue.

HSPs appreciate intimacy. They actually prefer talking about their feelings and spirituality but often believe no one else is
interested. An open and sharing relationship – preferably with another HSP – can be of great benefit in providing
awareness of what does and doesn’t work. This applies to both the spiritual-social areas and the physical body.

Entertainment and excitement are not what holds a sensitive relationship together. HSPs are more interested in deepening
their self-awareness and never become bored of listening to their partner’s dreams. A sensitive partner will notice subtle
changes in the other’s mood or behaviour.

HSPs are very sensitive to food and physical environments. Food needs to be looked at from a different viewpoint than the food rules of the government. Not all foods are going to be equally tolerated by their body. Stimulating substances such as alcohol, coffee, sugar and junk food are usually highly toxic to an HSP. Diets need to be tailor-made and regularly
modified. There are no right diets that sensitive people can follow permanently. Their level of sensitivity is anything but
static and rigid. It requires a change in attitude to accept the fascinating refinement process continually being experienced by
their body/mind/spirit. Generally, simple, frequent meals work best.

Once HSPs stop trying to be like the strong and tough extroverts, they often develop a keen interest in and gratitude for their consciousness, which benevolently takes them into unexplored realms. These complex inner realms, largely avoided by others, become their individuated paths to wholeness and happiness.

Author's Bio: 

Thomas Eldridge, a Highly Sensitive Person, is the founder and director of The Center
for Highly Sensitive People. He writes a regular weekly free email newsletter for HSPs. At
his clinic he provides counseling, coaching and holistic health services for sensitive
people. Further information is available at or 416-653-2774.