It’s estimated that between one-fifth and one-third of the population is highly sensitive, a term first made popular in the mid-’90s by psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron. In my practice as an intuitive, I find that most of the people who seek out my services are HSPs. As an HSP myself, I love helping clients understand, honor, and manage their sensitivity—starting by debunking some common cultural myths about the personality type:
Myth #1: Sensitive people are weak or fragile.
This is probably the biggest myth about HSPs. I had a highly sensitive friend in college who repeatedly told me I was “sensitive” yet never quite explained what that meant. As someone who is very in touch with her inner warrior, I remember being completely turned off by my friend’s well-meaning observation. Being sensitive does not stop you from being assertive and powerful in the world or handling challenging situations. Sensitive people come in all shapes and sizes: introverts and extroverts, stay-at-home parents and CEOs. If you identify as an HSP, think of being highly sensitive as one of your superpowers. Learn more about how to maximize this superpower in my new book Angel Intuition.
Myth #2: Women are more likely to be highly sensitive than men.
I personally find highly sensitive men fascinating, and as an intuitive I get to know a lot of them—whether it be a client who is a sensitive man or someone asking me about a sensitive man in their life. Since society may not as readily encourage or tolerate sensitivity in men, I’m always curious to learn how a sensitive man is managing or navigating his sensitivity. But as our culture becomes more emotionally intelligent, many sensitive men are owning their sensitivity. However, others are still what I call “sensitive men in hiding.” A man in your life who appears very remote or cold might actually be a sensitive man in hiding.
Myth #3: Highly sensitive people cannot handle certain stressful situations.
Some folks who identify as sensitive or empathic might believe they have to hide away from the world. Because sensitive people are hyper-perceptive, meaning they more easily pick up on subtle stimuli, their nervous systems naturally become more easily overwhelmed. Sensitive people do, therefore, need more time to recharge and generally enjoy a little quiet time alone each day. However, sensitive people should not shy away from confronting someone about a difficult subject or taking healthy risks or tackling a challenging situation. Being an HSP is simply an excuse to practice rock-star-level self-care to protect and nurture their sensitivities. If you’re an HSP, remember that your sensitivity was supposed to be an asset for you in this life—not something meant to hold you back or keep you isolated.
Myth #4: HSPs are kinder, more enlightened, or better people.
Being sensitive means you can pick up on the emotions and energy of others more easily. It does not follow that HSPs are therefore more compassionate, spiritually enlightened, gentle, or loving. HSPs are not better, just different. If you can think of 10 people—either people you know personally or people you know through the news like politicians or artists—whom you don’t like or strongly disagree with, there will be a few HSPs among them. While HSPs all have something in common, they are also all very unique.
It’s not a myth that HSPs can be more prone to codependency. When you can easily pick up on the emotions and energy of others, you have some real skin in the game as far as keeping people calm and happy. If you’re an HSP, watch out for people-pleasing tendencies, learn how to consciously tune out of other people’s energy, and create healthy emotional boundaries with folks in your life.
Myth #5: To be a true HSP, you must have always been highly sensitive.
In my work with clients as an intuitive, I have found that sensitivity can be something you just brought into this life with you. Even as a child you felt sensitive and empathic. However, sensitivity can come online, or blossom, at any time in your life. A certain major event—like becoming a parent or navigating a life-threatening illness—could uncover or bring alive sensitivity in someone. A book you read or workshop you attend might get you more in touch with your sensitivity, or once things that have been blocking your sensitivity—like a toxic relationship, job, or diet—are removed from your life, sensitivity could have a chance to breathe and grow. Times of extreme challenge, change, or growth can make your sensitivity temporarily heightened.
Myth #6: Highly sensitive people have similar emotional dispositions and temperaments.
A family might contain two highly sensitive children, for example, with significantly different temperaments. One child might be naturally calm and emotionally even-keeled, while the other child is more emotionally intense and expressive. Highly sensitive people can still look like apples and oranges next to each other. Sensitivity can present differently in different people, and I have also found with clients that sensitivity can exist on a spectrum. So one child in a family of sensitive children might be much more sensitive than the others.
Myth #7: HSPs tend to over-react.
HSPs are simply hyper-perceptive, meaning they are picking up on a lot all day long. Since HSPs can pick up on even subtle stimuli they can be very affected by things with a bigger energetic or emotional signature like a confrontation at work or an upsetting story in the news. HSPs must know they need a little more time to let their nervous systems calm down following such experiences. While a friend may have been able to shrug off the confrontation at work and feel peaceful rather quickly, it will usually take the HSP’s nervous system a bit longer to idle back into neutral again.