Highly Sensitive People aka HSP: a missing personality-type?
If emotions overwhelm you or you’re moved to tears by a minor thing, probably you’re among “Highly Sensitive People”, aka HSPs, according to a new book titled “Sensitive: The Power of a Thoughtful Mind in an Overwhelming World” by Jenn Granneman and Andre Sólo (Penguin, London, 2023). Both authors discussed it during the Talks at Google series (video).
Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) comprise between 15% and 30% of the population, as described in an article by Rhik Samadder in The Guardian (2 April 2023).
While there is debate over the concept’s validity, its proponents say HSPs are unique in that their physical and emotional sensitivity is the same, meaning they process their environment at a deep level. They are more likely to react strongly to caffeine and alcohol and to become overwhelmed by crowds, noise, light and smells. Celebrities, including Lorde, Nicole Kidman and Alanis Morissette, have said they identify as HSP.
The book by Granneman and Sólo calls for greater acceptance and recognition of susceptible people (HSPs) in society. HSPs are people whose nervous systems are more easily overwhelmed by external stimuli, leading to greater emotional sensitivity.
The authors argue that society’s view of sensitivity has unfairly focused on its downsides, with HSPs often being told to “be less sensitive.” The book highlights the positive aspects of HSPs, including their creativity and ability to make connections others cannot.
The authors also call for greater self-acceptance of sensitivity and argue that it is a valuable trait that should be celebrated rather than stigmatized. The term “HSP” is self-reported chiefly and is not currently considered a clinical diagnosis, although some researchers suggest it may overlap with conditions such as ADHD and autism.
The controversy surrounding susceptible people (HSP) has increased, with many perceiving that sensitive individuals are granted too much influence. However, as pointed out by one expert, sensitivity does not solely imply being easily offended or crying frequently.
Notably, there is a generational bias to the increasing interest in HSP, with younger generations adopting niche therapeutic terms to describe themselves. It has become commonplace to diagnose individuals with disorders like PTSD, narcissism, and psychopathy through clinical slogans on social media platforms. While these labels can be limiting, they also reveal how much we desire to be understood and validated. Sensitivity, like anxiety, may now risk losing its meaning as a ubiquitous human trait.
Meanwhile, research has confirmed that sensitivity is a healthy trait associated with the ability to sincerely perceive, process, and respond to one’s environment. Despite its positive connotations, sensitive people still face many challenges that labels cannot solve. In short, the word sharp might be better replaced by responsive, as sensitive people naturally pick up more information from their environment, process it more deeply, and are ultimately more shaped by it.