An HSP goes to a party. They notice that recently something has been washed in this room– they smell a strong hint of pungent detergent that’s really disturbing, combined with the fragrance of that person’s cologne! Their pupils feel really uncomfortable with the fluorescent lights. They might find that a person gives off a standoffish vibe: maybe that person had a fight with someone. They see another person not feeling comfortable standing up. They observe that they want to sit down–they seem to be quite tired. Disappointed with some of the people in the room, an HSP may go and stand next to someone else that looks pretty friendly but not too loud. However, a non-HSP might see all the people at the party and then they may have no problem mingling and starting a conversation with a person or two.
In endless ways, from the simple pleasures of eating and tasting different food to responding strategically on the basis of our consciousness to nonverbal signals (that others have no idea they are giving off) about their current mood or reliability, an HSP’s knowledge about subtleties is useful. An HSP’s nervous system is more sensitive coming in via our senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, hearing. HSPs pick up on subtle details that others miss (like little changes in our surroundings, or non-verbal cues from other people, etc.). They are also more impacted by sensory input like strong smells, bright lights, loud noises (intense startle responses are common), itchy fabrics, hot or cold temperatures, and hunger. On the other hand, of course, when an HSP is stressed out, they may be the least mindful of anything, subtle or disgusting, except their need for a rest.
The term for high sensitivity is “sensory sensitivity processing,” when the central nervous system is more sensitive to physical, social, and emotional stimuli. Most studies about HSPs show that highly sensitive people can sense the most subtle details.HSPs process sensory information more thoughtfully rather than feeling any physical effects on their bodies. The brain areas that are more involved as experienced by sensitive people are those that make sensory information more complex. Not so much the areas that by their shape recognize alphabet letters or even read words, but the areas that capture the subtle meaning of words.
However, many consider this sensitivity to be a gift towards enjoying the finer things in life from the sounds of birds to the first rays of morning sunlight. Rather than it being a negative, all aspects of a HSP can be considered gifts in this fast-paced world.