Did you know that one out of every five people is predisposed to experience higher levels of mental, physical, and emotional sensitivity? They're called highly sensitive people (HSPs) and I'm one of them. Many, but not all HSPs are empaths as well—meaning they can feel and absorb the emotions of those around them.
Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. was one of the first to study and bring awareness to the unique needs and behavior patterns of HSPs. Aron found that highly sensitive people interact with their environments and approach relationships in a way that’s slightly different from the rest of the population. You can read more about her findings in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, or take this test on her website to determine if you are an HSP.
A few attributes of HSPs are that they're more likely to cry and become overwhelmed by sensory input; they also notice and respond to changes in lighting, sound, speech, and body language that others may not notice. Changes in plans, violent television shows, and even strong odors can completely throw HSPs for an energetic loop. This may cause a seemingly unwarranted emotional response or create a need for withdrawal on the HSP’s part. Sometimes when a highly sensitive person has reached his or her "limit," (s)he will begin to find ways to turn the noise down without explaining why to those around them.
As I mentioned, many HSPs are also empaths. Empaths have the ability to absorb other people’s emotions and feel them as if they are their own. HSPs are more responsive to environmental stimuli—information coming to them from their environment and perceived by the five senses—while empaths are more responsive to energetic stimuli. An HSP can usually pinpoint exactly what’s triggering their response while an empath may be vaguer, citing that they just "know" or "have a feeling."
As an HSP and an empath, I’ve found plenty of information about managing my responsiveness, sorting through what is mine versus what belongs to others, and what I call "pulling back to center," or grounding, after interaction with others. However, if you happen to be in a relationship with an HSP or an empath, then you're dealing with a unique kind of person, and you may be wondering what you can do to be a better friend, lover, and support system for them.
Here are a few pointers: