On Being a Highly Sensitive Person

Reflections on a Misunderstood Sensibility

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 For HSPs, the world feels like the water. When a stone is skipped on the surface, we pick up the biggest and faintest ripples, and enjoy the patterns and symmetry of nature, the multi-faceted frequencies of feeling!

At the same time, these reverberations can feel quite disruptive, especially when others around us toss many stones at once, or worse yet, if they minimize or ignore the fact that stones are even being thrown in the first place!

It’s not uncommon for a non-HSP to complain, “what’s the big deal?” or “why are you making such a mountain out of a molehill?”, underestimating the delicate and powerful interconnections between inner and outer forces.

Non HSPs don’t often notice the metaphorical stones or their wake. If they do, they might blithely dismiss it as too trivial to really matter. Feelings, like electricity, are invisible after all.


When I was a boy, I was terrified of the ocean—of its vastness and its power, its sheer capacity to swallow me up. For many years, I thought it was an unreasonable weakness, a shameful lack of capacity to be free and independent in the world.

Looking back on it now, I see it as a recognition: what’s outside is inside, and what’s inside is out there too. The world is always intermingling itself with us, and if we don’t find our balance, we are truly at its mercy!

When this universal truth isn’t acknowledged or honored, things don’t really feel safe. Moreover, if we can’t smoothly connect inside and outside—or are told to deny the magnitude of these forces—one can easily be swept up in the waves. While this is true for all–even the best swimmers can be taken in by a riptide!—this is especially true for HSPs.

Temperamentally, we seem to feel things more intensely and perceive them more keenly. In so doing, we notice the fragile balance in the complex ecosystem of sensation and emotion—a world whose territory is best charted by poets and novelists ( See Miss Dickinson or Mr. Kerouac for some good tutelage).

Without good mentoring, this HSP quality can be downright confusing—is this me, is this you, or is this the world? There’s so much coming in to the system that it can be tricky to differentiate and then navigate. It takes experience, time, and wisdom, to come to Dickinson’s truth that:

“The Sailor cannot see the North but knows the Needle can.”

The good news is that you when find your compass points and get proper balance—like so many HSPs do!—you can, like William Blake observed:

“see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour. “

So yes, the world is a bit more permeable for HSP’s, a bit more mad. Even with all that, I’m still with Jack Kerouac on this one:

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!””

So this summer, you’ll find me enjoying the waves. As an HSP, I’ve learned to have both reverence and gratitude for the water, and truly appreciate what it has taught me about who I am and who we are. Hope it helps you and your fellow HSPs savor the season just a bit more too!   

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