Could You Be Too Sensitive?

Do you let other people's moods affect you? Do you try hard to avoid making mistakes or forget things? Do you become unpleasant to be around when surrounded by a lot of activity or stimulation?

If you answered "yes" to these questions, you may be a highly sensitive person—and you're in good company. Fifteen to 20 percent of the population falls into this category. Being sensitive is genetic and tends to run in families. Women, who are socialized to care about others' feelings, are more likely to be highly sensitive.

What may be even more surprising than the prevalence in humans is that the trait of being highly sensitive is also found in most species of animals. It turns out being sensitive may have been a good survival tool.

Although we sometimes use the term thin-skinned to describe someone who's extremely sensitive, this expression implies sensitivity is a negative trait. While overreacting or ruminating about what someone else says or does can lead to depression, on balance, being highly sensitive has more benefits than negatives.

Elaine Aaron, a pioneer in the area of highly sensitive people, has published several books on the topic. She says that because of their sensitive nervous system, highly sensitive individuals are aware of subtleties in their surroundings and are more easily overwhelmed in stimulating environments. You can take the self-test on her website to see if you are one of these people.

Aaron says highly sensitive individuals are generally very creative and productive workers and thoughtful parents. They encourage others to feel their opinions matter, are good listeners, and are naturally empathetic. Highly sensitive people also tend to be intellectually gifted individuals.

While genetics may predispose you to being very sensitive, you can take steps to minimize the negative effects of taking things too much to heart. The next time you start to react to what someone else says or does, breathe deeply and try to step away from the situation for a bit. This gives you time to think clearly and decide how best to respond.

Also, consider the source. Is the person who triggered your reaction someone you trust and whose input you value? If not, perhaps you should just let it go. Believe it or not, it's best not to discuss your hurt feelings with a friend; this puts too much focus on the problem. Instead, find a more productive distraction, such as meditation. And, remember: it's usually not about you.




Sarah Mahoney. "Are You Too Sensitive?" SeattlePI. Web. 15 June 2009.

The Highly Sensitive Person. Web.

Are you highly sensitive? A self test. Web. 25 February 2010.

Koslow, Sally. "Are you too sensitive." Ladies Home Journal. Web. August 2007.