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So I’m working on another book. My first in years. I forgot how much fun it is to write non-fiction, and how much more naturally it comes to me than writing fiction, probably because I’ve been doing it much longer.

Anyway, the book will cover dating advice for introverts. I don’t think that topic is adequately covered in what’s already out there, and I have a lot more to add to the introvert conversation. In this book, I talk about what introversion is as well as other traits that are often seen among introverted folks. One of them is sensitivity.

The word “sensitivity” has many meanings. But for our purposes, we can think of sensitivity in terms of how much you’re affected by external stimulation. Some people like a lot of external stimulation — they like loud music, they’re risk-takers, they’re often very social, and lots of noise, odors, and activity doesn’t bother them. Others prefer less stimulation — they enjoy quiet, they’re not big risk-takers, and often times they can get overwhelmed by too much noise, by certain odors, or by too much going on in their environment. These latter folks are known as HSPs, or Highly Sensitive Persons.

The thinking mind behind the idea of the HSP is Elaine Aron and her well-known book, The Highly Sensitive Person. Here are signs that you may be an HSP, taken from Aron’s website:

  • Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
  • Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
  • Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
  • Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
  • Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
  • Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
  • Do you have a rich and complex inner life?

For a more comprehensive understanding of your sensitivity levels, take this quick quiz. If you score 14 or more, you’re probably an HSP to some degree. I just retook it and scored 17. I don’t mind violent movies or rough fabrics, but I hate noisy environments (especially when I’m home or working) and I cannot drink caffeine at all.

HSPs, in a nutshell, have sensitive nervous systems. They’re more easily impacted by stimulation than others. The reasons for this are complex and involve lots of scientific words, to be explored in future articles. For now, it’s important to understand that sensitivity isn’t something you have much control over, as Aron points out that it’s innate to us. We can, however, control our environments.

Here are a few facts about HSPs:

  • HSPs comprise 15-20% of the population. So it’s not rare, but not “typical” either.
  • The majority of introverts are also highly sensitive. If you’re introverted, chances are you’re at least someone sensitive. However, introversion and sensitivity are not the same thing; introversion is about being an internal person and sensitivity is about how you react to stimuli.
  • Extroverts can be sensitive too. I’ve known many extroverted HSPs and they tend to need time alone to rebalance themselves. This makes them wonder if they’re introverted, when in reality they just need to recover from the stimulation of their lives.
  • Sensitivity isn’t the same as shyness, although many shy people are probably HSPs.
  • There are pros and cons to being an HSP. Cons include people (i.e. non-HSPs) calling you “too sensitive” and thinking you’re difficult or high maintenance. Pros include having a strong awareness of others and an ability to care for them. Many HSPs go into helping and healing professions, such as massage therapy or life coaching.

I’ll talk more about HSPs, and how sensitivity can impact a relationship, in future articles. For now, tell me: can you relate to the idea of an HSP? What did you score on the quiz? What are you sensitive to?