Highly sensitive people, or HSPs for short, experience life on an amplified level, and our relationships follow suit.
Deep levels of connection — along with the occasional “Wait, are you mad at me?” text after a minor disagreement — are pretty common for us.
It’s way more than having a bunch of feelings, though.
Originally identified by psychologist Elaine Aron, high sensitivity is actually a genetic personality trait.
Ask a scientist, and they’ll call it “sensory processing sensitivity,” a fancy term that basically means our nervous systems process external stimuli stronger and more deeply than most.
It’s pretty common, too. Studies from Aron estimate that 15 to 20 percent of the population is born with the trait.
So, there’s a pretty fair chance you’ll date an HSP at some point — if not be an HSP yourself who has to communicate your own needs.
Regardless of labels, each and every individual is different. The HSP experience isn’t a monolith.
These are a few things I’ve gathered from *my own* experiences dating as a highly sensitive person.
Like many others who are highly sensitive, scratchy materials are an emphatic “hell no” from me. However, getting a massage sends me into a trance-like state of satisfaction.
According to Aron, some HSPs feel physical sensations deeper than others.
That has a bright side, like when small displays of affection elicit a deliciously strong reaction of pleasure. On the other hand, it may also result in a lower pain tolerance.
Hugs, kisses, lazy Sunday afternoons piled atop one another on the couch — it’s all to die for. The golden rule is to slow it all down, start gently, and always do so with consent.
Whether a tiny flake of pepper stuck in between your teeth or microscopic differences in body language, HSPs are constantly analyzing others.
If you’re in a bad mood, we’re going to notice. Trying a new laundry detergent? Yeah, we’ll probably notice that too.
Since we’re often knee-deep in our own vast world of brain activity, HSPs are pretty prone to overstimulation. Sometimes, I’ll find myself boiling over with a million exciting things to share with my partner.
Other times, I’m more like a blob of Jell-O making semi-unintelligible noises to communicate. All of that meticulous noticing can exhaust us.
I once had a partner ask, “Why do you have so many questions?” in response my attempts to suss out why he was acting differently.
Because I often put my own inner workings under a microscope, it’s pretty typical for me to ponder those of others, especially when they have an effect on me.
Not only are HSPs affected by others’ moods, the neural systems within our brains are actually changed by them.
What I’m trying to say is, if you leave us guessing by not communicating, we’re gonna feel that. Hard. We might drum up our own conclusions and stress about the unknown.
Communication should never be a game of chess — so try to avoid guessing games. Just spill those damn emotional beans.
I often feel like I’m riding a unicycle on the line between craving personal space and adoring deep levels of connection. Since my energy ebbs and flows with the intensity of a small volcano, I often need some time to myself to enjoy solitude and be “mentally offline,” so to speak.
The rich inner world of an HSP typically lends to having a million different ideas backed with great passion.
This means many of us value our independence and autonomy immensely. I can’t speak for everyone, but clingy people make me want to bolt out the door.
At the same time, I’ve spent entire days in bed with people I’ve loved. I want my partners to know the little details of my day-to-day life, and I want to know theirs, too.
It’s a matter of finding that just-right balance and having a partner who understands — someone who has a world of their own passions, too.
According to Aron, HSPs, as a result of the subtleties they pick up, tend to “see more threatening consequences in their partners’ flaws or behaviors; reflect more and, if the signs indicate it, worry about how things are going.”
And she’s right — but that doesn’t automatically equal high maintenance.
Before I dove headfirst into years of self-discovery, my sensitivity played a role in some unnecessary conflicts. (Sorry, first few guys I dated).
As I’ve learned to better understand and manage my own emotions, my relationships have flourished. It makes a world of difference when sensitivity is nurtured and understood.
But not everyone is willing to commit to this long-term work.
It takes a lot of time and energy to figure out your needs as an HSP. And once you learn to communicate these needs, it all flows much better.
Impromptu kisses on the forehead, “good morning” scrawled on little notes, our favorite dessert when we’ve had a sh*t day — you have no idea how freakin’ loved these “little things'” make us feel.
In fact, we’ll probably talk about it for days and replay the special moments in our heads for weeks to come, relishing in the delight of it all.
The relationship-induced joy felt by HSPs is unparalleled, and those who we share it with are never forgotten. We’ll happily return the favor, keeping you in mind with all the little decisions we make throughout the day.
Sure, things can get a little complicated here and there. But isn’t that every relationship? Sensitivity is a normal and healthy part of human emotion, and it’s about time everyone got down with that.
Sarah Lempa is a writer and creative media strategist covering the joys (and challenges) of travel lifestyle, mental health, and solopreneurship. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, VICE, and SUITCASE Magazine, among others. Currently based in Indonesia, she’s called multiple countries home and has ventured across six continents along the way. When she’s not chipping away at a piece, you’ll find her jamming out to groovy beats or riding a motorcycle. Keep up with Sarah on Instagram.