Friday, February 08, 2013

Strategies for the Highly Sensitive Person

Do other people’s moods affect you? Are you sensitive to smells, bright lights, sugar, caffeine, or pain? If so, you may be considered a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). In her book, The Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Elaine Aron defines HSPs as people who process sensory data exceptionally deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous system.

Aron writes that high sensitivity is a specific trait with key characteristics and is not the same thing as shyness, inhibition, fearfulness, or introversion. In fact 30% or more of HSP have extroverted personalities. HSP is found in nearly all higher animals at a rate of 15-20% and is exhibited equally in both sexes.

HSPs are excellent employees because they:
- Are dedicated to colleagues, causes, and organizations;
- Detail-oriented and conscientious;
- Able to detect subtle nuances and anticipate the emotional reactions of others;
- Thoughtful and sensitive to the needs and emotions of others;
- Process ideas and issues deeply;
- Work well with little supervision and instruction;
- Avoid office politics and self-promotion;

Occupational suggestions for HSPs:
Market researcher, political consultant, fashion designer, massage therapist, nurse, physician assistant, counselor, social worker, perfume or taste tester, human resources specialist, artist, actor, musician, speech pathologist, audiologist, librarian, researcher, clergy member, interior designer, occupational therapist, alternative medicine practioner, detective, veterinarian, ergonomic consultant, writers, and editors.

Unfortunately, HSPs may encounter the following challenges:
- Society’s view of sensitivity as a flaw;
- Putting others before self;
- Fear of rejection;
- Detachment, emotional numbness;
- Blurred boundaries and role confusion;
- Inability to thrive or even survive in physically or emotionally toxic environments;
- Prone to illness, addictions, and compulsions;
- Often times idealistic and struggle with perfectionism – hard on self and others,
- Take on too many responsibilities, burn out and become resentful,
- Not contribute to discussions and team work;
- Easily overwhelmed in noisy or toxic environment;
- Prefer to avoid conflict and confrontation;
- Become manipulative or passive aggressive;
- May under-perform when being watched;
- Socialize less with others, difficulty building work relationships;
- Avoid self-promotion and/or be overlooked for promotions

How to deal with being an HSP:
It’s important for HSPs to recognize the many gifts high sensitivity brings them in order to avoid focusing on the challenges. Here are some helpful suggestions to help you or your loved ones deal with being highly sensitive:

A healthy lifestyle will help immensely if you often feel tired, anxious, or overwhelmed. Be sure to get enough sleep, exercise routinely, eat healthy meals; and avoid sugar and caffeine.

Avoiding stimulating environments and engaging in centering activities such as taking warm baths, long showers, deep breathing relaxation, dimming the lights, using candles or herbal remedies including flower essences, essential oils, or herbal teas can quiet both the mind and senses. Don’t forget about yoga, tai chi, massage, or energy work. Prayer, meditation, reading, and journaling can do wonders for the highly sensitive person.

Learning to set healthy boundaries is essential for HSP survival. Avoiding toxic people and environments will be helpful in addition to learning how to avoid taking things personally. Identifying a “safe” group of friends to talk to and discuss issues with will be very comforting. Hopefully your friends are highly sensitive too! If you tend to avoid conflict, it’s important that you practice confrontation and conflict resolution skills.

If you’re really struggling, it’s important to talk to a counselor who can help you examine your core belief systems, values, and help you set healthy boundaries. You may need to consult with a qualified physician to use medications that can help you sleep, decrease anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive symptoms that may be related to being highly sensitive.

If you’d like to find out if you are a highly sensitive person, take the online quiz to find out.


vanessa said...

great article.If I had known that alooong time ago. I still struggle with my occupation(business).

Anonymous said...

I don't agree/identify with everything in this article. I am a HSP and have identified myself as being sensory defensive. It is very difficult to live in a world full of scents and sounds - all of which distract and annoy to the point that functioning in certain environments becomes almost impossible. I have found that a low carb diet has helped. Sugar seems to highen my senses. However, I am a professional with a doctoral degree, a wonderful wife and son, and financial success. Being highly sensitive has been a blessing in some ways. I am told I am very sensitive to others, very creative, and artistically talented. I believe more work needs to be done in this area.

eric santiago said...

Love the article. Here's the trouble I'm having as a HSP. I tend to notice all the downfalls of this conditions, and none of the gifts it brings me. Is there any way to change my thinking, or is this just the way I'm wired?

Alphabet Advenuturers said...

Eric, thanks for your message. I'm fascinated to know how you stumbled upon this entry I wrote over 4 years ago!

I know exactly what you mean. There are more positives than's just hard to stay focused on them because of the challenges. I tried to highlight some of the positives of being HSP in the article but like annoyn says...a lot more work needs to be done. Thank you! Megan

Anonymous said...

I have a double-wammy plus the unique Survival traits to notice far more that the mean example of a HSP identified case.
I had a head trauma 10 years ago and needed to be test for Insurance purposes to return to work after my memory and cognitive faculties were proven to be unharmed and would not induce a panic attack or stress issue.
The 2 day testing session was done in one day and I scored in the upper 2% of the population for all the tests and general History and Science questions.
So with an I.Q. close to 140 , it explained why I was bored quickly in School and now I'm a HSP as well. The other new problem is that I saw how I am within the 30% of HSPer's with very acute senses which borders on the Animal Instincts for my hearing,smell, taste and vision.

It now makes sense for why I get fatigued and overwhelmed after several hours within a high-stress or noisy surrounding in public , there is also the insight to many Movies where I take-in all the subtleties for sounds and backdrop props or product placements.
The good news is that when I had a issue for consuming more sugar as a adult, I was tested for diabetes in a 5 hour glucose test and the results showed that when my level reached 80+ my system over produced Insulin to prevent damage but sent the blood sugar down to 48-55 level.
Since 1982 I learned to read every label and watch for the suffix "OSE" which is a form of sugar , DextrOSE, SucrOSE,MaltOSE,FructOSE and so on
which adds up in cereals after the Sugar is posted first and then the other items in the food.

Some smells give me a serious head ache, but I feel really calm
with freshly mowed moist grass fumes, freshly ground coffee beans , gasoline or some foam spray bathroom cleaners.
As for the eyes, some colour are like noise and hard to stare at and cause an issue for people that love lound outfits of pastel colour or stark contrasts for dark purples then bright yellow or pinks. But I have excellent Night vision and better than 20/20 along with spotting a planes number of engines even at 25'000 feet plus by the con-trail.
Some noises kept me alive as i walked around my area and looked twice before crossing the street or didn't hear a trucks brakes being used which showed they were about to run a red light.
Some people have a voice that is like finger nails on a chalkboard , it is usually a high voice for men like Neil Sadaka when he sings, or females with low raspy voice or a annoying lisp to boot.
But one time at a Cinema job I insisted I smelt wood burning because of my camping trips to know the smell for logs, and not treated wood fires from house fires. Finally people gave in to my assertions and we traced it to a discarded cigarette landing on a wooden support under the carpet.

I do feel that the tests for HSP are vague in some questions because I do get annoyed at loud noises but not if I'm enjoying a Arcade with pinball machines and music which is part of the fun that lures me in, THAT moise i enjoy.
As for the feeling tired and resting at home, I'm also have a damages Thyroid with my low Blood sugar problem and i may be fatigued from the lack of medication and not because I want to retreat and rest.
Now I'm focusing on the Career choice more suited to my HSP to exploit them and be in a job I like and will be very good at.

My main problem in life has been that i must live every day meeting people that are part of the other 98% with lower I.Q.'s and be very tolerant when they laugh at factual comments i make for Science, Computer, Biology , or tell them that the SUN is the main factor for earth temps because Al Gore has forced them to think that SUV's cause Global Warming.

Anonymous said...

When I told my husband that being a sales manager isn't really a good job for me because I am a very sensitive person he started searching jobs for sensitive people. That's how I stumbled upon your article.
The Article was really useful. Now I know that I was right to think that my career choice was wrong. I always try to hide that I am sensitive and because I normally have a blunt approach, people think that I am exceptionally confident and strong.
I fight loads of problems in my life and never give up. But a nasty comment from a friend or colleague keeps my mind busy for ages. I also can not stand being rejected or ignored which is a normal part of sales job.
I agree with the last comment from Anonymous on how you have to live with people everyday that aren't interested in life's facts or philosophical discussions.

No one wants to have a deep discussion and the best they can do is the weather or gossiping. I don't know how high or how low my IQ is. All I know is that people are always surprised by my views on life. Some find my perspective a bit too bitter. And I am stuck with a job that leaves no room for sensitivity or writing. It is just numbers and prices.

paintmark said...

please welcome me to the group. :). I've always known I was an HSP, enfp on mb was enough there, but as a male it has been even worse, as I am "supposed" to be primarily one way or they think maybe I'm gay. jeez, what a quandry. hate to have to say but straight middle aged white dude, but seems like I have to ensure I describe myself. sigh. I too have struggled with my career as since I was raised to be the norm I kept forcing myself into that round hole as a square peg, and I'm getting tired of it.

I did get my training as a psychotherapist but the insensitive world and my choices have kept me from being licensed which seems to be a big deal to a lot of people, yet in my state I'm not required to have a license to practice, yet. but I have no idea how to build a practice really.

anyway, my situation is a bit more easy. not overwhelmed by smells, but crowds drive me crazy, easily startled, drink coffee by the gallons because I like it and associate it with the deeper conversation stuff. talk about self-training! but when I say that the more I know people, the more I like dogs I know I have a problem.

visual violence makes me ill, competitiveness is not my nature, and I've been lucky to find a few great friends along the way, some even non HSP that have accepted me as I am. I've been lucky that way, and very, very grateful for that. so what to do for the balance of my life? I get to choose, but man I wish I would have had more courage earlier. timing is everything they say, and in my earlier time mad men were the norm, and you did what you needed to do to hide yourself.

Careers that Work said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. I hear a lot of pain and the feeling of isolation in many of your remarks, which I can relate to. I'm no expert in this field, that's why I read the book and wrote the post. I hope we can all find our place in the world where we can honor our sensitivities instead of having to hide them.

Linda said...

Wonderful article. Thank you so much for sharing.

Careers that work said...

Thanks Linda.

Anonymous said...

Great piece thank you.
I'm 40 and I am at university as a mature student.
I'm HSP, ony found out because some of my responses to the change and new University environment have been puzzling, so I did some research.
It made sense on so many levels I have been sensitive since I was a child but always considered myself to be neurotic or weird.
I can't cope with bright sunlight or bright light in general, I wear shades in the house quite frequently on sunny days.
Loud unexpected noises have me on the ceiling and loud places leave me unable to think clearly.
Strip lights buzzing drive me nuts.
Mess in my environment affects my ability to relax
Too many concepts all at once overloads my mind
Can't watch violent films without being deeply disturbed or crying.
I don't like being touched by people that I'm not close too.
Yup I thought for years that I was just a majorly neurotic weirdo. I've read millions of self help books then I stumbled across HSP and realised I'm wired up to have high levels of reception to stimuli.
So nice to know I'm not wrong
in the head, just different.
Feel so much more able to embrace my self now.
Please keep writing this is a very important issue for people.

Anonymous said...

I don't those career choices are right for an HSP. I mean nursing and being a doctor would be emotionally taxing career choices for hsps. I don't trust this article.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This is my life.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the career choices either. I am a nurse and it is completely destroying me emotionally. I am actually trying to leave it and go into law enforcement. I gravitate toward police work and have been told by ranking officers who know me that I would be excellent. I feel very comfortable with them and like Ifinally fit in somewhere. The behavior of most nurses is intolerable to me. They walk around with this angelic reputations but most I have known are conniving, manipulative, back-stabbing, codependent martyrs. Many are highly narcissistic as well. I am 40 and currently training in a new specialty area. I plan on this being my last nursing job. My two primary preceptors have all the negative traits that I listed above. They are using the socratic method and negative reinforcement to train me and I am doing horrible with it. My nerves take control of me because I feel like I'm on display. It sends my extreme perfectionism into overdrive and I feel ready to shut down. I get so humiliated that I am near tears and want to go to bed, pull the covers over my head and hide. I can't see being HSP as anything but negative.

Caitlin said...

I'm interning to be a high school teacher and finding it horrific on my nerves. I lay in bed and recover the rest of the day, trying to release rememebred words, sounds, impressions and intuitions about the hundred or so students I see each day.

Wondering if anyone here is a counselor or an elementary school teacher?

I am happy in warm, caring environments and need this to do well. Teaching elementary school seems much better than high school as I love kids and they love me. Not sure about 30 of them, but it sure will beat 30 high schoolers or even 12 Special Ed students (I'm special ed certified because I idealistically wanted to help kids with depression and anxiety like I struggled with).

My IQ is 139, I've always been in Honors classes, am a perfectionist, a yoga teacher and an astrologer.... but want job security and a good pay. :)

What jobs do any of you have that are a good fit?

Any counselors or elem. teachers?

Blessings and thanks!

Careers that Work said...

In reference to the comments left in the last few weeks regarding the suggestions from the book that highly sensitive people would do well as doctors and nurses, I agree with that statement based on the author of the book's suggestions; however, I absolutely agree with the above comments that in this day and age (and many organizations stressful environments - those are not a great fit). However, I can understand the author's intent...doctors and nurses who are highly sensitive could assist and help patients much better than someone who is not as highly sensitive because they are able to take in so much information and are typically very concerned about the well being of others. However, the stress involved in such work environments can obviously be way too much to handle for many HSPers in the medical industry and quite frankly that makes me very sad...people called to healing don't fit into the current places that are supposed to assist in the healing of others. This is where a career counselor can be of assistance to help you better understand the gifts/challenges you have and to help you find the right fit for employment. I try to remain as resourceful and optomistic as I can and believe we all have a place where we can be helpful and appreciated in the world.

Careers that Work said...

Hi Caitlin, thanks so much for your comment. I'm so glad to hear you are doing an internship! What a great way to get experience and to learn more about yourself - what fits and what doesn't fit before you get caught in a job that's hard to get out of.

I'm so sorry to hear of the stress the internship is causing you and I can completely relate to the experience you're having based on a few of my own previous work experiences.

It wasn't until I started in my new position which is more administrative than my last few career counseling jobs that I have come to realize that meeting 6-7 new people a day, taking in all of their situations and trying to be as resourceful as I can was just too much for me as a highly sensitive person. I realize now that my person to person contact needs to be lower (not 30 new indepth people a week!) and I like working with people for a longer time frame (not just one hour and then they're gone...I like to know how they're progressing and how I can assist them more). We're all learning how we can best help others and ourselves and it takes awhile.

I can understand that the elementary school age might be a better fit for you versus high school, but the problems many younger children and their families are facing can take up a tremendous amount of psychological energy. My first thought is that perhaps working with children in a special education setting might be a better fit for you with your highly sensitive nature. Not so many interactions...more impact and less overall emotional and behavioral information to take it. I can see that working with a special needs population is challenging but once you know what those challenges are and get to know the individuals more, I wonder if you'll adapt better than working with 20-30+ students...just some ideas. Feel free to contact me at I provide low cost career counseling and can work with you over the phone and email if we are not geographically close to each other.

Careers that Work said...

I've started a blog specifically targeted to Highly Sensitive People -

I invite you to share your suggestions and questions and hopefully we can build up a network of support for each other.

Anonymous said...

Hi Caitlyn! Although I love being a teacher, I had to find a different environment after spending five years in a middle school. I was extremely exhausted and it took an emotional toll on me that affected my personal life. Now, I tutor privately. I work with students individually and in a quiet environment. I am still able to do what I love, but in a way that helps me to keep my sanity. Many teachers are HSPs and want to do everything right, but it is almost impossible with only 24 hours in one day. Eventually, it leads to burn out and the system loses fantastic teachers.Good luck. I am sure that you will find something that fits!

Brian said...

Hey, eric santiago. I believe some of what you feel is due to being a highly sensitive male, which is different than being a highly sensitive woman. Here is a link to a really good article on that:

Megan said...

Thanks so much for the article link Brian!

Anonymous said...

The career suggestions seem completely off. A lot of the careers listed are emotionally taxing and stressful. Counseling, for example, is a horrible career for an HSP because you are exposed to other peoples' moods and energies all day and are also expected to help with those moods.

Careers that Work said...

I understand what you are saying Annonymous...however for some people with HSP, counseling comes natural and is incredibly rewarding. It's really important for people with HSP would enjoy doing counseling work to know their limitations and gain coping mechanisms and boundaries. That can be done.

Anonymous said...

I cannot bring to words how important it has become for me to have found this site and to know that I'm not alone. Always knew I was a sensitive, (my mom wrote in my baby book at only a few months she could tell my feelings were easily hurt); but as well thought I was seen as a weirdo and of course as hard as I try I haven't been able to ignore or forget hurtful words I overhear or am told about myself. I laugh and say; "my life's lesson is to learn not to care what others think", and it is something that I struggle with to the core. When I hear that someone doesn't like me or misunderstands me I get so angry and think..*I try so hard to make everyone comfortable around me.. how can they not like me? I've learned to try to be positive and practice breathing in positive love and pushing out negativity. It helps a lot but once in a while I have a very hard time fighting the negative. I believe it is the same with most people as far as that goes. Some people I find I can't get comfortable around.. those I cannot "read" or tell how they feel seems alien to me and confuses the crap out of me. I have been mostly in sales and enjoy a quick convo, even hugs from complete strangers (which wasn't always the case and I still don't like hugging my own family haha) but I like meeting people laughing with them, ring them up and boom theyre out the door. I have a second job where for the first time in my life I have to go up and greet people (not the problem) and do a sorta sales pitch (problem) I do fine alone but if other workers are around I am completely embarrassed and forget the sales pitch. I get nervous and visibly shaky in public situations yet can be comfortable in big crowds (cuz I can hide in them :) I tend to sweat profusely and want to bolt. I'm 38 now and haven't gotten over that. I did try a nursing job and although there were experiences with clients I will keep in my heart and taught me a lot it was not a good job for a sensitive person. in a situation where I am not being observed and not on a time limit (and no fluorescent lights!!) such as home care without tight schedule, it is doable for someone who wants to help people. I find that I enjoy the quick sales clerk thing because I feel peoples moods so easy that I enjoy trying to make them smile if they are feeling down or negative. It is a way I use the positive qualities of being sensitive. It definitely is helpful to have a friend that makes me laugh (like a jester haha! ) I learned to keep visits with friends or relatives that tend to be negative and a limit understanding that I need to love and have understanding for them and the things that have happened in their lives to cause them to be as such; however we need to also know what our limits are aye? Gotta go but thank you all for your words and time

Anonymous said...

About the job suggestions: I don't agree with "nurses" and all the others on the medical field. I've met people who weren't HSP and they gave up after a year or two. I would also like to mention my mistake. I've studied Tourism Management and I can't work on this field no matter what position. It's too stressful and you basically do nothing creative other than trying to bring money to the managers. It's amazing how rude and mean people can be when they want to push the price down (I'm talking about customers). I remember myself crying a lot (sometimes in the bathroom of my workplace) and not wanting to wake up in the morning and face so many people + mystery calls to see if I work well. Anyway, I'm 32 already and I find myself in the difficult position of not finding a job because I've studied the wrong thing and because there is no understanding for highly sensitive people at any workplace I've tried so far. I hope in usa it's different than in Europe. Thanks for the article. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you anonymous for you words <3 have you thought of librarian ?

Anonymous said...

I am 50 years old and I have just found out that I am a HSP. Not sure if it is asset yet. Your article was to the point I wish I had known this earlier. I have known that I was different and others say I am weird but I never new how to tell anyone or they would think I was nuts. I feel I am reaching a milestone in my life. It is a answer to a pray from long ago :D

Anonymous said...

I think it should be understood there is a vast difference between a doctor and nurse and their job duties. I work in the medical field as an ER tech, and have just found out that I am a highly sensitive person also. I do primarily hospital work, and the sensitivity is an asset in some areas. However bright lights, chaotic and very unpredictable environments along with a really toxic patient population... explains to me why I have stayed with a temp agency 48 years where I can make my own schedule and take time off whenever I want. I rarely work full time in my medical field and I finally feel OK with now knowing why that is! If you add up all of my time on what I do with side jobs I'm usually working overtime however they are entirely different jobs, either working completely alone or one on one teaching. I do very well working with animals because of the hsp traits and I am going back to school for sure now that I have this understanding! Thank-you for this article!

Careers that Work said...

Thank you so much for your feedback. I'm grateful you and others have found this article and the work of Elaine Eron so helpful.

Laura Poythress said...

I literally discovered today that I am hsp. It explains me to an absolute "t". I always tried to hide these "differences" and always knew there was something going on but could never figure it out. Now I'm so thankful there are others out there and it is actually a "thing". That being said I am a speech pathologist and it causes me so much stress that I can barely get through the just FYI please don't spend forever in school to be an SLP if you are a hsp. I just don't know what career to go into now ��

Anonymous said...

I can say that I have an HSP based from the article I have read online. All the time I struggled into the idea of how different I am from others and aware that no one would understand me.Now I know what this condition is called, i felt relieved.

Anonymous said...

I have HSP, and i'm torn of which course I will choose, ARCHITECTURE or LAW? any idea. I wish you could help me

Anonymous said...

It's always nice to learn that you're not alone in our feelings and thoughts.

I've been highly sensitive since a very young age and am now still struggling finding my place in the world at age 35.
I cannot seem to find the right course to study or job.I am a definite intravert and do not handle being in a loud,stimulating envoronment with lots of people.I've begun many courses-even online-and jobs but never stayed long.
Being an at home mother for 9 years has been a great fit for me and I feel very safe and comfortable but as a sole provider for my child I need to bring in a better income somehow.

I've done SO much research on all different careers that suit introverts and highly sensitive people but have had no luck.

I'm tired of others viewing introverts as mentally ill.It's not an epidemic or a personality type that can be reversed.I'm just not into people and most exaust me.I cannot stand waste of time small talk and I'm much more of a thinker/listener than anything.I require alone time VERY frequently and I don't see myself ever changing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for the informative posts. I only figured out that I am a HSP yesterday. I was a doctor. Then I came to another country and did Bachelor of nursing in 1 year due to credit recognition. I could be a doctor straight away cos my medical degrees (Bachelor and Master) were not fully recognized, I needed to take medical exams to go back to medicine again. I worked as a Registered nurse for 1 year 3 months. I was overwhelmed very often. Pressure was from everywhere, the patients, patients' family, doctors, physiotherapists, nutritionists...The nursing station was very noisy, like a Sunday market, I could not concentrate to write nursing notes which might be legal proof one day. I was also not comfortable when I gave verbal handover when so many other nurses were present. And it seemed to me that all the nursing tasks were urgent, they virtually paralysed me because I did not know where to start. The more stressed I was, the slower I could do things. It was horrible!!!

Then I met my husband, we got married and I resigned the nurse job. I tried to prepare for the medical exams a few times, again, I overwhelmed myself many times because I want to achieve maximum efficiency in a limited time frame. Guess what, now I completely gave up the medical field, either a nurse or a doctor, I find the hospital environment is far too stressful to me. I am now a free person, not working for anyone because I am suitable to work for others. Luckily, my hubby is very supportive, he allows me to whatever I want. I have a big veggie garden, I am establishing an orchard, and I am learning about investments which can give me maximum freedom, more time to enjoy life. I have to say that gardening is very physically and mentally therapeutic for everybody, and you get organic food on top of that.

Being a HSP is not easy in life. From time to time, negative thoughts still float into my mind when I think about some unpleasant experiences. Once I realised negative thinking is taking over, What I did was deep breathing (with abdominal breathing mainly, which means when you breathe in, your belly is bulging out), and fake laughing (pretend you are happy), then very soon, I turn negative mood to positive one.

I hope my life experience can give you some ideas about hospital work.

I learned a lot from you guys, thank you so much for sharing!

Careers that Work said...

I love all these comments. I originally wrote this book review in 2006 or 2007 and reposted it a year ago. It amazes me how many hits it gets a day. I created a facebook page to increase interactions, support, and advice - All best everyone! Don't be afraid to be your sensitive selves. We're made this way for a reason!


DiagnosisHuman said...

I relate so well to all of this. Thanks for the article. I've been a career student (I think I hid in books) and have two graduate degrees in education. Being a special and regular ed. teacher in elementary and high school just floored me. To some extent I feel I am playing out a role that society, my mother and some other family/friends expect of me- what I "should" do based on past experience, education and achievements. I'm not sure how to change direction into non-profits, art, writing and other creative pursuits more suitable for me. I even talked to a colleague about considering a teacher's aide position. She had a Master's in Special Ed but did this for a year and enjoyed less pressure from not having to plan lessons and deal with crappy school politics. So that's a possibility. Hopefully I can swallow my pride, take a pay cut and find a slightly different career path than the one I've been on--and make a reasonable living doing it.

Anonymous said...

Helloooooooooo!! Thank you for this post! I have recently come across the book, "The HSP" by Dr. Elaine Aaron and not long before reading the book, realized that a lot of the "overwhelm" I experience is directly linked to my nervous system. I do not agree with one of the comments to this post that being an HSP is a "condition". We may at times, just have to work a little bit harder to reach understanding with some indiciduals (especially in the workplace) or after several tries, perhaps have to remove ourselves from the situation altogether if the environment proves to be too taxing on us (emotionally, physically, mentally)...

LV said...

I was considering this career. What specifically don't you enjoy about it? I surely don't want to spend forever in school and can't deal.

Anonymous said...

A colleague explained to me once that I am the type who takes it all in when I walk into a situation. Since I'm processing a lot, it tends to at least temporarily overwhelm me which is often interpreted as slow or retarded. However, she said, it's usually a sign of a highly intelligent person. I can guarantee I'm not retarded - completed grad level program. Trying to figure out what it's really called.

Alison Breen said...

Thank you for a very useful article. It has stimulated some really important discussion around the role of people who are sensitive, creative, introverted in the working world. I think particularly the debate around the role as a healer of some sort is such as useful one as so many sensitive people, due to their ability to empathize and read other's signals go into a caring/healing profession.

But many then also burnout or develop some kind of stress related illness, perhaps as a result of poor self care and difficulty with boundaries.

As a Clinical Psychologist I have struggled with these issues for many years and seen so many people with these issues in my practice.

Perhaps the first step is getting to know yourself, your particular traits and needs, developing a meticulous self care routine and then looking at work may feel right.

I would so love to hear from people who have work where they thrive and feel rewarded. What are they doing? How did they end up there?

I think we can all learn from them as there will be clues around potential solutions.

Many thanks for generating such a useful discussion.

Anonymous said...

I am so grateful I found this site, I have struggled with this since my earliest memories. Loud noises send the tears rolling as I call it a bagpipe moment as hearing them at a parade that was held each year would set me off as I was embarrassed for them as they bought so much attention to them self.. I have been out of work now for 6 months as I left an assistant manager job for a very large organisation as I was not only bullied by the new female boss but so sensitive to all the negative and the thought of being hard on someone wasn't easy. I am so stuck on trying to find a career that I would be good at and enjoy. I regularly seek out jobs or courses but freak out if I get an interview as I have so much self doubt and negative. I do all the self help books, positive thinking, affirmations etc I'm so lost and feel such a burden on my family. I'm very friendly and out going when I have to perform, but looking someone in the eyes that I don't know for too long, hugging my family or saying I love you even to my dying father is near impossible. I would for any suggestions or input as I isolate myself unless my friends contact me with I still don't share these issues. My anxiety has controlled my life and lead me to make very crappy decisions and not hurt other people when it's destroyed me. My daughter has similar traits and I'm doing all that I know to give her the support that I didn't receive. So again thank you to everyone who posted on here, it certainly helps to know I not alone;)

Anonymous said...

I am probably an HSP and thought I'd share my 'career journey'. I was a journalist for 10 years. I was good at writing, but found it difficult to meet my deadlines, and it was a stressful vocation for me.

A week after getting back from my honeymoon, my boss had a chat with my about my productivity and various things. Basically, I wasn't meeting the standards he expected, although I was certainly hardworking. I subsequently felt very upset, partly because I thought he was being too harsh, and partly cos deep down I knew I wasn't cutting it as a journalist.

I didn't want to work at my magazine anymore, and while I was looking for other journalism jobs, I realised I didn't actually want to be a journalist anymore. So I did something that had been at the back of my mind for a while - I retrained to become an ESL teacher (I did the Cambridge CELTA). I teach English to adults from many different countries and love it. It's less stressful than teaching high school, for example, and the hours are good.

I guess I was lucky, in that I had another vocation that interested me (ie ESL teaching). However, I still had to take the plunge - it was something of a risk, changing careers in my early 30s. But one worth taking. Just thought I'd share my story!

Anonymous said...

To Caitlyn...

As a teacher of 15 years, don't become a teacher. I do like the recommendation of being a special ed teacher another recommended. However, the school environment is overwhelmingly toxic (at least in California). Constantly ringing bells, being given more tasks than one may reasonably manage, financing student projects, undermining one's personal financial stability, working with no breaks squeezing in a bathroom run, meeting the individual needs of 185 people daily...the list can go on and on.

It's funny because being an overwhelmed educator is what led me to this site. As I am just coming to accept this sensitive part of me, what can I do that isn't overwhelming? At some point, I feel I have to just suck it up and tough it out. However, I am so over stimulated each day, teaching is affecting the quality of my life. Teaching should be a joy and the students deserve to be around a happy and caring person. They get all of that from me, but then I have nothing left when I get home. I know I can't go another twenty years giving more than I can take. I thought it would fill my soul - teaching and working with great students - but I feel empty all the time.

I am seeking to use my strengths in an environment that has a neutral effect on my sensitive nature...

Caitlyn, keep interning and volunteering in a variety of settings. Maybe seek private schools that may match who you are and support why you have chosen to become a teacher. Good Luck to you.

V said...

I agree with what others have said about certain careers listed on this site as HSP-friendly but actually aren't. I can speak first-hand as both a teacher and musician.

Teaching in a public school is not about just teaching; it includes crowd-control, discipline, entertaining, testing, evaluation, piles of paperwork, research, planning and preparing for either many subjects (primary) or multiple preps (secondary), cleaning, shopping for classroom items out of your own pocket, tracking multitudes of information about each and every student (not just academically but physically, emotionally, psychologically, interest-wise, family history-wise, etc.), constant monitoring, constant last-minute changes, maintaining contact with parents and other relevant staff, seemingly endless lists of tasks, dealing with psychological and emotional issues in your classroom for kids when you are not ABLE to address their needs adequately because you're overworked and tending to many of them at once, working with kids at all different levels even though you may be teaching one grade (try having 20+ kids reading at 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade levels in a SINGLE class with NO assistance), etc. In fact, I would go as far to say that this is the WORST profession you can do as a HSP, because you will feel never-ending guilt for what little you really are able to do for your students in the end. You will REALIZE how screwed up the system is, and how students are not get the genuinely customized attention of them deserves (ESPECIALLY if you're at a high-need school).

As a musician, if you are classically trained and have the perform in front of hundreds or thousands of judgmental people, you will feel EVERY BIT of judgment bestowed upon you prior to ever performance. After constant, long-term exposure to this, although I was able to generally perform well consistently minus several occasions, I was often paralyzed by anxiety and fear in a way that left me sick and unhealthy after years of enduring this. I would think twice about what this means for you and in what way performing would best fit with your personality. I guarantee that performing indie music on the side in a small venue will be a VERY different experience than soloing with an orchestra or sans accompaniment in a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall.

Anonymous said...

I love this article. I would say I´m a highly sensitive person, the article said being a social worker or counsellor is a good fit for this personality type, I´m questioning going into social work but I´m wondering if being sensitive to people, I´d end up getting burnt out, or being indecisive as to what to do with a certain case, not giving my input and not being able to see a situation objectively. Or would that be a strength?

Kay Thomson said...

I would weigh in to say that no particular career is especially easy for a HSP. The right fit can depend not only on the vocation but also the environment and who you are working with. Hopefully the good outweighs the bad which makes it easier. Having an understanding partner who is not an HSP helps me for gaining perspective.

I've had some great jobs and some unbearable jobs and both sides of the coin have been challenging! I am sometimes a very lucky full time professional musician - it's a haphazard industry - and I've had a number of day jobs in tutoring, office and retail.

Mira Gómez said...


I am considering becoming a teacher precisely to connect with people and forget about myself due to the constant demand from students and work.

When I trained as a teacher, it was so brain draining that I could barely had time to think and somehow I enjoyed the feeling. The more time I spend with myself,the worse.

Does that sound crazy to you?

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