Worldwide, one in five people is considered to be a highly sensitive person (HSP). But what does it mean? Not that you cry all day, but that you have a sixth sense that allows you to feel things that others don't.

There are people in their 50’s or 60’s who have never found out that they are highly sensitive, but when they do, it all seems to make sense – the reason why they struggle with things that seem small in another person’s eyes.

Hoping to support HSP, Paulo Ferreira has published a new book “Código da Alta Sensibilidade” that he shares for free with many people from his social media platforms. The book is in Portuguese but there is always a lot of information on this topic that is also easy to find in other languages.

The first psychologist who discovered this terminology was Dr. Elaine Aron, who in the 90’s found that highly sensitive is a personality trait that many people in the world have. Actually, according to a documentary “Sensitive: The Untold Story”, there are around 1.4 billion highly sensitive people (HSP) in the whole world, which represents between 15 and 20 percent of the entire population. This means that in your family, one in five people are highly sensitive, the same in your group of friends as well as among your co-workers.

What are the main traits of a HSP?

In fact, there are many characteristics that HSP will identify with – let's just mention a few of them. For Dr. Aron, all HSPs have four main characteristics in common, which she called (D.O.E.S.). DOES is the acronym for “depth of processing”, “overstimulation”, “emotional reactivity and empathy” and “sensing the subtle”.

However, there are more personality traits related to HSP. In his book, Paulo mentions some more characteristics. For example, HSP “detest violence and cruelty of any kind. You can be a HSP if you can’t watch bloody or violent films without getting upset.” Additionally, HSP’s don’t like huge changes in their lives and a new environment can be complicated. “Likewise, moving to a new home or travelling (even if it's just a "funny" holiday!) can be quite difficult for you.”

Physically, “your pain tolerance is lower. HSP are more sensitive to all types of pain – headaches, body aches, etc.” Also, they get hungry quickly and can feel very upset and angry when they are hungry.

Introversion VS extroversion

Despite most HSP are labelled as introverts, about 70 percent of HSP are introverts, which means that the remaining 30 percent are extroverts.

However, whether introverts or extroverts, these people have things in common. They need a lot of downtime, preferably to recharge their batteries. According to his book, HSP when noticing and processing all the details around them can feel drained and their brains can get tired easily, especially after working extra hours.

Scientifically speaking …

HSP tend to have fundamental differences in the brain, such as greater numbers of synapses, highly active "mirror neurons" - the part of the brain that helps us empathise with other people, as he explains in his book.

“For neuroscience, HSPs have a way of feeling and understanding the world that is mediated by a thinner nervous system. More neuronal connections, mirror neurons (linked to empathy) are also more active as hypersensitive people, just as the amygdala (not to be confused with the amygdala in the throat) is in hyperfunction”, can be read in his book.

"As a result, their brains catch up and process more information per second and are constantly collecting data and associating it with what it has accumulated in the past," he added.

Telling others about your sensitivity

Telling others about your sensitivity is not mandatory. From his point of view, it's something very personal and a decision that everyone has to make on their own. However, the author warned that, for example, in the workplace, it may be unnecessary to tell others, as sometimes high sensitivity is not accepted well in the workplace.

“The most sensitive people have a natural tendency to be kind”, but people can “take your kindness as a weakness and use you for their own interests. This often leads to unhappiness and anxiety in HSP”, he said.

All in all, “well used, we have huge potential”, concludes the author.


Paula Martins is a fully qualified journalist, who finds writing a means of self-expression. She studied Journalism and Communication at University of Coimbra and recently Law in the Algarve. Press card: 8252

Paula Martins