An oversensitive person basically processes sensory information more deeply than other people. It has been estimated that over-sensitive people comprise about 15-20% of the population.1
As children, oversensitive people tend to be shy and socially anxious. They have trouble going to sleep when they’re overstimulated after an exciting day. They complain about scratchy or itchy clothing and are unable to concentrate on studying when there’s even the slightest disturbance in the environment.
Some of these traits may get carried over into adulthood. Following are the common characteristics of oversensitive people:
1) It has been observed that people having the ectomorph body type (lean body with very little fat and thin and long limbs) are likely to be the oversensitive types.2 Hence, ectomorphs process information from the environment with a high degree of sensitivity compared to other people.
|Note that the ectomorph may not necessarily be tall. Also, these body types are extreme cases and most people are a combination of these body types.|
2) The hypersensitivity of a highly sensitive person not only leads to quick physical reactions to environmental changes (high reaction time) but also to quick social reactions as well. They can’t keep pace with slow-moving social chit-chat and avoid conversations that they don’t find stimulating.
3) A highly sensitive person is easily overstimulated and overwhelmed by overstimulating environments such as parties and concerts. He’d prefer controlled mental stimulation in his own privacy such as reading a book or listening to music. Therefore, he’s likely to be described as an introvert by others.
4) Oversensitive people have a rich and complex inner life. They need an escape from excessive stimulation and time to sort out the inputs they’ve received so as to connect them with their own subjective experiences. They get easily overwhelmed by large inputs that they haven’t sorted out or made sense of.
5) They avoid making loud noises and getting subjected to it. Anything that overloads their sensory system is avoided. For example, oversensitive people are easily tired after spending too much time in front of a computer or a mobile phone screen.
6) Highly sensitive people have a negative attention bias meaning they’re inclined to focus on the negative things in the environment. In social situations, this often leads to anxiety especially if the situation is entirely new that the person hasn’t faced before.
7) Highly sensitive people are more susceptible to mood swings and depression because their emotional state changes more rapidly with the changing environment. Therefore, a very minor event can alter their mood significantly.
8) An oversensitive person experiences emotions more intensely than the others. This usually results in him getting overwhelmed and over-burdened with emotions. It makes an oversensitive person resist life changes and stay in his comfort zone as much as possible.
9) Oversensitive people show a high degree of self and other awareness. Not only are they highly aware of their own emotional states but can also easily sense the emotional state of others. Due to this, they display more empathy compared to other people. They tend to be compassionate because they’re painfully aware of what it feels like to feel intense pain.
10) Due to their high awareness of others’ emotional states, they’re also easily influenced by the emotions of other people. They catch emotions from people easily- they become happy in the company of a happy person and sad in the company of a sad person at a faster rate than the others. (see Why all your moods and emotional states are not your own)
While ordinary people don’t have a hard time in getting over criticism, a highly sensitive person may lose sleep and remain sad for days all the while analysing the comments that were made against him.
If you’re a highly sensitive person, you can overcome some of its unwanted effects such as social anxiety with learning and practice. You can also learn to develop a thick skin and not let mean comments and criticisms bother you. It’s just that you’d need to work a little harder on these things than other people.
1. Aron, E. N. (2013). The highly sensitive person. Kensington Publishing Corp..
2. Sheldon, W. H., & Stevens, S. S. (1942). The varieties of temperament; a psychology of constitutional differences.