“Hey, wanna take the HSP quiz I’ve been telling you about?” I say with feigned nonchalance.
What I really want to say is: Let me help you make the most exciting discovery of your entire life!!!
I already know she’s a Highly Sensitive Person.
And now she is about to find out, too!
But a few minutes later, she pulls back from my laptop as if it’s bitten her.
“Oh no!” she says, her expression alternating between horror and fear. “I can’t be!”
I cross my arms and stare at her.
This is not the reaction I expected.
Thrilled to be an HSP!
Finding out that I’m an HSP five years ago was the single most freeing discovery of my adult life.
Everything that had never made any sense suddenly made complete sense.
After 45 years of confusion, guilt, and shame, for being labeled “too sensitive” … “attention-seeker” … “drama queen” … “high maintenance” … I had a valid name for a real thing:
Highly Sensitive Person
- I had explanations!
- I had answers!
- I had tools!
I was absolutely, positively, 100% thrilled to discover that I’m an HSP!
Who wouldn’t be?
HSP? Not me!
As a self-appointed HSP evangelist, I quickly discovered that while I’m a bearer of good news to some, it’s bad news — really bad news — for others.
About half of all HSPs are the opposite of thrilled to hear that being a Highly Sensitive Person is a thing.
And for four years, I could not figure out the nay-sayers reactions which, are always some version of
- “Oh, no. I can’t be!”
- “No way. That’s not me.”
I felt guilty that news that felt so good to me was causing such instant and deep distress in others.
Why are they so resistant? I wondered.
It was another full year before I found out.
An HSP’s Worst Fear
I’d just introduced the concept of being HSP to a friend.
“You’re totally describing me!” she’d said, but not in a this-is-such-great-news kinda voice.
When she said, “This is scary,” I felt conflicted. Once again, I’d inflicted pain when I intended to do good. Clearly, I was missing a key piece to the puzzle. But what could it possibly be?
Then, she said, “I just can’t stand the word sensitive.”
It was a sentiment I’d heard often. Only this time, I asked a question I’d never asked before:
“Why? What does the word sensitive mean to you?”
She began to describe someone she knew who, in her mind, epitomized the word sensitive. This person
- Dominated all conversations
- Complained incessantly about a host of ailments and injustices
- Insisted on having everything done their way
- Turned every topic around to talking about them.
- Melted down constantly, bringing family celebrations to an awkward halt
- Played the victim in every situation
- Took credit for others people’s ideas.
- Blamed other people for their problems
- Failed to take responsibility even when something was clearly their fault
- Revised history so that others felt crazy for remembering things differently
- Demanded that their needs be met, at the expense of others’
- Refused help (but regularly required rescuing)
The longer she listed and I listened, the more convinced I became.
She’s not describing a Highly Sensitive Person.
She’s describing a narcissist.
Highly Sensitive Person Characteristics
D is for Depth of Processing
O is for Overstimulation
E is for Emotional Reactivity and also Empathy
S is for Sensing the Subtle
Now, let’s be clear: when an HSP is not “carrying her own jam jar,” she may sometimes behave immaturely.
But there is a world of difference between a Highly Sensitive Person and a narcissist.
The primary difference?
Where HSP is terrified that she might be a narcissist, the narcissist could not care less.
It’s a super simple litmus test:
If you’re worried that you might be a narcissist?
The One Truth Every HSP Needs to Know
I’ve come to realize that we each respond differently to learning that we’re an HSP. Some of us are vastly relieved, while others are more reluctant.
Either way is okay.
But the one truth every HSP needs to know is this:
You’re a Highly Sensitive Person — not a narcissist.