Sensory Processing Sensitivity

“You’re so sensitive!”  And, hopefully, you’re not sorry about it one bit.

There are nearly 7 billion people on Earth. Of those, 20% are born with highly refined nervous systems.  61 million Americans — 1.3 billion people worldwide — process things more deeply.

What if our nervous systems have been wired for us to bring forth a different kind of leading, and a different kind of living… a radical departure from the rude, crude, violent, colonizing, crushing ways that have been so pervasive… and globally destructive?

What if highly sensitive people are neurologically wired for evolutionary leadership that provides the many virtues missing from our culture? Things like tenderness, compassion, empathy, benevolence, collaboration, inspiration, joy… virtues that have been confused for weakness, but are now vitally needed in every realm of our lives.  The innate trait of sensitivity can fuel the most gorgeous outpouring of social transformation and personal bliss.

HSP Basics

To get a foundational understanding of your trait
— from biology to biography —
I recommend you read
Dr. Elaine Aron’s now-famous book,
The Highly Sensitive Person and visit her website here.

The most basic definition of a Highly Sensitive Person is simply someone who has a nervous system that perceives more subtleties, and processes more sensory data than does a non-HSP.  It is as physiological as hair texture. In fact, the trait of high sensitivity is based on two neuro-physiological occurrences: (1) a finely-tuned nervous system; and (2) a right-brain that has greater activity and blood-flow than its corresponding left-brain.

The trait of high sensitivity is biologically inherited by approximately 20% of all living organisms — not just humans, but animals, fish, and insects, too.  The trait of high sensitivity is often discussed as if it was a flaw or a weakness. It is, in fact, a gift.

HSP Advantage

As a highly sensitive person (HSP), we are part of the population’s approximate 20% of people born with a nervous system that processes information and sensory data with greater depth and subtlety. We feel and perceive more. And while sensitivity isn’t the Western world’s ideal, it is our advantage.  Here are six ways to leverage your sensitivity:

1. Stop seeking permission and approval.

Especially from the 80% of non-HSPs who tend to think that we should “toughen up,” and “not be so sensitive.”  This is as silly and futile as asking a fair-skinned person to “darken up,” and stop burning in the sun.  Ridiculous, right?  No more ridiculous than us trying to suppress and negate our sensitivity.  So, the first step is for us to stop making apologies for our finely tuned nervous system!

2. Rather than adapting to others, assert yourself.

Sensitivity is not weak.  Gentle and refined, perhaps.  But not weak.  And our over-stimulated world actually benefits from our innate sense of calm and peace.  By embodying these qualities, we add them to our environments and interactions with others.  A little silk to go with all that sandpaper :-)

3. Be aware of your sensitivities,
and the super awareness they bring you.
Highly esteem and value these insights.
Put them to profitable use.

I’ve noticed the following preferences and practices within myself and other HSPs:

  • Aesthetics
  • Beauty
  • Compassion
  • Contemplation
  • Creativity
  • Diplomacy
  • Discretion
  • Equilibrium
  • Gentleness
  • Growth-Orientation
  • Harmony
  • Idealism
  • Innovation
  • Intuition
  • Justice
  • Meaning-Making
  • Noble Motives
  • Originality
  • Peacefulness
  • Reverence for Nature
  • Wisdom

4. We like to focus, so we should.

Our long attention spans and insatiable curiosity help us to develop wide ranges of knowledge and expertise. The attention-deficient world we live in marvels at our ability to keep our minds wrapped around an idea, subject or task for hours on end. This is an asset for us to leverage.

5. We like to create, so we should.

Our robust inner lives often produce very beautiful, enlivening expressions. Rather than repeat and report what has already been done before, we are far more likely to present fresh, original material. Inspiration and imagination are natural states in which we reside. This is an asset for us to leverage.

6. We like to heal/help, so we should.

Our compassion and tenderheartedness leads us to find ways to heal ourselves and others. Because our ‘skin’ is not tough and calloused, we feel and perceive subtleties that others overlook. Or ignore. We know how to skillfully respond to hurts, and this is an asset for us to leverage.

The World Without HSPs

Imagine a world with no activists, animal shelters, artists, ballets, charities, composers, conservatories, counselors, diplomats, galleries, gardens, healers, hospice, libraries, mediation, meditation, museums, nonprofits, orchestras, paintings, poetry, resorts, retreats, sculptures, spas, spiritual advisors, symphonies, theaters, visionaries…

NEWSFLASH:  It takes sensitivity to fulfill these roles, abilities and venues.  You cannot have sanctuaries, humanitarianism and plain old-fashioned goodness without the blessed-basics that we bring to the party!

Without Sensitives, the world would be even more hostile, combative and greed-driven than it already is.  Sensitives bring forth the most beautiful and evolved aspects of what it is to be human.  We embody noble ideals that tenderize our world and create transformation and soul-delight.

When Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” he was talking about us. He was talking to us. The social-scales have not yet fully tipped in our favor.  Maybe it’s because we’ve been tip-toeing, whispering, and hiding for so long, we’re reluctant to live in our power full-on? Well, that won’t do.  That’s as obscene as honeysuckle withholding its sweet fragrance from a pungent world.

Inspiring Quotes for HSPs

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world.  You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.” (Woodrow Wilson)

“There is some kiss we want with our whole lives, the touch of Spirit on the body.” (Jalalud’din Rumi)

“And have I not told you that what you mistake for madnessis but over acuteness of the senses?(Edgar Allen Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart”)

“Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.” (Albert Einstein)

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that.  Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”  (Harold Whitman)

“I want all my senses engaged. Let me absorb the world’s variety and uniqueness.” (Maya Angelou)

“Feel yourself being quietly drawn by the deeper pull of what you truly love.” (Jalalud’din Rumi)

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (Anais Nin)

“Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.” (Edgar Allan Poe)

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:  A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.  To him a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.  Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create —
so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him.  He must create, must pour out creation.  By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”  (Pearl S. Buck)

“I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action.”  (Tennessee Williams)

“The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling.  Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly.”  (Henry David Thoreau)

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life.  All that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” (Albert Einstein)

“While we have the gift of life, it seems to me that the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die — whether it is our spirit, our creativity, or our glorious uniqueness.” (Gilda Radner)

“How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears,
and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god.” (Alan W. Watts)

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.  If you have that awareness, you have good manners,
no matter what fork you use.” (Emily Post)

“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge you’ll never walk alone. People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Never throw out anybody. Remember, If you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others. The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows, and the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.” (Audrey Hepburn)

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” (Carl Gustav Jung)

“Many of us are aware that a greater life is possible. We sense that we have scarcely realized our potential, our powers, and that there lies vast continents, strange and wonderful worlds of unexplored territory within.” (Michael Lynberg)

15 Responses to “Sensory Processing Sensitivity”

  1. part 1: lifeblazing interview | White Hot Truth: because self-realization rocks. Says:

    […] addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};This is Part 1 of a 3-part interview that life coach Erika Harris, did with me. It's fabulous…not because of moi-moi-moi, but because Erika asks thoughtful […]

  2. Ildiko Davis Says:

    Hi Erica,
    I’m glad to find this extract from your old website, Joyful Work for Sensitive People, which I found very inspirational. Is there any more content somewhere on your new site for HSPs? I’d love to see your HSP love poem somewhere online again…
    Best wishes,

    • Erika Harris Says:

      Hi, Ildiko! I’m so happy that you found your way here! And I promise to create a new HSP love poem soon. Please subscribe so you won’t miss it :-)

      With much appreciation for you and your work in the world,

  3. Staci Housum Says:

    I absolutely LOVE what you are doing here. Excellent work – so well spoken on this subject. A friend that comes to our Whale Communicators page on Facebook recommended you. I am a sensitive as well and after some tremendous heart ache and loss I started down the road I am on – sharing the loving heart messages of the whales and dolphins with the human race.

    Your page just validates my journey and the journey of so many of us. And it makes me realize I am so SPOT ON the right track.

    I love this – I will be back :o)

    Great Quotes!!!

    Love to you,


    • Erika Harris Says:

      Your work with whales, dolphins and people sweetens all of Life. Thank you, Staci, for being you so truthFULLy. You inspire and ignite. Returned love to you, new friend, Erika.

  4. [INFP] What's the value of art? Says:

    […] is actually taken from the Highly Sensitive People (HSP) great website here. but since most artists are usually sensitive kind of people, I feel that this might heavily relate […]

  5. Linda Powelson Says:

    This material helps the lonely, depressed soul. I enjoy.

    • Erika Harris Says:

      Thank you, Linda. I think you’ll *really* enjoy my upcoming micro-book, “The POWER of Your Intense Fragility: What culture hasn’t told you about being sensitive AND strong.” I’ll add the link here as soon as it’s uploaded to Amazon. Be encouraged. You are not alone. Warmly, Erika.

  6. Mikayla Rose Says:


  7. Jerome Kelly Says:

    Am I a sensitive, or a non-sensitive who wants to be a sensitive?

  8. Ismael Torres Jr. Says:


    I am a HSP, no doubt about it and to a great extent display these traits from my childhood. I have learned to be more assertive and to use relaxation to deal with changing tasks quickly. It is very uncomfortable to “multi-task” but I work hard to control my environment and function. Your website is needed by us HSP’s

    Thank you!

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