The Highly Sensitive Person on an International Journey

A few years ago I found out that I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). It was during my training as coach and counsellor and I must confess that it completely took me off guard.

During the two semesters I studied psychology when I was 19-20, I noticed that everyone in the room was struggling with something and felt the tension in the room. I didn't pay attention to this then, but now I know that it is because I am highly sensitive.
I was struggling with major changes in my life back then: I was studying abroad, my parents just moved from Italy to France, leaving the home I grew up for sale, they gave away my dog, I broke up with my boyfriend, I moved houses 3 times in one year and felt quite overwhelmed by all these changes. I had the impression that everything around me was moving. My head was constantly spinning and I felt really lost. Back then I decided not to continue my studies in psychology because I felt not ready to study about issues and struggles I was, myself, living on a daily basis. – I only found out about what caused my disorientation, my profound struggles during those years a few years ago, i.e. more than 20 years later, when I was preparing a presentation for my training in coaching and counseling. I was reading articles and books from Dr. Elaine Aaron and had many "aha" moments. I did the Highly Sensitive Persons' tests (yes, more than one) and... found out I was an empath and highly sensitive in some domains of my life. 

If you want to find out if you are a HSP too, here is what Dr. Elaine Aaron asks people who find her page:

Is this you?

  • Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
  • Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
  • Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
  • Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
  • Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
  • Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
  • Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
  • When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy? – And then she suggests you take the test


I didn't tick all the boxes, but the more I read about the subject, the more "aha" moments I had.
I have very strong reactions to scents, tastes, sounds and works of art. I often feel what is going to happen and I am very empathetic especially with my children and my husband. I literally feel their pain when they get hurt... 

Since I was a child, people would point out that I have "too much imagination" – I invented and wrote many stories!! – and grown ups always complained about me being "too sensitive" and "too shy", but I didn't consider myself as shy! In some settings I was very extrovert – which caused quite some confusion in those who labelled me as shy... 

Being Highly Sensitive is not a disease or a handicap!

  • 15 to 20% of the population are highly sensitive. This is way too much to make it a disorder, but alas, not enough to be understood by the majority of people around us...
  • This trait is innate. More than 100 species (!) from fruit flies, birds to fish and dogs, horses, primates etc., have this trait and it reflects a type of survival strategy.
  • The brain of HSPs (Highly Sensitive Persons) works a little differently than others'  
  • You are more aware than others of subtleties because your brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. You just notice more.
  • This trait is not new it just has been misunderstood HSP's prefer to look before entering new situations and are often called "shy", but shyness is learned, not innate... 30% of HSP's are extroverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion... Some called it inhibitedness, fearfulness, neuroticism...
  • Depending on the culture, sensitivity is valued differently. In cultures that don't value sensitivity, "HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. They are told “don’t be so sensitive” so that they feel abnormal." *

* This list of traits is slightly adapted from Dr. Elain Aaron's homepage.


A HSP on an international journey

I've been on an international journey since day one and although I had some rough times to adapt and make sense of all the changes, I don't think we HSP are disadvantaged in any way to lead such an intense life, full of changes.

Nevertheless, studying the issues HSP's can have, I think there needs to be more awareness of what to watch out for if we or our children are HSPs.



If you are interested in joining a community of HSP's, where we share our experience and help each other, exchange our tips and talk about our readings, please fill in the form here below.


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