Highly Sensitive Person (PAS): Blessing or curse?

Highly Sensitive Person (PAS)

What does it mean to be a highly sensitive person?

In the 1990s, the American doctor and psychologist Elaine Aron coined the concept of sensory processing sensitivity, alluding to what we now know as a highly sensitive person (PAS). According to the doctor’s own research, high sensitivity is sustained by the following four factors:

  • Depth of processing : These are people with a tendency to reflection and brooding. In fact, these people evaluate, analyze and compare what happened in the past before making a decision about how to act in the present. Highly sensitive people often review mistakes made obsessively .
  • Great emotionality and empathy : Emotional intensity and even emotional lability (sudden changes in mood) are typical of these people.

“People with high sensitivity, in addition to being easily moved, have a great capacity for empathy.”

  • Sensitivity to subtleties : These people have a great capacity for perception, so they tend to notice details that often go unnoticed by others . In this way, the person is able to notice the small changes that occur in his environment, including the emotional changes of the people around him.
  • Overstimulation or saturation : Excess sensory information and its processing can generate mental saturation in the person, which can become overwhelmed.

In summary, these people are characterized by perceiving stimuli and emotions much more intensely than others, thus showing greater sensitivity compared to the rest, which can lead the person to feel emotionally saturated.

(1) – PAS perceive stimuli and emotions intensely.

Characteristics of the highly sensitive person (PAS).

Characteristics of the highly sensitive person (PAS).

The four factors mentioned above are essential to determine if the person has high sensitivity. From them, a series of behaviors and general characteristics typical of these people can be inferred, which are described below:

Sensitivity reflected in your physical and emotional well-being.

  • Bright lights, strong smells, and repetitive (like chewing gum) or loud noises (especially unexpected ones) are very annoying for them, so they need to move away or regulate their exposure to them. They also get stressed when they are surrounded by many people .
  • They have a very low pain threshold . They tend to experience tension , manifesting physical and emotional stress through skin and headaches.
  • Sometimes they have bad days that especially affect their eating and sleeping habits, leading them to eat or sleep too much or too little.

“The highly sensitive person experiences disappointments especially intensely.”

  • Given their rich inner life, they can have very vivid dreams and nightmares , causing awakenings.
  • They may feel like they don’t fit in , which can lead to isolation.
  • They show a great facility to enjoy the little things .

Sensitivity reflected in your relationship with others.

  • They tend to be insecure and shy (although it is estimated that 30% are actually extroverts), as they are very aware of the circumstances around them and fear rejection even in minor situations. They may feel uncomfortable in group situations, even unable to be themselves.
  • They are touchy and take things personally , easily offended by believing that people are constantly judging them and worrying excessively about what others think. Therefore, they may overreact to what they perceive as offenses or provocations.
  • Difficulty setting personal limits and refusing the requests or demands of others for fear of displeasing others.
  • They tend to hide their negative feelings by considering them too strong , turbulent, or embarrassing.
  • They tend to get angry in situations that seem unfair or annoying.

“They get upset at small annoyances and find it difficult to ignore what happened.”

  • They are excessively affected by emotional or behavioral changes in others .
  • They are highly considerate and have a high willingness to listen to and help other people, even at the expense of their own well-being.
  • They have a knack for falling in love , becoming excessively involved to the point of forgetting themselves.

(2) – The highly sensitive person falls in love with great ease.

  • They feel self-conscious in romantic situations, worrying excessively about their partner’s approval and displaying irrational fears.

Sensitivity reflected in the way they work.

  • Tendency to perfectionism and special sensitivity to criticism , which can end up undermining their self-esteem if they do not manage it properly. They tend to flail themselves when they don’t meet their own expectations.
  • They are idealists and have strong moral convictions , as they care about the suffering of others, justice and the environment.
  • They tend to avoid seeing or hearing bad news , as well as watching violent movies.
  • They prefer to understand life from a cooperative to a competitive point of view , finding it difficult to understand the existence of armed conflicts. They avoid potentially conflictive situations.
  • They become overwhelmed, blocked, and stressed by overwork and sudden or significant changes . Due to their excessive analysis, they are slower in making decisions and are often afraid of being wrong (even in matters of little relevance such as choosing the flavor of an ice cream) , they are perfectionists and they have a vision of the whole .

“They tend to be intuitive, creative people with a great taste for the arts.”

  • They can concentrate very deeply. They enjoy being alone and prefer to work individually, with little encouragement.

Is the brain function different from a PAS?

Several studies indicate that highly sensitive people have a more developed neurosensory system (part of the nervous system) (it is estimated that they have a 10% more intense register of the senses).

Likewise, the right hemisphere of highly sensitive people has been found to be more active, making them more creative and emotional people. Therefore, it is not surprising that they have more mirror neurons , which implies a greater capacity for empathy.

Highly sensitive people also show greater neurochemical activation in the frontal lobe , an area related to attention, planning, decision-making, and strong internal experiences.

This means that they are people with a great conscience and the ability to make thoughtful decisions, generating ideas, making more associations and taking into account different points of view.

“The highly sensitive person has greater activity in certain areas of the brain.”

In addition, highly sensitive people have the brain amygdala (which is related to emotional control, regulating satisfaction and fear) in a higher alert state than the average for the population. This assumes that they are people with a significant capacity for emotional response.

(3) – The brain of the highly sensitive person has more active areas

Is it a psychological disorder or a personality trait?

High sensitivity is not a psychological disorder: it is a neurologically-based personality trait that , even though it is a basically neutral trait, is modulated by life experiences and emotional learning during parenting.

“High sensitivity is a personality trait with a neurological basis that is modulated by lived experiences.”

This is because, despite the fact that it is a genetic and hereditary trait (it is estimated that at least one of the parents has it), it has been shown that interaction with the environment develops or inhibits its own capacities, including the sensibility.  What is the percentage of highly sensitive people in society?

It is considered that about of 15-20% of the population is highly sensitive, while another 22% is moderately sensitive . Regarding the animal population, various investigations have found a similar percentage in more than one hundred different species (between 15-30%). This is because it is a survival strategy , since that greater reflection and elaboration of the world that surrounds them leads them to establish associations without being aware of it, thus resulting more intuitive.

“One in five people is highly sensitive.”

Do highly sensitive people have high intellectual capacities?

Do highly sensitive people have high intellectual capacities

Regarding whether people with high capacities present high capacities at the intellectual level, the direct relationship between both characteristics cannot currently be affirmed . However, they are related to some extent by having several points in common (eg, overexcitability in children).

Interestingly, it is estimated that a significant percentage of children are misdiagnosed as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). In fact, these children may have school failure because they are not able to discriminate what is relevant and they are distracted due to excess sensory information when, p. eg, they are sitting in the back row of class.Is a highly sensitive person more likely to develop certain psychopathologies or physical illnesses?

Several studies have linked high sensitivity with a lower quality of life and poorer health. This is because they are people who show high emotional reactivity, which could make them more vulnerable to suffering from physical and mental disorders due to the misunderstanding of their high sensitivity and the inadequate management of their emotionality .

Psychological disorders with a higher incidence.

Therefore, although highly sensitive people do not have to develop any psychopathology, several studies have confirmed that these people have a greater predisposition for depression , especially when they have to face negative parenting environments.

Likewise, the lack of tools with which to face their greater emotionality and the feeling of incomprehension that it can generate, usually ends up reducing their self-esteem .

On the other hand, being so aware of everything around them, can lead to block and develop anxiety disorders (eg panic to speak in public). They can also be victims of harassment or abuse because their increased sensitivity can make them appear weaker to others.

“Highly sensitive people can end up developing anxiety disorders such as social phobia.”

Physical disorders with higher incidence.

Regarding physical illnesses, they are people who frequently show physical symptoms related to stress, somatising their concerns.

In fact, it is not uncommon for them to develop skin or other immune-related problems , show a higher rate of headaches and migraines, and have a higher incidence of hay fever ( allergic rhinitis and rashes ).

(4) – The highly sensitive person suffers from migraines frequently.

It should be noted that being more sensitive and aware of minor physiological sensations and changes, they tend to report physical symptoms and health problems more frequently, most of which are the result of somatizations .

“The highly sensitive person has a tendency to suffer somatizations.”

On the other hand, since they have a low sensory threshold due to the special refinement of their neurosensory system, these people can be more affected by alcohol, caffeine and various medications .

This also leads them to feel very disturbed by the feeling of hunger , which disrupts their concentration and affects their mood.

In relation to the latter, it should be noted that the mood of these people usually especially affects their eating and sleeping habits , which leads them to eat or sleep too much or too little. In addition, they often have vivid dreams and nightmares, causing awakenings and poorer quality of sleep .

(5) – Elaine Aron’s book: “The gift of sensitivity”. 


Unfortunately, although high sensitivity is a trait that makes people better able to capture and appreciate their world on a physical, emotional and social level, ignorance of this trait and misunderstanding of it can lead the person to not adequately manage their emotions.

For this reason, a series of tips will be given in a future blog post to treat one’s own and others’ high sensitivity.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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