Are Hypersensitive People Neurodivergent?

young waitress hypersensitive arguing with seniors

Last Updated on

May 3rd, 2024 12:00 pm

Have you ever been in a situation where you feel incredibly overwhelmed by noises, smells or textures in our environment? Is it something you’ve noticed is a common occurrence and is repeatedly causing disruption to your everyday life?

If this sounds like you, you may be one of the hypersensitive people (HSP) of this world who are neurodivergent. Keep reading to learn more and see if that sounds like you!

Definition of Hypersensitivity

Hypersensitivity is a personality trait often referred to as High Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS). It is characterized by an abnormally high level of sensitivity to sensory input. Sensory input can include physical stimuli, social stimuli, and environmental stimuli.

The nature of hypersensitivity means sensitive children and adults possess a remarkable ability to perceive their surroundings with difference, in a more profound way than others. They may also experience strong reactions to emotional stimuli, including facial expressions and body language.

These physiological differences also mean they are susceptible to sensory overload from environmental factors such as loud sounds, bright lights, intense smells, or novel experiences. This can sometimes lead to feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated.

History of the Term

Psychologists Elaine Aron and Arthur Aron first claimed the term “highly sensitive person” in the mid 1990s. Aron EN published her book in 1996, titled “The Highly Sensitive Person .”

The book sold over a million copies, and to this day still plays a crucial role in the research of highly sensitive neurodivergent studies. The research carried out by Aron EN & Aron A has been extremely important on this subject and new information continues to arise as studies grow.

Characteristics of Hypersensitive People

Characteristics of hypersensitive children and adults vary, dependent on age, background and pre-existing conditions. HSP may have a strong dislike to violent movies such as horror movies, as these can make an individual feel threatened and can recreate a negative energy that is associated with past negative experiences.

They may also emotionally and physically withdraw from social situations as these situations may be extremely overwhelming for them and levels of anxiety and sensitivity increase in certain situations. HSP may also feel on edge constantly which resorts to them being startled easily.

Causes of Hypersensitivity

There could be many reasons why people are highly sensitive. This can depend one’s life experiences, relationships, job, mental illness and many other factors.

Biological Responsiveness

Biological responsiveness is a key factor in hypersensitivity. Research has suggested that those with this trait have a brain that processes sensory and social information more deeply than other individuals.

When the brain takes longer to process sensory and social information, it can increase awareness of environmental sensitivity and sensory sensitivity.

Genetic Predisposition

Genetics play a potentially large part in being hypersensitive. For example, Autistic people and people with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder traits (ADHD) can increase the chances of being hypersensitive.

Blonde woman in background listening to music singing loudly while hypersensitive blonde woman at front is stressed holding her ears

Hypersensitive people are particularly triggered by loud noises

Environment and Learning Experiences

As well as being hypersensitive, there is also sensory seeking. This is where certain brain regions are under-stimulated and require something to ignite that region to improve their daily functioning. This is also known as stimming, where a person does something to create that missing emotion.

On the other end of the sensory scale is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). SPD is where a person struggles with verbal communication and often their brain doesn’t process information properly.

It’s similar to watching a program when the audio is out of sync. You see the words coming out of the person’s mouth, before you actually hear the words. It’s like the circuits in the brain aren’t processing the information.

Signs and Symptoms of Hypersensitivity

There are many easy ways you can spot the signs and symptoms of sensitive personalities. Here are a few:

Overwhelming Situations

Overwhelming social situations can cause unnecessary stress for a person with a sensitive brain. Certain external stimuli can cause heightened emotional levels of anxiety, which could send a highly sensitive person into sensory meltdown. Examples of social stimuli include crowded environments, loud noises, bright lights, and strong smells.

Strong Emotional Responses to Stimuli

Emotions from external and internal stimuli can be more intense than most. A small change in a routine or a traumatic event can result in powerful reactions from the body and mind. The way external stimuli influences internal stimuli can be overwhelming for hypersensitive personalities.

Highly Sensitive to Pain and Noise

Highly sensitive people may be more responsive to pain such as physical pain, loud noises, strong odours and bright lights. This also includes being extra sensitive to words that are hurtful in certain situations.

Negative Emotions in Social Situations

Bright lights, loud noises, uncomfortable clothing and much more can contribute to a shut-down or meltdown in a social situation. HSP tend to try and avoid social situations that involve their triggers, as they tend to feel overwhelmed and very anxious when they are over-stimulated.

Depth of Processing to Facial Expressions and External Stimuli

Facial expressions can be difficult to read for neurodivergent people, and in some cases can lead to copying another person’s expressions. At times mirroring facial expressions can be seen as “appearing as normal”. Or in other cases, HSP can focus too much on facial expressions and get the wrong impression. This can cause emotional distress depending on what the situation is.

Impact on Relationships and Social Interactions

A HSP can struggle with both platonic and romantic relationships in different ways. Being in a relationship can be hard for highly sensitive people, because everyday things can be overwhelming. It’s even tougher if the partner doesn’t get why you have emotional reactions to events that seem normal to them.

couple had argument in white bed and man is looking away from woman while woman is pouting

Hypersensitivity can cause huge communication issues in relationships if left neglected

Poor communication and misunderstanding between employers and employees can lead to emotional overload, damaging their relationship. It is important that additional stress doesn’t accumulate in the workplace as this can affect a person’s work ethic. It can cause intense emotions for the person which could result in poor work from them.

Inability to Handle Stressful Situations

Stressful situations tend to occur frequently in a highly sensitive person’s life, whether it be physical stress or emotional. These stressful situations can result in an overload and cause the person to shut down completely, resulting in emotional outbursts. This is due to how quickly the person can absorb environmental stimuli and how they respond to it.

Difficulty Forming Strong Connections with Others

Being hypersensitive can be a struggle, especially when trying to connect with people. So when a strong relationship is formed then this can be a big thing for someone who struggles to form connections.

On the one hand, another deep bond with someone is great. However, meeting a new person and not fully knowing a person triggers could be volatile for any kind of relationship.

If a relationship becomes volatile, it can create more negative emotional experiences which later in life can affect the person more. It can also lead to extreme attachment/detachment issues which affect future relationships, as well as deteriorating mental health conditions.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Hypersensitivity

Hypersensitivity is often associated with Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Depression, or Anxiety. It can be diagnosed through sensory processing sensitivity tests and other assessments by medical professionals.

Treatment for hypersensitivity can include: medications, talk therapy, occupational therapy or even diet change. It is important that people with sensory processing sensitivity get the correct help, and have strong and understanding supportive environments.

One in five people deal with hypersensitivity. You’re not alone.

Keep reading to learn more about neurodiversity!

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