The Perks of Being a Highly Sensitive Person


I wanted to take my daughter to the mall.

That shouldn’t be so difficult, right?

I overheard her on the phone saying to a friend, “You’re so lucky that your mom likes to shop. My mom HATES the mall.”

It’s true. Malls, like carnivals and amusement parks, give me anxiety. They always have. When I was my daughter’s age (11), adults and peers thought there was something seriously wrong with me because I relaxed under a tree at Kings Island amusement park in Mason, Ohio while my sisters and friends headed to The Beast, the tallest, fastest, and longest wooden rollercoaster in the world in 1979 when it was built.

I was managing my anxiety just fine at the mall until we hit the main drag when the kiosk people come at you like spider monkeys with their hair straighteners and phone cases and perfumes.

“Ma’am, here you go,” one says spraying a potent perfume in your face.

“Ma’am, take this!” other one says, right as you dodge the two in back of you.

By the time I got to Forever 21, I was having heart palpitations, my breath was shallow, and I was sweating all over.

My daughter rolls her eyes. Here we go again.

I am a highly sensitive person (HSP) as defined by Elaine Aron, Ph.D. in her bestseller The Highly Sensitive Person. I am among the 15 to 20 percent of the population that is easily overwhelmed by loud noises, crowds, smells, bright lights, and other stimulation. There is a lot going on inside my noggin at any given moment—HSPs have rich interior lives. I feel things very deeply and tend to absorb people’s emotions. I have a low tolerance for stress and don’t like to be rushed by deadlines. I am also aware of subtleties in many different situations that others miss.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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1 Response
  1. Joanne

    As an HSP l have saved myself and my child from potential food illnesses from recalled food. I am such a super smeller, that l can just touch or walk in to a store and something tells me don’t buy an item. Or l can sense smell of rotten things. My daughter is an HSP. My brother is a super taster,hrnse his intense dislike towards vegetables. Too strong. This has worsened now to complete allergies to perfume, now soap and hair dye. As a grad RN l remember. working on to my ward , walking past the crash cart, and my sense told me that we wee going to have a code blue. This was my first shift as a brand new grad. I was right, 10 min later l called a code. I have learned to ‘listen’ and was a special kind of RN, getting pts subtle ways that the others would miss. In fact they tried to fail me in school due to my shyness and sensitive nature. But l fought back and said not every RN can be the trauma type. We need all kinds. And it has saved lives. Thank you