The Highly Sensitive Person on an International Journey

I found out that I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) only a few years ago. It was during my training as coach and counsellor and I must confess that it took me a while to understand that what I was told my whole life, and what had affected me on many ways, was actually very normal. The fact that I am a calm person, that observing and listening, that being empathetic and able to recognize patterns very quickly, to see connections where others don't is not "weird", but that these are traits that I share with other HSP was a relief.  

When I was reading articles and books from Dr. Elaine Aaron for a presentation, I 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 I recognized myself.
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 are in pain or when they struggle. I can walk into a room and feel the tension and would not choose to sit next to a person that is not calm and friendly.

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.


I highly recommend these tips for HSParents: 20 Ways to Survive Parenting When You are a Highly Sensitive Person


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.