Understanding high sensitivity to support others

March 30, 2023

Our regular learning and development programme for our staff and carers addresses topics which provide personal and professional development opportunities.

Understanding our own traits and the traits in people we care for helps us be more thoughtful in how we can support ourselves and each other. We offer High Sensitivity training to our staff and carers and our trainer for this session, David, a Supervising Social Worker at CHT, has shared the key points.

What is high sensitivity? How does it affect people? 

High Sensitivity is an innate trait found in around 15-20% of people. It is a trait that is largely misunderstood by many and is often stereotyped by negative and unhelpful labels such as ‘quiet’, ‘shy’, ‘huffy’ and ‘fussy’ to name a few. Most people don’t automatically associate high sensitivity with thoughts of ‘caring’, ‘considerate’, ‘creative’ or ‘intuitive’. 

People categorized as HSP (highly sensitive people) are likely to ‘pause to check’ in novel situations, show a heightened awareness of subtle stimuli and appear to be more reactive to both positive and negative stimuli. This combination supports a tendency to process stimuli more elaborately and learn from the information gained, which may ultimately be useful in the present and when applied to future situations. In contrast, those not categorized as HSP, pay less attention to subtle stimuli, approach novel situations more quickly, are less emotionally reactive and behave with less reference to past experiences.

Abseiling: An example

Let’s see how this would work in approaching a new activity. Let’s say the activity is abseiling. Would you be comfortable in trying abseiling without having done this before? Would you want a safety briefing or an instructor’s example first? Or would you want to get on with doing the activity and skip the safety briefing because you know you can do it and just want to experience the fun? Think about what you can learn about your sensitivity from these reactions.

Abseiling as an example of a new experience where we can look at different levels of sensitivity


Using our knowledge of sensitivity to support others

We are all on a continuum. Some of us will be in that highly sensitive bracket and embody all of the traits. Some of us will not be remotely sensitive and may find it a struggle to tolerate those who are more hesitant and quieter. Even more of us will find that some of the HSP traits appeal to us, whilst some don’t.

there are four main traits of high sensitivity.

  • Depth of Processing – Emotions-based decision making, feeling before thinking
  • Overstimulation – Can get emotionally worn out quicker than others
  • Empathy – More emotionally tuned to other people – to the point of feeling how and what others feel.
  • Sensitive to subtle stimuli – Having a greater awareness of the environment

If we, or the people we are supporting, show some of these traits then we may be able to use our understanding of high sensitivity to adapt our responses.

Learn more

Watch this TEDxIHEParis talk by Elena Herdieckerhoff on ‘The Gentle Power of High Sensitivity.