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Are sensitive people (HSP) more likely to end up with PTSD?

Updated: Jun 12

This is based on writings of Antonieta Contreras, trauma therapist, and is one of the best overviews of HSP (Highly Sensitive People) I have read. I hope it helps you to understand your self, your family and friends and highly sensitive people. We do not have a deficit, we have a super-power. It's taken from Quora and slightly reduced.

A highly sensitive person with their traits
The traits of a highly sensitive person

The concept of “Highly Sensitive People” HSP has a little of myth, a little of science, and a little of magic.

The myth started developing in the 70s around the concept of the “indigo Children.” It was suggested that certain children are born with special or ‘supernatural’ traits and abilities, making them more spiritually evolved, empathic, and sensitive to the world around them. The movement recognised certain attributes which had often been explained as deficits in personality, temperament, and cognitive development as actually being strengths.

The scientific community also found that many kids are born with heightened sensory responses. Psychologists Elaine N. Aron and Arthur Aron coined and developed the concept of HSP, or highly sensitive person, in the 1990s.

They stated that highly sensitive people tend to process sensory information more deeply and thoroughly than the general population. For example, the highly sensitive person will have a heightened awareness of sensory stimuli, such as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. They often notice subtleties that others might overlook, which can make certain environments or situations overwhelming or overstimulating. This high sensory sensitivity is a double edged sword. It can be overwhelming and actually cause shut down and avoidance if not managed or certain situations avoided or titrated in small measure.

A highly sensitive person is also more attuned to their emotions and the emotions of others and tend to feel things very deeply and may be more affected by emotionally charged situations or experiences. Again a double edged sword. What’s interesting is that HSPs are considered as having a high level of empathy and compassion that helps them readily sense the feelings and needs of others, making them great listeners and supportive friends, which was one of the main attributes of the Indigo Kids.

Psychologists recognise that highly sensitive people can become easily overwhelmed in noisy or crowded environments, or in situations with intense emotions, and that they may need more downtime to recharge after such experiences. (well I certainly relate to that trait!)

The magic is the fact that there are people that are extremely attuned to others which makes them more selfless. The highly sensitive person seems to be more advanced in their perception and intuition. They value what’s more important and deep. Highly sensitive people reject violence, etc., which make them the kind of being that do not belong to this plane of existence. A highly sensitive person commonly feels misunderstood, rejected, bullied, and treated as weak. They are regularly pushed by the parents to become tougher without valuing their “beauty”.

Actually, many highly sensitive persons do end up developing mental disorders because of the lack of understanding of their sensitivity. They may not succeed in the material world as expected or in a way that reflects their profound potential, which make them feel excluded and defeated. It is not their sensitivity that leads to mental health issues but the response from others to them.

HSP may develop a trauma disorder because they may find the aggressiveness and lack of love of their environments too unsafe, painful to bear and to overwhelming to manage. They can become literally sick in their stomach if they witness poverty, violence, abuse, etc., which puts their nervous system at risk.

But it has been also found that some HSPs can also resolve the traumatization faster and better than many because the highly sensitive person can use their high sensitivity to find safety, beauty, and hope.

Note from me

I hope this resonates with you and brings hope to you if you are HSP or have HSP children or friends/partner. I found I was able to intuitively guide my healing and self discover trauma healing strategies because I was so attuned with my experiences. I intuitively gravitated to those good, calm people with healing nervous systems and fled from those with the opposite. I started running to get my energy moving and let my body shake instinctively when it needed to (prior to even knowing about TRE). I cried buckets to release cortisol limiting chemicals and learned to belly breathe and deep sigh out (again without knowing about vagal nerve simulation) when I noticed how calming and soothing this was after running. I learned to slow cook, slow walk, slow down again because I experienced in seconds what happened one day when I was too exhausted to be fast so I kept using the strategy to calm when I needed to.

And yet, I still find whales getting beached and the news too much. I still have to practice Buddhist Tonglen meditation just to self regulate and not overwhelm myself. The open plan office is like the 'House of Horrors' to me. And, I totally relate to feeling mis-understood, labelled, bullied and judged which led to a whole host of issues and masking/exhaustion from masking which I have addressed as a HSP in adult life, inspired by my learning as a counsellor about person centred theory.

With understanding and knowledge we can embrace our super power and learn to regulate ourselves so we can heal and be fully ourselves with our marvellous traits that can make a difference not just to our inner world, our futures, our friends and families but to nature and the wider world. The universe needs us to do this as our world is set up for the neuro-typicals not the HSPs. You only have to look at who thrives in the corporate world, politics, who gains respect....

Here is a testimony from a HSP client I worked with who was struggling with high levels of activation from sensitivity to suffering.

"Absolutely brilliant. Dee is such a caring person and has giving me such helpful guidance over the sessions I have had with her. Can highly recommend." (Came for support to deal with being a highly sensitive person, Client L)

Please get in touch if you would like support to manage your sensitivity in a world set up for those without our super-power.

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