Blog 30: The Highly Sensitive Child and Adult

Written by Jim Sheehy

How do you know if you belong to this tribe, the 1 in 7 of the population? And where might this high sensitivity be traced back to? And, most important, how can I manage high sensitivity. 

See how many of the following can you tick.  

The Highly Sensitive Child

Startles easily

Complains about scratchy clothing, seams in socks, or labels against his/her skin

Doesn’t usually enjoy big surprises

Learns better from a gentle correction than a strong punishment

Seems to read adult mind

Uses big words for his/her age

Notices the slightest unusual odour

Has a clever sense of humour

Seems very intuitive

Is hard to get to sleep after an exciting day

Doesn’t do well with big changes

Wants to change clothes if wet or sandy

Asks lots of questions

Is a perfectionist

Notices the distress of others

Prefers quiet play

Asks deep, thought-provoking questions

Is very sensitive to pain

Is bothered by noisy places

Notices subtleties (something that’s been moved, a change in a person’s appearance etc.)

Considers if it is safe before climbing high

Performs best when strangers aren’t present

Feels things deeply

Then, if you, the reader, are an adult, see if your sensitivity has adapted to real-life scenarios in any of the following ways:

The Highly Sensitive Adult

They feel more deeply

They’re more emotionally reactive

They’re probably used to hearing, “Don’t take things so personally” and “Why are you so sensitive?”

They prefer to exercise solo.

It takes longer for them to make decisions.

And on that note, they are more upset if they make a “bad” or “wrong” decision.

They’re extremely detail-oriented.

They work well in team environments.

They’re more prone to anxiety or depression (but only if they’ve had a lot of past negative experiences).

That annoying sound is probably significantly more annoying to a highly sensitive person.

Violent movies are the worst.

They cry more easily.

They have above-average manners.

The effects of criticism are especially amplified in highly sensitive people.

Cubicles = good. Open-office plans = bad.

 So, if you’ve ticked a good number of the above, chances are you are in this tribe.

In summary, an HSP tends to be extremely observant / notices the distress of others / is caring about everyone and everything / feels more deeply / more emotionally reactive / sensitive to criticism / invests hugely in key relationships / highly creative and expressive / come across as ‘different’ to themselves and others. 

About 15 per cent of children are highly sensitive.  They feel, think, behave in some or many of the above ways, sometimes intensely.  How the people around them respond or react to their high sensitivity impacts their self-esteem, communication, relationship and functional capacity.

The second question asked is where might this high sensitivity be traced back to?  It’s certainly partly genetic, the child resembling a parent or member of the extended family.  There are nine personality types who operate primarily from either the heart, head or gut.  HSPs tend primarily to be heart-focused (pleaser / carer; tragic romantic; investigator) but not exclusively.  

And, most important, how can I manage high sensitivity? 

Firstly, by knowing and accepting I am an HSP.  We, because I am one, tend to be affected even in the womb.  Our susceptibility to trauma is heightened relative to our siblings.  In early childhood, there is a need for that extra nurturing and reassurance by parents that s/he is safe and belongs in the world.  At school-going age, teachers notice HSPs as being very conscientious and responding far better to affirmation than criticism.  If the child who is highly sensitive hasn’t already felt ‘different’ in relation to siblings at home, they certainly will in the school setting.   Depending on the suitability of the teacher and the classroom spirit, the highly sensitive child / teenager loves or hates school.  They think about everything that happens a thousand times, they feel a nasty remark right to their core.   They love their own bedroom because it’s safe and they often express themselves very creatively through art, dance, music, poetry etc.  Once HSPs find one or two friends, they feel very reassured because they don’t feel as weird.  If they enjoy academic subjects or get involved in group activity (sport, drama) they can fit in with the non-HSPs.  Unfortunately, they can be targets for bullying behaviour and need to discover ‘the voice of the tiger within’ that is not natural to them but essential when they’re picked on.  

HSPs often need support around times of transition, moving from Primary to Secondary, or later leaving home into College.  They can struggle intensely with the loss of key relationships through separation, physical or emotional e.g. older sibling leaving home, death of granny, break up with boyfriend.  At the furthest point of the HSP spectrum, we find people who have to manage autism or personality disorder.  These are wonderful, normal people but their high sensitivity is around unpredictable sensory stimuli, managing moods and a different way of communicating / relating in how they think and feel.   

I regard being an HSP as a curse and a blessing.  It has meant a lifelong quest in managing my thinking incessantly and feeling so acutely.  I consider it a blessing because we HSPs, once we accept and celebrate who we are, become superb friends, partners, parents and work colleagues.    The world of creative arts is full of HSPs who often found school difficult and learned to express their struggle and pain through music, art, etc.  The non-HSPs usually comprise the majority of the audience who have not quite had that difficult journey in liking the mix of person they are.

What is key for an HSP, whether child or adult?  Find a person who ‘gets you’ and who you can trust as you surf the difficult moods, relationships, episodes in life.  Secondly, find nature (pet, beach), expressive activity (drawing, journaling, listening to or composing music) and a body activity that gets you out of your head for a while (sport, surfing, kayaking etc.)  Yes, we HSPs are different, the 1 in 7, so begin to accept that what is different can make you exceptional. 


Presentations on the 4 zones are also available on video and blog through the website – see

If you enjoy the material, please get the word out there among those you care for.  You can contact me with comment or suggestion via Facebook at Jim Sheehy Therapy and on Twitter @jimsheehy2017

Take care,

Clarifying Disclaimer:  While the material I am presenting is well-researched and suitable for the general population, I believe each person’s issues and needs are unique.  I encourage you to seek medical and/or therapeutic support if you struggle with an issue or condition that negatively and seriously impacts your life.





Contact me:

Jim Sheehy M.Ed. MIACP
Co Donegal 
F94 WV99

087 2137922


Message Me

Welcome to Really Human