Is there something wrong with being sensitive?

"High sensitivity is almost a social gift"

High sensitivity - how can I recognize it?

We spoke to Sylvia Harke, psychologist, coach, author and expert on high sensitivity: How can we tell whether someone is highly sensitive, whether there are mixed forms and whether high sensitivity always has to be a weakness. Ms. Harke, how do I know that I am highly sensitive?

Sylvia Harke: High sensitivity is not a one-dimensional trait. Dr. Elaine Aron, a pioneer in this field, describes four basic characteristics that I would agree with: thorough information processing (stronger reflection, thoughtfulness, inclination to philosophy, questioning things), overexcitation (sensitive vegetative nervous system, stress caused by changes), emotional Intensity (can be touched emotionally quickly) and sensory sensitivity (more sensitive to noise, pain, increased susceptibility to allergies).

Do I have to meet all of these criteria to be considered highly sensitive?

No. There are very different forms of HSP. They can also occur in different phases of life. Some were already classified as particularly sensitive in childhood, others recognize through a stressful life event that they react more strongly to stress than usually sensitive people. But self-assessments can also be wrong. Psychological tests or an interview with an expert will result in exclusion. A distinction is also made between congenital and trauma-related high sensitivity.

Highly sensitive - many associate the word with weakness and instability. Why?

Our society generally has a problem with dealing with emotions. Grief and vulnerability are not valued very much. Even at school we are assessed according to performance and discipline and have to function. Many children do not receive enough support to deal with their feelings. At some point this can lead to emotional freezing and depression. In Germany, being sensitive is too often associated with being weak. In fact, HSP has something to do with our nervous system. The English term "highly sensitive person" describes exactly this sensitivity. In German it should actually mean "sensitive" and not "sensitive". The wrong translation gives the term a bad coloring.

Is HSP a symptom of our modernity?

Of course, we live with more overstimulation today than we did 100 years ago. But I am convinced that this characteristic has always existed. Due to our hectic environment, however, it is more difficult for highly sensitive people and in our fast-moving times, they tend to reach their limits. Especially in big cities we are confronted with noise, time pressure and crowds on a daily basis.

What are the professional advantages of being highly sensitive?

People in artistic, social or therapeutic professions can particularly benefit from HSP. Highly sensitive people are usually very helpful, empathetic and have a higher level of empathy. You could almost call it socially gifted. Creative and social professions are therefore ideal.

How do I deal with it when I know that I am highly sensitive?

A counselor often helps at the beginning. Dealing with the topic and understanding it makes it easier to deal with. If that is not enough, stress management methods such as yoga, meditation or autogenic training can help to relax the autonomic nervous system. Depending on how severely everyday life is impaired, well-founded therapy may also be necessary. Personally, I have achieved a lot for myself through breathing therapy in dealing with emotions. I can only advise everyone - whether highly sensitive or normally sensitive - do not be afraid of your feelings.

Sylvia Harke is a qualified psychologist, coach, author and expert on high sensitivity. Due to her own highly sensitive nature, she began to deal with the topic and wrote various guides designed to help highly sensitive people to strengthen their self-esteem and to take advantage of this characteristic. Her book "If women feel too much" (Knaur Verlag) was published recently. You can find more information about her work and psychological tests at

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