10 Ways to Find Out if You Are Too Sensitive.

Via Katarina Silva
on Feb 16, 2012
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Mercado by Cuauhtemoc

Hot sun rays squeezed juicy scents from the mangos and papayas and sent them swirling into the air, and up my nostrils.

A man played the guitar for change, vendors melodiously announced prices, street dogs nonchalantly brushed up against me as we weaved our way through the bustling crowd, decorated in their Sunday best, sprayed with their expensive perfumes. I felt mother tug me close to her, my sweaty hand in hers, as we passed the dusty beggars, uncomfortably settled on the cobblestone road, their skinny hands outstretched toward me, weighing heavily on my heart.

Later that day my mother found me in my room, sitting alone against the wall, a sheet draped over my head like a veil, my hand outstretched, my head bowed. I had internalized the beggars suffering as my own. I sought to understand it. I sought to find an explanation for pain in their eyes. I ached to find a solution for their hurts.

Beggar by Peter Kojin

I am told I remained that way for long stretches of time, after each visit to the outdoor market. My mother insists that the first time she found me like this, I was only three years old. Just tall enough to be directly at eye level with the pleading eyes of beggars, which I can still remember.

And then there were the live chickens: tied together by their feet and mercilessly dangling in the hot sun until someone picked one out for dinner. I remember staring into a basket full of chicken heads when I was a little girl. Their eyes still open. Their headless bodies running around the market, wings flapping wildly, like feathered zombies.

By the time I entered adolescence, my diet reflected all the times I had listened to animals being slaughtered at the public market. Sometimes their screams squeezed my torso so hard I could hardly breathe. Their agony had automatically become my own. How could the others just walk by the butcher shops as easily as they would a clothing shop? Laughing and talking as if no pain was being inflicted. My childhood mind could not grasp this. Didn’t they feel it?

“Oh! You’re just too sensitive!” people would tell me, or “Toughen up!”

Eventually I realized that my sensitive nature seemed to hold negative stigma, so I learned to keep my perceptions to myself most of the time. Finding another sensitive person who could relate to my views was a rare treat. But who exactly determines what’s “too sensitive” and what isn’t? I questioned why society saw my sensitivities as a negative. It’s almost as if they were telling me that the way I experienced life was somehow wrong. But my way of being was who I was. And, as a little girl, I saw myself doing many things with it!

Layla by Katarina Silva

I wanted to be a magical healer when I grew up, because I automatically tuned into people’s pain. I was eager to be a dancer because music could never contain me, and sent me moving with each note. I was drawn to become a firefighter, because the big, loud fire engines excited me and fueled me with a sense of urgency. I saw myself as a vet because I was convinced I could speak the language of animals. And I definitely imagined myself a mystical sorceress, because as a little girl I was absolutely convinced I could communicate with the deceased. Then there was my love for baking. Life was so yummy and full of arousing options!

Every one of us wants to be deliciously aroused in one way or another.

We want life to awaken us, stir us, stroke us, and stimulate us just enough to delight in our existence, and not so much that we’re overwhelmed by it. We thirst for stimulation from the time we are born. Not too much and not too little, but just the perfectly balanced amount that will twirl us in a dance of experiences and growth. My mother tells me I was an unsually astute toddler with an endless capacity for exploration and inquiry. I felt the world beckoning to me. Life’s an endless playground out there and it’s calling our name!

Playtime is about perception. Those who are aware of more stimulants in their environment will naturally have an expansive state of perception. Two people may be in the same situation, receiving the same stimulation, but they way they experience it, and how aroused their nervous system becomes by it, could be whole galaxies apart!

How much of life are you awakened to?

Tree Soul by Katarina Silva

Recent neurological research has discovered that some of us, (about 15 to 20%, to be exact), are more sensitive to the world around us than the rest. We move through life with a more pronounced state of awareness, and depth of experience. We are easily aroused by the subtleties in our surroundings, such as changing moon phases, ocean tides, shifting weather patterns, magnetic fields, sonic frequencies and the migration of animals, insects and birds, to name a few.

We are also more attuned to the activities in our own bodies such as imbalances, breath patterns, heart rate, digestion, muscle tension and sexual arousal. As well as being more active in our dreams, our fantasy life, memories, imaginations and especially, our intuition. Possibly, the most common way to detect us is that we are extremely empathetic to the feelings of others, including animals, almost as if they were our own. Sometimes it can all be very overwhelming and exhausting!

Being born with heightened sensitivity can become our greatest asset or our worst liability, depending on how we relate to it.

Although most most of contemporary society is structured in such a way that being extra sensitive can sometimes feel like a curse, ancient cultures recognized it as a special gift, and they admired  and valued those who possessed it as special guides. 

Take the test:

If you can relate to six or more of the case scenarios below, (or parallel ones you imagine in your mind), you are probably among the 20% of the population that has been gifted with this heightened level of sensitivity:

1. While others usually interact socially with many people at surface levels, you prefer to connect with just a handful of people but at very deep and meaningful levels.

2. While some merely watch movies, you participate in them on an emotional level nearly akin to the characters themselves, and use the ending credits after movies to transition from the world on the screen, back into the world around you. Oh! And did I mention we always bring tissues? 

3. While others seem to move through public education with no problem, you feel oddly out of your element restricted by the ringing bells, the buzzing florescent lights, the deadlines on assignments, the superimposed pace, the lack of creativity.

4. While some may only notice the “lovely” sounds of birds, you can’t help but to decipher the tone of the bird calls and realize that they are not lovely at all, but distress calls, in which a larger bird is targeting the fledgelings of another for its next meal!

5. While others can enter a room without having its details faze them, you notice everything from the stain on the left curtain panel, to the cooking smells from the previous meal, the texture of the couch upholstery, its temperature, lighting, how close the traffic sounds are, and any residue tension lingering in the air from the argument that transpired in the room before you even entered it.

6. While others can run with the monotonous rat race at urban speed, through multiple tasks, rush hour traffic, complaining bosses and many co-workers, day after day, year after year, your constitution is more suited to working at your own pace, in peaceful surroundings, or you may become rattled.

7. While most will just walk by a crying child being ignored by its mother in a supermarket cart without incident, you feel your heart beating faster as you’re compelled to relieve it of its discomfort.

8. While most people can go from work, to shopping, to socializing in a single day without even blinking an eye, you find yourself needing to pace yourself and take time to recharge in between stimulating activities or events.

9. While most people can rush through an art museum ingesting one work after another in a short amount of time, you prefer to take time to absorb the essence of each piece at a more gradual, thorough pace, usually involving connecting with the emotional make up and mind-set of each artist.

10. While most people can go through lovers like fashion styles, your erotic encounters are whole person experiences with someone you love, leaving you feeling as if the whole room is spinning, and in need of recovery time from your intense lovemaking before you can participate fully in the next activity.

If you are gifted with a heightened sensitivity, remember that most of the world is designed for those who do not have this personality trait. But please don’t let that silence you! 

If you ever felt as if you did not fit in, remember that there is nothing wrong with the way you are. We are the privileged minority! And although we may not always be welcomed or facilitated by most of the modern world’s structures, we compose most of the creative quotient on the planet, for we are always inventing new ways to go against the grain. And all life thrives on creativity!

People with heightened levels of sensitivity are often found designing our own alternative lifestyles, or innovating new approaches to living.

Shaman by Katarina Silva

We aim to surround ourselves with others who will respect our sensitive nature, and not try to change it. Tribal cultures view us as their spiritual guides, and humanity’s doorway to the mysteries of the universe. As Marie-Louise Von Franz, who worked closely with Jung once mentioned:

“On a primitive level the highly sensitive is the shaman, who knows what the gods and ghosts and ancestral spirits are planning, and who conveys their messages to the tribes….these sensitive ones know about the slow process that goes on in the collective unconscious.”

In Elaine. N Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person, she writes about how today, rather than becoming our tribe’s prophets and seers, we are the the world’s poets, inventors, artists, musicians, and dancers!

The highly sensitive are the wild and the wise. We are the rebels and radicals and revolutionaries. We are the visionaries who can glimpse the future. We are so many things to so many people, probing generally unnoticed areas and returning with our findings. And as Von Franz says, though we may be misunderstood by our peers, we will most likely be recognized by  “later generations, as a representation of what was going on in the collective unconscious at that time.” Life honors us!

 So, you who ingests life at a whole other level of awareness, who we find in well-stocked libraries, and rescuing dogs from shelters, and in meditation rooms or tending to organic gardens as the sun peeks over the horizon. You who volunteers for human rights organizations, and who forgets to eat you are so consumed by your latest art project, and notices the spider web that appeared in your favorite tree from one day to another. You modern day shaman, who navigates through life to your own tune, gently, conscientiously, and as gracefully as possible (as long as our adrenals kick in when we need them most!). You beautiful, sensitive soul: Just feel free to be yourself, without apologizing.

Life needs you. So much!

Relephant reads:

Yoga & the Highly Sensitive Person.

A Passionate Note to My Sensitive Heart.

A Love Note to the “Hypersensitive,” “Too Nice,” & “Takers-of-It-Too-Personally.”

Why Sensitive Souls Need Rituals.

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About Katarina Silva

Katarina Silva is an artistic self-expressionist who thrives on the spontaneous thrill of creating photographic images in ten seconds, and inevitably employs witchcraft to do so. Her autobiographical art reflects her emotions and dreams, and is characterized by the mysterious absence of her complete face. She lives unafraid of darkness, wrapped in nature, in an obscure corner of the planet with her magical kitty. You may view her work at The Art of Katarina Silva. Or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter


121 Responses to “10 Ways to Find Out if You Are Too Sensitive.”

  1. Hi Katarina,

    I loved this piece! I am definitely with you in the 15-20%. Have been all of my life.

    I have shared your piece on Elephant Journal's Facebook Page.

    Jeannie Page

  2. Steve S. says:

    Thank you! This is sooooo my daughter. Thanks for putting my observations into words.

  3. "Eventually I realized that my sensitive nature seemed to hold negative stigma, so I learned to keep my perceptions to myself most of the time." I did the same thing for sooooo many years – not so much anymore :-) Thanks from a kindred spirit.

  4. Joe Sparks says:

    Very good article! You were describing me! I have this amazing pre-birth memory of being in this warmth, dark, fluid, quiet, nurturing,weightless, expansive environment, having no interest in leaving. My mother said I was a difficult birth. Also, my family imploded at the age of 9, and was put into an orphanage for 3 years ( mind blowing exprience, just heightened my sensitivity even more).Unknowingly, since that time, I have been trying to re-create that pre-birth experience for the last 55 years as a dancer, swimmer, massage therapist, Pose runner ( similar to flying) Hot yoga teacher. Everyday, with my hot yoga classes, I am back home, but not alone. Setting this up and sharing this with others and they love it! My life has come full circle! Great to have folks coming in my direction! Being pleased and relaxed, is my mantra! Good to be home!

  5. Maria Hoffman says:

    My goodness I am crying! I can relate to all ten items and have always thought it was just me! Thank you for sharing… it really mean very much to me.

  6. Dana says:

    This completely describes me, or how I used to be. I have spent the last 10 years of my life drinking and drugging myself into sedation, hoping to cope better and fit in. I got tired of crying, being made fun of, and generally feeling like an outcast and misunderstood. I used to write beautiful poetry, danced until I dropped, and draw amazing works of art. Now I have a hard time tapping into any of that, for fear of losing the control that now have over my inflated sensitivity. This has made me very unhappy. After reading this, I finally feel like maybe I can let go and let my life run it's true course, rather than the one I feel it's "supposed to" take. My mother always told me that I was too spacy, too emotional, and that I would never make it in the "real world" with that kind of mentality. I realize now that she, too, is just a tortured sensitive soul who felt the need to suppress herself, and projected that onto me. Thank you for the inspiring, comforting, and life-changing post. You have truly touched my soul, and given me courage to live a more meaningful, honest life. Thank you.

  7. MarySol says:

    Love this article! So encouraging. I'm a 7 in the test but for me Relationships and Nature seem to heighten my sensitivity off the charts.
    "We want life to awaken us, stir us, stroke us, and stimulate us just enough to delight in our existence, and not so much that we’re overwhelmed by it. We thirst for stimulation from the time we are born." So true!
    It is amazing how now in schools, rather than encouraging sensitive children, they have developed children's versions of adult psychotropic drugs in an attempt to deaden their sensitivity. Maybe why so many conscious parents home school their sensitive children so they can grow to shine in their own unique and beautiful ways!
    Thanks so much for sharing this!

  8. Karen W says:

    Thanks for sharing your very precious and personal insights. I'm wondering if you could provide a link to the neurological research you mention?

  9. lucas says:

    actually i think if this applies to anyone who is reading this then you have been to too many rainbow gatherings, have eaten too much LsD, or is someone who basically thinks they are not a simple machine who is working in combination with the other 7 billion plus simple machines to make the one complex machine that matters, keep running efficiently so you precious little opinion continues to matter. y'all remind me of the ex vets deserted on some tiny little no name island who think the war is still going on. grow some skin and realize you are part of the same stank ass compost heap as everyone else. everyone thinks they are so deserving of special notice and special treatment. grow some balls.

  10. Guilty as charged! Love this Katarina. I used to fight with my sensitivity, but have learned to embrace it. xoxox

  11. thislittlelark says:

    It always warms my heart to connect with others in the "highly sensitive people" realm… such a gift to embrace!! :) Thank you for sharing your story and providing a space for others to feel a-ok being just as they are. :)
    http://www.facebook.com/thislittlelark http://thislittlelark.wordpress.com

  12. Earth Muffin says:

    Just when you think you're all alone in this ol' hamlet….. Thanks, Katarina

  13. linda buzogany says:

    10/10 katarina. Worse as i age fit in nowhere mainstream, thank God. Your depth is so refreshing. Ill read book for my neuropsych class wherei have disproportionatenumber ofsensitives. Typing on a nook, sorry. LINDA Love von franz

  14. Rajni Tripathi says:

    Wow…describing this piece as wonderful doesnt' do it justice. This is EXACTLY what i needed to read today.

  15. Cathy Geier says:

    Thank you for this article. I am also one of many very sensitive people. This deepened preception abilities has of course given me time so f being misunderstood as well as opportunities to feel and express myself in ways unique and rewarding to me. I am involved with yoga and my ecstatic dance friends are a blessing to me as many of them also feel and express selves with deep understanding and warm acceptance and support.

  16. carrie says:

    Its nice to know there are so many of us, though personally I think I only know 1 or maybe 2 and even they do not pick up on as many things as I do. I work with special needs kids and relate closely to those with ASD in the way they cannot tune out to the stimulus of life and environment. We are special, and we are the chosen , recognised by the pure of heart and most often young children and animals!

  17. MarySol says:

    Katarina, your articles tend to get me thinking, I hope you don't mind another comment. I woke this morning reflecting on another aspect of sensitivity in life. That of our relationship with the conscience. How it whispers to us throughout life. Of course as children here in the west it is often characterized by our elders as a kind of sense of "good" or "bad". But its presence seems to go much deeper than that. In small ways (like waking you up just before your alarm goes off) and (sometimes) big ways it speaks to us. It seems to me another interesting aspect of sensitivity. In some cultures this is considered more relevant than others. I remember years ago reading in some of the ancient Indian yoga writings how the final stage of yoga, samadhi, includes deep communion with that inner voice, who they describe as a manifestation of Divinity within each of our hearts, kind of like the holy guest in the Christian trinity. Anyway, it was kind of intriguing me. Thanks again for your thoughtful article :-)

  18. Laura Wells says:

    Loved this – rang true for me as well. I've always kept mostly quiet about being so attuned to others' energies but my voice is starting to make itself heard lately. Sign of the times, maybe? :) Thanks for such an insightful article! <3

  19. Roberta says:

    Great article, part of the tribe myself. But what I really enjoyed was the art. I'm not sure how you pulled it off, but your photographs, which could be seen as kitchy or sentimental, come off as powerful and assertive. Perhaps because the self-portraiture is more a portrait of your imagination, giving a feeling of freedom and self-acceptance I find remarkable… Bravo!

  20. ValCarruthers says:

    Totally delicious. Adored this, Katarina. Made me think of how many of the great creative geniuses past and present–e.g. poets like Baudelaire–destroyed themselves with drugs and alcohol, not so much to write wilder novels or paint more daringly but to numb out the acute sensitivity to everything and everyone around them that scorched through their senses to the core of their beings.

    Fortunately, my mother who was an extremely gifted artist and designer, had no interest in substances or their abuse. However she was an intensely sensitive, empathic person who was happiest in the "ivory tower" of her dreams and creations, apart from the social demands of professional life. As a child, her sensitivity embarrassed me. None of my schoolfriends' mothers acted that way. I vowed to be different when I grew up. No way would I be as sensitive as she was. Time and Yoga have shown me otherwise.

    As I grew into adolescence I communed more and more with great artworks in NYC museums. Nothing was more wonderful
    than cramming for an exam surrounded by Monet's Impressionist Waterlillies paintings at the Museum of Modern Art. Or feelingsisterhood with Rousseau's fierce Sleeping Gypsy. Then in my late 20's, Yoga entered my life. Almost surreptitiously it showed me a new sides of myself, erased them, and drove out more. Each more aware, connected, intuitive, empathic than the last. Later came teaching and still more sides of sensitivity emerged.

    While Yoga has taught me how to tame my rampaging emotions, it has also gifted me immeasurability with greater sensitivity, heightened awareness to all sentient life forms, and the ever changing vulnerabilities and strengths of my own mortal human self.

  21. shar qaan says:

    Great marketing piece!
    Now run out and buy the book.
    (one of the sensitive 17.5%)

  22. Beautifully put! I am a self-described "sensitive bunny" and love working with patients who are this way as well. I think it's important to empower them to utilize their sensitivity to their advantage (being the person to notice that someone at a party looks lonely and then talking to them so they don't feel uncomfortable, for instance) versus letting the sensitivity "own" them in a crippling fashion. Rock on, sensitive folks, rock on!

  23. Hayley says:

    This is exactly the affirmation I have been wanting to hear this year! I am currently trying to work through the emotions that arise thanks to that terrible negative stigma you so accurately described. Thank you!

  24. deleted1588147 says:

    Love it, of course :)

  25. Rachael Stainthorpe says:

    I love this article not only because it helped me to understand that I’m.not alone but also because, a. Society’s negative stigma of sensitive souls seeks to desensitize and this is exactly what has been happening to me, especially in my job, where it’s impressed upon you to be anything but yourself in order to.maintain some sort of utopian image that we are in control, and to do.this means we have to be mindless robots.

    Phew, also b. The pressures I have put on lover, partners and friends in my life, even my child, to feel something, or wondering why they are so guarded in their love for me, the world and themselves. I understood it wasn’t a selfish want but reading this helps me to understand, not a lot of people feel or see the world like I do, it won’t kill my passion but it does help me understand life a bit better.

    Thank you, a million times for this

    R xxxx

  26. elly says:

    Interesting as I was going to blog about this last week though probably still will as it is important info to share. I'm familiar with Elaine's book from years ago and have come to realize that I am "one of those" who are misunderstood most of the time. Though I have a kind heart, I am or consider myself a 'rebel' at heart (in a 'good' way), but then so-called 'rebels' change the world, don't they! ; )

  27. Alice says:

    It's been a year of feeling pain and happiness at levels that my peers don't seem to understand. Thank you for highlighting the blessing that sensitivity can be– it can be difficult to remember.

  28. […] a young age, I had managed to push down any vulnerability or sensitivity I had in me for my own psychic survival. Looking back I realize that I suffered from some deep […]

  29. […] a young age, I had managed to push down any vulnerability or sensitivity I had in me for my own psychic survival. Looking back I realize that I suffered from some deep […]

  30. […] asked had some anecdote about being verbally slammed by the women they knew, and then often called “too sensitive” if they bothered to stick up for […]

  31. thank you for this–timely. A good reminder of why I feel the absence of tribe.

  32. cathywaveyoga says:

    I would change the title to " Are You MORE Sensitive than Most?" By putting 'too' in the title it creates a feeling a badness.

  33. Brooke Schoudel says:

    this is eactly what i needed to read today! my whole life my family has put me down because i am so different than they are… whether it's my music or the books i read or what i believe in, they don't get me AT ALL.. i see the world in a way they do not. i have been living in italy and have been home for a visit this past month and realized today how much happier i am being away from them and not being told every single day that i'm weird or that something is wrong with me. i honestly don't know if i will ever be back for a visit, but i do feel much better knowing that i am not alone. thank you.

  34. Renee Hatt says:

    Thanks for the reminder…I am not crazy just because others have no idea what I am talking about! Been doubting my own feelings and things I know lately. My friend brought my attention to your article and I'm grateful for it.

  35. Rebeccah says:

    Is it weird I started to cry when I read this?

  36. ayguldiscovers says:

    Yes, it’s me.

    But, in the second scenario, even though my eyes quite always well up and I get a lump in my throat when I watch emotional films, I don’t use the tissues. And I try not to show my sensitivity. I try to stay cool.

    But, when I’m on my own, yes, I cry when there’s something deeply emotional.

  37. Jody says:

    Thank you for writing this. It resonates with me and it's so nice to feel like I have company, like I have a crew who sees/feels/hears the world as I do.

    As a kid and into adulthood, I was often told "you're too sensitive." And for a long time, I believed it and tried to do something about it. Eventually, it occurred to me that heightened sensitivity was a gift–like having great eyesight or incredible hearing. There aren't only five senses–touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell–as we were taught in school. There are so many more, including empathy, the ability to feel other people's emotion, and let's celebrate them all.

  38. Lauren says:

    Wow, that was touching. Beautiful. Your soul spoke to mine. Thank you.

  39. arpita says:

    What you describe is a heightened awareness coupled with compassion. Equanimity is the quality needed to balance these 2 qualities so as not to be overwhelmed and to view everything with a sense of balance and perspective.

  40. Huh? says:

    "While most people can go through lovers like fashion styles"

    Most people can do this?

  41. Robert says:

    I will try to express in a correct english… If I could share in my own langague or better the direct emotion it could be more clear. Well, I know very well what you talking about. I remember very well my thought about it when I was 4 years old. I tried so “hard” to understand wy other do not connect, seem not sensitive, do not understand the link between things etc… In India they call us “truth seekers”. Well my point is, do not let the “science” or the extension of the senses, to be able to control an repreduce experience… witch is the main statement of the science… right…? Do not give the human to them to put a “tag” As sentive human we do not need an approuve! Do not let the “machine” world taking you… But I fully understand why you use it. But, in same time, we should say… This is a kind of laughing things, science just observes things how they are, when they are done… But Science can not observes things when they are not appends. But as a Yoga teacher, I could say I may see peoples who could seen as insensitive in this kind of “surveys” or in a medical research, become sensitive… I saw hundreds of my own students, opening to a new reality they never seens before. People who was was running on this planet from 8 to 70 years… Well maybe we are there since more, that is not the point. No matter what peoples believe, sensitivity is a powerfull tool to become stronger in the real life, beyong the first appearance. Do not let the science tagging peoples like if they never can change. I personaly also had studied genetic, argue may be easy, but let the argue for scientist. When the world will be change for ever, then thay will put an approuval on it!! Yes gravity exist… they gave us the proof. Ego, this is what it’s talking about. Sorry to be long..

  42. […] field, but also because she lays it out there for me exactly as it is—no bullshit. However, me being the oversensitive guy that I am, can take her constructive criticism to heart like an axe chopping through strong […]

  43. richmdaw says:

    Love love love this article. I understand now what my life has been about and why I have done the things I have done. Thnak you,

  44. lostgypsy says:

    I read your article today with my morning cup of coffee…
    It cracked me wide open and something in me shifted. I am so grateful to you for that.
    Thank you.

  45. Abby says:

    I can completely relate and have been told to toughen up more than a million times. The corporate world devours me and the constant surface like fake interactions to make it to the top infuriate me. I notice birds everywhere, and cannot imagine not offering to help another – but that is not the popular message in our society unfortunately. I am a 9/10 in the rating scale and kept thinking no wonder my family / bosses do not understand me – trying to get out of mainstream America and find my niche.

  46. Marianne says:

    As others have said, this is a wonderful article and I'm really grateful to have found it. There's something very liberating about reading an explanation of something you've always felt and have always been told by society is wrong. I found this liberation many years ago when I came across some writing about introverts.

    I tick all 10 boxes in this sensitivity test. I'm wondering what the relationship to introversion may be….


  47. […] Maybe I’m too sensitive. I think I was absent the day they taught how to do that whole “close your heart off” thing because I don’t seem to be able to do it. […]

  48. designingfairy says:

    fellow sensitive, love the article and your take of it all. we are "the wild and the wise." We are the future Van Goghs who create masterpieces for eternity.

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