10 Ways to Find Out if You Are Too Sensitive.

Via Katarina Silva
on Feb 16, 2012
get elephant's newsletter

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.

Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!


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. 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

  2. Eric says:

    Dana: whatever is NOT helping you evolve, LET IT GO. yes, I've been there–the drinking, self-medicating and self-loathing–it's not about fitting in. our parents didn't know any better. society doesn't know any better. embrace this inspiration from Katarina, you can learn to cope without any crutches~nurture your radiance and creative spirit. I don't mean to make it sound easy–it's not–but the work you put into this new journey will be well worth it. in the words of Raymond Carver: "If I can do it, anyone can."

    Thank you Katarina: as always~beautiful & poignant photos that bring out the depth in your articles.

  3. 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! ; )

  4. MarySol says:

    That is beautiful what you mentioned about the shamans, how they communed with Divinity both within and through nature. I really like that!
    And yes, thank you Katarina,kindred spirits! :-))

  5. Eric says:

    no, there's no need to respect it, it's ignorant. I think Tyler Durden himself would have replied, "Very clever~how's that working for you?"

  6. Eric says:

    Lucas, "stank ass compost heap" is a great analogy!! compost heaps are amazing because they serve as the organic catalyst for transformation and growth, which is what this article is about. in the words of William Munny from 'Unforgiven' ~ "deserve's got nuthin to do with it."

  7. 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.

  8. […] 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 […]

  9. […] 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 […]

  10. […] 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 […]

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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. Rebeccah says:

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

  16. 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.

  17. I'm so happy my article touched you, Brooke, and confirmed your need to branch out on your own, away from those who do not appreciate your sensitive nature. You are indeed not alone, and I wish you the best time in Italy!! ~Wow~

  18. You're welcome, Renee! Never doubt yourself. You are beautiful just as you are, sensitivity and all! :-))

  19. Not at all, Rebeccah I have had others tell me the same thing. WE all relate to that here. :-)) THank you for sharing! xoxox

  20. I know! I also try to do that sometimes: hide my sensitive reactions. But, sometimes, keeping emotions in catches up with me, so usually I just let them flow. But I know what you mean. Thanks for sharing. :-))

  21. Sorry. Yes, I can see how that would make it sound like a negative. The editors do ask us to make up the catchiest titles, but I think I blew it here. At least, when you read the article, you realize that there is no such thing as "TOO sensitive". You are prefect the way you are, and that is the point in my article. So the tile is all about promotion and marketing, to lure people in, and then when they read it they discover that it is not a negative, but a positive. Publishing and editorial stuff. But I am sorry if it offended you.

  22. You're very welcome! And you have a tribe here, for sure. :-))

  23. You are welcome, Alice! I am happy my article helped you feel understood, and tune into the blessing that being sensitive is! :-))

  24. Thanks for sharing, Kristin! Having someone who can tune into the sensitivity of patients is awesome! Thank you for being you! We do indeed ROCK! :-))

  25. You're welcome, Hayley! I am happy my article encouraged you. :-))

  26. Thank you for sharing, Rachael. Yes, the workplace can indeed be very robotic! Good description! I have had others tell me the same thing. It's almost like society discourages our sensitivity, as you said, and rewards people who are desensitized! I appreciate your experiences. And I wish you well with adjusting your expectations in relationships. Yes, not everyone is as sensitive as we are, but that should not cause us to taper our passion. Indeed! :-))

  27. Thank you Val! Would you believe I am just getting around to responding to this now?! I need to set up one of those comment account thingies.

    I so much enjoyed reading your comment! Yes, the artists of the past and present usually fall into this characterization of being very sensitive. not many know how to cope with it, and it can be overwhelming. But it sounds like your mother handled it gracefully, despite your early embarrassment of her. I ALSO felt like this about MY mother! And I ALSO told myself I would NOT grow up to be as sensitive as she was! Lo and behold, we even have yoga as a parallel here, which let me gracefully blossom into embracing my sensitivity in my late adolescence.

    It sounds like you've had a very rich and interesting journey with this. I would love to read an article by you about how yoga developed your sensitive nature and engaged it in a positive way! This role of emotions in yoga is often misunderstood. I would ADORE hearing more about this, if you please? ;-))

    Thank you so much for sharing! And again, sorry for the delayed reply. xoxoxo

  28. Thank you for sharing! Yes, the book is awesome! :-))

  29. cathy says:

    thank you for taking tiem to read and comment to me. Yes, publishing and editorial stuff.. I write also.. and for mondbodygreem.. they always want a number nd tips.. ten ttips.. eight amazing.. I find fo rthem I shape my content to fit a catchy title.. but as a blabbermouth I get by..
    As a sensitive person.. I´ve heard ÿou´re to sensitive ¨often enough.. it´s like tellign someone that they are too tall or have too many toes. Certainly the challenge is to lear ho wto use the sensitivity for ones own good instead of blurting out each sensation publicly or too often..
    I dont go to shopping mallss, to intensely chaotic stimulizing.. my gain!

  30. 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.

  31. Lauren says:

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

  32. 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.

  33. Huh? says:

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

    Most people can do this?

  34. 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..

  35. Robert to myself says:

    Yes I answer to mysel 😉 …. Thinking I am a special person is a jail, a different one than to feel un-understand ore surroind by differents peoples, but still it is a jail. To think we are so special is not real, the ego like to be special… and the mental deserv our ego very well to find good arguments to be special. Then we will find many peoples who want to be special like us, with us. Again, this is a jail.

    The heart, and the awareness do not need the mental to be. The ego, livng in our mental like to say "I" on the truth self.

  36. […] 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 […]

  37. 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,

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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….


  41. […] 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. […]

  42. 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.

  43. When using solar, rechargeable batteries in
    the lights are used to collect energy from the sun to power the
    lights. Now that I’ve laid out my reasoning, I’m going to
    assume you’re convinced and have decided to go for solar lights. Solar powered cars still have many bugs to work out including how to keep them operating on a daily basis, day or night.

  44. Renee says:

    I got 9 out of 10 on the test…Wow! This is really interesting food for thought. Thank you.

  45. peebee says:

    I’ve always been labelled hyper sensitive, thin-skinned etc and I’ve always felt a sort of a misfit cos I found it difficult ‘falling in with the rhythm’ of the crowd. I began to believe that something was wrong with me, preferred being alone doing my own thing. I love the arts, nature and most of all peace and quiet. Thank you for your article! It has given me a great feeling, love myself more now!

  46. debaumer says:

    Beautiful, affirming article!

  47. hokitibontas says:

    *Sigh* thank you . . . I feel much better now. . .
    (wasn't really sure I was but then scoring about 8/10?! – yea pretty sure I am now)