ADHD and the Highly Sensitive Person

“When I get too busy, I just feel overwhelmed!”

“When the dog starts barking, it really rattles my nerves.”

“I have a very strong emotional reaction to music.”

“I try very hard to do things thoroughly.”

“People sometimes tell me I am too sensitive or too shy.”

Do these sound like you, or like your child? These are some experiences common among people with a personality trait known as the “highly sensitive person.”

Highly sensitive people

Psychologist Elaine Aron coined the term “highly sensitive person” some years ago to explain an often misunderstood personality trait common among some 15-20% of people. According to Dr. Aron’s definition, the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) “has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.”

Dr. Aron further explains that “in the past HSPs have been called “shy,” “timid,” “inhibited,” or “introverted,” but these labels completely miss the nature of the trait…. HSPs only appear inhibited because they are so aware of all the possibilities in a situation. They pause before acting, reflecting on their past experiences.  Many HSPs are often unusually creative and productive workers, attentive and thoughtful partners, and intellectually gifted individuals.” At the same time, individuals who are highly sensitive also do best when they get enough quiet renewal time so that their nervous systems are not overwhelmed.

A test for the trait

If you think you, or your child, might be a highly sensitive person, these tests can provide a quick check for you:

How does this relate to ADHD?

At the 2014 annual conference of the ADHD Coaches Organization, ADHD Coach Barbara Luther talked about inattentive ADHD, saying, among other things, that many with this diagnosis also have traits of “highly sensitive people.”

So why does it matter if I am highly sensitive?

  • It’s great to know, because it may help you understand a bit more about yourself. (“Oh, that’s why I am so concerned about how everyone in the room is feeling – I notice more than others!” for example.)
  • As you come to understand the trait better, you may find you can accept certain aspects of yourself more readily. (For example, “It’s OK that I am taking so long to decide – I am a deep, intuitive thinker.”)
  • It can also help you learn how to take care of yourself well. (“This party is so noisy, I think I’ll go sit outside for a while to get some quiet and calm my nervous system down.”)

To learn more
… about high sensitivity, check out any of these resources:

Articles online:
Sixteen Habits of Highly Sensitive People
Ten Tips for Highly Sensitive People
Top Ten Survival Tips for the Highly Sensitive Person

Books, workbooks, audio & video:
by Elaine Aron and Ted Zeff
(including books on paenting a highly sensitive child)

You-tube videos of Dr. Aron:
General talk on HSPs
Life as an HSP

The better you understand yourself, the more comfortable and confident you can feel.

Posted in ADHD, ADHD ADD, Blog, child parent, emotional regulation