Why Are So Many Gifted Children Also Highly Sensitive? - Institute for Educational Advancement
highly sensitive

Why Are So Many Gifted Children Also Highly Sensitive?

By Lisa Natcharian, Raising Wizards

It’s a scientific fact that 20% of the population is born with a gene that allows them to “process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly” than other people do.  We also know that a common thread that runs among gifted people is their ability to understand the world more deeply and thoroughly than others, a trait that is simply sensitivity by another name.  Unfortunately, our society tends to view sensitive children as “weak” or prissy in many ways.

This mis-categorization ignores the fact that highly sensitive people are often highly successful people, specifically because of their creative and perceptive temperament.  Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Martin, Robert Frost, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mozart and Elton John are all highly sensitive.

Highly sensitive people have a number of very sought-after traits, including soaring creativity, intense focus, careful conscientiousness, empathetic kindness, and the ability to understand the world around them very deeply.

TYPICAL SIGNS of SENSITIVITY

Summarized from Dr. Elaine Aron, a leading research scientist in the field of high sensitivity

  • Processes things deeply. Thinks long and hard about things. Very concientious and can be slow to answer quesions.  Generally responds with accurate, unusual, or creative ideas.
  • Overstimulated very easily.  Doesn’t handle time pressure or deadlines well.  Don’t rush them!  Group work is unpleasant for them; they prefer a quiet space to think.  Noise is distracting, and chaotic situations are a nightmare.  Needs lots of personal space and downtime.
  • Reacts emotionally.  Takes criticism very personally.  Cries easily, even if feedback is kind and positive.  Has tremendous empathy for others, and tends to worry how others are doing.  Will make a point to give direct and positive feedback to others.
  • Aware of subtleties.  Notices very small differences in surroundings, including minor rearranging, changes to lighting or smells.  Reads people in a similar way; almost seems to be a mind-reader.

BENEFITS OF BEING SENSITIVE

  • We are more creative.  Brainstorming takes introspection, and the process of combining and editing ideas requires solitude.  The sensitive or introverted person is ideally situated to take his deep experience of the world, quietly turn it over in his brain until it blooms into an explosion of new ideas, then shape it into a workable solution.
  • We have an exuberant and lavish inner life.  We are vivid dreamers and daydreamers, we have inventive imaginations, and we recall memories in great detail. We are happy to spend time contemplating instead of acting, which helps us see connections between important things, which makes us smarter.
  • We are more emotionally aware. Emotional intelligence, or the ability to recognize our own emotions as well as those of others, is a significant indicator of success in relationships and in the workplace.  People with high emotional intelligence are better decision-makers, better problem-solvers, and enjoy more fulfilling relationships.
  • We’re really hardworking.  Some might call us perfectionists, but we aren’t happy until things are clean, organized and RIGHT. That makes us favored students, esteemed colleagues, and excellent managers. We are also careful and conscientious, which again is a strong marker of success in life. We’re also really good at noticing small errors.
  • We notice more sensory detail. The world is full of amazing things, and we can see them all. Whether it’s gorgeous artwork, or the scent of an amazing meal, or the indulgent softness of a favorite blanket, sensitive people experience the world around them more deeply, and as a result can derive more happiness from beautiful things than other people can.
  • We feel emotion physically. Instead of simply hearing and enjoying music, we literally get goosebumps from beautiful lyrics or harmonies.  Hugs become physical healers, and holding hands produces a flow of energy that we can almost see.  It’s a wonderful way to experience life deeply.
  • We understand nuances in meaning. Highly sensitive people can read other people like a book.  Micro-differences in facial expressions or vocal timbre tell us volumes about the validity and real meaning behind what other people are telling us.  This gives us an advantage, in that it is much harder to fool or cheat us.  We recognize inauthentic people and can avoid them, and we have additional information at our disposal that we can use to make important decisions.
  • We have superhuman intuition. Our gut instincts are spot-on, which can save us from a lot of heartbreak and hassle.  It’s like having six senses instead of five!
  • We have greater empathy. We can sense emotion in other people, and that makes us great friends, teachers and parents.  We act out of a deep sense of understanding for where another person is coming from, and are more likely to do exactly the right thing.
  • We are incredibly compassionate.  We have a sincere need to support, guide and comfort others, and it makes us very useful, as well as appreciated.
  • We are awesome partners.  We are great listeners, we’re kind and thoughtful, and we naturally want to help people.  How many girls do you know who are dreaming of a boyfriend who is self-centered, oblivious and aggressive?  None.  YOU are the ultimate boyfriend!
  • We experience love very deeply.  Because we understand the ones we love so well, and because we naturally tend to want to make other people happy, we form very strong bonds of love.  This love is reflected back to us, as our parents, children and partners appreciate what we give to them, and want to make us as happy as we make them. It’s a blessing to be able to be surrounded by such deep love.

DIFFICULTIES OF BEING SENSITIVE 

  • Boys aren’t supposed to be sensitive.  Our society still perpetuates the misguided notion that men and boys should be tough, stoic, aggressive and hardy.  To be otherwise is to be labeled weak, or fussy, or feminine.
  • We can mistakenly feel that there is something wrong with us. Because only 15 – 20% of the population is highly sensitive, we may not know many people in our orbit who are like us. Between the messages society sends us about the importance of extroverted behavior, and our own tendency to analyze input from other people very carefully, we may conclude that we are abnormal or even damaged. This is catastrophic for our self-esteem.
  • We are often misunderstood. We may be labeled “over-sensitive” or “over-dramatic” by people who don’t realize how deeply we feel, because it’s not their reality.  If we are introverts (80% of sensitive people are) we may be deemed reclusive or standoffish; if we are empaths we may be labeled histrionic or attention-seekers.
  • We are susceptible to getting stuck in relationships with toxic people.  Narcissists in particular are drawn to sensitive people because we give them the focused care and attention they crave, and are less likely to break off an unbalanced relationship because our natural perfectionism, work ethic, and tendency to see the best in people lead us to conclude that if WE just work a little harder, things will turn around. We are often in danger of giving more than we receive.
  • We need more time alone to decompress. Space to breathe and let go of the stresses that we have internalized is essential to our well-being, but our modern lifestyle can make it impossible to find enough time to take care of ourselves.  In addition, the desire for solitude can be misinterpreted as anti-social behavior.
  • Anxiety can present itself as real physical ailments. Because we internalize so much emotion from the world around us, our bodies can reach the limit of what they can hold.  Stress and anxiety can display themselves as stomach aches, IBS, muscle aches, fibromyalgia, migraines, and more.
  • Sensitive people absorb negative emotions from others. This can happen just by being in the same room as people who are arguing or crying, or even by watching emotionally broken people on television or in the movies.  We not only notice and are uncomfortable watching other people get upset (or embarrassed), but we FEEL what they feel, despite clearly understanding that whatever is happening is not happening to us.
  • There is no such thing as constructive criticism. Sensitive people take feedback as a personal judgment.  Because we are programmed to want to do things well (we can be perfectionists) and receive approval, we are very hurt when someone points out a mistake we made.
  • Sensitivity can really get out of hand.  “Emotional Snowballing” may occur in stressful situations, where the emotional response increases to a level disproportionate to the events at hand. Popular situations (such as crowded public events) can become overwhelming, and result in a dire need to escape to somewhere quiet and peaceful.

This post originally appeared on Raising Wizards; it has been reposted with permission.

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16 Comments
  • Nadia Brozovich
    Posted at 04:45h, 22 April Reply

    Pretty much describes my son. Very insightful. Thank you.

  • Beatrice Ihoual
    Posted at 00:21h, 27 June Reply

    Thank you for this insightful article. I am not gifted, but at least one of my children is. Unfortunately I am highly sensitive, and 2 of my 3 children are, too. I would like to know if there are any experts in Germany (we are German) who could provide help and / or informations?
    Thank you!

    • Nicole LaChance
      Posted at 11:57h, 27 June Reply

      Hi Beatrice, I am glad you found the article helpful! Unfortunately, we are not connected with any experts in Germany at this time. If I hear of anything, I will send information your way! -Morgan

    • Ana Terblanche
      Posted at 04:32h, 02 October Reply

      Hello Beatrice Ihoual. There is Roya Klingner in Germany. She heads the Global Center for Gifted and Talented children.. Here is the website http://www.gcgtc.com/services/ She also has a Facebook page : International Gifted Education. Hope this helps you. Good luck!

  • What Habit
    Posted at 03:17h, 30 June Reply

    Thank you for putting into such fine relief the experience of how we show up in the world. I’m grateful for the scholarship and commitment to our community of sensitive, sometimes suffering, super processors. My small contribution:

    Glance

    I am not
    A collector of facts,
    Of labels and numbers,
    Opinions and stats.

    Rather, I thunder
    With each beating heart.
    I mostly remember
    The in between parts:

    The unspoken beauty,
    The fears and the queries,
    The passions and stances,
    Surreptitious glances.

    The nanos and micros,
    The human array,
    Of language unspoken –
    That’s what I tuck away.

    © WhatHabit Co. and Words For Leaving, 2010 to 2017

    https://wordsforleaving.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/glance/

  • Kelly Main
    Posted at 05:01h, 26 August Reply

    Fantastic article. One point, though, for all the women and girls (and even boys and men) who read this, inclusion of successful sensitive gifted females ( Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Martin, Robert Frost, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mozart and Elton John are all highly sensitive.) would have been nice to see.

  • AnaKhanoorie
    Posted at 03:34h, 06 November Reply

    Thanks for the article above. I have a daughter who is now 12. She started school a year early after her preschool teacher’s encouragement, but already after 4 years she started having problems in the classroom. (Before that, she’d already had loads of problems with the other children.) We (her father and I) have always known she was highly sensitive, and I have always found her to be particularly smart. Unfortunately she went to a school where that is not seen as a great benefit and I now am convinced she got confused because she was thinking faster then the rest. Since the age of 9 she has been more or less depressed and is now getting professional help for that. My concern now is however, how is it possible to get a teenager who lost all interest in learning, her interest back?

  • Nate C
    Posted at 12:56h, 15 December Reply

    I see my own heartbeat in each line of this article. Today at work, I told a coworker that if she only walked a 1/4 mile in my shoes, she would instantly know there would be no end to the depth of who I am entirely.

  • Mareike Weber
    Posted at 11:04h, 06 March Reply

    Thank you very much for this insightful article. It reflects precisely my childhood and my current situation. Lucky enough I have a very understanding husband and I learned how to cope with my life on the emotional rollercoaster I am permanently on.
    Both my daughters are highly sensitive too and I would like to know if there are any support groups in the Bay Area between San Francisco and San Jose, CA?
    I appreciate your help. Thank you very much in advance.

    Mareike

    • Nicole LaChance
      Posted at 14:51h, 06 March Reply

      Mareike,
      Our friends at the Gifted Support Center in San Mateo host some parent groups. I would recommend reaching out to them for more information on their groups: http://giftedsupportcenter.com/ You can also search our Gifted Resource Center for other resources in the area: https://educationaladvancement.org/grc/ Hope this helps!

  • Toby Elizabeth Lizard-Iguana
    Posted at 16:53h, 30 April Reply

    I am gifted and I have always been extremely sensitive to sound. I am also claustrophobic. Whenever I am amongst a crowd, I feel like I am sinking – falling, almost – and I break down. I go weak in the knees, and I totally lose it. I thought that there was something wrong with me. Then my mother told me that what I’ve experienced my entire life is actually a trait of being gifted. I am only a child, and I would love to research more about being gifted. I am curious as to how people that aren’t gifted think, and how different my life would be if I wasn’t gifted. I am HIGHLY GIFTED, so some of my traits are stronger than other gifted people’s traits are, because I am extremely gifted. It’s honestly hard to live life as an extremely gifted person. Yes, I am great at academics, the performing arts, and art itself, and I’m very creative, but a HUGE burden comes with all of that. I am extremely sensitive to sound, and if we ever have a substitute teacher, like we did today, the class is kind of crazy, and loud. It makes me feel like I’m falling. I try not to break down at school, but sometimes a little bit shows through. Maybe I’ll get sweaty for a minute, or I’ll get shaky, or clumsy. Maybe I’ll be in a bad mood, or I’ll be anxious about every little thing. I can lose my appetite. Sometimes, when I realize I’m about to have an episode, I go to the bathroom. The bathroom is amazing. It’s quiet, and sometimes I actually need to go. Sometimes people get really frustrated with me, or they call me weird, and they say there’s something wrong with me. It’s okay, they don’t understand. It’s just hard. I’m always thinking, deep in though every minute of my life. I have never had a moment where I’m not thinking. While I’m deep in thought, I also have to pay attention, and if I know that I already understand something, I can zone out if I’m not challenged. I’m bored in school most of the time. I always feel like I’m strange, and I don’t fit in. But the thing is, I don’t have to fit in! I can just be myself! No one else in the school is as smart as I am. People call me weird, and I’ve been bullied since kindergarten about my “eccentricities.” I literally think differently than most people do. I actually process things differently than most people do. Gifted people, more times than none, have – not a lot of common sense… I barely have any. People get frustrated with me for that reason too. My level of intelligience is ridiculously high, and I have only met one person in my entire life that is as smart as I am. I’m practically as smart as Einstein. My IQ is in the 150-160 range, so I’m highly gifted. I’m magical! Be a unicorn, everyone!

  • Rajkumar Hudda
    Posted at 11:04h, 11 November Reply

    The person who wrote this article, for sure, is profoundly gifted.

  • Chay McClellan
    Posted at 11:27h, 21 November Reply

    It is good to know that sensitive children need to have some downtime to decompress. Even in “controlled chaos” they may need to take a break and refocus. This is good to know as a teacher. I agree that boys/men who are sensitive are NOT weak. God gave us emotions and tear ducts for a reason, and it’s 100% okay to use them when we are affectioned emotionally.

  • Rachele Stallone
    Posted at 08:00h, 22 May Reply

    Thank you for this very informative and accurate article about HSPs . I am highly sensitive and have every characteristic that is exhibited in this article. The one difference is that I am an extrovert an not amongst the Introvert statistic. I am so happy to have read this article

  • Clayton Shipley
    Posted at 16:12h, 02 August Reply

    Very insightful article. Sensitive is not in my makeup, so to hear this about these kids surprises me. Maybe I need to be more sensitive to their sensitivity.

  • Kiran
    Posted at 19:20h, 03 September Reply

    I have two boys both gifted. Everything you said describes them totally. I am glad they understand each other. I was always just like them so understand their needs. Yes it can be taxing but well I am happy I dont have to push them to work hard, they naturally do. Lol

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