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Information for Highly Sensitive People (HSPs)

2 August 2006

My own personal journey to recover my True Self began back in 2004/5 when I made a vital discovery whilst reading a self-help magazine. On the back page was on article about being more highly sensitive than others, including the check-list you'll find below, to help you see if this applied to you. To my astonishment, I ticked almost all the boxes....

This was a major light-bulb moment for me. I could finally understand why I had struggled so much in my life and with so many seemingly "normal" things that didn't bother others but caused me great anguish.

From that point on, I began an in-depth, exhilarating and often deeply sad exploration of how my sensitivity was both a huge problem to me, and at the same time an enormous gift.

I now make my living from my sensitivity, and with the help of my horses, highly sensitive experts, I continue to learn how to live sensitively and safely.

Below is an article I wrote in 2006 on this subject.

I know understand however, that when we feel we are ‘too sensitive’ it means we are not boundaried enough and therefore we need to establish clearer and firmer personal boundaries.

This understanding is a powerful statement that I see many people, myself included sometimes, feeling afraid of, as setting boundaries runs a real risk of rejection by the other, yet it IS a gamble worth taking in my experience.

To many people, boundaries are misunderstood and seen as negative. Yet without flexible, clear and honest boundaries we are too easily affected by things outside of us and we are too disconnected from our true feelings and needs, and thus our sense of personal power which enables us to stand up for ourselves.

To make your sensitivity work for you requires your personal power and therefore good boundaries are essential.

Please contact me if you wish to explore this issue with me and the horses further.



Horses are Highly Sensitive Masters with much to teach us and interacting with horses can benefit the more sensitive person enormously as horses value and honour their sensitivity in everything they do. Horses can teach sensitive people how to take care of themselves more effectively, for example by processing their emotions as information, listening to their body’s messages, paying attention to and working with their energy fields and setting appropriate boundaries.

The following article will help you learn more about the trait of high sensitivity; how to determine whether you are Highly Sensitive and how to nuture your sensitivity so that you can make it work for you.

“Have you ever been told you’re ‘Too Sensitive’?

 If so, you may be one of the 15-20% of the population who are Highly Sensitive, that is your nervous system is more sensitive to stimulation (both external and internal) than most people’s.

If you agree with most or all of the following statements then you are most likely to be a Highly Sensitive Person:

  • “I am easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by”
  • “I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment”
  • “I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation”
  • “I am bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes”
  • “I tend to be very sensitive to pain”
  • "When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise”
  • “When I was a child, my parents or teachers seemed to see me as sensitive or shy”
  • “I am easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input”
  • “I become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around me”
  • “I have a rich, complex inner life”.

Being Highly Sensitive is thought to be an inherited trait with a neurological basis and because of this it cannot be “cured” with medication or simply “got over”. Highly Sensitive People (or HSPs as they are commonly referred to), can however learn to live with their trait more easily and in many cases turn it to their advantage. 

Being a Highly Sensitive Person means having a much more sensitive nervous system. This means that a huge amount of extra information is taken in from the environment. As a result of the way that an HSP’s brain processes and reflects more deeply on this information, then what for the majority is a normal level of stimulation is far too much for an HSP and leads to frequent overstimulation. Hence HSPs tend to need more time alone to rest and replenish their nervous system. Clearly this can cause considerable problems in our highly stimulating fast paced society particularly in terms of work and careers, family life, relationships and social lives. 

In addition HSPs are often physically more sensitive, for example to alcohol, caffeine, heat, cold, pain, medications and allergens. Interestingly, HSPs also tend to experience and express their own emotions much more deeply than others too. They are also susceptible to feeling the emotional states of others around them.

This is where EFL and Horse Wisdom can be especially helpful to HSPs by learning to regard emotions as information; learning effective energy management skills; about the contagious nature of emotions and how to manage their empathic abilities more effectively.

The trait is found equally in both men and women.

Most HSPs spend most of their life trying to fit in but in doing so are likely to suffer high levels of stress. As a result HSPs very often have low self esteem and think of themselves as weak. Many HSPs also have a deep and long lasting sense that something is wrong with them and those that seek help are often misdiagnosed with a whole array of other conditions or personality disorders such as depression, anxiety, shyness, social phobia, social-introversion and sometimes even ADHD.

The trait of being Highly Sensitive was identified through research in the late 1990’s in America by Dr Elaine N. Aron, research psychologist, psychotherapist, university professor and author of the international best-selling book The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You, (which has now sold almost one million copies world wide) as well as the follow–up books: The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook, The Highly Sensitive Person In Love and The Highly Sensitive Child. Although as Dr Aron, an HSP herself, points out in the Highly Sensitive Person in Love, being more sensitive has been referred to in the past by people including Carl Jung but was given different labels.

In The Highly Sensitive Person, Dr Aron explains that being an HSP is “probably inherited and occurs in about 15-20% of the population. It means you are more aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted in a nervous system sort of way.

Thus being sensitive has both advantages and disadvantages.”

So, it’s certainly not all bad news for HSPs. In particular HSPs tend to be highly creative, many being artists, musicians and poets, they tend to be highly intuitive and are often animal and nature lovers. They are also often deeply empathic and tend to work in the caring professions, they also tend to be very thoughtful, conscientious and insightful and often see what needs to be done or changed before others do, thus contributing in many positive ways to society.

In The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, Dr Aron states that HSPs are crucial for all societies to work well and that a balance of both sensitive and non-sensitive people is optimal, but to achieve this balance, those who are highly sensitive, she argues “have to assert ourselves. To do this, we must value ourselves and our type of power and influence”. 

Fortunately for those who do find being Highly Sensitive affects them adversely there are effective ways to live more easily as an HSP.

The first crucial step is self-knowledge and acceptance of the trait.

Secondly re-framing one’s past in light of being Highly Sensitive, especially around those events that have reduced self-confidence.

Thirdly, healing any old wounds from childhood, family, education experiences and also work history. Once this has taken place HSPs are in a position to learn how to deal with being frequently over aroused either through life coaching, counselling, psychotherapy or Equine Facilitated Learning or Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy; ideally with a professional who is also an HSP.

Finally, finding support and community with other HSPs is vital in helping highly sensitive people feel normal and accepted, often for the first time in their lives.

There is now a National Centre for Highly Sensitive People in the UK, run by Barbara Allen-Williams, it is based in Hampshire.

And regular HSP Gathering Retreats take place in America and Europe; the first UK and European Gathering took place in 2006 in Somerset which I privileged to be the co-host for. To find out more about the HSP Gatherings, please visit Jacquelyn Strickland’s website.” 

© Angela Dunning, 21 August 2006, last up-dated 18 May 2015


The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When The World Overwhelms You, Elaine N. Aron, 2003, Element;

The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, Elaine N. Aron, 2001, Broadway.

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