What is Sensory Processing Sensitivity?

This post answers the question "What is Sensory Processing Sensitivity", through the lens of Emma Clark, a psychotherapist based in Toronto, Canada.
Do you feel overwhelmed by stimuli that others seem to brush off?
Do you struggle with filtering out sensory information, leaving you feeling drained and exhausted?

If so, you may be a highly sensitive person, or someone with Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS).

SPS is a personality trait that affects about 15-20% of the population, but it is often mislabeled as a weakness or a flaw. The reality is, SPS is a unique and valuable trait that has its own strengths and challenges.
In this blog post, we'll delve into what SPS is, how it manifests, and what it means for highly sensitive individuals. Whether you're a highly sensitive person yourself, or you know someone who is, you'll gain a deeper understanding of this trait and the gifts it offers.
So, take a deep breath and know that you're not alone. You'll come away from this post feeling understood and empowered to embrace your sensitivity.

Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) is a personality trait characterized by heightened sensitivity to stimuli in the environment. People with SPS process sensory information deeply, meaning that they are easily overwhelmed by stimuli that others may find less intense or less bothersome. This sensitivity manifests in various ways that differ between individuals. A few examples include:

  • Overstimulation: People with SPS may find bright lights, loud noises, strong scents, and other intense stimuli to be overwhelming and hard to filter out.
  • Emotional sensitivity: Those with SPS are often highly attuned to the emotions and moods of others, which can be both a blessing and a curse. They may feel deeply affected by the feelings of others and have a strong desire to help and comfort others.
  • Sensitivity to physical sensations: People with SPS may be more sensitive to physical sensations such as pain, hunger, thirst, or discomfort, and may find it difficult to ignore these sensations.
  • Intensity of stimuli: SPS can result in individuals perceiving stimuli as more intense than they are to others, making them more susceptible to overstimulation.
  • Deep processing: People with SPS process information more deeply, which can result in taking longer to make decisions, having a tendency to overthink, and feeling overwhelmed by too much information.

These are just a few examples of how SPS can manifest, and it is important to remember that everyone experiences SPS differently. It is a unique and valuable trait that offers its own strengths and gifts as a result of heightened sensitivity to stimuli.

Some of the strengths commonly associated with SPS include:

  • Empathy: People with SPS are often highly attuned to the emotions and moods of others, which allows them to have deep and meaningful connections with others.
  • Creativity: People with SPS are often highly imaginative and have a rich inner life, which can lead to a greater appreciation of the arts and a heightened sense of creativity.
  • Intuition: Their deep processing of information and heightened sensitivity to stimuli can result in a heightened intuition, allowing them to pick up on things that others might miss.
  • Attention to detail: People with SPS are often meticulous in their attention to detail, which can be a valuable trait in careers that require a high degree of precision and accuracy.
  • Deep thinking: Their tendency to process information deeply can result in a strong ability to think critically and understand complex ideas.
In order to fully access and embrace these gifts, it’s important for HSP’s to develop the awareness of their unique traits, and find the tools to help them stay balanced and/or return to equilibrium more quickly when overstimulated.

As a highly sensitive person myself and a therapist specializing in working with highly sensitive individuals, I understand the unique challenges and strengths that come with SPS.

If you're a highly sensitive person seeking support, I invite you to take advantage of my offer for a free 15-minute consultation. During this call, we can discuss your challenges and determine the best way for me to support you on your journey towards self-discovery and self-care. Let's start the journey of embracing and celebrating your sensitivity.