HSP or Introvert?

In recent months I have been struggling with the identities (labels) of Highly Sensitive People (HSP) and Introverts. Which one am I? Am I both? If I’m both, what is the correct label for me?

I have been using the label of Highly Sensitive Introvert. Is this correct? I don’t know because I’m still unable to make clear practical distinctions between the two labels because both groups share many common traits. Additionally, of the four online tests I’ve taken; I score very high on being an HSP and an introvert.

In my research over the past three weeks, I have reread six books on Highly Sensitive People and introverts. Guess what? I learned more about my high sensitivity from reading the books on introverts. To be honest though, there are for more books written about introverts than there are about HSPs. Listed below are some reasons why there is confusion:

  • 15-20% of the American population are HSPs
  • 30-50% of the American population are introverts
  • 70% of American HSPs are introverts

So, this means that some people are both an HSP and an introvert. However, there are far more introverts than HSPs. It also means that 30% of all American HSPs are extroverts. It’s also obviously true that not all introverts are HSPs.

HSPs and introverts share some common triggers that overstimulate our central nervous systems. Some of the most common are:

  • Crowds
  • Chaos
  • Loud or constant noise
  • Bright lights
  • Phone calls
  • Unexpected visitors
  • Interruptions while we are working
  • Constant and/or loud talking
  • Small talk
  • Tardiness
  • Someone looking over our shoulder when we are working
  • Deadlines
  • People not respecting our personal space
  • People not respecting our natural sensitivities
  • Aggressively assertive, loud, in-your-face extroversion
  • Unstructured environments
  • The absence of order, schedules and routines

Sophia Dempling, author of The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World introduces the possibility that HSPs may actually be a segment of the much larger introvert community. This concept mutualizes both groups and provides a foundational platform for our shared traits while acknowledging respective differences. Without a doubt, more research and clinical studies are needed in this area before any scientific determination can be made.

The single largest commonality among HSPs and introverts is that most people rarely understand us and our natural psychological and behavioral traits. Our quietness unnerves them to the point that many don’t trust us. They think we are always up to some covert mischief or that we despise them.

In western societies, after all, extroversion is highly admired and richly rewarded. It’s the perception of most extroverts that it’s unnatural for HSPs and introverts to be so quiet and reserved. Most extroverts readily judge us as being antisocial recluses because we aren’t partying every weekend or socializing with friends or family several times a week.

Extroverts fail to recognize that highly sensitive people and introverts are not antisocial, we just prefer to socialize with another close friend or two rather than having meaningless chit-chat with many people in a chaotic and noisy group setting. Our senses become so overwhelmed with the chaos and noise that many of us just shut down until we get a chance to process what’s going on around us and to recharge our psychological energy with some solitude.

HSPs and introverts don’t dislike people. We just dislike being around many people at once. There is too much disorder, too many people talking at once, too many ill-mannered, back-slapping extroverts with their unwanted noses in our affairs, and too much fake niceties. These social environments and behaviors literally makes us ill … physically, mentally and emotionally. This is our nature.

There isn’t anything wrong or broken with HSPs and introverts. We don’t need fixed. We don’t need to be mocked. We don’t deserve to be disliked. We just need to treated and recognized fairly. All through history every empire has needed warriors. They also needed the thinkers for their ability to think through the consequences of any action. Extroverts have always been the warriors … people of action. Introverts have been the successful thinkers and planners. Societies need both.

Personally, because I exhibit so many shared traits between HSPs and introverts; I’m just going to start telling others (and only when needed) that I’m a sensitive introvert.

Gee, I’m glad that’s settled … for the moment anyway.


If you have any questions or comments about this article, please use the comment section below. You may also contact me at mbrown.ec@mail.com.
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Published by W. M. Brown

I am a retired U.S. expat living in Ecuador. I was a business owner for 32 years before retiring in 2012.

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