Introverts, Shyness And The Highly Sensitive Person

Many sensitive are introverts – approximately 70% according to Dr. Elaine Aron. Because many define introversion as shyness and even self-centeredness, the sensitive person’s introversion can be misunderstood.

Overstimulation And The Introvert Personality

If your nervous system becomes overwhelmed easily, then withdrawal is a necessity, a matter of self-preservation. Highly sensitive people cannot simply shut out intruding sensory irritants. In addition, because HSPs are deep processors of the information they take in they cannot do so and be extroverted all of the time. It takes time and attention to process all of the information that the sensitive nervous system takes in. Even extroverted HSPs, have the deep processing characteristic and need to pace themselves to manage stimulus and overwhelm.

The sensitive nature synthesizes and integrates information rather than excludes or compartmentalizes. A noisy party with loud music will not be a comfortable place for an HSP. Very high levels of office noise will be distracting and irritating on a long-term basis. The introversion of the highly sensitive person stems from a preference for a quiet environment not a dislike of people.

Having an easily over aroused nervous system can cause a highly sensitive person to become more tentative or cautious and they may become reluctant to seek out social situations. HSPs can often seem shy and withdrawn to those less sensitive and by the standards of the non-HSP they are.

If an HSP has experienced rejection in their early life of who they are, they will be guarded around other people, causing shyness, which is caused by a fear of negative judgments. HSPs need the friendship of other HSPs, people who will understand and accept them.

Men who are introverted HSPs have a particularly difficult time living in an extroverted, aggression prizing dominant culture.

Bullying, Abuse and Introversion

Many HSPs have experienced bullying for being different. HSPs can be easy targets because they are not only different but also less aggressively oriented than others. An HSP may withdraw to manage social rejection, pressures to conform or other forms of negative social pressure.

If an HSP has the experience of bullying, or other forms of abuse when they were young, they are naturally going to be shy. HSPs have a hard time recovering from abuse, so their tendency to become shy can be self-protective. If in addition to abuse, an HSP experiences a disregard for their suffering by the educational system or within the family, the trauma is then compounded leading to a feeling of devaluation. This situation raises the potential for long-term depression if the situation is uncorrected over a long period of time.

HSPs can often seem shy and withdrawn to those less sensitive and by the standards of the non HSP they are. If an HSP has experienced rejection in their early life of who they are, they will be guarded around other people, exacerbating their shyness.

Being different is a major challenge. For an HSP, life can present so many land mines of potential harm that it can be very difficult to feel safe in the world. One of the greatest needs of sensitive people is safety. HSPs cannot change the world, but they can neutralize some of its negative effects with planning, skill building, and wise choices.

Introverts And Close Relationships

Sensitive people can be a paradox. On the one hand, they can seem withdrawn because of their need for alone time making them hard to get to know. On the other hand, their talent for observing nuances gives them an intimacy with a subject matter (or person) that can be unnerving for the non-HSP. Yet as Elaine Aron observes in her books about HSPs, while the highly sensitive person can be weak in areas prized by culture and need non-HSP support, non-HSPs may not easily value the less quantifiable benefits of HSP talents developed because of their quiet, introvert nature. [1]


[1] Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., The Highly
Sensitive Person, (New York, Broadway Books, 1996) 17-18.