Are You A Highly Sensitive Person, Or Just An Introvert?

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To some degree, we all can become a little tired when around others for too long. Time alone is necessary, as we need some stillness to balance out the rush of everyday life.

There are, though, many people for whom being in crowds or even spending time with beloved friends is more exhausting than for others. It’s nothing personal, it’s just how we’re wired! This type of sensitivity towards other people can be classified as a few things that are both very similar and extremely different.

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Societal Necessities

For a large subset of the population, social interaction is exhausting. Having to juggle our interpersonal relationships day in and day out can be very tiring for those who would rather be alone! After an outing or event, these people might need to spend a good amount of time by themselves in order to recharge and be ready for the next time they step out.

A group of friends hanging out at a restaurant.
Pexels / Mikhail Nilov
Pexels / Mikhail Nilov

These people are commonly known as introverts, but did you know that there are more classifications that share these traits? If you have introvert traits but never felt like the label quite fit your experience, you might actually be a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP.

Small Versus Large Scale

While a lot of people consider the two labels interchangeable, there’s one major difference between pure introverts and HSPs.

A crowd at Central Station in New York City.
Pexels / Ralph Chang
Pexels / Ralph Chang

Introverts and HSPs are both fatigued by social interaction, yes, but HSPs are fatigued by any type of stimulation alongside socializing.

The way Jenn Granneman, who’s authored multiple books about introversion and HSPs, describes it is that introversion describes a social orientation while sensitivity describes an orientation toward one’s environment. One focuses on the people present, the other encompasses the entire scene.

Looking Inward

Though they’re different at their core, introverts and HSPs share many similarities. Let’s go over their shared and differing traits so you can determine which, if either, you are.

A woman looking off to the side through a glass pane.
Pexels / Khoa Vo
Pexels / Khoa Vo

The first similarity they share is that they’re both very introspective. Introverts and HSPs spend a lot of time reflecting on their own thoughts and emotions, at least more so than the extroverts of the world. They’re more drawn to mindfulness, meditation, journaling, and other practices that encourage exploring one’s own consciousness.

This also leads to them being more creative, wanting to express deep, complex feelings in abstract ways. They know themselves deeply, holding very strong morals and values because of it.

Easily Overwhelmed

Both introverts and HSPs also struggle with feelings of anxiety, or they may get very overwhelmed very easily.

A woman ducking her head and hiding her face from the camera.
Pexels / Andrew Neel
Pexels / Andrew Neel

Unsurprisingly, this anxiety often comes before events or situations where they’ll need to speak with a large group of people. Introverts and HSPs are both very aware and conscious of their limits, so needing to go somewhere that will surpass those limits causes immediate worry in their minds.

However, they’re also prone to becoming overwhelmed in other areas of life. Possible triggers include a stressful work environment, family drama, or minor relationship struggles. It’s not that they’re more delicate, just that their mind is more open to input, meaning it gets overloaded very easily.

Needing Time Alone

Partially because of how easily they become overwhelmed, introverts and HSPs both need plenty of time alone.

A woman sitting on a rock atop a waterfront.
Pexels / Riccardo
Pexels / Riccardo

Downtime is essential for both groups to recoup and recover after any sort of stimulating event. Due to their differing natures, HSPs may need more frequent or prolonged downtime, but introverts will also reach their tipping point where they need to escape the people around them to take a breath.

Think of it as a time when they can recharge their batteries. After they’re fully charged again, they’ll feel comfortable heading back out into the world, but taking the time to recharge is imperative lest they run out of juice in public.

Feeling Out Of Place In Society

As a result of the issues above, many introverts and HSPs feel out of place in today’s society, despite the fact that they make up 30 – 50% and 15 – 30% of the population, respectively.

A woman walking among a crowd, turned away from the camera.
Pexels / Pixabay
Pexels / Pixabay

Only encountering people who don’t appear to have the same sensitivities that you do can feel rather isolating or like you’re not cut out to live a full life the way others do. Your inability to relate to one another could also cause rifts in potential relationships of all kinds.

It’s important to remember that just because someone doesn’t seem like they need the same accommodations you do or appear to be put together all of the time, that doesn’t mean they are. We’re all putting on a front to appear as our best selves around others as everyone harbors insecurities they don’t want the world to see. You’re not alone out there, it’s just hard to find others like you when no one talks about these things!

One Or The Other

Now, let’s cover some of the differences between introverts and HSPs that can help differentiate which you are, if you’ve agreed with everything thus far.

A woman resting her head on the rail of a balcony above a city street.
Unsplash / Hernan Sanchez
Unsplash / Hernan Sanchez

The first and most distinctive difference is that HSPs can be extroverts! In fact, it’s estimated that about 30% of all HSPs are extroverts.

That may sound a little contradictory, and it probably feels that way for those who are, but to be an extrovert means you gain energy from social interaction. An extroverted HSP may love to socialize and be around others while still finding generally busy environments overwhelming.

Of course, by nature, introverts can’t be extroverts. Someone can be an ambivert, which is someone who embodies both introvert and extrovert qualities, but that’s its own category.

Experiencing Emotions Differently

Introverts and HSPs have very different ways of experiencing their emotions. HSPs tend to feel their emotions far deeper and more complexly than others. In fact, it’s considered one of the gifts of being an HSP and even has its own name: depth of emotion. Sensitive people will feel more deeply impacted by their experiences than introverts and are more likely to feel even mundane things at a greater intensity. This is all thanks to their sensitivity to general stimulation, which accounts for emotional stimulation as well as physical stimulation.

A sad woman being consoled by her friend.
Pexels / Liza Summer
Pexels / Liza Summer

Meanwhile, introverts won’t necessarily feel any given emotion more than others do. If they have particularly intense feelings, it’s not due to their introversion. In fact, they’re more likely to keep their feelings to themselves while HSPs have no choice but to express them lest they grow overwhelmed.

Reacting To Situations Differently

Speaking of HSPs not being able to withhold their larger feelings, introverts and HSPs both react to situations very differently.

A woman seated at a cafe, hiding her face from the camera with her hands.
Pexels / Pragyan Bezbaruah
Pexels / Pragyan Bezbaruah

Both are more susceptible to stimuli in general, yes, but pure introverts are often able to put a cap on it and keep their averse feelings to whatever’s going on around them inside. At least temporarily, once they’re alone, they may feel the need to express those things outwardly to get them out of their system.

HSPs, meanwhile, might struggle more to contain those reactions, as their feelings are immediately as intense as they can get. They might be unable to wait to express themselves, having to get it all out right away so they don’t blow their top.

Craving Solitude

Just because someone is worn out by social interaction doesn’t mean they don’t want to speak to others. Well, in HSPs’ case, anyway.

A woman seated on a couch, reading a book with a pen in her hand.
Pexels / cottonbro studio
Pexels / cottonbro studio

A core trait of introversion is a preference for solitude over company most of the time. They find much more energy, motivation, and peace in controlling their time around others, choosing to be alone more often than not.

HSPs can have a variety of opinions about solitude. Some do prefer a night in over going out with friends, but others deeply crave company while knowing it can be a nightmare on the senses.

Moving About The World

Another final thing to remember is that it is possible to be both an introvert and an HSP.

A woman curled up, resting in a grassy field.
Pexels / Italo Melo
Pexels / Italo Melo

If you find that all of these things ring true to you, it’s very possible that you contain both within you or perhaps you’ve been able to rule out one over the other in your learning.

Taking these traits into account can be immensely helpful in learning how to best navigate the world in a way that accommodates you and how you exist within it. We should be living our lives in ways that makes sense for us, keeping us comfortable enough to get through the day without shying away from new experiences due to an overload of stress.

Introvert, HSP, or otherwise, we all deserve to live in a way that suits our individual lifestyle and needs. Hopefully, learning more about who you are at your core can help determine what that looks like for you.

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Daniel Mitchell-Benoit

Dan is a content writer with three years of experience under their belt, having mostly covered viral media but now shifting toward spirituality and astrology. He’s a strong believer in using one’s beliefs as a means of self-improvement and being in touch with whatever messages the universe has to offer.

He can’t wait to share his insights with a[…]