Back in 1991, Dr. Elaine N. Aron began researching high sensitivity and discovered a trait she calls Sensory-Processing Sensitivity. You might have heard of it by the more popular term used describe those with this trait, Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
This trait is not well understood by the majority of people. Dr. Aron says that it is “often mislabeled as” shyness or “introversion. It has also been called inhibitedness, fearfulness, or neuroticism.” HSPs can be like that, but it’s not part of the basic trait.
Even with discussion of HSPs becoming more mainstream this trait is still often lumped in with introversion. Couple that with descriptions of introverts as sensitive, thoughtful people who don’t need much outside stimulation and you can be forgiven for thinking that all HSPs are also introverts.
Almost 1/3 of HSPs Are Extroverts
I’ve written a couple articles for HSP introverts. “These Aren’t My Feelings: Absorbing Emotions as an INFJ” is focused on empathic, sensitive INFJs. “An Open Letter To Socially Timid Highly Sensitive People” is for my fellow HSPs who are both introverted and shy. They’re decent articles, but they ignore a good percentage of the highly sensitive population.
Sensory processing sensitivity is found in 15 to 20% of the total population (that’s about 1.4 billion highly sensitive people). Of that group, 30% are extroverts. This means that almost 1/3 of all the HSPs Dr. Aron has studied are not introverts after all. According to her book Psychotherapy and the Highly Sensitive Person, all HSPs, whether introvert or extrovert, have the following characteristics:
- Depth of Processing
- Over Stimulation
- Emotional Responsiveness & Empathy
- Sensitive to Subtleties
Those are traits we often associate with introversion, but several million extroverts also have these characteristics. We introverts don’t have a monopoly on depth, feeling overwhelmed, empathy, or sensitivity (it’s also worth noting you don’t have to be an HSP to be a deep-thinking, emotionally responsive Extrovert).
In recent years, there has been an incredible movement to accept and celebrate introversion. At the same time, though, there’s been a co-occurring movement to paint extroverts as loud, attention seeking, and/or unintelligent people who the introverts would rather not put up with. Just last week, I saw comments from one person who said extroversion is something you should grow out of and another from someone who assumed positive comments about extroverts was an attack on introverts.
There’s no reason for us to assume saying nice things about one group automatically means you’re insulting another. We need to have both Introvert and Extrovert positivity in the typology community. One of the main reasons Isabel Myers wrote Gifts Differing was so that we could all learn to recognize, value, and encourage the gifts of every personality type (not just the ones most similar to us).
HSPs and Myers-Briggs
While researching this post, I came across an article titled “Introversion, Extroversion and the Highly Sensitive Person” written by Jacquelyn Strickland. She’s a licensed professional counselor and an HSP as well as an ENFP in the Myers-Briggs® system. If you’re curious to learn more about Highly Sensitive Extroverts (HSE) I’d highly recommend checking out her article. What I’m most interested in, though, is her research into the links between personality types and HSP traits.
“My research, including interpreting Myers Brigs results with scores of HSPs, has shown the majority of HSPs are of the “NF” temperament, specifically: INFP, followed by INFJ, then ENFP, ENFJ. Then comes ISFJ, and less frequently, ESFJ. There are many HSPs who are “Ts” and can be found within the “NT” temperament, such as INTP and INTJ. Fewer HSPs are ISTJ, ISTP. I have met only two HSPs who identified as ESTJ.” — Jacquelyn Stickland
Extroverts who are HSPs might find that a Myers-Briggs® test has a hard time figuring out if they’re an introvert or an extrovert. Tests that use percentages often place them very near 50/50 on the introvert/extrovert preference, or label them as ambiverts. For an HSE trying to figure out their type, it can be confusing to try and find where they fit. An HSE might prefer to talk through things with someone else rather than write them out (typically considered an extrovert trait), but they might also prefer to avoid large, noisy crowds (typically considered an introvert trait).
Stereotypes about personality have a very limited use. There are so many layers that go on top of our four-letter type code that influence who we are as individuals. Myers-Briggs®type, Enneagram type, whether or not you’re an HSP, individual life experiences — all of that, and more, plays a part in who we are. It’s not fair to overly simplify just one facet of someone’s personality even when it’s such an important trait as the extrovert/introvert preference. There are are just as many fascinating aspects of extroversion as there are of introversion, and as much variety among extroverts as there is among introverts.
Featured image credit: Jerzy Górecki via Pixabay