Simple Definitions of High Sensitivity, Introvert and Shy



In this blog I talk a lot about being an introvert but also about being highly sensitive and shy. There is a difference between each of these traits though they do overlap quite a bit. I thought I should take some time to explain a little bit about what each of these terms are since they are often lumped together. I also want to share with you personal examples to illustrate what these traits look like in my life. But, before I continue, I want you to know that these are simplified definitions. They are not complete definitions. These traits are quite complex and there is still research that is being done or will be done. But, this is a good starting point for learning about them.

Highly Sensitive –

If you are highly sensitive, it means that you are more aware of your surroundings and you tend to notice subtle differences. I am highly sensitive. (I’m actually all three of these traits, but more of that later.) As I was preparing to start this blog, I was actually wondering if I really am highly sensitive, I took Dr. Elaine Aron’s questionnaire (link here) and thinking that I might, just maybe, have gotten the minimum amount. I found out that I had not only reached the minimum but was quite a bit higher than the minimum. Dr. Elaine Aron has several books you can check out if you want more information on highly sensitive people such as The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.

But for now, here are a few personal examples of high sensitivity in my life:

I am more easily aware of tension in the room, or in other words, I am more aware of others’ emotions. When I am in a crowded place, I can pick up on others’ emotions around me and I can start to feel a little claustrophobic. Crowds are easier when there are a lot of positive emotions going on.

I also have to work harder on cancelling out visual and auditory stimuli. My husband and I joke about me being a Tineye, which is a reference to Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy. In Sanderson’s magic system a Tineye is someone whose senses are enhanced. When I am in conversation in a place where there is a lot of noise around me, I have to work hard to tune into what the other person is saying. This has been increasingly difficult for me now that we have two kids and I have to work harder at tuning them out to have a meaningful conversation with others.

Another example of this is when my husband and I went to a new restaurant/gaming place in town. We walked in and immediately I was assaulted with bright lights, loud music and lots of people. We didn’t stay long because it was too overwhelming for me. But, knowing what I do about high sensitivity now has helped me to understand what was making me overwhelmed. We went and ate at CafĂ© Rio (Yum!) and since I knew what I was getting myself into, we then went back to play a few games. The games were fun and we enjoyed ourselves but still did not stay long. We were exhausted from all the stimulation. Which leads into my next simple definition.

Introvert –

Introversion is something that is beginning to be more recognized thanks to Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. In it Cain talks about how introversion is more about energy and how lots of stimulation can drain an introvert’s battery. I love this analogy of introversion and batteries. The more stimulated (such as in a large group of people) the introvert is, the more the introverts battery depletes. The introvert than regains that energy by spending time alone. With an extrovert, their battery becomes re-energized through being around people. On the introvert/extrovert spectrum there is also an ambivert which means you are somewhere in the middle of being an introvert and an extrovert.

In my own life, when I am around a lot of people, I reach a point where I get the feeling “I’m done.” That is my cue that it is time to leave. If I don’t then I become irritable and annoyed. I need my time alone to recharge. As an introvert mom, it’s important to know when your battery is low, so that, hopefully, you can take some time to recharge. Though I know that finding the time to recharge can be difficult. For me, as the day goes on, I get more and more depleted until I’m rushing to get the girls to bed at bedtime so I can just relax. My husband is amazing in that he gives me a little bit of space after the girls are in bed so I can recharge before spending quality time with him. It is the same with my 3 year old. After a particularly stimulating social activity, she usually needs some time to read or build with her blocks.

Sometimes with both introverts, and highly-sensitive people, they are seen as being anti-social or that they don’t like people. But, what I love about Susan Cain’s book is that it points out that it is more about stimulation and not about people. It’s not that introverts don’t like people. And that is definitely not the case with me. The things that bring me the most joy are my connections and relationships with others (Click here to read more about this in a previous post). And that is the case for many introverts and highly sensitive people as well. It’s not that we don’t like people, it’s that we just need time to ourselves to recharge.

Shy –

Introverts and highly sensitive people are also often labeled as shy. This is also a misconception. Shyness is a feeling of anxiety around social situations. Not all introverts and/or highly sensitive people have that anxiety. There are also extroverts who are shy.

I am shy. I am not ashamed of it, though life might be easier for me if I wasn't. Social situations, especially when there is small talk involved, makes me really anxious. Luckily I’ve become well-adjusted to this feeling. I still feel shy and still at times it does hold me back, but mostly I’m able to acknowledge it and push past my anxiety. I personally believe that those who are shy can become some of the most courageous people because they are able to constantly stare their fear in the face and move through it to become amazing people. If you have a shy child, don’t expect that they’ll just grow out of it. There are some who do, but not all. I didn’t. Instead teach them to face their fears, to understand that it is okay to be afraid. And to understand that through allowing themselves to take a leap of faith in themselves, that they will be able to become someone amazing. In a later post, I will talk more about my journey with shyness. If you are interested in this and other new posts from me, subscribe to our mailing list.


I hope that these explanations of mine help you gain a greater understanding, whether of yourself, or of someone you love. Remember, that these are not complete definitions, especially since some of the misconceptions about each of these things are barely being understood. Also each person is different and may experience varying levels of each of these traits. I hope though, that I’ve given you at least a little insight into these traits and the differences in them.


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