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Living as a Highly Sensitive Person in an Unjust World

By Renee Langmuir October 20, 2023 Mindset

On the day Israel was attacked by Hamas terrorists, I was leisurely having the “free breakfast” at a hotel while accompanying my husband on a business trip. I seemed to be the only one in the room who was startled by the images on the communal television.

Most likely, I had more of a personal connection to that scenario than the others. My ethnic identity, after all, was closely related to the victims. I also share a neurodivergent profile with 20% of the population: Highly Sensitive Person(HSP).

The HSP Personality Type

According to Dr. Elizabeth Scott, writing on, HSPs share “an increased sensitivity to physical, emotional, and social stimuli.” We are often called “too sensitive” by others. Count us out for violent movies and a too-hectic schedule. Count us in for being deeply moved by beauty and having a rich internal life.

If you think you might be a member of our tribe, you can take The Highly Sensitive Person Test, created by Elaine Aron, the psychologist who pioneered this personality type in the mid-1990s.

I believe HSPs are more impacted by both global events and personal challenges. For instance, recently I’ve been disappointed by those around me who do not seem glued to their devices to follow every nuance of the events in the Middle East. I’ve been feeling the same way since the invasion of Ukraine, and have only recently, after 18 months, begun to ignore photos and lengthy descriptions of the horrors to preserve my sanity.

An HSP in Action

Recently, there was an escaped, young prisoner in my bucolic, semirural county in Pennsylvania. The incident captured national attention for two weeks. The fugitive was hiding out in the garden property where I volunteer weekly.

My favorite secret spots were exposed by the national press, including the dairy where the prisoner stole a van to escape. Oddly enough, my predominant emotion was not a fear for safety, but actual empathy for the fugitive, operating in blazing temperatures without food or water. Overwhelming empathy is another HSP quality.

Since I left the world of employment, I have been immensely grateful every day. HSPs do not thrive in the chaos of the workplace. For me, the workplace was the classroom and the education department of a local university: so many personalities to appease. Almost daily, I count my blessings that so much less is required of me.

Survival Strategies

Believing that I’ve never been happier in my life, I was astounded to look back and find that in my six years of retirement, I have lost both parents, supported my son through a serious medical condition, witnessed the divorce of my daughter from my beloved son-in-law, and assisted her move to the West coast into a new marriage. I also guided my husband through two unexpected and very serious surgeries.

Why do I think the quality of my life at this moment is so good? I believe I’ve hit on the perfect strategies of daily living for an HSP: I am a regular participant in life affirming activities. Every morning I make time for meditation and inspirational readings. My house is a model of orderliness, sometimes bordering on perfectionism.

On a weekly basis, there is the watering of plants in a magnificent conservatory, the care of sheep and goats at a local museum, and writing posts for my peers, which help me work through the issues of retirement and aging.

Through great fortune and effort, I am living close to nature with a loving partner, a fellow HSP. There is calming music playing most of the day, a morning routine of newspapers and puzzles, and our days together afford space for alone-time. Good food is a major priority, and we keep our small circle of friends and family as close as they will allow.

These personal strategies also lessen the impact of the perpetual shock of new world calamities. At least the home front is calm. Rick Hanson, writing in Greater Good Magazine, offers these strategies for coping with the pain of others (the techniques work well for global disasters):

  • Let the pain in – don’t try to deny its existence.
  • Do what you can. In terms of the Israeli/Palestinian situation, I felt some relief when I contacted two close friends who had long-term connections to Israel. I was able to have conversations about their feelings and inquire about the safety of their loved ones.
  • Finally, see the big picture. Whether it is a global or personal issue, our powers of control are miniscule. Having a mental picture of our small place in the universe might relieve us of solving the unsolvable.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you think you might be a Highly Sensitive Person? When have you felt overwhelmed by personal or world issues. Have you developed your own coping skills?

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I am HSP and am so thankful to be retired. We can no longer travel by air, and I’m somewhat relieved. Airports, the crowds, the smells, the lights, the stress of others overwhelm me—sensory overload. I am much happier now on road trips, just me and my husband. I love going to museums, but they are tough for me. Again, the crowds, the talking, I try to find online tours of things I want to know about.

I can spend hours at home in bliss, researching, learning, writing, and art. That is my happiest.

News overwhelms me; we have gone from a thriving downtown to shootings, stabbings, hammer attacks, and violence. I feel sorry for the small businesses under attack and all the victims of violence. I haven’t been downtown since the riots caused so much damage in May 2020. One of our police stations was even taken over.

My home is my sanctuary, and decluttering and organizing are always at the top of my list. Soft music, especially acoustic guitar, is what I gravitate to. No sounds at all when I am writing or journaling.

Are any other HSPs super sensitive to clothing? It must be soft and flowing.

And being called on or speaking up is terrifying; I tend to avoid those situations.


I’m an HSP & am so happy to be living a very simple life. I teach on Zoom & select only kind, lovely clients. I discovered Boody, a clothing brand that makes the most fabulous simple pieces from bamboo. It’s all I’ve worn since my ablation to treat AFib 8 weeks ago. Prior to my wonderful ablation experience, I’d been thru a nightmare in the healthcare system. Result is with this reboot that I’m just done w/the crazy, overwhelm, etc, & just won’t play. Loving it!

Janne Perry

I found Boody too. Fabulous brand for HSP!


Yes to a lot of your examples! Including clothing, nothing tight, scratchy. Must be soft, organic, loose and flowy – boho for sure. Rings bother me too. Even my hair – I couldn’t stand the feel tucked behind my ear. I have a super short pixie now – the best!

Janne Perry

I also agree with your points – all of them! I feel they have all intensified with aging; thank heavens for retirement.

The clothing sensitivity drives me nuts especially for sleepwear. I feel the side seams as if they had sticks sewn into them – it’s insane how they cause pain! You can buy ‘double gauze’ soft cotton pyjamas in Japan, no side seams on the tops. Otherwise it’s loose and soft cotton or linen clothes for me. Our NZ light weight Merino is good in Winter for me.


Yes! I can sooo much relate! I am highy sensitive to clothing… always check the label for the type of fabric before purchasing or even trying on… must be soft. Speaking up is extremely terrifying and I too do my best to avoid those situations. Like you my home is my sanctuary and organization of everything in it is tops on my priority list. I used to love traveling but these days, cannot deal with all the crowds, noise, and chaos of one type or another. Deb, you sound like someone I’d like to know and have as a friend. :)


Thank you for your article. I thought I was the only one, being so sensitive to world events, increasingly violent movies, loud noises, traffic, and more. I’m somehow glad to know I belong to a cohort of other similarly sensitive folks.


We are also known as Empaths. Susan, you are just too sensitive for your own good is what I’ve heard throughout life. Yet it enables me to feel others emotions and work with them accordingly. Recently my mom passed, I had to put my beloved Kitty to sleep two days before Christmas and my sister moved across country and we haven’t talked since. She assumed some thing and judged. Mind you we talked everyday, sometimes twice. I had been used for her own gain. I felt that one deeply and it has taken a while to move past and understand it. Sensitive people also have a knowing when someone else isn’t being upfront and move away from that person. Unfortunately when it is someone you love it’s harder. However, I wouldn’t want to be any other way” because it helps me see and feel in life where others cannot..

Janne Perry

So many comments about being ‘too sensitive’ or ‘shy’ especially as child, I completely understand what you are describing. Unfortunately, I too have become estranged from my sister after I finally stood up to her bullying. It’s hard but no way around it. I feel for you.

I agree with not wanting to be any other way, I love the up sides of being HSP and its a real advantage being able to spot/feel insincere people!


Thank you Janne for posting your comment. I too have been told I’m ‘too sensitive’ throughout my life. I recently ( finally!) stood up to my sister after years of keeping quiet during her verbal and emotional abuse and narcissism. There is now estrangement, but I feel at peace for standing up to her.

Janne Perry

Exactly my situation, Sally. I suspect narcissists love to taunt HSP – we are an easy target to upset. I have also become estranged from my sister. The relief feels like I’ve been through a divorce and out the other side!

Cathy Plumb

I found myself recognizing many of these traits in this article. I have often referred to myself as an introvert because when life gets overwhelming, I need to retreat and be alone to process. I actually love being alone. Others cannot understand my need for alone time. I took the HSP test and per the results, I maybe an HSP too. Am I unusual counting myself as an introvert and an HSP too?

Janne Perry

Not at all. I’m definitely both and love being alone.

Janne Perry

I’m also an HSP and have been distraught over the current Israel/Palestine situation. Finding out that more children have been killed than military personnel brought me to tears. I just want them to stop. Now. Feed those poor children for God’s sake. Give them a clean bed.

I feel horror and also guilt that we are living here in safety and rendered helpless and inadequate by current events. You are definitely not alone, fellow HSP. All we can do is send Love and hope for Peace.

On your other points. I’ve retired in the last year and it suits me well too. I find gardening literally grounds me and helps with remaining calm. Retirement has me making art (for pleasure, a big change after a lifetime in design work) I’m cooking creatively and yes – the ‘super tidy, near perfect’ home surrounds are delicious! It’s Spring here in New Zealand and with time on my side I’ve rejigged our interiors to cool, calm and serene colours – stripping back to necessities and enjoying the process.

Thank you for your timely writing.


I see your article got a lot of responses. I also am an Hsp and I note that in the past those sensitive people were drawn to healing,spiritual pursuits, divination and counseling. Those are some of the many things I enjoy doing as well. I find it very important to keep up a fairly regular practice of meditation and reiki . It keeps me centered,positive, purposeful and engaged in the world Doing some creative activity like journaling spiritual ideas,attunement with astrology from the journal WEmoon is also nurturing Sometime the world just is too abrasive.Thanks for your great article.

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The Author

Renee Langmuir was an educator for 34 years in public schools and at the university level. After an unplanned retirement, Renee chronicled her transition in a series of personal essays on the website, Her writing has appeared on the websites Agebuzz, Next Avenue, Forbes and in The AARP Ethel Newsletter.

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