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Why the highly sensitive person (HSP) seeks meaning and purpose

Why the highly sensitive person (HSP) seeks meaning and purpose

I consider myself a highly sensitive person (HSP), and I can’t do things that seem superficial to me. Call me a perfectionist or even a weirdo, but I can’t do it. I must get some sense of meaning from what I do. That includes almost everything – my job, hobbies, and friends I spend time with. Why do I feel this way? Why can’t I start with the activity and go on? Why HSPs need to find meaning in what they do?

As you might wonder about this question, I have been curious to figure it out for a long time. After finding out about the HSP term, I investigated the question thoroughly and came up with an answer. The answer is based on valuable information I read in scientific books and articles and my life experiences as an HSP.

Why HSPs seek meaning and purpose

Highly sensitive people seek meaning in what they do due to three typical tendencies: deep processing, being insightful about life and caring about others. This composition encourages them to pursue a meaningful job or hobby in which they can innovate and inspire their community.

In this blog post, I explain the role of meaning in the life of HSP, how the above three HSP tendencies shape this role and the limitations and benefits of seeking meaning. So, without further ado, let’s get started.

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What is HSP?

As the term implies, a highly sensitive person is more sensitive than others. Not just emotionally but also socially and physically. HSPs are more susceptible to changes, some foods and pills, bodily sensations, and social interaction. They can get overwhelmed by crowded places, and they rigorously need some alone time to pause and process their experiences deeply. The advantage of being highly sensitive is seeing situations at a deeper level and contributing original ideas and solutions. The term was coined by Elaine Aron – a psychologist and HSP who led new scientific literature on this topic. According to that literature, HSPs are around 20% of the population 1

The HSP is also known as SPS – sensory processing sensitivity in the medical community. However, neither HSP nor SPS is considered a mental health disorder. While some practitioners might misdiagnose the condition as a disorder, it is a trait derived from a different neurological system. Check Aron’s seminal book on Amazon to learn more about the HSP.

There are many characteristics of HSPs that are beyond the scope of this post. Here I focus on only three of them, setting their need to find meaning.

Depth of processing

HSPs process things more profoundly than others. From communication and relationships to career decisions and everyday tasks. A typical example of that is taking the time to make decisions. Even small decisions like choosing a supermarket to buy groceries take me some time. I need to evaluate all the factors that interplay in such choices, such as distance from home, variety of products, parking places, etc. Of course, everyone is going through this, but HSPs feel they must reach the optimal decision based on lots of data.

Depth of processing has advantages and downsides. Let’s take work to explain them. On the one hand, HSPs are very autodidact, can come up with creative ideas or solutions, and work above and beyond their position. Many employers highly appreciate these characteristics. On the other hand, they might work a bit slower than others and get bored quickly with routine work and tasks.

Interestingly, HSPs are also very intuitive, thanks to their depth of processing. Sometimes, they can devise solutions to a highly complex problem, whether job-related or overcoming challenging situations within a relationship.

Being insightful about life

HSPs are highly reflective of themselves. They are very insightful about how to improve themselves and life in general. As HSPs process things more deeply and thoroughly than others, they can develop original insights. That tendency is often leading them to spirituality and philosophy. Meditation is a widespread practice for HSPs as it allows them to better connect with themselves and their intuition.

Coming with new insights about themselves and life is not just a tendency. They like to do so as a hobby. It provides them a sense of meaning they can’t always find in the job itself.

Let’s go back to me again. Insights I get randomly during the day help refine my career path further and bring me closer to my purpose. I can say that the insights themselves are a source of meaning for me, and they also help me to understand why I do the projects and hobbies I do and what I should stop doing to feel better.

Empathy

HSPs are also known for empathizing as they feel others’ emotions more intensively 2. They listen carefully and use intuition to assist the people they care about. The number of people they gather in their life is relatively small, though – HSPs need enough alone time to avoid becoming overwhelmed, and building trust usually takes more time.

Overall, HSPs are committed to the people they care for. They tend to also fight for the social values they hold to make this place a better place for the community they live in.

Case in point – I used to volunteer for two years in a local supportive community for disadvantaged populations. I have accompanied two individuals and the mental and financial challenges they were facing. That felt super meaningful for me. No money can be compared with seeing progress in the life of the person I accompanied for an extended period. This volunteer work gave me a sense of meaning I lacked from the work I did at the time.

How HSPs can fulfill themselves

HSPs fulfill themselves in circumstances in which they can harness their deep thinking, insights, and kindness to make a difference. The work requirements and environment should allow HSPs to work at their own pace to feel calm and productive. A sense of meaning is crucial, and it must play a role in the overall purpose of the HSP. Without that, jobs might make them feel bored and, in some cases, even develop physical symptoms.

Back in the day, when I worked in an insurance company with a dense open space environment and strict quantitative work objectives, I felt terrible. I felt anxious every time I entered that space and was relatively unproductive with the many processes I should have handled every day. On the contrary, I bloomed when I worked in a smaller open space in a middle-size recruitment company. They were open-minded and gave me creative projects to do in addition to the routine tasks.

Some of the best jobs for HSPs are teacher, video editor, YouTuber, blogger, consultant, recruiter, therapist, or social worker. These jobs allow HSPs to feel comfortable and spread their actual value with the community through their reach inner world, insights, creativity, and empathy.

Check out Barrie Jaeger’s book on how HSPs can fulfill themselves at work (Amazon link).

Wrapping up

Nowadays, many people seek meaning in what they do. They want to feel important and contribute their part to the world. This is one of the things that make us human beings. Enjoying what we do and feeling that we have some extraordinary impact on the community is essential among highly sensitive and less sensitive people.

However, most HSPs feel they MUST find meaning in what they do. They keep analyzing the practical and spiritual reasons why they should or shouldn’t do things in life and tend to stress more from decisions than others. Quality is favored over quantity – HSPs can’t “just do the work” and instead tend to go above and beyond to assure their work will make a difference.

Employers who can provide their HSP employees with a suitable workaround and projects will see great results. At the same time, HSPs need to realize that some projects will hardly bring them a sense of meaning, which is ok. When that happens, they should seek meaning in hobbies or other activities outside work.

If you want to get a sense of how a purpose of an HSP look like, check these HSP purpose examples.

Footnotes
  1. Pluess, M., Assary, E., Lionetti, F., Lester, K. J., Krapohl, E., Aron, E. N., & Aron, A. (2018). Environmental sensitivity in children: Development of the Highly Sensitive Child Scale and identification of sensitivity groupsDevelopmental Psychology, 54(1), 51–70.[]
  2. Acevedo, B. P., Aron, E. N., Aron, A., Sangster, M. D., Collins, N. C., Brown, L. L., & Acevedo, B. P. (2014). The highly sensitive brain: an fMRI study of sensory processing sensitivity and response to others’ emotions. Brain and Behavior, 4(4), 580–594[]