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HSP Topics: Introversion, Extraversion and the Highly Sensitive Person

Peter has written extensively about high sensitivity since 1997, when he first learned he was an HSP.

This article is part of an ongoing series about the joys and challenges of living life as a Highly Sensitive Person (or HSP) and everything that entails.

If you're not entirely sure what an "HSP" is, or whether or not you even are one, yourself... please consider visiting Dr. Elaine Aron's web site, where you can find a short (free!) self-assessment quiz for sensitivity.

In addition to this article about introversion, extraversion and the HSP, I highly recommend reading my introductory article about the HSP trait, which also has a listing of all my HSP-related articles at the very end.


If you haven't already, you owe it to yourself to read this book!

The Myth of the "Quiet Retiring HSP"

A lot of people-- including many HSPs, themselves-- make a broad-based assumption that if you are a highly sensitive person, you are automatically an introvert.

This (incorrect!) conclusion is typically reached because those people misinterpret the fact that almost all HSPs need quite a bit of quiet time alone to "recharge their batteries" following periods of social activity and stimulation. They conclude "Oh, this person wants to be alone and quiet-- they MUST be an introvert!"

In addition, this assumption is somewhat supported by the fact that "HSP Overstimulation" very often tends to be connected to activities involving crowds and interaction with groups of people.

In her original research about high sensitivity, Dr. Elaine N. Aron actually found that about 70-75% of HSPs are introverts, while 25-30% are extraverts. Thus, it is fair to say that the majority of HSPs are introverts.

That said, it is important to realize that the trait also affects a considerable number of extraverted people, giving them a unique set of challenges as HSPs. We must also keep in mind that it is impossible to establish broad based conclusions that "all HSPs look the same." Because they certainly do not.

So let's take a moment to examine some of the HSPs who "don't look like stereotypical HSPs."


The Extraverted HSP

As stated above, Elaine Aron's research suggests that somewhere between 25-30% of highly sensitive people are extraverts. So how are the extraverted HSPs different from their introverted peers?

The most important thing to know is that the extraverted HSP has exactly the same sensitivity attributes as an introverted HSP. That is, a tendency to experience everything deeply and potentially get overstimulated, leading to the need for quiet time and periods of "low stimulation."

As a result, extraverted HSPs face additional challenges typically not well understood by the introverted members of the HSP community. Primary among these is the fact that whereas extraverts do get their energy and "charge" from being around people... at the same time, the extraverted HSP also gets overstimulated by too much interaction and activity.

So, the very thing that "energizes" can also lead to overstimulation, at the same time!

If you are not fairly familiar with the nuances of the trait, you might even conclude that an extraverted HSP is "actually an introvert" because they periodically find it necessary to spend time in a quiet and solitary place. Most of us have been taught that such behavior is "for introverts," and that extraverts are the eternal "social people persons" of the world.

In the world of HSPs, that doesn't necessarily hold true.

Understand yourself better: The Highly Sensitive Person's Workbook


The Push-Pull Existence of the Extraverted HSP

Life is not so cut and dry, when you're an extraverted HSP.

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What's important to remember about extraverted HSPs is that whereas they do get a feeling of getting "re-charged" from being around other people (as extraverts-- in general-- do), it is extremely important to them to be around the type of people with whom they can feel comfortable and authentic.

For them, it's not about "just people," because they share with introverted HSPs the desire to form deep and meaningful connections, and to discuss things with "deeper meaning," rather than engage in endless small talk.

Extraverted HSPs may also have to face certain biases because society sees extraversion as being "fun, social and outgoing," but for many the "deep thinking" of the HSP trait overrides the ostensible "gregariousness" of extraversion.

Being HSPs, they still have deep feelings. Maybe they'll encounter an unjust situation and become deeply emotional (just like the introverted HSP) and feel compelled to speak up about it (perhaps UNlike the introverted HSP). Doing so may-- in turn-- cause them to get labeled as an oddball or "overreactive." And "pressing the point," even though it may feel natural to them, can lead to overstimulation, and the need for time alone...

For the extraverted HSP, it becomes especially important to develop a thorough understanding of the trait and its impact on their daily lives.


The "High Sensation Seeker" (HSS) HSP

In addition the the fundamental issue of distinguishing between extraverts and introverts as HSPs, it should also be said that not all HSPs prefer quiet and "soft" lifestyles, typically marked by comfortable routines without too many changes or excitement, or by quiet activities and only minimal interaction with other people.

A small segment of the HSP population are what Dr. Aron calls "High Sensation Seeker" (or "HSS") HSPs. HSS HSPs are often on the lookout for new things to do, and often crave excitement, novelty and change in their lives.

It's important to understand that "sensation seeking" can be quite different from what we conventionally think of as "thrill seeking" behavior. HSS novelty seeking can be intellectual, spiritual or creative, in addition to physical. It may be something as simple as liking to try a new type of cuisine, every time they go out. Maybe they like traveling alone, to exotic or unusual destinations. It is not-- by definition-- about "riding rollercoasters" or "extreme rock climbing."

Novelty seeking can be very challenging for the HSS HSP, as they are just as prone to feeling overstimulated as any other HSP. So, on one hand they face almost certain overstimulation from their favorite interests and activities; on the other, the face almost certain boredom and restlessness if they stay quietly at home, to avoid the overstimulation.

High Sensation Seekers can be either introverts or extraverts. In some ways, HSS HSPs look the least like "stereotypical HSPs." For a more complete description, and a brief self-assessment questionnaire (free) please take a moment to visit this page on Dr. Aron's web site.


Meanwhile: Questioning a Few False Myths About Introverts

Last but not least, let's look at some of the common "myths" about introverts, as they relate to the HSP trait.

A common fallacy is that "introverts don't like people," as a result of which some folks assume that HSPs tend to keep to themselves because they don't like people. Liking-- or not liking-- people actually has little to do with being an introvert. Some introverts like people-- some don't. Introversion is determined by whether or not you feel energized by the company of other people (extraverts typically do), or you gain more energy from being by yourself. Similarly, some HSPs like people, and some do not.

For example, I am an introverted HSP myself, and I like people very much. However, if I have to spend more than a couple of hours with a larger group of people I end up feeling completely emotionally and physically drained-- even if I was having a great time with those people!

In short, "introverted" does NOT mean "anti social."

Another "myth" is that introversion is basically the same thing as shyness or even Social Anxiety. This is simply not true. Shyness and Social Anxiety are both learned responses to social situations, while introversion is an innate quality of a person's temperament. Some introverts are shy... some are not.

And shyness can be helped. As a child, I was quite shy, but I overcame my shyness during my university years. On the other hand, I was born an HSP, and remain Highly Sensitive.

Whereas it may hold true that HSPs-- because we process and internalize experiences more deeply than the rest of the world-- are more likely to be shy or socially anxious from negative experiences than other people, there are no conclusive studies to document this.

For me, the question that helps clarify is to ask yourself if people overwhelm you or exhaust you (the HSP part) of they actually scare you (most likely shyness/anxiety).


HSPs Are as Unique as Any Other Group of People!

In conclusion, it's important to remember that HSPs are just as unique and different as any other group of people.

This sometimes comes as a surprise to people who believe that HSPs are "recognizable" because they always "look and act a certain way." But let's take a closer look at that. What we HSPs share is one specific trait, but outside that we are still individuals with different tastes, backgrounds, behaviors and personalities.

That said, it is definitely true that being an HSP tends to draw us towards certain interests in life. For example, there are disproportionately many HSPs who work in the Arts, or in healing professions; many are drawn to professions where they can fulfill idealistic desires to help make the world a better place.

We can also look at HSPs and basic temperament. Although almost any personality is possible for an HSP, uncommonly many fall within specific types according to popular temperament assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram. But even so, it can still be difficult to "categorize" HSPs.

And perhaps the best lesson here is to simply allow people-- Highly Sensitive, or not-- to simply be themselves!

What type of HSP are you?


What else can I Learn about being an HSP?

In this article, we looked at the various temperaments that can be associated with being an HSP. Along a similar vein, you might also be interested in the article Not All HSPs are the Same, which examines interests and more.

Since we are talking about personality types and how we relate, you might also find "HSPs and the Challenge of Friendships" worth a read.

Of course, if you'd like some more general background information, there's always this fairly thorough Introductory article, which I also like to recommend to people who need to share information about the trait to NON-HSPs.

Sharing is Kindness!

Thank you for reading!

If you enjoyed this article and/or learned something from it, please share it with others and help spread greater awareness of the HSP trait. Please use the nifty "social sharing" buttons at left here. Thank you!

© 2012 Peter Messerschmidt

Talk back! Are you an introverted or extraverted HSP? Are you a High Sensation Seeker? Are you an HSP, yet do not "fit the type?" Please leave a comment!

LeahIrene on June 06, 2015:

I'm highly sensitive, moderately extroverted, and very high sensation seeking, and always felt like there was something a wrong with me because I'm not content to hole up like my introvert friends, nor am I anywhere near as hearty and "knock-around" as most other extroverts. And I'm more easily bored and frustrated with routine than most people as well. I crave intellectual excitement, adventure, novelty, and strong sensations, and I *adore* meeting new people - but often find that in pursuit of these things, I get in over my head and get unpleasantly overstimulated, at which point it may take me hours if not days of downtime to calm back down and reach equilibrium. At these moments, quiet time with my partner - an easygoing, routine-loving introvert - is a godsend. But the struggle to reach the right balance between solitude and society, stimulation & calm is an exceptionally lonely one, since no one else I know has to work to balance such obviously conflicting needs. And I often feel painfully misunderstood. Introverts and extroverts alike who I've know for years *still* mistake my sensitivity for shyness, social anxiety, or emotional problems; and only my closest friends know just how much I crave adventure and novelty, because I rarely sign on for adventures that end after 9pm, involve crowds, loud noise, bright lights, speed, or meaningless conversation, or that I cannot readily duck out of easily if become overstimulated. All of which looks a lot like introversion and inhibition if you don't know about high sensitivity, and that it's an entirely separate trait from introversion/extroversion as well as stimulation seeking/avoidance.

z on March 19, 2014:

After a lifetime of feeling out of place, misunderstood,

Like there was something not right with my mind, reading this and other articles like this (just today) I feel so relieved (and more than a little emotional) just knowing the reason behind it.

I am an extroverted HSS HSP, working in a fast food store where I have been critisised for being overly negative when my sole focus has been improving my work environment and the training of my coworkers. I am a writer (stories, poetry, songs) and enjoy planning things and simply leaping from page to page on the internet trying to fill my curiosity. I have an army of pets who I love more than anything except my fiancé. He's a great man who is spontanious and fun and showed me such wonderful new sights and we enjoy going on adventures wherever we go. I love his charisma and energy. Though we do often find it hard to relate when life is quiet.

I read this on another page and it made me a little teary

Pearl S. Buck, (1892-1973), recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938, said the following about Highly Sensitive People:

"The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:

A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.

To him... a touch is a blow,

a sound is a noise,

a misfortune is a tragedy,

a joy is an ecstasy,

a friend is a lover,

a lover is a god,

and failure is death.

Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create - - - so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating." -Pearl S. Buck

maramerce from United States on September 14, 2013:

I like to learn new things. I am a sensation seeker within my mind and not my body. I live low risk in my body, but high risk in my mind if that makes sense. I get bored quickly with people who are one-dimensional or jobs that don't require mental effort and growth. I will move on from them very quickly onto the next new and exciting person, place, or job until I find one that challenges me and holds my attention. Once I've learned all there is to know about any one thing, I'm ready to move on to learning about the next.

Drea on September 08, 2013:

As an extraverted HSS HSP.... wow that's a mouthful. I have two theories:

First: ADHD = e-HSP HSS + Emotional Crud. As Gabor Mate points out in his book Scattered Minds, it is possible that a significant portion of the problematic ADHD behavior can be remedied with self-healing. I believe being an e-HSP leads to many negative emotions, and its the suppressed emotions that lead to ADHD behavior. Just a theory. But it has been working for me. Besides, it explains why meditation works so well as an ADHD treatment.

2) I am a rock climber. In fact I have always noticed that rock climbing attracts many other HSPS. It's a thinking sport that often occurs outdoors in small groups. I suspect the extroverts like bouldering, and the introverts like sport or trad climbing. Just another theory.

Much love to you all.


maramerce from United States on July 18, 2013:

I'm an introvert by nature, but have developed an extravert function over the years due to being highly creative and also deeply interested in people. It's hard to be a sensitive introvert and also be an artist because there is always this conflict of wanting to keep to yourself, but also needing to share your work with an audience. I don't like large crowds of more than say 300 or 400 people. I've been able to desensitize myself to speak publicly or perform in front of a crowd of around 200 to 300 hundred people, but my anxiety goes up as the number goes up. I would say this is the main reason that although I have great singing, comedic, and acting skills, I have preferred to focus on my writing instead. It's a scale I can control crowd-wise if I were to do a book reading, and I'd still be able to preserve some anonymity even if my work were to become popular. While some would look at fame and crave it, I always felt it looked like a nightmare and sought to avoid it. I have had to used systematic desensitization on myself just to be able to function on a "normal" level in the world like going to crowded stores or malls (which I don't do very often) or performing for small groups.

nadia on July 18, 2013:

I would say I'm a sensation-seeking introverted HSP, but my boyfriend is a thrill-seeking, not-sensation-seeking, introvert non-HSP (though very emotionally sensitive)...funny that thrill seeking and sensations seeking are not really in the same ballpark at all :)

Richard J ONeill from Bangkok, Thailand on October 04, 2012:

Hey Denmark Guy,

I first saw you here on hubpages but then have beenseeing you all over facebook on HSP pages that I have been looking through. I just recently created a facebook page called Highly Sensitive People World and was looking to spread the word about it. I Didn't realise there were so many other pages and people. It is truly incredible is it not, to find so many others like us. Keep up the good fight my friend to write and share this positive and well written message of yours to our sensitive brethren and I'll do the same. Peace and see you soon my friend. :)

Peter Messerschmidt (author) from Port Townsend on September 30, 2012:

Hi Lisa, thanks for your comment!

The "HSS" preference isn't exactly about "thrill seeking" (although it CAN be) as it's about feeling a need to see, do and experience new things on a regular basis, and perhaps being bored by the known and routines. I'm personally a very LOW sensation seeker... I like predictable and "low risk" living.

Lisa on September 30, 2012:

Thank you for the well written article. I am a moderately extravert HSP;I enjoy people very much (except the malicious ones). I took the test for sensation seeking and found out I am not sensation seeking, although I knew that already. My desire to travel had me wondering though, but I don't like super exotic travel. Its usually western Europe and the more familiar that I prefer. I dated a sensation seeking HSP introvert for years. He loved downhill skiing even if there was an avalanche warning! I'm new to finding out about HSP so I am thrilled to read all this information about us. Thanks again.

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