If you’re a deep feeler, you probably experience more intense feelings than most people.

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If you’ve ever been moved to tears by a Brahms ballade or fraught with worry about a stray dog you’ve spotted, you might be a deep feeler.

You might experience physical signs of this temperament as well. Startling sounds might make you jump. Violent movie scenes might cause butterflies in your stomach and make your arms feel like ice.

While the less-perceptive people in your life take in stride the daily bombardment of sensory and psychological input, you experience most things as though they’re a part of you.

A “deep feeler” is someone with sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). Another term for someone with this ability is highly sensitive person (HSP).

SPS is a nervous system difference that causes increases in:

  • processing depth
  • emotional and empathetic reactivity
  • sensitivity to subtleties
  • overstimulation

If you’re highly sensitive, you might feel isolated in a world of people who don’t seem to understand. You’re not alone, though. Research from 2014 indicates that as many as 20% of people are “deep feelers” with SPS.

People with SPS are more responsive to the environment, social stimuli, and other people’s moods. They show increased brain activity in areas related to:

  • awareness
  • sensory information integration
  • preparation for action after exposure to emotional stimuli
  • empathy

Empathy is the ability of a person to share and understand the feelings of another. Even though a highly sensitive person is capable of great empathy along with their capacity for feeling deeply, this doesn’t necessarily make them an empath.

While HSPs and empaths share some characteristics, true empaths are rarer than deep feelers.

Signs of an empath include:

  • feeling the emotions of others as part of their own experience
  • being overwhelmed by closeness and intimacy
  • having higher than usual intuition
  • preferring nature over crowded settings
  • having people confide in them
  • always caring even when they try not to
  • being overwhelmed by sensory input like sounds or smells
  • avoiding conflict
  • needing quiet time to themselves

Some physical empaths may experience a phenomenon known as mirror touch synesthesia (MTS). This means they experience tactile sensations when they see someone else being touched.

Research from 2018 suggests that people with MTS experience high levels of emotional reactivity and are better at recognizing facial expressions relating to emotions. However, they may not have greater cognitive empathy, which is connected to social understanding.

You might be an empath, too. Even if you’re not, you can still have above-average empathy as a highly sensitive person.

Why you feel emotions so deeply may be linked to biological factors.

SPS is a genetically based trait that may have offered an evolutionary advantage. Sensitive people are more likely to notice opportunities as well as threats.

They pick up on subtle details and stabilize relationships by being responsive to other people’s needs and wants. Sensitivity is a quality that helps people survive.

Having a family history of affective disorders can make a person more likely to experience deep emotions. Affective disorders are also called mood disorders. If someone in your family has ever lived with a condition related to depression or bipolar disorder, you might be a deep feeler even if you don’t share their diagnosis.

Like any neurological or sensory profile, being highly sensitive comes with pros and cons. For example, you may be the first person in your group to notice something important. However, you might also be more prone to feel upset than the people around you.

Benefits of being a deep feeler

The advantages of being a deep feeler include:

  • vivid imagination
  • rich inner life
  • deeper appreciation for enjoyable sensory input like music and fragrance
  • awareness of surroundings
  • creativity
  • innovation
  • empathy and compassion
  • intuition
  • ability to forge connections
  • attention to detail
  • conscientiousness
  • aptitude for making peace

Downsides of being a deep feeler

The drawbacks may include:

  • noise sensitivity
  • increased need for sleep
  • low tolerance for unpleasant stimuli
  • emotional fatigue
  • hyper analysis and overthinking
  • perseveration
  • challenges with boundary setting
  • aversion to crowds and busy environments
  • trouble relaxing
  • difficulty handling transitions or change
  • hunger-induced changes in mood
  • over-reaction to social miscues

People with SPS are more responsive to their environments. This means they have a higher chance of developing mental health issues if they live through unfortunate circumstances. However, it also means they respond better to positive experiences, including mental health interventions.

So, if you’re a highly sensitive person who’s living with a condition like depression or anxiety, your sensitivity means there’s a good chance you’ll respond well to therapy when you’re matched with a compatible counselor.

As a deep feeler, certain things may come easily to you, like understanding people’s moods or envisioning creative solutions. With these talents comes a vulnerability to stress, which you may need to target to manage.

Prioritize self-care

A lack of self-care can affect anyone, but sensitive people are particularly susceptible to scheduling changes and sleep deprivation. Self-care means ensuring you have the things you need, such as:

Regulate sensory input

Whether you trim out garment tags or buy clothing made from specific fabric, making a conscious effort to respect your sensory thresholds can make your day more pleasant. This can be as simple as ensuring you never leave the house without sunglasses and earplugs.

Plan to decompress

Recovery from sensory input is important enough to be a regular part of your schedule. Taking the time to recharge can keep you healthy and emotionally regulated.

Consider therapy

If you’re experiencing an issue like anxiety or depression, and you wish you could feel better, you can take comfort in knowing that sensitive people often respond well to therapy. The trick is finding the right therapist, so if the first person you meet isn’t a good fit, it’s worth your time to keep looking.

Want to learn more about starting therapy? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.

About 1 in 5 people are considered highly sensitive. This means they have sensory processing sensitivity, a biological difference that makes them feel things more than the average person.

Though it can be difficult at times to be highly sensitive, there are advantages. Highly sensitive people have a greater awareness of their surroundings and are better at stabilizing relationships.

If you or someone you know is easily upset and seems susceptible to stress, they may have the hidden talents and strengths that come with being highly sensitive.