The Highly Sensitive Extrovert

sensitive

Blog #15 in my Blog-each-weekday for a month commitment.

I see a lot of articles and books these days geared to the HSP – highly sensitive person. Usually it’s assumed that these sensitive individuals are natural introverts.

Yet—I’ve had to wonder about that.

As a clear ENFJ on the Meyers Briggs scale, I know that I’m an extrovert. I don’t need a personality test to understand this. I get energized when I’m around people…. as long as it’s not too many people.

Put me in a small group, or even just one other person and my brain perks up. I get excited about sharing ideas, insights, and it seems I’m better at brainstorming. I become animated and vivacious, when I may have been dragging my butt around the house before I came out to this get-together. And I like parties. Although I prefer to go deep in conversations, small talk doesn’t bother me.

So, yeah. Extrovert.

And yet…all though childhood I’d hear the words, “You’re just too sensitive!”

Although I longed to join the groups of kids playing I was usually too shy to approach them. I talked about all this in another blog years ago, shortly after I took the Meyers Briggs test. But at that point I hadn’t considered the ‘highly sensitive’ aspect.

Five minutes in a shopping mall or a big box store and I begin to break a sweat. My breathing shallows and all the energy drains from my body. All I can think about is how soon can I get out of here.

As a teenager and young adult I thought there was something wrong with me because I’d get so uncomfortable at big concerts and music shows. The sheer volume of people with their accompanying emotions assaulted my psyche. The only way I could enjoy these was to medicate myself with the all-to-available mind altering substances. (I wonder if that’s why drugs are so popular at rock shows?)

I may be an extrovert, but I also fit many of the criteria for an HSP!

Is this possible? Yes!

It turns out that 30% of extroverts are highly sensitive! I was gratified to discover this article in Psychology Today, although it doesn’t offer that many coping tips. Yet it reassured me to realize that this combination of extroversion and sensitivity is not that unusual.

There’s a lot more to say on this. And a lot of questions.

Do highly sensitive extroverts share specific sensitivities? Do childhood experiences affect one’s sensitivity, or do we just come in this way? How close are highly sensitive extroverts to actually being introverts?

And—most importantly, what strategies can highly sensitive extroverts use to enjoy being out in the world and being their extroverted selves, without getting depleted to the point that they feel like they’ve been run over by a truck by the time they get home?

I’ll be gathering information and sharing any solutions I find in a future post.

Do YOU feel like you’re a highly sensitive extrovert?  Or, are you an HSP that tends toward extroversion? How do you handle it? What questions do you have about this unique personality combination?

Please share in the comments!

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Showing 15 comments
  • Anonymous woman
    Reply

    Hi Sarah,
    I just came across your blog and this post and it’s so exciting to see other highly sensitive extroverts. It seems like everything is geared towards introverts and some of those descriptions don’t apply. I only heard about HSP a few weeks ago and it’s like my whole life makes sense! I, too, was often patronized for being too sensitive.

    • sarah
      Reply

      I”m so glad you found this post then! It’s great to find fellow HSPs who are extroverts! Stay in touch!

  • Melody
    Reply

    Omg!You nailed it!
    For years I’ve known that I was an extrovert. An ENFJ just like you in fact, but could never understand why things bothered we so much (A criticism from a friend will crush me). I have a reputation as being thin skinned which makes it difficult to find friends. How do you deal with that aspect?

  • Dawna
    Reply

    Thanks for writing this Sarah! Yep, that’s me, an extroverted HSP, with little information about how to navigate life from here on in. What I DO know is that I will continue to search out others, like me, until I find my’people’.

    • sarah
      Reply

      Thank YOU for reading this and for commenting Dawna. It’s been exciting for me to see that there are others like me who identify with this. Looks like we are finding ‘our people’ now. I’ll be writing on this subject some more I’m thinking…

  • Alice
    Reply

    I’m reading the book called “Quiet” and was wondering how I fit… I’ve always considered myself extroverted and feed off interpersonal interactions. Yet the descriptions of a highly sensitive person fits me as well. I am extremely empathetic, have trouble with disturbing images, have a hard time with disorganized crowds. But I’m a teacher, love being the center of attention, enjoy cantoring at church. It’s an interesting, exhilarating, yet exhausting mix!

    • sarah
      Reply

      Yes, it’s definitely an interesting and challenging mix for those of us who find ourselves straddling both of these personality types. I think it is key that we honor ourselves for who we are and recognize when our sensitive and empathic part needs a break from all the external stimuli. My inner HSP is talking louder these days and telling me when I need to take time for myself, for self care, meditation, and just quiet time. I think if we can achieve a balance between quiet self-nurturing and spending time with others, then we can feel the exhilaration more than the exhaustion.

      Thanks for reading and commenting Alice!

  • Kelly
    Reply

    Just found the concept of the HSP yesterday and immediately knew I’d found myself (and my dad and my sister haha)! I’m definitely also an HSP extrovert and the things I struggle most with is at work – I’ll get passionate at meetings and am enjoying the back and forth passionate discussion, but then the tears come and it gets SUPER awkward! Does anyone else experience this and have any strategies for how to avoid it? I don’t want to prevent them by just leaving the conversation early because usually these are important discussions I want to be a part of, it’s just that my face leaking throws off all the other people in the conversation and its embarrassing and feels so unprofessional!

    • sarah
      Reply

      Hi Kelly, that sounds challenging! I’m sure there are many other HS extroverts who could relate! We all express ourselves in different ways and it’s tricky when we have to stick with ‘accepted rules’ of the office or other social situations. What comes to mind is perhaps if you are in a situation like the work meeting and you notice yourself getting emotional in your excitement perhaps you could pause and take 1-3 deep breaths. That might allow you to calm the emotion and still be able to express your inspiration and excitement. Best of luck!

  • Anonymous
    Reply

    Hi,
    I am very glad to see this blog!!!. i am very HSP extroverted and it gets me in awful situations where i want to be part of the crowd then say something insensitives or completely weird and offend people. I then want to retreat and cry but cant so i go from being fun loving to doomed in 20 seconds its very draining. Also being HSP extrovert you feel bad when you dont attend events and things due to nerves.

    • sarah
      Reply

      Yes, I get very torn about attending events too. My extrovert side says YES, YES, but my Sensitive side cringes in the big crowd. I try to keep a balance. If I go out to an event, then I give myself some nurturing quiet time to balance it out.

  • Aimee
    Reply

    Sarah – thank you so much for this. I just got home from an incredible wedding and have been sitting here confused about why I’m so exhausted but was also so equally energized by and feeding off of my interactions there.. Hence my google search on this topic and boom – I found you!. I’m a fellow ENFJ who has basically masqueraded as an ENTJ in the workforce for years. I relate to so much of what you wrote and some of the reflections of the others. I am hyper engaged, passionate and strong but can get overwhelmed so quickly. I’ll take trips to the bathroom just for a break. I used to have to sit in the very front row in college and grad school so I wouldn’t be distracted by the energies of anyone I could see in front of me! I feel like I can feel so much and it comes in right at the deepest gut point. I believe it’s a true blessing and a curse if unmanaged. I’d love to hear more about what careers make this population of wonderful people feel most happy…. Right now I’m appreciating NOT being in a highly observed corproate cube culture and having a bit more time to work with my energy bursts and have cycles of engagements followed by more quiet thinking time… What careers do folks think work best for “us?”

  • Estee
    Reply

    Hello Sarah. Thanks for your sharing. It’s totally a big relieve when I found someone like me. I have noticed myself all my life that I am different ; to a point that I just think I might be crazy. and my relationships all started when everything seems good ; then end up when my emotions just suddenly expose. And my other would just think I am too much to handle. The truth is I am aware of how I act, but I just couldn’t help it. And when I was 14-22 ; I have difficulties in socialing with people.

    I am a ENFJ. It takes me a while to really believes I am an extrovert , because I used to think I was too werid to fit into any social circles.

    Last year or so, I watched the movie “frozen”; and it brings tears to my eyes because I related so much of myself to Elsa, in the sense that she think she is a “monster” for having the magic power and locked herself up. That’s me when I was younger, blocking all my emotions and feeling. Now I am learning and absorbing knowledge in how I could get along with my sensitivity. And learning how to utilizzed this ability into good use.

    Did you find out anything about you in that aspect of putting it into good use? Ans channeling the excess energy?

  • Emma
    Reply

    Hi! I only recently learnt about HSP and it’s been a revelation. I am also pretty much as far on the extrovert scale on myers briggs as possible. Because I get my energy from people, it is often with people that I talk through my problems and easily cry; I can then see these people looking at me like I must be depressed, but to me crying is just a response like sneezing or smiling, acknoledging my emotions in that moment and then moving on. I am super engaged by people and ideas and my environment, and often over flow with energy and enthusiasm. I am now trying to work through if and how I channel this combination through relationships, and would very much welcome any reflections on this 🙂 Everything from non HSP friendships, romantic partnerships, and I also have a lot of autism in my family so quite a contrast when it comes to empathy and intuition.

    I also want to send some positive love to the extrovert HSP. I really enjoy being tuned in to the subtleties of those around me, both at work and at home. And I put a lot of trust in my instinct. I always thought everyone could do all of this, but it’s now dawning on me that they can’t. So I feel proud of this part of me.

    • Riane
      Reply

      Hi Emma, I can identify with so much of what you have written.

      I stumbled across the HSP way of seeing things just last December. Then today, I googled “HSP extroverts” as I am not an introvert – I think of myself as an Ambivert – which led me here.

      There is a lot of Autism in my family as well. My personal experience and research on Autism (from a perspective of neurodivergence, not Autism as a pathology – as it is unfortunately categorized at this time in human evolution) suggests and confirms that Autism is an *extreme* sensitivity to stimulus/emotion/energy that can often result in Autistic shut down.

      While those on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum are often accused of being clueless to social clues, it seems that in many cases they may be confused by the incongruence of all the layers of existence and the inexplicable assault on their senses, resulting in their withdrawal and disengagement.

      It took me years of therapy (in my 20’s and beyond) and intense studying on how to be human for me to learn to interact successfully with other humans. The spoken and unspoken rules that people follow are all too often incongruent with the energy/emotion/action of the same person.

      I still need to withdraw regularly from the world to process and begin to understand what I experience in this life. Some times I can plan for this or predict that withdrawal. Other times I just go into shut down mode and can’t do anything but shut down. After 48 trips around the sun I have learned to trust these shut-downs (as a survival tactic) rather than fear or pathologize them.

      I would encourage you to look at the possibility of Autism being related to HSP, rather than in contrast to each other. Perhaps HSP’s may have more “functionality” than those diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum?

      Find the “special interest” of the Autistic person and truly listen to the layers of sensitivity, nuance, understanding they have for that subject.

      Don’t be fooled by a “robotic” voice used to describe their interest. That could easily be a person who holds a huge body of awareness and knowledge who is trying to communicate it through a narrow channel (language). I know I unconsciously use the “robot” voice at times when I am overwhelmed by the multi-sensed enormity of my lived experience as I try (often unsuccessfully) to communicate it to others.

      Just a few of my thoughts. Keep what fits, chuck the rest.

      All the best on your journey.

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