Highly Sensitive People Are More at Risk for Social Anxiety

Updated on May 17, 2017
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Richard O'Neill is proud to be a highly sensitive person. It has allowed him to experience life on a more spiritual and intuitive level.

Highly Sensitive People: Keeping to the edges


Highly Sensitive People and Social Anxiety

The "Shy" or "Special" Child

As children, highly sensitive people (HSPs) were once labeled as "shy," or special," by their parents and those who came into contact with them, including their teachers, doctors, and classmates at school. In fact, I have no doubt that in many households around the globe, these labels are still slapped on highly sensitive children due to the lack of knowledge about the HSP trait. In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron had this to say on the matter:

"HSPs only appear inhibited because they are so aware of all the possibilities in a situation. They pause before acting, reflecting on their past experiences. If these were mostly bad experiences, then yes, they will be truly shy. But in a culture that prefers confident, "bold" extraverts, it is harmful as well as mistaken to stigmatize all HSPs as shy when many are not."

I completely agree with this statement, as do most of you reading this, I'm sure. However, in spite of that, I do believe it is possible for highly sensitive people to be converted into shy people. Shy in the sense that they are "afraid" of people and interaction.

It all depends upon how much trauma is experienced while young and how much support is received during the trauma.

In other words, should you be surrounded by the caliber of person that instills fear, helplessness, sadness, inferiority, and misery, you are more likely to develop social phobia, due to your hyperactive nervous system.

Let's look at this in more detail.

Social Anxiety Ensues When HSPs Experience Childhood Trauma


Why Highly Sensitive People are More Susceptible to Social Anxiety

Highly Sensitive People (HSP) Characteristics
Negative Experiences
Most Likely Result
Empathic - Highly aware of emotion and emotional stress in themselves and in others
Grew up in a stressful home environment and witnessed traumatic events occurring
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which leads to social anxiety
Sensitive to Pain, both physical and mental
Experienced mental and/or physical abuse whilst growing up
Fear of people - Social Anxiety
Extremely vivid dreams and nightmares
Witnessed traumatic events, or was part of traumatic events
Fear of certain situations. Re-experiencing those situations in dreams and nightmares - Again, social anxiety/phobia
Considerate to others often at the expense of their own comfort
Bullied and physically abused at home or at school
Fear of people - Social Anxiety
Easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation
Grew up in a noisy, aggressive and overwhelming environment
For some, Social Anxiety. For others, a second personality develops. One which is almost impervious to the effects of loud, noisy or normally overwhelming places - essentially a mask.
Easily influenced by others (at a young age)
Physically abused, sexually or otherwise. Mentally abused and coerced into actions that demean and humiliate
Fear of people, especially authority figures - Social Anxiety
Often withdraw within themselves
Long hours and days spent alone with nothing but fearful and negative thoughts spiralling out of control
Depression, Social Anxiety/phobia

Many HSPs Suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)


Misunderstood, Misinformed, and Mistaken: The HSP with Social Anxiety

Although there have been numerous studies on both social anxiety and sensitivity in people, during my research on the net and in several books I have yet to find any studies done on HSPs with social anxiety. However, there is no doubt in my mind, the HSP population 'is' replete with social anxiety sufferers due to our hyper-active nervous system which notices every little detail in our environment, even the unwanted stuff that most normal people would ignore.

From Potential Empath/Healer/Teacher to Potential Nobody

It's sad to see so much potential go to waste. Thousands of highly sensitive people with such incredible potential; almost invisible, hidden away on the periphery of a world dominated by extroverts. I am grateful however, as a HSP, that there are highly sensitive people out there such as Elaine Aron, who are leading the way and allowing the world to see that there 'is' a place for the gentle HSP tribe. Slowly but surely, the world is beginning to understand highly sensitive people. There is a long way to go but we have taken the fundamental first steps towards acceptance and appreciation.

A Double Dose: High Sensitivity + Social Anxiety

I haven't gone into great detail in this article on highly sensitive people with social anxiety, but as you may have gleaned from the table above, HSPs are highly susceptible to social anxiety and PTSD. I am convinced that I myself, as a HSP previously suffered from severe social anxiety which has since steadily abated to mild social anxiety with the occasional panic attack. My teens were fraught with painful and humiliating experiences as a result of my not only being a HSP but also having social phobia. I even began to repress my sensitivity as I'm sure many other HSPs have done in an effort to be "normal." The answer though, is not repression of our innate 'gift' but rather expression! If you are reading this and you are a highly sensitive person, then it means you are on a journey of discovery about your trait, your gift and that is why it is so great to be a HSP these days. The information on our trait abounds all over the internet and in countless books all over the world. We are finally being understood.

If you feel you are a HSP and you have social anxiety then the best advice I can give to you is ... STUDY! Yes, study everything you can get your hands on about HSPs, social anxiety, PTSD. etc. The more understanding you gain, the more you begin to accept your trait and embrace the wonderful possibilities on offer for you.

It's good to be sensitive!

A light, tender, sensitive touch is worth a ton of brawn.

— Peter Thomson

Further Reading

I've written a number of other articles about being an HSP. Here are two that you might find helpful:

Many HSPs Are Still In the Dark Regarding Their Condition


Questions & Answers

    Share your thoughts with me.

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      • profile image

        Ana 6 months ago

        I like this post bcz I have problem of social anxiety to childhood.i think that is reason of ignorance in my family due to many problems in home.but still I have that problem I fight with this fobiya

      • profile image

        Elizabeth Hannah 9 months ago

        Thank you, at long, long last I can and will fully embrace and understand who I truly am. No more dwelling, ruminating on that which does not serve me. Lovely, truly lovely, which is all us HSP's ever wanted the world to be. God's world.

      • profile image

        Dan 20 months ago

        This is a wonderful piece of writing Richard. Well done. I have actually just released a book on high sensitivity in men, and my own experience as a highly sensitive man. Here is a link if any readers would like to take a look.




      • profile image

        Ollie B 23 months ago

        I am the highly sensitive who has had childhood trauma and I ALWAYS feel like I am invisible. I have wanted to give up ---- but, I care so much I don't want to hurt my family. This article is an eye opener, and actually provided help. I love that.

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        McKenna Meyers 2 years ago from Bend, OR

        I've just learned about HSPs and am starting to read about them. I took anti-depressants for seven years to deal with extreme sadness and intense social anxiety. They definitely were needed in the beginning. However, I wish that I had gotten off them sooner and discovered ways to take better care of myself and learned how to enjoy social situations. I think the drugs just delayed doing the work that's inevitable for someone with social anxiety.

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        kayson 3 years ago


        nice post.

        I was physically and mentally abused as a child, it messes up your fear response .Just for simple things like watching butterflies, because 'boys didn't do that'.I grew up and sadly still live in a horrible ghetto. Trust me, if you are HSP and you grow up in a ghetto type environment, you are going to come out with lots of issues. You missed out OCD. This is another mental illness that can develop in HSP's when abused.

      • Alt Mental Health profile image

        Sarah Rose 3 years ago from Washington

        I completely agree with you. I think sensitive people are also very intelligent, which is why they really take notice of their surroundings. I loved the tables you put in here to describe what these people are going through. Hopefully more people will come to realize the reasons behind their anxiety, and learn to live up to their full potential. This hub is so valuable I am going to share it on my Facebook page. Happy Hubbing!

      • Richawriter profile image

        Richard J ONeill 4 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

        Hey Autumn!

        Thanks for coming over and checking hubpages and my hubs out. I have some early disasters still published here from 2 years ago but I'll get them cleaned up and as they should be.

        Oh and thanks for coming and commenting on this specific hub. I noticed a repeated paragraph with a huge gap between them!!!!

        All cleaned now.

        Thanks and I look forward to seeing you here.


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        Autumn 4 years ago

        Ah Richard, you do faboulous work!

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        Peter Messerschmidt 5 years ago from Port Townsend

        I did do battle with Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD-- a severe version of social anxiety) for some years... probably the product of leaving home suddenly to "become an adult" at age 18, after my father suddenly passed away. I was ill equipped to deal with the world and fared BADLY because what made sense to me (as an HSP-- although unaware of that, at the time!) didn't seem to make sense to anyone else... so I withdrew from my environment, to whatever degree I could.

        Interestingly enough, the Internet helped me come out of my shell-- I was one of the very early people online in the 90's... and learned how to communicate from the safety of my apartment, and grew from there. Today I give workshops and presentations to groups about high sensitivity, so it's certainly possible to move on!

        Good hub!


      • Richawriter profile image

        Richard J ONeill 5 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

        Ah, my good buddy Alastar!

        Thanks for yet more supportive words in my direction, my friend. You are right, though. I do feel like I have really settled into a nice steady rhythm with these type of hubs. I always loved writing about psychology and metaphysics etc, but writing about being sensitive is not only passing on information to others but also healing me. It's hard to describe, but I feel like I'm growing stronger the more I write on this subject. Have I found my calling?

        Thanks Alastar. Once again my two best hub buddies showering me with support. I'm lucky to have Countess Cardisa and Arch-Angel Alastar! hahah

        Peace to you today my friend. :)

      • Richawriter profile image

        Richard J ONeill 5 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

        Hello, Faith Reaper.

        Thank you for your most thoughtful words.

        I love it when people are able to learn something new from my articles. It makes everything so much sweeter.

        Have a great day, and please continue to reap that faith!


      • Richawriter profile image

        Richard J ONeill 5 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

        Hello, Kysmith.

        I'm so pleased that you have discovered that this is a trait you share with me and many others. It may not always seem like a gift but once we learn to harness this unique sensitivity, life can be so much more ...

        Yes, please do read up on it. I found that reading, studying and writing about it imbues me with a respect for this trait that I never had. I once hated being this way. Now, I wouldn't have it any other way.

        Welcome to the HSP club, Kysmith!


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        Richard J ONeill 5 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

        Hello again, Mama Kim 8.

        I love that name. Got such a nice friendly energy about it!

        I am so glad to have met you here Mama Kim. You are very supportive and seeing a comment from you brings a smile, always.

        See you very soon my friend. Peace.

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        Richard J ONeill 5 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

        Hello Alecia Murphy and thanks.

        Yes, sharing this information with others is greatly comforting to me and I find myself growing stronger and more empowered with each article I write. It is truly invigorating.

        Hopefully this information will reach thousands out there like me, but if it only reaches a few hundred I'll be over the moon anyway!

        Thanks for stopping by Alecia. Peace.

      • Richawriter profile image

        Richard J ONeill 5 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

        Hey dear friend Cardisa!

        It has been a long while hasn't it, but I never forgot you. I knew you were busy with the apprentice program and probably working very hard but you were always in mind Countess Cardisa!

        Yes, indeed there must be a lot of highly sensitive people out there who aren't aware of their condition or at least why they are the way they are. It can be lonely. Not knowing.

        Thanks for your wonderful support Cardisa. You are one person I will surely never forget in this lifetime or the next.


      • Alastar Packer profile image

        Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

        Your doing good with these type hubs Richie. Know some, or used to, HSP people, wish they could have read your fine article on it. So glad you've gotten over the worst of yours. I believe you have the power within you along with your studies to beat the anxiety and panic attacks completely one day too my friend. Up n awe Rich!

      • Faith Reaper profile image

        Faith Reaper 5 years ago from southern USA

        Very insightful hub. I have never heard of HSP. Excellent hub. In His Love, Faith Reaper

      • KySmith profile image

        Kyndall Smith 5 years ago from Milwaukee

        This was a great hub! I have identified with many points in this hub. I have never heard of HSP but I would fall under this description. I never thought of it as a gift but I'll take it lol. I'm off to learn more about it!

      • Mama Kim 8 profile image

        Sasha Kim 5 years ago

        Another fantastic hub on HSP! Very interesting and helpful! Voted up and shared.

      • Alecia Murphy profile image

        Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

        I am a sensitive person but I don't believe I am socially anxious to this extent. But I do agree with the findings that what you experience in childhood affects how you interact as an adult. This information is very interesting and I am glad you are able to deal with this by sharing your insights and knowledge with others. Great job!

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        Carolee Samuda 5 years ago from Jamaica

        Hi Richard, this is really something. I may know a few people are affected by this but I don't think they have been diagnosed. There are many people who don't know that they do have this trait.

        I am so proud of you that you are dealing with your social anxiety. Many people are crippled by it and live in fear. I am glad your students have you as a positive example too.