Differences between Introverts and Highly Sensitive Persons

Are Introverts and HSPs the Same Personality Type?

We all want to understand ourselves. How we tick. Why we think and react the way we do.

This is why personality profiles are so interesting. We take tests like Myers-Briggs, we learn more about our zodiac sign, we ascribe ourselves an enneagram number—all in an attempt to understand ourselves and the people around us.

In the realm of personality traits and psychological profiles, two terms often come up: introverts and Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs). While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, it’s important to recognize the differences between introverts and highly sensitive people.

In this blog post, we will explore the similarities and differences between introverts and HSPs, shedding light on their unique characteristics and dispelling any misconceptions.

Defining Introversion & High Sensitivity:

To understand the differences between introverts and highly sensitive persons, let’s start with some definitions of the two.

Introversion is a personality trait characterized by a preference for solitude and introspection.

If you are an introvert, you likely find social interactions draining. What is more, you need time alone to recharge your mental and emotional energy after get-togethers or parties.

As an introvert, you might tend to be thoughtful, and reflective, and have a smaller circle of close relationships rather than a huge circle of acquaintances and friends.

At the same time, introversion is not synonymous with shyness or social anxiety—it simply refers to the way individuals derive energy and process information.

Highly Sensitive People:

… on the other hand, possess a specific trait known as sensory processing sensitivity (SPS).

HSPs have a heightened sensitivity to external stimuli, such as sights, sounds, and emotions.

They tend to process information deeply and exhibit increased emotional reactivity to both positive and negative experiences.

If you recognize yourself as an HSP, you might know that you become easily overwhelmed in stimulating environments and that you need a time of solitude to regain your equilibrium.

differences between introverts and highly sensitive persons - a man reclining on a couch with his phone and a woman with a book doing yoga

Overlapping Traits of Introverts and HSPs:

Although introversion and being an HSP are distinct personality traits, they can often overlap.

If you’re trying to discern the differences between introverts and highly sensitive persons, it might help to know that many HSPs are in fact introverts.

The need for solitude aligns with their heightened sensitivity, as indicated by the following quote from Ilse Sand, author of On Being an Introvert or Highly Sensitive Person:

Many introverts are also very sensitive. But not all. This is obvious from the very fact that 30-50 percent of the population are presumed to be introverted, while only 15-20 percent are presumed to be highly sensitive.

Ilse Sand, in On Being an Introvert or Highly Sensitive Person

If you have come to know yourself as both an introvert and a highly sensitive person, you understand not just the preference but the actual need for quiet environments and deep introspection, especially when you need to regroup or regain your energy after a busy time.

But it’s important to understand that not all introverts are HSPs.

Distinguishing Factors between Introverts and HSPs:

While introversion and being an HSP share commonality, there are notable differences between introversion and high sensitivity. One key difference lies in the focus of their preferences.

Introversion often has to do with the source of one’s energy and the need for alone time after social interactions of various kinds.

Highly Sensitive Persons primarily deal with sensory and emotional processing, likely due to the fact that their brains interpret stimuli in a unique manner.

difference between introverts and highly sensitive persons - a woman smiling and posing; another woman hiding her face

HSPs may experience overwhelm due to external stimuli, while introverts might seek solitude due to social exhaustion.

If you are both an HSP and an introvert, you probably experience a combination of these things, increasing your need for down time, alone time, and recovery after taxing interactions or even a rough drive through town.

Coping Strategies for HSPs and Introverts:

While there are clear differences between introverts and HSPs, both personality types benefit from self-care practices tailored to their specific needs. Introverts can recharge by engaging in solitary activities, such as reading, writing blog posts or journal entries or poems, or pursuing hobbies they enjoy.

As an HSP, in addition to seeking solitude, you may find stress reduction techniques helpful, such as mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, and managing your sensory environment (especially if you suffer from issues such as sound sensitivity).

Other things that reduce stress for both introverts and HSPs might include stress toys, stress relief teas, or self-care practices.

The Importance of Embracing Individuality:

differences between introverts and highly sensitive persons - a man at a laptop and a woman with a book doing yoga

It is crucial to recognize that introversion and being an HSP are natural variations of human personality and sensitivity. Regardless of the similarities and differences between introverts and highly sensitive people, neither type should be seen as a flaw or weakness; nor should you go with stereotypical assumptions, such as the idea some have that introverts are snobs.

Both introverts and HSPs possess unique strengths, such as deep thinking, empathy, and heightened perception. Embracing and understanding these traits can lead to greater self-acceptance and the ability to navigate the world more effectively.

In Summary:

While introversion and being a Highly Sensitive Person share some commonalities, they are distinct personality traits that should not be used interchangeably. There are clear differences between introverts and highly sensitive persons.

Introversion refers to social preferences and the need for alone time, while being an HSP involves heightened sensory and emotional processing.

Recognizing and appreciating these differences allows us to celebrate the diverse range of personalities and sensitivities that exist within the human experience.

And if you are either an HSP, an introvert, or both, knowing these differences can help you research these personality traits further in order to better understand yourself and what needs you might have to thrive in your day-to-day life.

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On Personality Types and Accepting Each Other

When you divide people into types, it is important to remember that nobody fits 100% into the description of a particular type. Every human being is far more than his or her type, and every human being is capable of developing over the course of a lifetime.

With that said, it can be helpful to find and come to know your own type and understand yourself and other people better. When you read about other types that are different from you, you realize how many different ways there are to exist in the world. You become aware that, when other people react differently than you would have, it need not be because there is something wrong with that person or yourself. Both of you are okay as you are, but you belong to different types.

Ilse Sand in On Being An Introvert or Highly Sensitive Person

My first thought on reading the above paragraphs, which come at the beginning of the first chapter of Sand’s book, is that only a highly sensitive person could have written it.

Much of my life, I have been surrounded by people who are not highly sensitive, to say the least …

And their approach to life has often been “My way or the highway.”

As such, it has been difficult for me to navigate life, to figure out who I am, and to realize that there really isn’t something foundationally wrong with me for being both introverted and highly sensitive.

For much of my life, my shyness and introversion were seen by some of those closest to me as standoffishness, arrogance, and a lack of affection and concern toward people.

My sensitivity was seen as … well, sensitivity, but that was considered a very negative thing and I had to try as much as possible to suppress it or hide it or ignore it.

I often had to push past it and show myself as a “stronger” and less sensitive person.

This is why learning that there was such a thing as introversion (and even more, a type of people considered highly sensitive) has been so important to me.

That’s why I created this website …

So that I could continue to explore as well as help to normalize what it means to be highly sensitive, especially in the aggressive and insensitive world we live in.

But I do also recognize and wholeheartedly agree with Sand’s comment in her book, On Being an Introvert or Highly Sensitive Person, that “every human being is far more than his or her type” and that each individual is also “capable of developing over the course of a lifetime.”

There was a time in my mid-twenties when I was more of an ambivert than the introvert I am today; I enjoyed meeting new people and even going to the occasional party far more than I do today.

While part of it might have been because these kinds of interests were expected of me as a “normal” young adult, part of it was me … the person I was at that point in time.

(It could have been due to the fact that I had two small children and just needed to get out of the house, so I didn’t mind going out even if it meant meeting new people and doing things I was not familiar with.)

But today, I am a different person.

Or … I am the same person but I appreciate different things than I did at that time.

Today, the idea of going out dancing would be at the very bottom of the list of things I would like to do. And while I’ve enjoyed a few concerts in the past decade, I think I would just end up with a really bad headache.

I’d prefer to listen to some music on my headphones while doing a project at home.

I also so much appreciate the paragraphs above by Sand, because learning about other types of people and realizing how many different ways there are to exist in the world is something that I think we all need more of.

I recently wrote a short post about politics and people being expected to fall into the polar opposites of Republican or Democrat.

This is another place where there are so many more different ways to exist in the world than a single political party.

The fact that so many people are aligning so deeply with one party or the other to the neglect of every other interest and way of being is dangerous and disconcerting to me.

In closing, there are so many different ways of being in the world and I think we could all use a little more understanding of each other and our different ways of thinking, processing, learning, and doing.

When I interact with people, especially new people in new settings, I need time to process that.

Even when I go about just my normal daily routine, I need time in the middle of the day to rest in order to let my mind go blank for a few minutes, to recalibrate so that I can then be refreshed for the second half of the day.

That is just one way my high sensitivity manifests itself and I appreciate those who understand this about me and do not expect me to go full steam ahead all day long.

At the same time, I understand that there are people who operate and do life differently. They might go full steam ahead all week long, pulling 10 or 12 or 14-hour days, but at the end of the week, they need the whole weekend to recover and do nothing.

Other people might have entire seasons of busyness because they process information and work differently.

I admit, those kinds of people are people stronger — physically and probably even mentally and emotionally — than me.

If my being a highly sensitive person makes me a “weaker vessel,” I will accept that and live with it.

But I do have different strengths, emotionally, spiritually, and sensitively.

We all need each other, and the way our strengths and weaknesses can be used to uphold and accept one another can truly be a beautiful thing if we learn how to make it happen.

This is what it means to understand different types and accept them and love them.