Are you one of the 20%?

High sensitivity is a common yet rarely discussed condition that can be extremely debilitating for people professionally and personally.  Nina Khoo explains more about high sensitivity and how she helps people turn their 'problem' into a strength.

Photo credit:  ingermaaike2  via  /  CC BY

Photo credit: ingermaaike2 via / CC BY

My child has gremlins in her socks. 

Or at least, that’s what I’d tell her when she lay on the floor having a tantrum over the seams in her socks. ‘Let’s shake the nasty gremlins out’ I’d say, in a desperate bid to get her dressed and to school on time. We were frequently late, and I’d wonder whether ‘full-blown tantrum’ or ‘sock gremlins’ would be acceptable reasons to write in the late book to explain our tardiness.

Mornings got progressively worse, until a friend lent me Elaine Aron’s book on ‘The Highly Sensitive Child’, and our lives were transformed. I realised that my daughter was reacting to the seams in her socks because she was one of the 20% of the population that share the naturally occurring trait of High Sensitivity. Her innate ability to be sensitive to subtleties meant on mornings when she hadn’t had enough sleep the previous night, or when she was worried about something at school, the seams in her socks would seem like mountains and really bother her. 

This sensitivity to small things that others don’t even notice can be a shadow side of the Highly Sensitive Trait. The beauty of it though, comes when the Highly Sensitive Child notices their friend squashed up on a bench and moves so they have more space, or when they see someone shivering and gives them their scarf. This is when the ability to pick up on little things becomes a real strength. 

Fast forward a few years to the workplace, and this becomes an extremely marketable skill for the Highly Sensitive Adult. This ability to notice subtleties and relate them to the 'big picture' will help the HS individual stand out in their work. In fact those of us able to call ourselves Highly Sensitive (Yes, it turns out I’m HS too!) have the skills that when nurtured and allowed to grow, will help organisations thrive rather than collapse in our modern world of automation & computers – these are the skills of intuition, creativity, empathy, compassion, and the ability to see the big picture.

The knowledge that my daughter may grow up to make a real contribution to society helps on the days we struggle with the morning routine. What makes the biggest difference though, is understanding the traumas with socks are actually due to her being Highly Sensitive and not because we’re hopeless parents!

Since recognising the trait in my daughter and myself, I’ve made it my mission to raise awareness of High Sensitivity. I know there may be many parents out there struggling with their children, not realising that they too are Highly Sensitive. Rather alarmingly, the similarities between the naturally occurring temperament trait of High Sensitivity and Sensory Processing Disorder and even Autism, mean some HS children are being misdiagnosed as having a disorder when in reality they’re just Highly Sensitive.

The questionnaires on Elaine Aron’s website will help you decide whether you or your child are Highly Sensitive. The quick way to find out though, is through the following acronym, D.O.E.S:

D – Depth of Processing. Highly Sensitive People have lots of thoughts which they process deeply.

O – Overstimulation. If you’re noticing more and processing lots of information, you can easily become overstimulated or overwhelmed.

E – Emotional Reactivity. Highly Sensitive people react more to both negative and positive experiences. Interestingly, their reactions are stronger to positive experiences. E - also stands for Empathy. Highly Sensitive People pick up on others’ emotions readily.

S – Sensing the Subtle. This is the ability to notice little things that others miss. 

In my daughter’s case, this was her uncanny knack of detecting seams in her socks at 8.35am!

If you have all four of these D.O.E.S traits, even to a small degree, you’re Highly Sensitive. And if you are, please know that you share this trait with up to 20% of the population. You’re not broken, and there really isn’t anything wrong with you.

In fact, High Sensitivity is a gift you share with Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, Jim Carey, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Kidman, Winona Ryder and many other visionaries and creative people.

To find out more about the Highly Sensitive Trait and how to thrive in a world where sensitivity isn’t always valued, please take a look at my website:

You can also contact me on I’m always happy to talk about gremlins in socks and all things Highly Sensitive!

LifestyleKelly WestComment