Welcome to the world of
highly sensitive people.
Welcome to the world of highly sensitive people.

aka Sensory Processing Sensitivity

May we discover, see, hear and recognize our wholeness in both our beauty and in our pain so that we can turn away from cultural messages we are weak, small, or unimportant.

May we move toward accepting our wisdom as deep thinkers and feelers, emotional leaders, poets, prophets, healers, artists, bridge builders, and creatives shining our lights toward a healthier way of being and living, not only for ourselves but for our families and our world.

Finding out about Dr. Elaine Aron’s work, in May 1996, while waiting for a bus on a rainy day in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was a life changing synchronicity. I found myself whispering a silent, yet almost startling yes to questions such as:

Do you find yourself…

Who could know all these things about me: things that even I had never put together into any kind of conscious thought?  Chills and goose bumps shivered over my body as images of my childhood began appearing and I was overcome with a great sense of déjà vu: a strong feeling of strange familiarity as though I had already answered and experienced every question Elaine Aron was asking. 

Are You Highly Sensitive? Take the quiz on Dr. Elaine Aron’s website.

Do you know the four characteristics all HSPs have in common? The explanations below are adapted from the 25th edition of Dr. Elaine Aron’s first book, The Highly Sensitive Person, How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.

Depth of Processing

Over Stimulation

Emotional Responsiveness, Empathy, Intensity or Reactivity
Sensitive to Subtleties

What Sensory Processing Sensitivity Is…and Is not.

Sensor Processing Sensitivity is not a syndrome; it is not a disorder; it is not a diagnosis — Just as having blue or brown eyes is not a syndrome, disorder or diagnosis. It is also NOT Sensory Processing (Integration) Disorder; it is not hyperacusis; it is not Soft Sound Sensitivity; it is not misophonia, it is not synesthesia, it is not on the Autism Spectrum. (Although it is true that some HSPs may also be affected by one or more of these or other diagnoses.)

Sensory Processing Sensitivity is a genetic, innate and neutral trait that can be greatly affected by environmental stimuli — both positive and negative. (Research differential susceptibility (Pluess, et.al). This trait is found equally among men and women, and also found in over 100 animal species. 70% of highly sensitive people are introverts, and the remaining 30% are sensitive extroverts. Further research by Sensitivity Research (www.sensitivityresearch.com) has coined the term “Environmental Sensitivity.” This research shows that approximately 30% of the population are “highly sensitive” to environmental stimuli, (i.e. HSPs); another 40% are moderately sensitive; and the remaining 30% have low level of sensitivity to their environment.

And yes, it’s true — the more negative the environment, and/or the more chronically overstimulated, the more likely an HSP might develop and suffer from depression or anxiety. However, the HSP trait in and of itself does not cause depression or anxiety, nor is it the cause of any other diagnoses …

One of the major things HSPs must do besides get extremely grounded and knowledgeable about the HSP trait is : Heal from Past Wounds !! For most of us, this took therapy to do properly … It was when my childhood wounds were healed that my HSP Self blossomed, soared and found delight in being sensitive. It was when I learned to set strong boundaries that I began to honor my true sensitive gifts. It was when I learned to “Be in this World, but Not Of It” that I learned what “thriving” was. (Romans 12:2)

It is also important to know that the ONLY four things ALL HSPs have in common are: D.O.E.S. 1) Depth of Processing; 2) Over stimulation; 3) Emotional responsiveness with a high degree of empathy or, Intensity; 4) Sensitive to Subtleties. The ways in which these four things manifest for each individual are incredibly varied — and usually depends much upon one’s family of origin (or culture) and the degree to which one’s sensitivity was accepted, understood, managed or ridiculed.

Is being a Highly Sensitive Person easy? No, definitely not. But truly, Life Is Difficult for most everyone at one time or another. There is a way to be happy and live authentically as an HSP, (I’ve come to call this Authentic Sensitive Living.) It takes work, support, knowledge, trial and error, to create your own unique HSP Owner’s Manual. I believe it takes work, support and knowledge for the non-HSP to be happy and authentic as well.

Jacquelyn Strickland

Jacquelyn has often been referred to as the “pioneer” of the national and international HSP Movement since co-founding the HSP Gathering Retreats in 2001 with Dr. Elaine Aron. In reality, it is the highly revered, Dr. Elaine Aron, who is the true pioneer in this movement. Her groundbreaking work has truly changed the lives of millions of HSPs through the publication of her seven books, which have been printed in 15 different languages. I will, like many others, be eternally grateful to her.

Jacquelyn became a Licensed Professional Counselor in 1993, and began working exclusively with highly sensitive people in 2001. She holds an EMDR, Level II, is trained in Hypnotherapy, and has been has been certified in Myers Briggs Personality Inventory since 1991. Her private psychotherapy practice has now transitioned to mentoring and coaching, which is not therapy, yet definitely therapeutic for most clients. She also offers consultations and accepts speaking engagements about the trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity.

Her background in Social Work, Women’s Studies & Cultural Diversity and a graduate degree in Counseling have informed her work with highly sensitive people. She is a member of ICHS – International Consultants High Sensitivity, a professional, national, and international group of HSPs who were trained by Elaine Aron in March of 2018. She makes a cameo appearance in the 2015 documentary film:  Sensitive: The Untold Story. Many libraries now offer this film free of charge through a service called Kanopy. You can also purchase or rent the film at  sensitivethemovie.com.

Elaine and Jacquelyn

The HSP Gathering Retreats came to her in a vision while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, and they were later co-created by her and Dr. Elaine Aron in 2000. The first HSP Gathering was held in May 2001 and they have since inspired hundreds of HSPs around the world being held in the United Kingdom (2006, 2009, 2011, 2018); Sweden (2013;) Germany (2015); British Columbia, Canada (2005, 2010); North Carolina (2009, 2012); Colorado (2007, 2009 and 2013, 2016,) and numerous retreats on both the East and West Coasts of America. Smaller Colorado HSP Retreats have been held in 2018, 2019 and will held in September 2021.

She delights in offering the annual HSP Gathering Retreats, and now offers smaller Colorado HSP Retreats and Nature as Teacher & Healer Days in the mountains of Colorado where she lives.  
Stay tuned for the 38th HSP Gathering Retreat to be held sometime in 2023. 

Jacquelyn has been married to a non-HSP introvert since 1978 and is the mother of two grown sons, one an HSP and one a very kind person. She has three grandchildren born in 2014, 2016, and 2017, and one is most likely a sensitive extrovert like her grandmother.

Jacquelyn and Life Works for Highly Sensitive People are committed to harmonious personal and social transformation aimed at creating inclusive environments of individuality, belonging and mutual respect; self-discovery and healing; positive regard, and goodwill.


HSP Highlight & Insights Newsletter 

Sharing education, science, wisdom, inspirations, programs, events, and
thoughts, feelings about our Sensory Processing Sensitivity trait.

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Depth of Processing

Depth of processing is the most basic aspect of our SPS trait, and results in the deep, rich inner life most HSPs experience. Research has shown more brain activation in the prefrontal cortex and in a part of the brain called the insula which has sometimes been referred to as the ‘seat of consciousness.’ This creates the tendency to reflect more than others about the “way the world is going or “the meaning of life.” By integrating information and experiences, from both past and present, the HSP’s unique depth of processing can enable a sense and understanding of longer term consequences and may be able to influence future decisions with more creative and expansive thought.

Over Stimulation

Overstimulation is the only negative part of the acronym D.O.E.S. and unfortunately it is sometimes the first, or only, distinguishable or observable part of our sensory processing sensitivity trait. Too much incoming sensory information, coupled with our empathy and deep processing can easily create overwhelming feelings of stress, anxiety, restlessness, and fatigue, or even illness. Prolonged overstimulation creates excess cortisol in our body which can then lead to a diagnosis of depression or anxiety. Overstimulation is best handled by attention to proper self-care including more downtime to process events of the day, more quality sleep, and ideal antidotes such as meditation, gentle body movement, exercise or time spent in nature. Everyone experiences overstimulation to some degree, however, as we know, the HSP level of over-arousal happens quicker than the other 80%.

Emotional Responsiveness, Empathy, Intensity or Reactivity

HSPs bring more emotional intensity to every experience because we are deeply affected by many things, including world events, music or the arts, even the positive or negative moods of others. We can be easily moved to tears of sadness or joy. Research has shown HSPs are more reactive and responsive to the moods and emotions of others because our mirror neurons are more activated than those without the SPS trait. (Acevedo, et al 2014.) Other important research, Differential Susceptibility, (Pluess, et al) has shown that compared to the other 80% of the population, HSPs thrive more in positive environments and experience greater suffering when in negative environments.

Sensitive to Subtleties

Some HSPs may have one or more senses that are keener than others, however, a keener sense of sight, sound, touch, taste or smell, does not adequately describe or explain the awareness of the many varied nuances perceived or integrated into our daily HSP lives. Thus, sensitivity to subtleties often has more to do with the complex processing of sensory information, which may explain why many HSPs excel in art, music, photograph, writing, performing and the healing or helping professions. Being highly in tune with our senses may be why HSPs report feeling so alive and soothed by being in nature. Sensitive to subtleties is also what allows HSPs to notice small changes that others often miss, and which enable us to find joy from subtle nuances in our environments. It is important to not confuse sensitivity to noise with misophonia, soft sound sensitivity or hyperacusis all of which are diagnoses.