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Do highly sensitive people have friends?

High sensitivity, also known as sensory processing sensitivity, refers to a personality trait characterized by a deeper cognitive processing of physical, social and emotional stimuli. Highly sensitive people tend to be more aware of subtleties in their environment and have a stronger emotional reaction to external factors. This innate sensitivity can significantly impact social relationships and the ability to form close friendships.

What is high sensitivity?

High sensitivity is an innate trait found in 15-20% of the population. It is characterized by:

  • A more sensitive nervous system
  • Deeper processing of physical, emotional and social stimuli
  • Being more easily overwhelmed by external factors like crowds, loud noises, caffeine etc.
  • Noticing subtleties in the environment
  • Having strong emotional reactions and empathy

High sensitivity is equally common in men and women. It has a genetic component and is observed in over 100 species. This indicates it is a naturally occurring trait rather than a disorder. However, growing up in a society that doesn’t understand high sensitivity can lead to difficulties for highly sensitive people.

Common challenges for highly sensitive people

High sensitivity comes with several social challenges:

  • Feeling easily overwhelmed in large groups
  • Disliking loud environments or bright lights
  • Getting irritated by coarse or violent language and media
  • Being strongly affected by criticism or rejection
  • Noticing and being upset by injustice or suffering
  • Being deeply empathetic but also taking on others’ emotions

Due to getting overstimulated and overwhelmed more easily, highly sensitive people tend to prefer quieter social situations with close friends. However, their innate empathy and emotional depth can make forming close friendships rewarding.

Do highly sensitive people have difficulty making friends?

High sensitivity can pose some challenges in forming friendships:

  • Social overstimulation causes withdrawal from large groups
  • Empathy and taking on others’ moods can be draining
  • A preference for meaningful conversation over small talk
  • Being hurt deeply by criticism or rejection
  • Avoiding violent or upsetting entertainment

Despite this, 70% of highly sensitive people describe themselves as extroverts or ambiverts. They may prefer one-on-one socializing or small groups, but many can still thrive socially.

Why some highly sensitive people have few friends

There are some reasons why highly sensitive people may struggle with friendships:

  • Bad childhood experiences like bullying or loneliness
  • Friends not understanding their needs e.g. for quieter activities
  • Feeling incompatible with non-sensitive people
  • Social anxiety or poor self-esteem from difficulties fitting in

Negative socializing experiences growing up can make it harder to open up and trust people later on. Highly sensitive people may need extra reassurance in friendships.

Why some are very socially active

On the other hand, some highly sensitive people have strong social skills and thriving social lives. Reasons for this include:

  • Having good friends who understand their needs
  • Choosing friends with similar values and interests
  • Being able to set boundaries and manage socializing
  • Joining groups tailored to highly sensitive people
  • Having worked to overcome social anxiety or poor self-esteem

With the right friends and balancing social time, sensitivity can be an asset in forming meaningful connections.

Do highly sensitive people prefer to be alone?

Despite stereotypes, the majority of highly sensitive people do not prefer being alone. Research indicates:

  • 70% of highly sensitive people are extroverts or ambiverts
  • High sensitivity is not related to levels of introversion or extroversion
  • Many highly sensitive people enjoy socializing in the right conditions

However, highly sensitive people do seem to have a lower optimal level of arousal. This means they feel pleasantly stimulated by lower levels of sensory input and social engagement than non-sensitive people do.

They also need more downtime after socializing to recharge. On average, highly sensitive people report needing 2 hours of rest after significant social interaction, versus 11 minutes for others. But this need for recharging does not mean they prefer being alone. It means they prefer smaller gatherings with close friends.

Tips for highly sensitive people to thrive socially

Highly sensitive people can build good friendships by:

  • Expressing their needs and boundaries
  • Choosing friends with similar values
  • Having some one-on-one time when socializing in groups
  • Avoiding overstimulating environments when possible
  • Scheduling downtime after social events
  • Joining groups of other highly sensitive people
  • Explaining their personality traits to friends

With the right balance, self-care and choice of company, sensitivity can be an asset rather than a hindrance for friendships.

Are the friendships of highly sensitive people different?

Highly sensitive people report that their close friendships have a different quality to those of non-sensitive people. Features include:

  • Lower number of friends, but more profound connections with each friend
  • A preference for one-on-one socializing or small groups
  • Less enjoyment of highly stimulating or noisy activities
  • Enjoying deep conversations over small talk
  • Sharing emotional experiences and providing deep support

Research has found highly sensitive people’s friendships involve:

  • More disclosure and emotional support
  • Stronger expressions of affection and intimacy
  • Feeling less lonely or dissatisfied with friendships

High sensitivity allows deeper empathy, compassion and insight into others. This facilitates forming connections based on genuine understanding. As a result, highly sensitive people tend to nurture more profound, nurturing friendships.

Challenges in friendships between sensitive and non-sensitive people

There can be challenges when a highly sensitive person has non-sensitive friends. These include:

  • Non-sensitive friends invalidating their needs e.g. for quieter activities
  • Feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed by loud music or crowds
  • Having different emotional needs and communication styles
  • Non-sensitive friends not understanding their sensitivity traits
  • Finding non-sensitive people understimulating or unsatisfying to talk to

These relationships take compromise. But educating non-sensitive friends about high sensitivity and asserting needs can help.

Are other personality traits linked to sensitivity and friendships?

Other personality traits affect how sensitivity influences friendships:


High sensitivity occurs equally in introverts and extraverts. Extraversion determines how socially bold or shy someone is. Highly sensitive introverts may avoid social situations more.


Low self-esteem from negative experiences makes it harder to open up. High self-esteem helps sensitive people connect well with others.

Social anxiety

This causes avoidance of social situations. High sensitivity doesn’t necessarily mean social anxiety, but the two often coincide. Social anxiety treatment can improve friendships.


Highly sensitive people tend to be highly agreeable. This makes them conflict-averse, cooperative friends.


A strong trait in high sensitivity. It facilitates forming deeper bonds and understanding friends. But absorbing others’ emotions can also be draining. Setting boundaries helps.

So while sensitivity can add challenges, other personality traits also significantly impact social life. Many sensitive people learn to balance their needs and nurture good friendships.

Do highly sensitive people have better friendships?

The research indicates highly sensitive people have different, but not necessarily fewer or lower quality friendships.

Friendship aspects Highly sensitive people Non-sensitive people
Number of friends Lower Higher
Depth of connection Higher Lower
Emotional disclosure More Less
Intimacy and affection More Less
Loneliness and dissatisfaction Less More

Highly sensitive people have fewer but more profound close friendships. Their innate empathy facilitates forming deeper bonds.

With the right friends and environment, sensitivity can enrich social connections. But negative experiences like bullying, rejection or not having their needs met can exacerbate social anxiety and isolation.

The key is understanding the interaction between sensitivity and other traits like self-esteem, extroversion and social anxiety. With self-knowledge, good coping skills and the right friends, sensitivity is not a barrier to good relationships.


High sensitivity is a double-edged sword in friendships. On one hand, it carries innate traits like empathy, insight and depth of processing that allow forming strong social bonds. But it also comes with overstimulation, intense emotional reactions and a need for downtime that can complicate relationships.

However, research shows most highly sensitive people have similarly strong and satisfying social connections as others. The key is having friends who understand sensitivity, balancing interaction with downtime, and nurturing self-esteem. This allows them to thrive socially and use their innate strengths to create profoundly rewarding friendships.

With sensitivity becoming better known, more tailored social support is emerging. Highly sensitive people can learn to understand themselves, articulate their needs, and nurture meaningful relationships that provide companionship rather than isolation.