Even if you’ve taken it before, I recommend you take the HSP self-test again—in a specific way. As a tool, it’s not merely diagnostic: it is educational.
If you are reading this, you are probably a highly sensitive person. How did you find out about the trait? And once you found out, what did you do next? You probably took Dr. Elaine Aron’s HSP self-test.
Who can resist a quiz? Imagine waiting in the grocery line and spotting the latest Cosmopolitan magazine cover, featuring this headline: Is He Cheating? 29 Signs Your Boyfriend is Cheating On You. I’d want to take that quiz, even if I didn’t have a boyfriend.
Quizzes like the cheating boyfriend test are designed to play on your fears. The more questions you answer “yes” to, the more scared you get. If you are an HSP, though, the HSP self-test should have the opposite effect.
For one thing, the test is evidence-based, not fear-based. Dr. Aron explains that “These tests are the result of empirical research on the trait.” Empirical research “is based on observed and measured phenomena and derives knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory or belief.”
Even more importantly, though, if you are an HSP, you will recognize yourself in the 27 statements. In the process, you will likely feel not fear, but relief. You may even find yourself muttering, “Oh! No wonder…”
I certainly felt and said all that the first time I took the test. I happen to fall at the far end of the sensitivity scale: I answered “true” for all 27 items. This information was an epiphany for me. But even if you get a much lower score, you may still be a highly sensitive person.
How to read your results on the HSP self-test
Dr. Aron explains how to make sense of your score on the self-test:
If you answered more than fourteen of the questions as true of yourself, you are probably highly sensitive. But no psychological test is so accurate that an individual should base his or her life on it. We psychologists try to develop good questions, then decide on the cut off based on the average response.
If fewer questions are true of you, but extremely true, that might also justify calling you highly sensitive. Also, although there are as many men as women who are highly sensitive, when taking the test highly sensitive men answer slightly fewer items as true than do highly sensitive women.
Let’s assume for now that you’ve confirmed your HSP trait by tearing through the self-test once. That’s a crucial milestone in the life of a sensitive person. However, it is just the first step in a journey of self-discovery about your sensitivity.
Using the HSP self-test as a reframing tool
As it turns out, the self-test can teach you a lot about yourself. In addition to telling you that you are an HSP, Dr. Aron explains that it will “give you a good sense of what high sensitivity is, as well.” For this reason, whether you are new to the world of sensitivity or have known for a long time that you are an HSP, you can benefit by re-taking the test— in a more thoughtful way.
In the process, you will learn more about the trait and how it looks and manifests for you in particular. With this new self-awareness, you can embark on the key HSP life task of reframing your life within your new understanding of high sensitivity.
This reframing can be life-changing, because many HSPs have been critical of ourselves for responding to life events and experiences in ways that were different from other people. The self-test can help you see, and begin to release, any judgments you carry towards yourself and your sensitivity.
How to take the HSP self-test again: go slowly
Your first step is to go to Dr. Aron’s website and take the HSP self-test again—slowly. Here are seven questions you can ask yourself as you ponder each statement. I suggest you write down the thoughts and insights that come to you:
- How has this issue showed up in my life?
- How do I feel in my body as I consider this statement?
- How would my best friend answer this question for me?
- Do I think of this characteristic as a good thing? A bad thing? A mix?
- When I was a child, did people around me view my trait as a good thing? A bad thing? A mix?
- Do I remember being teased or criticized about this issue? How did I handle that?
- How do I feel about my ability to take care of myself in this area?
Trust your intuition as you sense which questions will be most helpful to focus on. Take your time. Don’t pressure yourself to answer all seven questions for every item on the self-test, or to answer them all at once.
If you were well-supported as a sensitive child, these questions will evoke mainly positive memories. However, many HSPs experience a complex mixture of feelings as they take in the effects of their sensitivity on their lives.
What patterns do you see? How do you feel about yourself as a sensitive person? If you find yourself feeling shame or grief, please get whatever support you need to hold these painful feelings with self-compassion.
Next, if you are curious to learn more, there are two more HSP self-tests you can take to heighten your awareness of your HSP characteristics.
1—Take the “new” HSP self-test
The public version of Dr. Aron’s original HSP test, with its true-false answers, is an effective way to answer the basic question, “Am I highly sensitive?” For a more nuanced result, however, I recommend you take the “new” HSP self-test.
You’ll find this test at sensitivityresearch.com, an excellent resource for the latest research on the HSP trait. I wrote to Dr. Michael Pluess, one of the researchers featured on the site, to ask him how their version of the test relates to Dr. Aron’s original HSP self-test. He responded immediately and generously, explaining that—
I’m actually working closely with Elaine Aron and Elaine is a co-author on our scientific papers that report the three groups (Dandelions, Tulips, Orchids). Our findings are based on a more nuanced statistical approach and replicated across multiple studies. Importantly, we used Elaine’s HSP scale as well as some of her data sets for this work. Hence, our findings should be considered a refinement of Elaine’s previous results (rather than a shift).
Dr. Pluess had expected the highly sensitive trait to occur along a smooth bell curve, and was surprised to observe that people actually fall into three distinct groups—the above-mentioned Dandelions, Tulips, and Orchids. He comments that—
Although everyone is sensitive to an extent, research has shown that people tend to fall into three different groups along a spectrum of sensitivity with about 30% classed as low, 40% as medium and 30% as high in sensitivity.
By completing this new version of the original self-test, you will learn which group you fit into. With a 6.3 score, I’m an “Orchid.” This means I need more specialized self-care than a Tulip or a Dandelion.
2—Take the HSP test for children
Dr. Aron’s website also provides a special HSP test for children, which can offer you a unique perspective on your sensitive childhood. You may find it easier to recognize your younger self in statements like “wants to change clothes if wet or sandy,” “uses big words for his/her age,” or “considers if it is safe before climbing high.”
Once again, as you ponder the 23 statements in this self-test, take time to sense how you feel as you consider each question. Notice any memories that come up. Are they happy memories? Stressful ones? Or a mix?
Notice what the quiz doesn’t say: “Were you a crybaby compared to other kids? Were you fussy and picky? Were you timid?” What is it like to hear yourself described in a nonjudgmental language of the quiz?
You can also take a more refined version of the children’s HSP test at sensitivityresearch.com. Like the newer adult HSP self-test, this children’s test is based on the earlier research of Dr. Aron and others. This test will place you in the Tulip, Dandelion, or Orchid category.
Cultivating compassion for ourselves—and for others
I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that HSPs are somehow a breed apart, so I particularly appreciate Dr. Pluess’s statement that “almost everyone is sensitive to an extent.” That said, the higher your score on the new HSP test, the more specific your self-care needs are.
Whatever your level of sensitivity, the information you glean from these self-tests will empower you to better care for yourself. It will begin to give you more self-compassion, if you have been critical of your sensitive characteristics. Last but not least, it will increase your understanding and empathy for others who are more or less sensitive than you are.
Image: © 2017, Kaitlyn G. Wyenberg. Thank you Kaitlyn.