Maladaptive Daydreaming and the Highly Sensitive Person

Many maladaptive daydreamers express feeling different from the rest of the world. Since they usually don’t know anyone else in their personal life who shares their experiences, they may end up feeling that they are broken in some way. However, many of their struggles could actually actually be signs of being a Highly Sensitive Person.

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

Dr. Elaine Aron, psychologist and author of The Highly Sensitive Person, describes the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) as someone who “has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.1

HSPs tend to process information deeply, may be easily over-aroused by external stimuli (such as loud noises or uncomfortable clothing), and may be more emotionally sensitive than their peers. The trait for high sensitivity appears in about one-fifth of the population, equal among men and women — and has even been observed in the rest of the animal kingdom.2

Common Traits of Highly Sensitive People

Below are some of the most traits shared by highly sensitive people. Not all HSPs possess every trait listed here, but these characteristics are the most common.

Sensitivity to external stimuli.

HSPs may be sensitive to lights, loud noises, strong smells, and other forms of stimulation. They may even be touch sensitive.

Emotional sensitivity.

HSPs can feel very deeply, even if they do not openly express this. They may be touched by an inspiring work of art or the beauty of nature. On the other hand, they can find themselves hurt by witnessing the suffering of others. They may also love very intensely in their personal relationships.


Their emotional depth and careful attention to body language and subtle social cues make HSPs likely candidates for empathy. They may naturally form close bonds with animals.

A tendency toward introversion.

Because they are easily overwhelmed with the amount of information they process, about 70 percent of HSPs are introverts.3 However, extraverts can be HSPs too.

May have sensitive immune systems.

HSPs may easily be affected by food, pet dander, and common household chemicals. They may be more prone to headaches, sensitive skin, and other body ailments.


Many HSPs are right-brained, holistic thinkers.4 They may have strong powers of imagination, and enjoy different forms of artistic expression. They may even be highly gifted, even if they did not receive the best grades in school.

Dislike too much pressure.

HSPs may find close supervision unnerving, and may not perform well if a supervisor or coworker is hovering over their shoulders. They most likely prefer working independently or in small groups.

Am I Highly Sensitive?

If after reading this list you are still not sure whether nor not you are an HSP, Dr. Aron has a self-test available on her website. I would also highly recommend her book, The Highly Sensitive Person, if you would like to read more about the subject.

Are Maladaptive Daydreamers More Likely to be HSPs?

Is there a link between maladaptive daydreaming and high sensitivity? As far as I am aware, no studies have been done to determine whether or not a relationship exists.

That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a correlation. From what I’ve read and experienced, many maladaptive daydreamers have a complex and deep emotional life that they express through their daydreams. There are also other qualities of HSPs that seem relevant to maladaptive daydreamers:

  1. Empathy. Research has shown that daydreaming helps us see things from different points of view, especially in social relationships, and can even make us more empathic.5 Although I can’t say for certain, it’s possible that maladaptive daydreamers possess a greater capacity for empathy.
  2. Introversion. While not all maladaptive daydreamers are introverts, their daydreaming experiences tend to be socially isolating and require them to spend large amounts of time alone.
  3. Creativity. Daydreaming is not only an indicator of creative capacity, but it also helps in the facilitation of new ways of thinking.5 Further, the complex level of detail present in the daydreams of people with MD are highly suggestive of a creative mind.

High sensitivity could partly explain why many find it hard to break away from their MD. The connections that people forge with their imaginary worlds can be so intense that having to separate from them can feel heartwrenching.

Of course, not every maladaptive daydreamer is an HSP, and I don’t believe that the concept can explain everything about MD. Still, for many of us, understanding what it means to be highly sensitive can help us see our MD – and even ourselves – from a different perspective.

What do you think? Do you believe there is a connection between maladaptive daydreaming and high sensitivity?


[1] Aron, Elaine, Ph.D. “The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You.” The Highly Sensitive Person. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 June 2013.

[2] “Highly Sensitive Person.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 06 May 2013. Web. 08 June 2013.

[3] Aron, Elaine, Ph.D. “Understanding the Highly Sensitivity Person: Sensitive, Introverted, or Both?” Psychology Today. N.p., 21 July 2011. Web. 8 June 2013. 

[4] Hill, Maria. “Telltale Signs You Are A Highly Sensitive Person.” HSP Health Blog. N.p., 17 Oct. 2012. Web. 08 June 2013.

[5] Lewis, Dyani.  “Why Do We Daydream?” ABC Health & Wellbeing. N.p., 5 June 2014. Web. 20 June 2016.

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