20 Famous and Historical Highly Sensitive People

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You’re a highly sensitive person. You feel alone. Is there anyone else out there who feels the same?

Better still, is there a famous highly sensitive person out there? If they can survive the pressures of being famous and being sensitive, surely, they get it.

And I’m here to help.

I’ll explain how it works and give you information to take care of yourself. Believe me, I’m with you on this. You see, I have Asperger’s, and I’m a highly sensitive person.

What is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)?

A highly sensitive person (“HSP”) is an individual that has a personality trait referred to as sensory-processing sensitivity. According to Medical News Today, it is not a diagnosis of a mental health disorder, illness, disease, or other medical condition. It cannot be treated.

Many characteristics of sensitivity overlap with signs of autism, yet they are not the same. While both are considered neurodivergent, they differ in that high sensitivity is a temperament trait while autism is a permanent neurodevelopmental issue that begins in the womb.

To learn if you’re an HSP, take this quiz by Dr. Elaine Aron who coined the term.  Some common characteristics of an HSP may include:

  • Inhibition
  • Powerful responses to emotions
  • Attention to details
  • Shyness
  • Put off by violence
  • Overwhelm by high activity, noises, lights, or textures
  • A strong sense of empathy
  • Obsession with beauty in the arts or nature
  • Anxiety
  • Exhaustion
  • Search for deeper meaning

Things you may hear as an HSP:

  • “Stop being so sensitive.”
  • “You’re too emotional.”
  • “Why do you overthink everything?”

Misperceptions that HSPs are weak because of their sensitivity, unreliable, or unable to complete a job are common. However, these assumptions simply are not true. In fact, HSPs have superpowers with the potential to change the world and make it a better place!

To help you further understand, these are three subtypes of high sensitivity shared by Dr. Linnea Passaler:

Aesthetic Sensitivity

An HSP with this subtype relies upon music and art to ease their sensitivities. They feel awareness and connection with nature and beauty and are uncomfortable in situations where they are lacking.

Low Sensory Threshold

This subtype of the highly sensitive person trait is easily overwhelmed by smells, textures, noises, and lights. They need a low level of sensory input and time-outs to lessen their anxiety and discomfort.

Ease of Excitation

Easily excited, overwhelmed, or agitated by orders, expectations, or physical demands is what this subtype is all about. An HSP with this subtype can’t perform their best in fast-paced situations. They must be especially aware of what causes them stress.

Further Misconceptions about HSPs

People with autism have a need or ability to hyper-focus, perform repetitive actions, stick to a routine, expect predictability, and navigate sensory processing issues. Psychology Today notes that only 2% of the population is on the autism spectrum while about 20% have an HSP personality trait.

From the following list of 20 famous and historical highly sensitive people, see if you can determine their HSP subtypes. Who do you share the most traits with?

20 Famous and Historical Highly Sensitive People

1. Albert Einstein

Einstein was a shy, introverted little boy growing up in Germany. He enjoyed playing alone and discovering how things worked. He didn’t excel in school and had difficulty communicating. Yet, Einstein was deeply sensitive and genuinely cared for others.

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Albert Einstein

With maturity, his sensitivities grew. Einstein not only became the greatest thinker in the world, but he also became an impassioned writer, speaker, and lecturer.

For example:

  • As a scientist, he worked from the premise of not talking over the heads of others.
  • In his personal life, he dedicated time to answering letters from children.
  • He expressed great remorse for bringing about the atomic bomb.
  • He was pivotal in creating the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists to bring awareness of the enormous consequences of atomic and hydrogen warfare.
  • He fought against human sacrifice to weapons and world destruction.
  • He pleaded for world peace and “the spirit of brotherhood” for all humankind.

Einstein is a perfect example of how a famous highly sensitive person becomes a powerful leader. His profound insight and depth of curiosity and feeling elevated him above the rest.

2. Abraham Lincoln

Mr. Lincoln considered himself strange. His depth of empathy was undeniable. He sought to know more about people as individuals and their relationships and situations. He genuinely cared for others and tried to help them.

When Lincoln witnessed the ravages of the war against slavery, it sickened him to no end. The turmoil and anxiety caused him to lose weight. Even then, he learned to detach and hide his emotions from the public. Behind closed doors, his tears flowed.

Abraham Lincoln had an uncanny emotional awareness of himself. He paced the White House floors when his anxiety was high. But, when General Meade refused to apprehend General Lee after the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln was able to control his scathing anger. He knew his limits.

Finally, Lincoln’s call to action for all Americans to become better human beings, help one another, and save the country and the earth was his heartfelt expression of all he was: a highly sensitive person.

3. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King emitted an unrelenting, driving, persuasive passion to lift others from their troubles, level social inequities, and appeal to all Americans to open their hearts for social justice for all people. His emotion-filled public speeches will live forever in American and human history.

When others needed help fighting a corrupt social justice system, King didn’t hesitate to take their battle on with them. In his heart, he had no choice about the matter. He felt it was his duty. Quiet self-sacrifice for others was just his way of life.

A few HSP traits King exhibited were:

  • Authenticity
  • Creativity and drive
  • Deep empathy
  • Strong intuition or sixth sense
  • Problem-solving
  • Noticing minuscule details
  • Sensing unspoken thoughts and emotions of others
  • Heartfelt persuasion for others to feel empathy

King was an enthusiastic dreamer. His sensitivities make us look at ourselves, evaluate our own dreams, and yearn for a more equal and loving society for all people.

4. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson craved a connection with nature and beauty from boyhood. He despised living on the busy waterfront in Boston. His sensitivities led him to become an intellectual, high thinker, and master of words.

One of his most famous phrases is, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else, is the greatest accomplishment.”

Emerson’s self-awareness and ability to identify and harness his deep emotions made him one of the world’s literary giants. By the time of his death, he had filled his collection of journals alone with more than 3 million words. His thoughts continue to inspire us today.

5. Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi was an ever-evolving visionary on a journey to become a better human being. His spirituality was solid. He loved all living beings and sought to end social injustice, inequality, and barriers to mental health.

His mental experiments taught him to change his way of thinking, put himself in others’ shoes, and strive for joy and peace. Gandhi’s ability to feel deeply and connect helped him eliminate his internal suffering. He wanted to share that gift with the world.

Some characteristics of Gandhi’s personality were:

  • Incredible patience
  • Anger management
  • Faith
  • Fearlessness
  • Empathy
  • Constant transformation

Gandhi changed the world and continues to influence people of all generations. He demonstrated that his quest for peace, love, and no violence should be what we all work toward.

6. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart was a child prodigy with an ability to learn and memorize music quickly. His hearing was so sensitive that loud noises could cause him to become physically ill.

Even though he often had violent reactions to overwhelming stimuli and was perceived as “strange,” he was an overall happy person. He was also flexible and innovative.

Mozart’s depth of emotions is expressed in his more than 600 pieces of classical music. Today, he is still one of the greatest composers of all time. That could be at least partially attributed to his HSP traits.

7. Vincent Van Gogh

From a young age, Van Gogh expressed a love of nature. Even though he got good grades in school, he quit at age 13 and never returned. Years later, his attempt to earn a degree in theology was thwarted by his obsession with wandering the countryside.

Then, Van Gogh took up the art of drawing and fell in love with working outdoors. Feeling suffocated by his parents’ concern, he moved to The Hague, where he began painting. Later, after a painful breakup with a romantic partner, Van Gogh retreated to the moors and found peace and comfort in painting the landscape around him.

Van Gogh felt his emotions completely and discovered that too much noise and activity overwhelmed him. Still, he was empathetic to others and hoped to give them comfort by sharing his faith and religion with them.

Van Gogh gave his clothes and belongings to the needy. He felt the pain of the world. His own words said it best: “I don’t know if I’m extremely sensitive or life is unbearable.”

8. Maya Angelou

Angelou was such an empathetic soul that she blamed herself for a man’s death after giving a statement that he had raped her. Then, she went mute from age seven to thirteen.

As a creative, Angelou sought solace in writing and reading poetry and essays. Then, she discovered dance and drama, and she sang. Her emotions flowed effortlessly through her art, no matter what form it took.

Later, Angelou’s passion to help others and correct injustice found its place when she joined the Harlem Writers Guild, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1950s and 60s. She was determined to make a difference.

Angelou’s 1969 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, still helps survivors of abuse worldwide. Her high sensitivity and convictions propelled her inspiration, strength, and courage to unimaginable heights.

9. Frida Kahlo

Kahlo was a fiercely independent intellectual who broke societal norms and fought for truth and meaning. Her paintings demonstrate her dedication to shining light on injustice, human suffering, and breaking barriers.

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Frida Kahlo

When compared to surrealists, she objected. Kahlo insisted that she didn’t paint dreams, but her reality. Her deep emotional connections with the universe fueled her passion to share the truths she understood.

Kahlo’s artwork expresses profound feelings and energy. Her reality moves us to a call to action to do something: to open our eyes to see and feel suffering and end it.

10. Steve Jobs

Jobs was an extremely complicated person. His IQ is thought to have been over 160, but he was exceptionally sensitive and emotional. His moods would swing from being mean, harsh, and snippy to crying at any time.

Jobs was a fierce intellectual and creative with an ability to stay focused and apply self-discipline. He could be a challenge to work with, but his employees loved him and stayed loyal to him.

They connected with Jobs’ sincere emotional sensitivity. Over excitability turned his role as Apple cofounder and owner into a rare and dedicated leader and visionary.

11. Nicole Kidman

Both being an A-list movie star and an ambassador for UNICEF are a result of Kidman’s high sensitivity, brilliant creativity, and intelligence. She admits being highly sensitive and shy from childhood but always wanted to explore boundaries.

Kidman is drawn to acting roles that are on the darker side, weird, or uncomfortable. Because she is so extraordinarily sensitive, she likes to take on the more difficult work.

Then, there is the side of Kidman, who must reach out and help others. Her empathy has led her to do what she can for cancer research, young performing artists, AIDS research, and many other human issues. Kidman explained, “I find trying to solve problems and save lives is far more important than my film career.”

12. Jane Goodall

Goodall’s intuitive personality and passion for nature and animals catapulted her to the top of the list as a famous highly sensitive person. She confessed that her passion to study primates kept her close to the outdoors, where she felt calm and at peace.

With a sharp intellect, attention to minute details, and incredible patience, Goodall became the world’s leading primatologist. She is still greatly admired today.

Goodall’s commitment to making the world a better place for all living beings is why she is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and her Roots & Shoots Program for youth. She is also a UN Messenger of Peace.

13. Glenn Close

After growing up in a cult society and later breaking free, Close became an advocate for mental health awareness. She has heartfelt empathy for those who suffer from it.

She desires to share the message that mental health is simply part of being human. She insists the negative stigma around it must go away so people can get the care they need.

Close is a creative intellectual with eight Oscar nominations during her career. Her highly sensitive and emotional nature drives her work on and off-screen. She claims, “It feeds my soul.”

14. Steve Martin

Martin has an exceptional intellect and a sensitive soul. He holds two doctorates in arts and humanities and co-wrote several of the movies he starred in over the years.

Nonstop creativity, keen wit, and brilliant acting are Martin’s niche. With his talents, he is not only an actor and comedian, but also a playwright, writer, composer, and musician.

Martin’s sensitivities guided him to create the Steve Martin Charitable Foundation. He also works to help people with childhood diabetes, Parkinson’s, hearing loss, hunger, children’s issues, and many other causes.

15. Neil Young

Young is a shy, introverted visionary, creative, and intellectual. He has an extraordinary talent for storytelling through music, yet he also writes poetry, paints, sculpts, and loves photography.

The highly sensitive side of Young moves him to recognize the most subtle things around him. His emotions are easily excited and overwhelmed to the point he rejects rock and roll fame to live a simpler life. He is a classic non-conformist.

Young has a desire to help others, pushing for social change and human rights, fighting injustice, and fighting for the environment. He is a political activist, ordained minister, and advocate for humanitarian aid and the disabled.

16. Barbra Streisand

Streisand is well-known for her demand for control and obsession with noticing the smallest of things. She has a spirited intellect and dedication to perfection. She is often viewed as “difficult” to work with.

Money matters, stocks, real estate, and art are Streisand’s fascinations. While she embraces her worldwide fame and fortune, she also supports charities concerning social equality, women’s rights, civil rights, and environmental issues.

Streisand acknowledges openly that she is most at ease around art. “In some ways, my entire life has been a quest for beauty.”

17. Elton John

Elton John’s childhood years were wrought with dysfunction and fighting between his parents. His escape was to hold up in his bedroom and immerse himself in music and comic books. Art was his refuge.

Later, using his life experiences and emotions to fuel his own music and outrageous costumes led Elton to become a natural superstar. Audiences and fans love his bravery, style, and charismatic personality. Yet, he isn’t shy about shedding a tear.

His enthusiasm for helping others is well-known around the world. In 1992, he founded The Elton John AIDS Foundation, which is now one of the top AIDS organizations in the world. Elton lends a hand to 33 causes and 55 different charities. His heart is as big as they come.

18. Princess Diana

With facial expressions of modesty and empathy, Princess Diana became a famous highly sensitive person. Her humility, compassion, and shyness made her one of the most publicly exalted figures in history.

Diana was fun, charismatic, accessible, and trusted. Her popularity—turned to power—lifted her above the monarchy in that regular, common people from all over the world loved her and felt a strong connection with her.

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Princess Diana

Historic Newspapers UK revealed that privately, Diana felt trapped and had difficulty overcoming her most intense emotions. Her inability to cope manifested into an eating disorder.

Diana fought to believe in herself and compartmentalize work, private life, personal and professional relationships, responsibilities, expectations, and most of all, the media.

Diana’s genuine empathy for humanity can still be seen today in her work with AIDS and HIV charities, cancer awareness and research, banning landmines, ending homelessness and poverty, and mental health awareness. The list of organizations she contributed to is too long to list here.

19. Mayim Bialik

Bialik began acting at age 12 on the sitcom “Beaches.” Looking back on those early days in her career, she admits it is hard for her to watch. She is highly sensitive to how her voice sounded and her awkward movements. Also, she recalls being criticized for being too emotional and too sensitive.

A later character Bialik portrayed, named Blossom, connected deeply with her personality. Bialik feels that Blossom’s high sensitivity to her inner self and ability to look at any situation in depth is identical to hers.

Then, Bialik dedicated 12 years of her life to earning her doctorate in neuroscience at UCLA. Her choice of science was influenced by her yearning to dissect and understand how humans think, communicate, and feel emotions.

Bialik supports charities focused on veganism, cruelty-free sustainability, help for abused and disabled children, and other issues. Her courage to speak openly about her personal challenges endears her to fans and audiences everywhere.

20. Scarlett Johansson

Johansson is one of the world’s most recognizable and revered actors. She also openly confesses to being a highly sensitive person with a lot of anxiety. For instance, when it comes to parenting, her sensitivity arises. Johansson disclosed that when her daughter turned 3 years old, it was like “being in an emotionally abusive relationship.”

The actor compares herself to a “delicate flower” and states that she is so fragile, she cannot entertain the thought of joining social media. Johansson admits that she tried Instagram for three days and dropped it after wasting time absorbing other people's problems.

Johansson has a philanthropic soul. For eight years, she worked hands-on as an overseas Oxfam Ambassador. She helped feed Hurricane Katrina survivors, works with AIDS patients, donates shoes all over the world, and participates in many other charities.

Final Thoughts on Famous Highly Sensitive Persons

In a complicated world, highly sensitive people keep the balance with empathy, peace, and love. So if you are an HSP, thank you. You are a bright shining light that grounds us and brings us all to remember the things that really matter.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, tired, and anxious… remember to take care of yourself. You’re only human. It is incredibly important to relieve stress and do something nice for yourself in order to keep functioning at your highest level.

Need some help letting loose? Check out 55 Self-Care Day Ideas to Focus on Yourself for neat ways to treat your beautiful soul.

And if you're looking for more resources on famous people with different personality types, be sure to check out these blog posts:

Finally, if you want to identify YOUR personality type, then take one of these 11 personality tests to better understand what makes you tick.

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