We love genius in all its forms. And we are, as a species, often selfish, short-sighted, and without boundaries when it comes to it. We want the products of that genius – quickly, consistently, perfectly. But we too often fail to acknowledge the source — and price — of that genius.

We gravitate toward famous Highly Sensitive People, usually for what they do, with little to no regard for who they are. 

With or without fame, fortune, or genius-level intelligence and talent, Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) intrinsically know they are somehow different. The High Sensitivity (HS) that defines their neurological makeup from birth steers them in the direction of supreme qualities like creativity, empathy, and intuition. 

Most will fall under the world’s radar. They are, after all, part of a small-but-significant slice of humanity. And our fast-paced, competitive society doesn’t leave much room for understanding, let alone embracing, people who live outside the bell curve.

But there are those we welcome for no other reason than they are famous. Highly Sensitive People are often as unaware of their unique trait as are those who want the benefit of their gifts. 

Inventors, explorers, artists, musicians, thespians, poets, mediums, and mystics.

While we can’t simply paint them with a broad brush of presumption, there’s a good chance you will find High Sensitivity at their core.

Generalize this non-general group into an umbrella characterization of “creative,” and you may come close to a touchstone for understanding HSPs.

If we are more content to believe that everything seeks balance, then balance for the creative will come at a high price

The ability to see beauty, joy, and complex patterns where the less creative, less sensitive don’t has an equally extreme dark side. 

Highly sensitive artists, regardless of medium, are especially vulnerable to darkness and sorrow.

They are, therefore, prone to shyness, isolation, and depression, especially if they aren’t embraced for who they are by their family and/or community.

In the realm of famous Highly Sensitive People, no one represented this often invisible dichotomy more so than the late Robin Williams

What made him incomparable as a comic – and even as a serious actor – was also his neutron star. 

Williams was as deeply rooted in awareness of the human condition as he was expansive in expressing it. But this gift, this seemingly effortless way of connecting to people who can’t even connect to themselves, is weighty.

No one can give levity and approachability to darkness without spending a lot of time in it.

When it comes to the connection between creativity and HS, author Pearl S. Buck sums it up perfectly: 

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. 

Bottom line: Famous Highly Sensitive People become famous because of how they embrace and express their High Sensitivity – even if they are unaware of the trait.

Making the most of High Sensitivity depends on keeping the inherent strengths of HS at the helm. Only then can the many advantages of HS prevail.

(Not sure if you’re an HSP? Take this quiz to find out.)

The HSP who lives true to the special gifts — and needs — of High Sensitivity can live a life rich with meaning, depth, and pleasure. 

The HS trait offers exceptionality.

HSPs’ finely tuned nervous systems make them “a natural” in their respective fields.

Not inclined to seek fame for fame’s sake, Highly Sensitive People become famous merely by their commitment to their craft, whatever that may be. Their hard wiring predisposes them to be super-creative, diligent, and empathic. In Pearl Buck’s words, “inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that is where I renew my springs that never dry up.”

HSPs are often poets, writers, musicians, teachers, doctors, healers, lawyers, scientists, artists, and/or philosophers.

Famous Highly Sensitive People

Here’s a list of 20 famous Highly Sensitive People, all of whom have achieved global recognition for excellence in their fields:

  1. Abraham Lincoln 
  2. Jane Goodall
  3. Princess Diana
  4. Katherine Hepburn
  5. Martin Luther King Jr.
  6. Albert Einstein
  7. Glenn Close
  8. Steve Martin
  9. Eleanor Roosevelt
  10. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  11. Robert Frost
  12. Emily Dickinson
  13. Frank Lloyd Wright
  14. Ansel Adams
  15. Frida Kahlo
  16. Barbra Streisand
  17. Mozart
  18. Neil Young
  19. Alanis Morisette
  20. Elton John. 

The Gifts of Highly Sensitive People

HSPs absorb and ponder information more deeply. They’re detail-oriented and attentive to nuance. They notice things others may miss. 

The primatologist Jane Goodall is a great example of a famous HSP.

In 1960, at the age of 26, Jane Goodall traveled to what is now Tanzania and began exploring the little-known world of chimpanzees. 

She entered their world as a neighbor/participant rather than as an observer. 

In her words, “A sense of calm came over me. More and more often I found myself thinking this is where I belong. This is what I came into this world to do.”

To enter into the wild chimpanzees’ world and collect data required attention to detail, a keen interest in her subjects (chimps), and a passion for pursuing meaning in ways that she believed were important.

The famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright  represents the HSP prototype.

Wright’s philosophy of “organic architecture,” i.e. that buildings should develop out of natural surroundings, was novel. 

He rebelled against tradition and classic architecture with his innovative style. His precast concrete blocks, for example, are now a signature accolade in his voluminous portfolio of (then) new techniques. 

In addition to architecture, Wright spent much of his time writing and teaching.

HSPs yearn for deep connection. With incredible intuition, they live according to their gut feeling.

Take, for instance, Princess Diana of Wales.

The world remembers her as deeply caring, selfless, humble despite her fame, and introspective while thoughtfully expressive. 

Once you understand HS, you can’t help but see Princess Diana in its context and light. So many of her memorable qualities are also HSP qualities. 

For example, she often wrote thank-you cards to anyone who gave her a gift, including the thousands who brought gifts to Prince William after his birth. Another example of the Princess’s influence came in 1987 when she shook hands with an HIV patient. The impact of that moment wasn’t as much the handshake as the absence of protective gloves 

The singular photo of that interaction promoted global HIV awareness and educated the public about AIDS and the human beings who had it. 

Princess Diana was a person who appreciated humanity. “I’d like to be queen of people’s hearts — in people’s hearts — but I don’t see myself being Queen of this country,” she said during a 1995 interview. 

HSPs help people because they understand people’s needs. They feel others’ feelings and needs.

Because HSPs can read people well, they naturally catch indicators of deception through body language, rate of speech, or type of eye contact.

Princess Diana may even have anticipated her own death. 

In a handwritten note to her butler in October 1993, she wrote, “My husband is planning ‘an accident’ in my car, brake failure and serious head injury in order to make the path clear for him to marry [Camilla].”

HSPs tend not to like anything that is ‘extra’ – including large groups of people, bright lights, odors, and noise.

HSPs tend to be drawn to nature. That’s because nature provides them with a spiritual resonance that defies words. 

For the poet and HSP Ralph Waldo Emerson, nature represented the divine. It provided insight into the laws of the universe.

A 2002 Smithsonian article described Emerson as having “a gift … a confident exuberance, accepting the tragic aspect of life, but also full of hope and belief; capable of a genial irony but devoid of cynicism and academic intellectual vanity.”

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” is one of many famous Emerson quotes that illuminate the visionary that he was.

For those who don’t understand, High Sensitivity can be deemed a weakness, fault, or problem. 

Mistaking the HS trait for something else is common. The ‘something else’ usually takes the form of introversion, high emotionality, standoffishness, insecurity, apprehension, neurosis, or depression.

Emily Dickinson, the great American Poet, is a fantastic example of a famous HSP.

Dickinson spent the last 20 or so years of her life in isolation, rarely leaving the house. She may have preferred solitude so she could focus on her inner world.  

The death of her mother, favorite nephew, and several close friends increased her preference for solitude and heightened her “nervous disposition.” 

Highly Sensitive people think and feel deeply. 

Emily Dickinson mourned the death of family and friends deeply and for the rest of her life. She was a prolific poet who wrote over 1800 poems in her 56 years of life. 

Ironically, she published only 10 during her lifetime.

This poem about hope highlights many of Dickinson’s HSP qualities, including creativity, deep empathy, intuition, and a beautiful way with words.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

(yet) never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

… sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

Emily Dickinson

HSPs are natural leaders, trendsetters, and truth tellers. When they embrace their strengths, their talents shine. 

And that shine is not driven by pursuit of fame, but by pursuit of expression.

Dr Elayne Daniels is an international coach and private-practice psychologist. Her specialties include eating disorder recovery, body image, and helping Highly Sensitive People thrive. Contact her here for more information. Read more of her blog articles here.