People who are highly sensitive often feel different, alone, or like there’s something wrong with them. In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Elaine Aron reassures highly sensitive people that they are in fact different, but not lacking or flawed.
15-20% of the population is born with a highly sensitive nervous system that presents certain challenges and certain strengths. Aron points out that being a highly sensitive person (HSP) isn’t inherently “bad”.
I found her information about the cultural preference for certain temperaments helpful. If you grew up as an HSP in the United States, you know that our culture doesn’t value highly sensitive traits, while countries like China and Sweden do. As such, sensitive children grow up feeling out of place, misunderstood, and criticized. They’re often told to stop crying, toughen up, or not take things so personally.
The Highly Sensitive Person affirms that HSPs have many valuable qualities such as intuition, deep concentration, conscientiousness, accuracy, and greater awareness of surroundings and attention to detail.
Aron provides practical ideas for managing the inevitable overstimulation of being an HSP. She assures readers that as they understand themselves and honor their needs they can cope by taking more time alone, resting, or avoiding overscheduling and overstimulating situations.
I loved the chapter on being shy. It really changed my ideas about shyness. Dr. Aron differentiates shyness from sensitivity. I honestly had never given this a whole lot of thought. I was always told I was shy as a child and I just accepted it (and felt bad about it. Being shy definitely felt like a flaw and something I was supposed to “get over”. Dr. Aron helped me understand that shyness is a fear of being rejected, which is quite different than being sensitive or introverted. I had to reconsider whether I actually am shy or whether I’m a just an introverted HSP.
She also has excellent chapters on navigating work situations and romantic relationships. One challenge in close relationships is negotiating differing needs or tolerances for stimulation and activity. Aron is correct that HSPs and their partners/families have to do a balancing act between meeting the conflicting needs of both parties. She writes: “I think the HSP has to take charge in these situations in order not to have anyone else to blame later. After all, you are the one who knows best how you are feeling and what you can enjoy.” (page 154) This rang especially true for me and applies to many situations. We need to take responsibility for knowing what we need and asking for it. We can’t expect others to know what’s best for us.
The last few chapters deal with healing deeper wounds. As a therapist, I appreciate Aron’s emphasis on the value of psychotherapy. However, it’s probably more detail than most readers need.
In my opinion, The Highly Sensitive Person is a must-read for anyone who is or loves an HSP. I think you’ll find new, more positive ways, to think about HSPs, strategies for coping, and affirmation that HSPs have many important and valuable contributions to make.
For more information:
Dr. Elaine Aron’s website.
Dr. Aron has written number of other books for highly sensitive people including:
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©2016 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All Rights Reserved.