I recently read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. She highlights how those who are naturally quieter than the extraverts are often overlooked and not valued, despite the tremendous contributions these people have made in the past (think Dale Carnegie, Al Gore, and Gandhi), and can make in the future.
In her work, Cain draws from the research of Elaine Aron, PhD, author of The Highly Sensitive Person. It makes sense that someone who is introverted might also be highly sensitive. High sensitivity can also be a part of many mental illnesses, including depression, bipolar disorder, the anxiety disorders, and borderline personality disorder, just to name a few.
Do you have a highly sensitive partner? The following information may be insightful for you in better understanding their experience of everyday life.
According to Aron, people who are highly sensitive may have some or all the following traits:
- Affected by the moods of others
- Startle easily
- Easily overwhelmed by stimulation, whether that is noise, bright lights, bright colors, or strong smells
- Very conscientious
- Uncomfortable being observed or evaluated
- Needs frequent “down time” or time to recharge after being around others
- Highly creative
- Have a rich inner life, are very spiritual, and have vivid dreams
Aron developed a test for people to assess whether they might be highly sensitive, which can be found here. She notes that men may score lower than women, but still be considered highly sensitive. (Ted Zeff, PhD, also wrote several books on the topic of high sensitivity, including The Strong, Sensitive Boy: Help Your Son Become a Happy, Confident Man.)
Since research has indicated that only 20% of the population is introverted, your partner may feel misunderstood by a world that is so loud and so busy. If you yourself are extraverted, this can cause discord when you are frequently raring to go and you can’t figure out why your partner isn’t as enthusiastic.
Some tips for valuing your HSP (Highly Sensitive Partner):
- Be respectful of their need to have time alone
- Understand and allow for extra time for your partner to get things done
- Assess your living environment and look for ways to make it less stimulating, such as changing the colors to something more soothing, turning tvs and radios down or off, and dimming lighting
- Encourage your partner to spend time in nature, which can be very soothing for HSPs
- Be supportive of regular meal and bedtimes, both of which help your HSP maintain their equilibrium
- If you and your partner are doing something social—attending a concert or party, for example—be mindful of the limits of your partner’s comfort and allow your partner to have time alone once you leave
This blog post is aimed at HSPs, but can be informative for you as a partner as well: Top 10 Survival Tips for the Highly Sensitive Person