The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. Highly recommended.
There is no end to the ways in which human personality types can be categorised. According to Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., one of these categories, comprising about 15–20 percent of humanity, is the “highly sensitive person.” HSPs are individuals whose threshold for overarousal, physical or emotional, is lower than that of non-HSPs, although it falls along a scale. HSPs may be labeled “shy” or “avoidant” in school or society, when in fact they are really just trying to avoid the stress of overarousal. Aron is quick to point out that, while most HSPs are introverts, many are indeed extroverts. HSPs do not necessarily have better hearing, sense of smell, vision, etc., but their brains seem to process such incoming information at a different level. To a non-HSP, a rock concert or a casino is a loud, fun, exciting place to be. For an HSP, it is a loud, overwhelming, exhausting one that may require hours of aloneness and quiet to overcome the overarousal. According to Aron, the concept of the HSP is not mere psychobabble, but based on both psychological and physiological studies.
In American culture, and indeed in most Western cultures, HSP traits are generally seen as negative (hence, words like “shy,” “withdrawn,” “avoidant,” “inhibited”). Aron notes, however, that, in some cultures, HSPs are highly respected — in China, for example. HSP traits are neither bad nor good, but they have their positive and negative elements. While non-HSPs are warrior-kings, quick to make decisions and necessary to lead and act when such decisiveness and action are essential, HSPs are the the priests-judges-advisers, the more thoughtful group that “often act[s] to check the impulses of the warrior-kings.” Both clearly have an important role.
The Highly Sensitive Person defines the traits (with a self-assessment); asks you to accept yourself and your traits (or your HSP friends and theirs if you are a non-HSP); discusses childhood and provides guidelines for reframing experiences now that you understand your trait; and talks about such things as health, lifestyle, social relationships, work, love and sex, medicine and medication, and spirituality, with advice on how to avoid overarousal, especially unhealthy (physically and emotionally) long-term overarousal. The message is that HSPs are valuable and have a great deal to contribute to a non-HSP world that doesn’t understand us, doesn’t always value us, and sometimes is downright hostile toward us (“scaredy-cat” is something more than one HSP child has heard).
The Highly Sensitive Person is an attempt to help us understand what we need to do to find our optimal level of arousal (which is unique to the individual); manage unhealthy overarousal; and educate our family, friends, lovers, employers, teachers, physicians, etc., about our trait. It is also designed to assist non-HSPs understand their HSP friends and acquaintances. To me, it explained a lot about myself that I didn’t realise I share with others (a heightened sensitivity to loud or repetitive noises that don’t bother others, for example, and a tendency to find social events draining). There are no doubt some who would dismiss this all as self-help psychobabble — but for the HSP, this is invaluable self-help psychobabble. Highly recommended. Companion books are The Highly Sensitive Person Workbook and The Highly Sensitive Person in Love.
6 January 2002
Copyright © Diane L. Schirf