Title: The Highly Sensitive Person. How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You
Author: Elaine N Aron
Category: Non-fiction, Psychology, Self-help
10-word summary: Highly Sensitive People are more aware and sometimes easily overstimulated.
About The Highly Sensitive Person
This is a book that explains what it means to be a highly sensitive person, how this affects your life and how to manage situations that can overwhelm you. The author, a highly sensitive person herself, uses the little research studies that seem to address this, her experience as a therapist and her personal experience to write about a characteristic that is under-researched and little known.
The book is very accessible and can be very useful for the people who are highly sensitive. Understanding how this sensitivity affects you will surely lead to more self-compassion, an increased self-awareness and can increase your self-confidence. But the book can be read by anyone since understanding the highly sensitive people in our lives will help us be more empathetic and develop better relations with them.
Lessons from The Highly Sensitive Person
The brain of a highly sensitive person works differently
It seems that this high sensitivity is partly genetic or inherited and it affects the way the brain works. An HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) is much more receptive to all kinds of stimuli such as sound, light, the emotions of other people and more. Because HSP notice much more about themselves, others and the environment, they can easily get overstimulated. As a result, they may need to spend time alone, in a cozy room, to recover after certain events or activities.
HSP have many qualities, but also more challenges
According to the author, HSP have some great qualities. They are often more aware of themselves and more in tune with their feelings, they have high emotional intelligence and can detect how others are feeling, what their intentions are and more. They are also great thinkers, who think about the world in a deeper way and have a rich inner world. Because of this, they are great conversation partners.
But because HSP are more aware of all these things, they can easily get overstimulated. When this happens, they may be more irritable and tired. Some circumstances or events that are normal for non-HSP may be too much for an HSP person. This does not mean that HSP are weak, or inferior – it simply means that their brains work in a different way. And since they notice so much more than others, it is understandable that they feel overwhelmed sometimes. So HSP need to make time for selfcare to relax and recover.
What I like about The Highly Sensitive Person
1. It helps you understand what makes HSP different
There are a few things that make highly sensitive people different. Basically, they are more sensitive to several things: noises, sounds smells, caffeine, people’s feelings, art and more. These sensitivities can sometimes make people’s lives more challenging, but also richer and more profound.
If you are an HSP, reading this book will help you better understand yourself. It will also help you be more self-compassionate because you realize how challenging or stressful some situations are. So reading this book can help you become more self-aware, less ashamed and more prepared to handle challenging situations.
In case you didn’t know that you were an HSP, this book will be even more useful and eye-opening. This has been my experience. I heard about HSP once or twice before, but I had no idea what this meant. But reading this book I felt understood and normal and accepted. It helped me accept my sensitive nature and be more patient with my highly sensitive brain. It also made me appreciate all the good things my sensitivity is responsible for, such as my penchant for introspection, my desire for depth and meaning, my ability to read people and more!
2. It is partly based on scientific studies and cases from therapy
Aron stated that there is little research on highly sensitive people. But she still draws on some studies that seem to match her definition of HSP, even if they use different terms (such as introverts).
She also uses information she gathered in therapy from the patients that seemed to fit her description of HSP. And, being an HSP herself, she could also draw on her own experience.
She used the little information she had available and expressed her hope that more research would be conducted in the future.
3. It offers some useful advice
I think in the case of self-help books like this one, some advice from a person with expertise can be incredibly useful. While the book does not share a lot of practical advice, the author does include some suggestions throughout the book. For example, she gives a list of things we can do when we are hyper stimulated, such as taking a break, going for a walk, focusing on your breath. Most of the advice is not revolutionary, but it can still help to have it included in this book.
4. It made realize and appreciate the good parts of being an HSP
This book made me realize that my high sensitivity may be a challenge, but it also has its upside. To name a few positive aspects of being an HSP, we tend to be more aware of our feelings and experiences, we are more aware of what other people experience, we have a rich inner world, we are prone to introspection and more. All these things can be a powerful advantage – if we learn how to make the most of them.
What I don’t like about The Highly Sensitive Person
1. The book could have been shorter
The book has about 400 pages and I think it could easily be compressed into about half that length. Like many other self-help books, this one includes many stories and examples that can be useful, but often unnecessary. I would have like to read fewer examples, especially when they are easy to understand or do not add anything new.
2. The chapter on spirituality makes me question the author and the entire book
Aron is a psychologist and she wrote a book about highly sensitive people. So naturally, I expected this book to be about HSP from the point of view of a psychologist and therapist that uses science and examples from therapy to help us understand what it means to be an HSP.
But the book also includes a chapter on souls and spirituality that made me almost regret I read this book. Let’s get this straight – I do not think we have souls. I am not religious and I don’t think there is a God watching over us. But other people can believe whatever they want. The problem is when a book that is supposed to be scientific also talks about souls.
She talks about people who had paranormal experiences, were visited by ghosts and so on. She tells us that the real power comes from our souls. Well, I do not expect this from a psychologist. At least, not when she addresses this as if were the truth. I am always skeptical of people who believe in God and souls simply because it was never proven that both are real. So I expect that people explore these topics on their own, but not in a book that is about a different topic and that claims to rely on science. I did not buy a book about religion, so I don’t want to read about religion – unless it is a addressed from a scientific point of view which was not the case.
3. The book does not prove or clarify the difference between HSP and introverts
The author claims that being an HSP is different from being an introvert (or a shy person). However, I think there is an overlap between these – at least in some cases. For example, according to Susan Cain, introverts also have a brain that is more receptive, introverted people also have deep, meaningful inner lives and need to spend time alone to recover after being around people. To me, this sounds like an HSP.
But Aron claims being an HSP is different – even if she also used information from research that is mainly about introverts or shy people. Granted, this may be due to the fact that there is very little research on HSP. But, if these two are indeed different concepts, then the research on introverts should not apply to HSP. Otherwise, this means that the difference between them is not that clear. So far, I think that Aron did not explain or prove that being an HSP is very different from being an introvert.
4. She thinks other researchers judge HSP wrongly just because they are not HSP
At one point the author claims that HSP may appear less happy to other. And because of the different nature of HSP, she thinks that researches judge HSP inaccurately and in a more negative light than they deserve because a non-HSP cannot understand HSP. Well, I do understand what she means that others can wrongly judge us as being less happy or inferior because they judge us based on appearance. But I doubt that researchers would make this mistake. At least, I would be very surprised to hear that all the researchers who study HSP fall into this trap of judging HSP only from their limited perspective.
Quotes from The Highly Sensitive Person
“You were born to be among the advisors and thinkers, the spiritual and moral leaders for your society. There is every reason for pride.”
“Everyone has a limit as to how much information or stimulation can be taken in before getting overloaded, overstimulated, overaroused, overwhelmed, and just over! We simply reach that point sooner than others. Fortunately, as soon as we get some downtime we recover nicely.”
“As I have emphasized, HSPs are prone to low self-esteem because they are not their culture’s ideal.”
“There is a common misunderstanding that emotions cause us to think illogically. But recent scientific thinking, reviewed by psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues, has placed emotion at the center of wisdom. One reason is that most emotion is felt after an event, which apparently serves to help us remember what happened and learn from it. The more upset we are by a mistake, the more we think about it and will be able to avoid it the next time. The more delighted we are by a success, the more we think and talk about it and how we did it, causing us to be more likely to be able to repeat it.”
Should You Read The Highly Sensitive Person?
If you are an HSP, you should definitely read this book. It will help you better understand yourself, accept your nature and learn how to deal with some stressful situations. It can also be useful and eye-opening if you have HSP in your life, at work or simply if you want to better understand how different people work.
Also, perhaps you should read this book even if you are not an HSP because it will help you better understand the people who are. This will allow you to appreciate them more and learn how to create meaningful, high-quality relationships with them.