What are you reading right now?
What do you think of it?
Why did you chose it?
This past year, I’ve been reading books about personality types that potentially describe me. For that reason, I expected to like The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron better than I did. When Aron focused on the psychology behind highly sensitive people, I found myself bogged down by the theories. The subtitle of Aron’s book is “How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.” When Aron instead offered practical tips of how to adapt or thrive as a sensitive person, then I better appreciated her insights.
In her preface, Aron writes that, “What matters most, however, is that I am HSP like you. I am definitely not writing from on high, aiming to help you, poor soul, overcome your syndrome.” The irony is that one of my problems with her first few chapters is that Aron tries too hard to convince readers that being highly-sensitive is perfectly normal. By stressing how highly-sensitive people are not fearful, shy, introverted, or any of those apparently negative traits, I actually began to wonder what exactly we are. By stressing how special but also misunderstood our trait makes us, I begin to wonder if maybe we are a little abnormal. By stressing how culture does NOT view highly-sensitive people in an objective way, I begin to wonder if I too should feel biased against this trait.
Aron follows-up in subsequent chapters by stating that it doesn’t matter whether we know if we grew up sensitive. Instead what matters is “that it is your trait now”. Yet her first few chapters are so full of psychological principles, it’s hard to dismiss the impact of our upbringing on who we are today. After all, she notes that there are typical signs of highly-sensitive babies: Were you difficult about being dressed, put into water at bath time, trying new foods, or noise? In general, did changes prove a challenge to you? If so, you were probably highly-sensitive and needed a certain reaction from your parents to grow up unscathed. Aron even suggests that as one reads her various profiles of childhood, one might experience an emotional response. Memories might return that cause unease, to the point that one should write them down and analyze them.
After the first few chapters, Aron follows a chronological path. She discusses how one can reframe their youth, handle social relationships, thrive at work, and develop deep relationships. Here is where I found myself feeling more comforted, more reassured, and more awake. One can reframe their youth, which might have included a lot of avoidance of new situations, by teaching oneself to slowly become more comfortable with change. This might mean starting with what is safe, asking the support of a friend as one ventures into the unknown, accepting that one will feel uncertain, allowing ways to retreat, and being proud of whatever progress one makes. One can also better handle social skills, instead of slipping into shyness or introversion. In doing so, however, one should recognize one’s own strengths: talking seriously, listening well, and allowing silences. One can thrive at work too. Here, Aron shares from personal examples of how she found ways to live out her passions, without having to take on duties that required being extra stress or arousal. Finally, one can develop deep relationships. Highly-sensitive people will need to recognize that their arousal levels will vary from others as will need for alone time and time-outs during conflicts. At the time, they often bring to the table positive thoughts and reflective listening.
Years ago, my husband started me on the path of enjoying the music by Jewel. In particular, he turned me onto her song, “I’m Sensitive.” He felt it described me. The Highly Sensitive Person didn’t completely convince me that I should embrace my sensitive side, but it did successfully offer me lots of ideas of how to make the most of my particular personality.