Summary of “The Highly Sensitive Person – How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You”: by addressing hypersensitivity beyond the negative stereotypes, author of this book helps highly sensitive people to turn this character trait into an asset in their personal and professional life.
By Elaine N. Aron, 2017, 384 pages
Chronicle and summary of “The Highly Sensitive Person – How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You“
Between 15% and 20% of the population has a sensitive nervous system, which represents about one in five people.
There are advantages and disadvantages to being sensitive:
- It helps to discern the subtleties of one’s environment.
- However, it also leads to being easily overwhelmed in an extremely stimulating environment, bombarded by noise and visual effects.
- Another disadvantage: our culture does not consider sensitivity as an asset.
The book’s objectives
To write this book, Elaine N. Aron, the author, explains that she has gone through five years of research, in-depth interviews, clinical experiments, seminars and individual consultations. Also, the fruit of her work, which is in this book, focuses on:
- The fundamental characteristics of sensitivity: it explains how to learn to live with over stimulation and over activation of the nervous system.
- The effects that sensitivity has on one’s life, career, relationships and inner life: she provides information on the benefits and obstacles that highly sensitive people often face, such as shyness or difficulty finding the right job.
The author claims that the content of this book has changed the lives of most of the highly sensitive people that she has tried to help. Therefore, she encourages the highly sensitive readers to follow the approach she proposes in the book and to make the most of it.
The approach that the author proposes
The approach is defined by:
It is about fully understanding who you are, as a highly sensitive person, and what it means.
The highly sensitive person is called upon to “reframe” a large part of their past knowing that they were born highly sensitive. Thus, by understanding his/her experience in a new context, the highly sensitive person can build their self-esteem. To carry this out, the author offers exercises throughout the book.
Healing and finding one’s place in the new world:
The author explains the different methods of healing one’s deepest wounds.
Other points discussed in the book
In this book, the author also addresses:
- The influence that your sensitivity has on your relations.
- Psychotherapy (the types of highly sensitive people, what type of psychotherapy, why, with whom, what treatments).
- Medicine for the highly sensitive.
- The richness of a highly sensitive person’s inner life.
The author herself is highly sensitive
Author Elaine N. Aron is a person who describes herself as being very sensitive. Therefore, she says she knows intimately the advantages and disadvantages of this trait. From her childhood as a highly sensitive child to the psycho-therapeutic treatment she decides to follow, the author recounts here her own experience of hypersensitivity.
Elaine N. Aron states that by understanding her sensitivity, she has transformed her life. This is also why she directly addresses, in her book, highly sensitive people, but also recommends it to anyone who would like to understand a highly sensitive person.
At the end of the introduction, a questionnaire is given to determine whether one can be described as highly sensitive.
Chapter 1: A Highly Sensitive Person Is Someone Who Believes, Wrongly, To Be Flawed
1.1 – The highly sensitive person: different from others and deeply misunderstood
Elaine N. Aron characterizes the highly sensitive as being people:
- Able to feel degrees of stimulation, nuances, that others don’t notice, such as lights, sounds, physical sensations (pain for example).
- Who tolerate much less than those around them.
- Who think more about everything around them and sorts the data.
Thus, this increased awareness of the subtle world makes highly sensitive people intuitive beings:
Very often, we “know” without understanding why or how.
However, when the degree of stimulation becomes too high, it is a real disadvantage for highly sensitive people.
In fact, Elaine N. Aron explains that what is extremely stimulating for most people causes, in a highly sensitive person, a brutal reaction: a shutdown point called “trans-marginal inhibition”.
1.2 – Stimulation
- Is a phenomenon that awakens the nervous system, catches its attention, causes the nerves to send small electric shocks.
- May be caused by external circumstances as well as from inside the body.
- Varies in intensity and duration.
Several types of circumstances, whether you are aware or not, can then activate the nervous system. In this regard, the author clarifies two points:
- The activation of the nervous system and fear must not be confused.
- Activation is a phenomenon that everyone is familiar with (just like stress), even if its manifestations vary from one individual to another.
1.3 – Differences between highly sensitive people and others
There are many differences between highly sensitive and less sensitive people. The author contends that the mind of a highly sensitive person does not work like that of others.
So, most highly sensitive people are:
- More skilled than others in perceiving errors and avoiding them.
- Extremely conscientious.
- Able to concéntrate deeply.
- Especially good at tasks that require alertness, accuracy or speed.
- Able to process data at deeper levels than “semantic memory”.
- Constantly in a process of learning without them realizing it.
- Deeply affected by the mood and emotions of others.
The body of a highly sensitive person also presents different reactions. These include:
- Making a lot of subtle motor movements.
- Easily keeping still.
- Getting up early (but there are many exceptions).
- Being more affected by stimulants(unless used to them) than others are (caffeine, for example).
- Using more of the right hemisphere of the brain (less linear, more creative, capable of synthesis).
- Being more sensitive to particles in the air (Ex: hay fever, skin allergies).
- Requiring more time to calm down after reacting to intense stimuli.
1.4 – Hypersensitivity and heredity
According to the author, hypersensitivity is, in most cases, hereditary. However, like most hereditary characteristics, it can be enhanced or, on the contrary, decreased, even produced or eliminated by experience.
1.5 – Hypersensitivity doesn’t correspond to the ideal of our culture
Ignorance is the mother of all words.
Elaine N. Aron teaches us in this book to consider hypersensitivity as a simple characteristic, neither positive nor negative, useful in some situations, detrimental in others. Nevertheless, our culture does not consider any trait as neutral.
To illustrate her point, the author discusses a study (by Xinyin Chen and Kenneth Rubin of the University of Waterloo in Ontario and Yuerong Sun of Shanghai Teachers University) that compared 480 Chinese schoolchildren with 296 schoolchildren in Canada. The purpose of this study was to determine the traits most valued by their peers. The results show how hypersensitivity is interpreted negatively in Western culture:
In China, it was the “shy” and “sensitive” children that the others were looking for as friends or playmates (in Mandarin, to describe someone as “shy” or “reserved”, they use a word that means “Good” or “well-mannered” […]. In Canada, shy and sensitive children were the least sought after.
Elaine N. Aron points out that even many psychologists are biased when it comes to this trait.
Thus, the author believes it is the distress of not corresponding to the ideal of our culture that has a bearing on the personality of highly sensitive people.
It’s not just the way others have treated you that has impacted your personality; think about how you treated yourself as well.
1.6 – Royal advisors and warrior kings
The most enduring and successful Indo-European cultures have always appealed to two dominant classes: warrior kings and priests. The power of the former was counterbalanced by the wisdom of the latter, who served as their advisors.
Thus, warrior kings are driven by expansion, freedom, fame.
For this bellicose society to survive, it will always need the second dominant category of priest-judges-advisers, which provides a counterweight to kings and warriors.
These priest-judges-advisors represent a group of more thoughtful people, who curb the impulsive actions of the warrior kings. They are often respected for their foresight and for their well-founded judgment (advisors, historians, teachers, scholars or judges).
In our society, it is highly sensitive people who often play the role of advisors, thinkers, moral or spiritual leaders of our society.
Chapter 2 – The Onset of Hypersensitivity
2.1 – Highly sensitive people are a distinct breed
Research by Jerome Kagan, a Harvard psychologist, and Elaine N. Aron’s research suggest two things in common:
- It is possible to observe hypersensitivity from birth: sensitive children have an innate tendency to react more strongly to external stimuli.
- Although they are obviously part of the human species, “highly sensitive” or “inhibited” people form a genetically distinct “breed”.
2.2 – The two systems of the brain
Many researchers think that the brain contains two systems. In fact, according to them, it’s the balance of these two systems that creates sensitivity.
The system of “behavioral activation”, or of “approach”, or of “facilitation”
This system is connected to the parts of the brain that receive messages from the senses and transmits the order to activate to the limbs. It takes us towards new situations, encourages us to go in search of the good things in life (fresh food, companionship). It’s the source of curiosity, audacity, impulsiveness.
The behavioral inhibition, or withdrawal, system
This system keeps us away from new situations. It makes us aware of the danger, puts us on alert. It causes us to distrust and observe clues. This system is attached to the more active parts of the brain in inhibited people.
2.3 – The different types of activation
Short-term activation results in symptoms that are easy to analyze: accelerated heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating, dilated pupils, and adrenaline production.
There is another type of fast activation, essentially regulated by hormones: cortisol.
Through several interesting examples and the studies of specialists, Jerome Kagan, Megan Gunner and Carl Jung, Elaine N. Aron describes to us the glaring differences between highly sensitive and less sensitive people.
Chapter 3 – Health and lifestyle of a Highly Sensitive Person
3.1 – Attachment
The first idea that Elaine N. Aron puts forward is how the bond between the highly sensitive person and their nanny considerably impacts the highly sensitive person’s own body.
To demonstrate this, the author uses an analogy: she considers the body as an infant and compares the most primitive needs of an infant with those of one’s body, that is, affection and protection against over-stimulation.
3.2 – Two types of highly sensitive people: striking the balance
There are two types of incompetent parents:
- Those who protect children too much.
- Those who don’t protect them enough.
It is the same for the highly sensitive. There are:
- Those who overdo it, who over-activate their nervous system by working too much or taking too many risks.
- Those who don’t do enough, who overprotect themselves when they are dying to lead a normal life.
3.3 – Rest
The body of a highly sensitive person needs rest. This can take different forms:
Highly sensitive people have a lot more sleep problems than others. These may include insomnia, difficulty recovering from jet lag, working continuous shifts, working night shifts, etc.
It then becomes necessary for the highly sensitive person to respect their natural rhythm and to sleep as soon as they feel the desire to.
For a highly sensitive person, this may be, for example, reading a good book, gardening, having a quiet meal at home. In any case, these quiet moments will allow the highly sensitive person to relax and think about the day.
This term refers to rising above all things, especially through meditation, contemplation and prayer.
In addition to the rest periods that are necessary for the highly sensitive person’s well-being, it is also essential, according to the author, to monitor one’s diet and to get enough exercise. Thus, she advocates, in particular:
- Foods that calm, deactivate the nervous system and help to sleep.
- Vitamins and minerals that combat stress and over-stimulation.
3.4 – Strategies to calm a state of over-stimulation
Elaine N. Aron suggest different methods to calm a state of over-stimulation:
- Reframing the situation.
- Repeating a sentence, a prayer, a mantra with which you have associated, thanks to meditation, the idea of a deep inner calm.
- Witnessing yourself your over-activation.
- Liking your situation.
- Liking your state of over-activation.
It can change one’s state of mind. If you are already stimulated, you will have to avoid emotional songs or ones that you associate with powerful memories, so you don’t become even more stimulated. The purpose of the music here is to distract us.
- A physical process
- Nature: a walk in the open air, for example, will be deeply calming for many highly sensitive people.
- Listening to one’s breathing.
- Water: watch it, drink it, take a bath.
- A gentle smile.
- Changing one’s posture: trying to mimic the gestures of a calm person in control of the situation.
3.5 – The refuges of our life
There are numerous refuges in our life. They take different forms. A refuge can be:
- Physical: a house, a car, an office, a neighborhood, a cabin, a valley or the top of a mountain, a forest or shore, certain clothes or public places in which one feels at ease, a church, a library.
- Represented by precious beings: our spouse, our children, our brothers or sisters, grandparents, close friends, spiritual guides, psychotherapists, etc.
- Less tangible: work, good memories, the deceased who are still alive in our memory, our deep convictions, our philosophy of life, prayer, meditation.
According to the author, although physical refuges seem to be the safest and most valuable for our bodies, in reality, the others are the most reliable.
As a result, the idea is the following:
Achieving wisdom means, to a large extent, learning to carry over our sense of security from physical refuges to the other ones, the intangible ones. […] It is possible that the greatest wisdom consists in being able to perceive the entire universe as our refuge and our body as a microcosm of this universe without any boundaries. This is the path of enlightenment.
Chapter 4 – Reframing Our Childhood and Adolescence
Elaine N. Aron believes it’s imperative to look back on one’s childhood.
The author gives us, in this chapter, several examples of adults who have learned to interpret their memories differently, in the light of their own sensitivity.
4.1 – Two types of highly sensitive people
There are two types of highly sensitive people:
Those who have never had any problem with anxiety or depression:
It is during our early years that we learn to trust our parents and the rest of the world (or, conversely, to be wary). Therefore, if the experience was positive, the sensitivity of the highly sensitive person has rarely caused them extreme states of stimulation.
Those who have dealt with these kinds of problem:
On the other hand, if the highly sensitive person suffers from anxiety or chronic shyness and is rather asocial, it is probably because experience has taught them that it is better not to trust adults.
Between these two extremes, there are, of course, many nuances.
That said, the author emphasizes that most highly sensitive people have had a happy childhood and have developed a particularly close bond with their parents.
4.2 – Hypersensitivity is perceived differently depending on whether one is a boy or a girl
The problem of sensitive boys
As many boys as girls are born highly sensitive. However, boys are very quickly victims of the stereotypes conveyed by our society and our culture (especially if the child shows meekness at home).
According to Elaine N. Aron, it even seems that mothers love “shy” boys less than others. This reflects, according to researchers, the mother’s value system.
Sensitive girls: a mother’s dream
Unlike boys, shy girls get on well with their mothers. They are considered “good little girls”.
4.3 – Dealing with new situations
Elaine N. Aron lists several useful tips for adults who are apprehensive of new situations:
- To be accompanied by someone.
- To focus on what you’re already familiar with, which poses no threat.
- Allow yourself to go home if you feel like it.
- And to think that the part of yourself that is afraid will be comforted if you give it time to adapt to the new situation.
- Not react in an excessively anxious way remembering that over-stimulation should not be confused with anxiety.
4.4 – The highly sensitive teenager and the beginning of adulthood
Adolescence: an ordeal for the highly sensitive
Adolescence is a delicate age for everyone. […] In general, it is a nightmare for the highly sensitive.
Indeed, a series of new responsibilities is added to the already traumatic biological changes: learning to drive, choosing a school or professional orientation, consuming alcohol or even narcotics, babysitting other people’s children, working as an instructor, having money, experiencing unfamiliar sexual desires, etc.
The teenager, at this time, is under great peer pressure. They feel compelled to be “normal”, to follow others, to make friends, etc.
Moreover, the family atmosphere has a very strong influence among highly sensitive people.
It is the author’s opinion that it’s very beneficial for highly sensitive adults to “reframe” their personal failures from adolescence.
The beginning of adulthood
Later on, depending on whether they are boys or girls, sensitivity manifests itself differently when they become men or women:
- Sensitive boys
They deviate from others in order to take their time to engage in life. For them, sensitivity is a handicap.
- Sensitive girls
They readily follow the path of traditional values without having previously learned to fend for themselves in the outside world. For them, sensitivity is considered “normal”.
Chapter 5 – Social Relationships
5.1 – “Shyness”, also called “avoidance” or “phobia” of social relations
Most people confuse sensitivity and shyness
Shyness is defined by the fear that others do not like us, do not approve of our behavior.
It is a reaction, a state caused by a situation and not a permanent feature. Shyness, even if it’s chronic, is not hereditary, unlike sensitivity.
Thus, although chronic shyness appears especially in the highly sensitive, one does not necessarily lead to the other.
Highly sensitive people must get rid of the idea that they are “shy”
According to Elaine N. Aron, by accepting the idea that you are shy, you will face three pitfalls:
1. This idea is simply not true.
It’s just hypersensitivity. Furthermore, the entourage of a highly sensitive person explains their lack of sociability for various reasons, all wrong, overshadowing the positive aspects of their personality.
2. To call oneself “shy” is to make a negative judgment about oneself.
Indeed, the adjective “shy” has very negative connotations. It conceals a multitude of prejudices.
3. If you think of yourself as being shy, you risk becoming so.
It is useful for highly sensitive people to understand that they aren’t shy, but simply highly sensitive, who may suffer from excessive stimulation.
To summarize, here are three reasons for a highly sensitive person to no longer describe him/herself “shy”: it is a term that is 1) incorrect, 2) negative, and that 3) enables autosuggestion.
5.2 – Strategies to alleviate social discomfort or over stimulation
Social discomfort is almost always caused by over stimulation. It should be noted that over stimulation is not necessarily caused by fear.
To consciously get rid of this feeling of discomfort when the highly sensitive person is in society, the author suggests to:
- Find other highly sensitive people, with whom it is possible to chat one-on-one.
- Use your abilities to reduce stimulation.
- Make yourself a persona (a kind of mask behind which you can be who you want) and put yourself in that place.
- Explain your personality trait to others.
On this last point, it is necessary to know that mentioning one’s hypersensitivity will give two types of images:
- The stereotype of the victim who is passive, weak and troubled.
- The image of being thoughtful, talented, profound, influential.
The reactions will actually depend on many of the words we use to describe ourselves. To get the second reaction, for example, Elaine N. Aron recounts that she surrounds herself with an aura of mystery, that she tries to be an enigmatic character.
5.3 – The highly sensitive introvert
According to studies, 70% of highly sensitive people are “introverted” to 30% extroverts.
The author lists some characteristics of introversion and therefore of the highly sensitive introvert:
- They prefer to have some close friends rather than a wide circle of relationships and do not like loud parties or crowds.
- In social relations, for them, it is quality, rather than quantity, that counts.
- For Carl Jung, introversion has nothing to do with sociability: an introverted being is simply turned inward, toward the subject, toward the Self, rather than outward, towards the object.
- They demonstrate exceptional creativity.
5.4 – How to develop your social skills
The advice on this subject is divided into two categories:
- Advice provided by specialists in extroversion, social relations, sales, personnel management and etiquette: these people talk about learning and not about healing, always in a jovial and often spiritual way, without damaging the highly sensitive person’s self-esteem.
- Advice coming from psychologists specializing in the treatment of shyness: it is about learning to modify one’s behavior through a very complex and well-researched program. It is a very effective method. Nevertheless, it reinforces highly sensitive people’s belief that they suffer from a disability and neglects the positive aspects of their personality trait.
Elaine N. Aron then offers some basic suggestions to highly sensitive people in order to help them. For example, to converse aimlessly, to remember names, to make a request, to sell things, to make a complaint, to manage over stimulation in a group, to express themselves or play in public.
Chapter 6 – Thriving at Work
6.1 – Vocation and hypersensitivity
In fact, the highly sensitive are well-represented in the professions that suit them; in particular: teaching, medicine, law, arts, science, psychotherapy, religion.
Vocation and your individuation
For Elaine N. Aron, everyone must seek that which brings them fulfillment, through a task that suits them perfectly, that calls out to them. In addition, the possibility of practicing this profession is, in the words of the author, one of the great blessings of life.
Regarding the highly sensitive, she says:
Highly sensitive people are effectively made to indulge in work. This means that the purpose of your existence is to pursue your personal vocation.
The vocation of a highly sensitive person who is liberated
Here, Elaine N. Aron explains to us that one of the strategies for earning a living by pursuing your vocation is to find the point of intersection between your greatest pleasure and the greatest need of the outside world. In this way, you are sure to earn a living through a profession that you love.
This is what most highly sensitive people often do in the second half of their lives. This is the path of what the author calls “liberation”:
They [the highly sensitive] end up hearing the inner question, the voices that call out to them, rather than the questions that others ask them to answer.
How to recognize your vocation?
For this, Elaine N. Aron recommends:
- Using the process of elimination: by reducing all possibilities to two or three.
- Listing the advantages and disadvantages for each option.
- Pretending for two or three days to have made a final decision and observe your reaction.
According to her, it’s also possible to find inspiration in the type of career that a highly sensitive person seems to choose.
6.2 – How to make your vocation a profitable job?
In this part, Elaine N. Aron encourages us to follow this advice:
- Get rid of your misconceptions about the vital importance of contacts and relationships in a professional setting:
There are, indeed, other means as effective and much more adapted to the highly sensitive: letters, email, correspondence with a highly social person, lunches with an extrovert colleague who attends all conferences, etc.
- Believe in some of the advantages of hypersensitivity:
Intuition, in particular, makes it possible to analyze trends, to perceive needs or to identify markets with others.
- Choose self-employment:
Highly sensitive people like to be in charge of their schedule. They are stimulated by autonomy and appreciate not having superiors or colleagues.
- Make an effort to remain in tune with your audience or market:
One can accomplish this by, for example, hiring an assistant or an extrovert associate.
6.3 – The various possible vocations
The tormented and passionate artist has become one of the most romantic stereotypes of our culture, having replaced one by one saints, outlaws and explorers.
Almost all highly sensitive people have an artistic side that they love to express. Consequently, they are either artists or they can appreciate the beauty of art.
The highly sensitive are extremely attuned to the suffering of others. Through their intuition, they often guess what is needed to help them. This is why many of them choose to serve humanity.
Sensitive teachers play a vital role in the progress of society and the happiness of individuals. Teaching is a very logical vocation for highly sensitive people who are friendly.
Unfortunately, highly sensitive people are not often in our governments to encourage others to think about the consequences of their actions. According to the author:
We have given in to people who are less sensitive, impulsive and ambitious, who thrive in politics and end up controlling everything.
This is one of the areas in which highly sensitive people are least likely to succeed. Indeed, it is a world of war, conquest and expansion. A highly sensitive person who occupies a position in this world must therefore be on the lookout. The climate can be right for him/her. However, if the tough attitudes, the competition and the insensitivity prevail, he/she will not be comfortable.
6.4 – The highly sensitive who are exceptionally gifted workers
According to Elaine N. Aron, highly sensitive people are gifted by definition.
However, they have a prototype that is even more so: one that could be called the “liberated” highly sensitive person. The latter is, on the one hand, spontaneous, curious, energetic, highly independent, and on the other, is introverted, intuitive, emotional sensitive and a non-conformist.
In this part, the author discusses the difficulties that the gifted highly sensitive person can face when he/she shows superior talent in their workplace:
Their “sacred fire”
Trouble begins when your idea seems more brilliant than your neighbor’s. And yet, the others don’t seem to realize it. If you yield to peer pressure, you will feel betrayed and it will be difficult for you to put all the necessary enthusiasm into the realization of ideas you don’t believe in. On the other hand, if you put up too much of a resistance, your colleagues will become hostile. You will feel misunderstood.
Moreover, even if the work and ideas of the gifted highly sensitive person generates much enthusiasm, sooner or later, people who do not share his/her “sacred fire” (expression of the author), will quickly accuse him/her of to be a workaholic and dependent on work. They will then be angry with him/her for making them look lazy.
Consequently, a good manager needs to know this group dynamic and strive to protect a gifted employee if they want to keep them.
Their unbounded enthusiasm
Indeed, the active mind of the highly sensitive person may lead to other projects even before having completed the previous one, leaving others to reap the fruits of his/her hard work.
Their emotional sensitivity
This can quickly lead them into the private life of others. To avoid problems, he/she must therefore set professional boundaries.
The intuition of a gifted highly sensitive person has almost magical connotations for others. In addition, his/her talent can also give him/her a certain charisma. Others will then want to be guided by him/her. Ultimately, this won’t be helpful.
Therefore, Elaine N. Aron believes the best solution is to:
- Not demonstrate all your talents at work (but rather during your hobbies, through art or for your personal future).
- Rather remain silent and observe others.
- Take on the character of an ordinary person.
6.5 – Ensuring that your sensitivity is valued in the professional sphere
The author’s advice
You can’t convince anyone of your value if you don’t first convince yourself.
So, the author suggests:
- Making a long list of all the possible assets highly sensitive people have.
- Writing a short speech in which you describe your qualities by subtly insisting on sensitivity.
The best for the highly sensitive person is either to ensure his/her own training or to benefit from individual training.
It is rare that the highly sensitive take interest in the sinister plans that take place in offices. Yet, if they are not ambitious, they are considered indifferent or weak.
Therefore, even if these projections are totally unjustified, a highly sensitive person must establish a strategy that could be summarized as follows:
- First, let others know, at the right time, informally or formally, that you are enjoying your time at the company and that you really like your co-workers.
- Then, write a very detailed weekly report of your contribution to the company’s prosperity and of your personal achievements, at work and outside of work. If possible, submit it to your supervisor during evaluations.
Chapter 7 – Intimate Relationships, or Highly Sensitive Lovers
7.1 – The characteristics of love that highly sensitive people share
According to the author’s research, it seems that highly sensitive people:
- Are more often single than the rest of the population.
- Are more inclined to monogamy.
- Give more importance to friendship or family relations than to love.
On the other hand, they have common traits concerning love:
- When highly sensitive people fall in love, it’s for good.
- Highly sensitive people seem slightly more vulnerable to wild and/or uncontrollable passion.
To protect themselves from too intense of a passion, Elaine N. Aron encourages highly sensitive people to maintain contact with the outside world and not to isolate themselves from it. This balance allows, in her view, to remain calm and provides a sense of security.
- Love is sometimes only a projection of one’s spiritual desires on someone else: one will speak more about “divine love” than “human love”.
- Highly sensitive people fall easily in love: stimulation leads to attraction. Since they are more easily stimulated than others, highly sensitive people fall in love more easily, and more deeply.
- It is easier to fall in love when we doubt our personal worth: this is the case after a break-up, for example.
- Pussyfooting: This is a type of behavior that highly sensitive people often adopt to protect themselves. This behavior reflects the difficulty that a highly sensitive person has in striking the balance between distance and closeness in a relationship.
7.2 – The intimate relations between two highly sensitive people
When both partners have similar personalities, they understand each other perfectly. The risks of conflict are therefore minimal, although some may find this type of relationship boring.
Despite this, the author finds a great interest in it:
You could also make it a haven of peace and tranquility from which you can venture to the external or internal world. And when reunited, each will tell his/her adventures or misadventures to the other.
7.3 – Intimate relationships with a person not as sensitive
Allocation of tasks
In general, in this type of situation:
- The less sensitive person takes care of all the tasks likely to cause over-stimulation for the other person.
In this way, it seems that life is more harmonious and that is a win-win for both members of the couple:
One feels supported, the other feels useful. The latter will eventually feel important and this fact will reassure him/her.
- The highly sensitive person takes care of everything in the subtle domain.
The latter has the creative ideas. He/she reflects on the meaning of life and appreciates beauty. In this way, he/she intensifies communication.
The partner who is less sensitive truly needs what the other person provides him/her. He/she considers this to be a very valuable contribution. This makes their connection stronger.
When the optimal degree of activation differs from person to person
This situation creates a heartbreaking dilemma described by Elaine N. Aron during a personal experience:
If I refused to participate in an activity, the others would either call it off as to not make me feel alone (I felt terribly guilty) or would go off and have fun anyway. I felt like I had missed something great.
In this case, Elaine N. Aron recommends that the highly sensitive person take charge of the situation. It’s up to them to weigh the pros and cons and then to make a decision. In this way, if the highly sensitive person makes a mistake, they themselves will suffer the consequences, but at least they will have made the effort of trying. If, on the other hand, he/she feels overstimulated, he/she will choose to remain calm by apologizing kindly and without showing too much regret.
The need for alone time
The highly sensitive person who lives with a less sensitive partner needs even more daily moments of solitude than if he/she lived with another highly sensitive person.
However, it’s likely that:
- This generates a feeling of rejection for the partner.
- The partner wants to spend this time as a couple.
Elaine N. Aron then suggests:
- Explaining to your partner clearly why you want some alone time.
- Striving to listen to him/her, to read his/her feelings.
- Being aware that your partner will certainly appreciate the effort made to keep them company.
The need for a truce during conflict
In this part, the author asks us to respect certain basic rules in the case of arguments (the most stimulating manifestation of communication).
- Avoid insults, bringing up old grievances and misusing information they confided in you during moments of intimacy (but this is already obvious for the author).
- Call a truce, even if it’s only five minutes, an hour, one night. In this way, you don’t retreat but simply postpone the rest of the discussion. For this to work, both parties must accept the idea of this truce.
7.4 – The power of positive meta communications and “reflective” listening
Meta communications is about discussing how you talk or just how you feel in general, except for the present moment.
Positive meta communications help reverse the damage. It lowers arousal and anxiety by reminding those involved that they care for each other.
I know we are in a horrible argument, but I assure you that I want to solve the problem. I care for you and I would be grateful if you could help solve this problem with me.
In fact, the reflective method is simply listening to the other, especially when he/she externalizes his/her feelings.
- Asking questions.
- Giving advice.
- Bring up your own similar experiences.
- Analyzing, interpreting what the other says.
- Doing something that may distract your partner or prevent them from reflecting their feelings.
- Staying silent for too long (the other should not feel like they’re reciting a monologue).
- Defending yourself, giving your opinion.
7.5 – Sexuality in the highly sensitive
If highly sensitive people are more sensitive to stimulation in general, they are logically more sensitive to sexual stimulation in particular. This fact implies that they have a very satisfying sex life.
However, it is likely that over-stimulation caused by external factors may hinder sexual pleasure.
7.6 – Highly sensitive people and their children
Children seem to blossom when they are cared for by a sensitive nanny. On the other hand, it is clear that children greatly increase the stimulation in everyday life.
Chapter 8 – How to Heal the Deeper Wounds
8.1 – Treating psychological wounds
My research has found that highly sensitive people whose childhood and adolescence have been very difficult may suffer from anxiety and depression – and suicidal tendencies – as long as they do not accept their past in order to start healing the wounds.
In this chapter, the author describes the various ways of solving current and past difficulties through psychotherapy in its broadest sense.
Every childhood has its own story that deserves to be heard. However, the highly sensitive are more affected by a troubled childhood than others are. Once adults, they suffer more so from anxiety and depression than the rest of the population.
At the same time, the effects are even deeper and lasting when the problem has appeared early in the child’s life. This is also the case if the behavior of our first nanny, usually our mother, is the cause of this disorder.
Elaine N. Aron therefore cautions highly sensitive people. You have to be patient with yourself for the rest of your life to heal your wounds.
You will heal, but on your own terms. And you will acquire qualities that you would not have had if you had not been unhappy.
The advantage is that, as adults, highly sensitive people generally have the type of personality conducive to inner work and psychological healing.
8.2 – The four philosophies of psychology
Although it is possible to divide the psychotherapeutic methods in innumerable categories, the author makes the choice to present the following four and to approach them in relation to hypersensitivity:
Cognitive behavioral therapy
This is a treatment that:
- Is of short duration.
- Aims to relieve specific symptoms.
- Relies on the way of thinking and behavior of the patient.
- Pays little attention to subconscious feelings and causes.
- Is practical, rational and straightforward.
- Solves the problem that you want solved.
This type of therapy may seem superficial but is, in fact, very effective.
For the highly sensitive:
In the author’s opinion, this therapy can do a lot for a highly sensitive person. However, there is a good chance that they prefer more “deep” therapies, more intuitive than those based on superficial symptoms.
This is what most people call “psychotherapy”:
- The term encompasses Freudian psychology, Jungian psychology, object relations, Gestalt psychology, Rogerian or person-centered therapy, transactional analysis, existential psychology and most eclectic therapies.
- It is based on the verbal expression and the relationship between the patient and a therapist (sometimes between the patient and a group or even a lay counselor).
- The patient draws a lesson from what has been discussed and learns to do only inner work.
For the highly sensitive:
Highly sensitive people are generally won over by this method, which can be very instructive. It allows them to discover their intuition, their depth.
The author emphasizes that transference, this strong attachment to the psychologist and the main tool of change, is often much more powerful among highly sensitive people.
As a result, the author cautions highly sensitive people. The latter are asked to be careful not to attach themselves prematurely to the first therapist and not to remain slaves of his/her treatment even after having obtained all the possible advantages.
It takes different forms such as:
- Regular exercise.
- Better nutrition and observance of food allergies.
- Botanical extracts.
- Tai chi.
- Structural integration.
- Dance therapy.
- And especially medication: antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs prescribed by psychiatrists.
The idea is that everything that is done to the body has an impact on the mind. Conversely, everything that is done to the mind has an impact on the body.
For the highly sensitive:
Elaine N. Aron cautions highly sensitive people to not forget that they are highly sensitive. And so, whatever the physical method chosen, she recommends always starting with the lowest dose.
These methods make use of all we can do to explore the non-physical part of ourselves and our universe.
For the highly sensitive:
In Elaine N. Aron’s opinion, these are the methods that appeal the most to highly sensitive people. In fact, the author tells us that the highly sensitive people she interviewed, as part of her research, almost all felt the need for inner healing. Highly sensitive people tend to turn inwards. The majority of them have already tried a spiritual approach.
8.3 – Additional recommendations with regard to psychotherapy for highly sensitive people
Do highly sensitive people with no specific problem need psychotherapy?
On this matter, the author stresses that:
- Psychotherapy is not just about solving problems or relieving symptoms. It also allows to acquire knowledge, wisdom and to form an alliance with our subconscious.
- Treatment is not always necessary for this: it may be sufficient to read, to attend seminars, to hold conversations.
Jung’s analysis and Jungian psychotherapy
Jungian psychotherapy, that of Carl Jung, is the one that Elaine N. Aron generally recommends to highly sensitive people.
Like all “deep” psychologies, the Jungian approach relies mainly on the work of the subconscious. However, it adds a spiritual dimension:
The subconscious attempts to lead us somewhere, to enhance our sensitivity beyond the narrow consciousness of the ego. It constantly sends us messages, through dreams, symptoms and behaviors that our ego considers problematic. We just have to pay attention to them.
Last thoughts on psychotherapy for highly sensitive people
Finally, Elaine N. Aron states that:
- Psycho-therapeutic work is difficult and not always pleasant.
- Psychotherapy drives the highly sensitive into a world that others are not always able to appreciate.
Chapter 9 – Medication for Highly Sensitive People
9.1 – How highly sensitive people react to medication
The highly sensitive:
- Are particularly sensitive:
- To the body’s signals and symptoms.
- To the effects of drugs (not to mention these effects may be increased by an overstimulating worry of the side effects).
- Suffer from stress diseases and “psychosomatic” disorders if they do not adopt a way of life that’s in harmony with their sensitivity.
- Are stimulated and exacerbated by the medical or hospital environment, methods, examinations and medical treatments.
- Cannot ignore pain and death when they are in the hospital or in a doctor’s office.
- Typically maintain problematic relationships with the medical community.
- Identify problems before they worsen and know what to do (hence their particularly thriving health).
Given these reactions, Elaine N. Aron advises that highly sensitive people find a doctor who:
- Is able to appreciate their sensitivity.
- Takes seriously their ability to detect subtleties regarding their health and their reactions to treatment.
- Collaborates with them and shows respect for their feelings, their sensitivity to chemicals.
9.2 – The different types of medication to help with over stimulation
It is important to distinguish between psychoactive drugs that can be taken during a crisis and those that, prescribed long-term, change one’s personality.
There are a multitude of psychoactive products. Nevertheless, two types of drugs are usually prescribed to highly sensitive people:
First category: fast-acting anti-anxiety drugs
Examples: Librium, Valium, Xanex.
- Halt over-stimulation in minutes.
- Causes drowsiness.
- Can be addictive.
The author shows that there are many other ways to change the chemical functions of one’s body than taking these drugs: going for a walk, taking deep breaths, getting a massage, eating a healthy snack, asking a loved one for a hug, listening to music, going dancing, drinking a soothing herbal tea, taking calcium and magnesium, and so on.
Second category: antidepressants or SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor)
Examples: Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft.
Some summary points about these drugs:
- In times of crisis, these medications relieve pain and can save the patient’s life.
- These drugs are not very addictive. However, they can still cause an addition and some people find it very difficult to stop treatment.
- They act on the brain by increasing the level of a neurotransmitter called serotonin.
9.3 – Dangers of and alternatives to medication
Elaine N. Aron list some things to consider before deciding if Prozac or any of its derivatives are needed:
- To what extent do you dislike your current personality and state of mind?
- Are you willing to take a medication for the rest of your life, in order to maintain your new personality?
- These drugs are still far too new to know the long-term side effects.
Finally, in this part, the author raises the issue of the pharmaceutical industry and the dangers of Prozac. In her view:
These are important sociological questions that the highly sensitive person should discuss when considering taking a drug, not to solve a passing crisis, but to change their fundamental conception of life, their personality.
Chapter 10 – Soul and Spirit
It goes without saying that highly sensitive people have an affinity with the soul and the spirit. By “soul” I mean everything that is more subtle than the physical world, but that remains embodied, meaning dreams and the imagination. The mind, on the other hand, transcends all that is the soul, the body and the universe.
10.1 – The four unifying characteristics of highly sensitive people
For the author, the following four characteristics of hypersensitivity are proof that highly sensitive people provide society the spiritual food that it needs (the author refers here to the royal advisors, to the class of “priests” of which she spoke previously).
- The deep silence that creates a kind of sacred collective presence.
- Consideration for others.
- The presence of soul and spirit.
- The faculty to understand all that.
10.2 – The creation of a sacred space
According to anthropologists:
For other phenomena that can only take place in a ritual or sacred space, priests create a space of transition, away from the physical world. A mystical experience within this space transforms us, gives meaning to our presence. […]. The priest delineates the boundary of the space, he protects it and prepares others to enter it. He guides them, once inside, and then helps them to return to the outside world, illuminated by their experience.
Most highly sensitive people feel comfortable in this kind of space. Elaine N.Aron contends that many highly sensitive people naturally create it around themselves. They then take the initiative to create it for others. Carl Jung perceives the highly sensitive as a particular category of “priests”.
In this part, the author suggests to the reader to integrate the principles of their own religion, whether or not it’s established.
10.3 – The quest for fulfillment
The highly sensitive are pioneers in the quest for fulfillment
It is the mechanism of individuation, as described above, which enables us to find the meaning of our life, our vocation. What we cling to is not a fixed goal, but a journey.
Anyone who discovers what suits him/her and clings to it ends up experiencing fulfillment.
The quest to be fulfilled is a happy medium
By definition, fulfillment encompasses imperfection. Therefore, it’s better to understand these imperfections, the “shadows” of our personality that accompany us rather than trying to get rid of them once and for all.
This is how a highly sensitive person, with all his/her other characteristics, can become powerful, cunning, ambitious, impulsive and confident. The true test, in the quest for fulfillment, will then be to find the right balance between the perfect being and the imperfect being.
It is common for the second half of life to counterbalance the first half.
Polarity and quest for fulfillment through the four functions
The author mentions the following polarities:
- The two means of intercepting information: sensation (facts) and intuition (the subtle sense of facts);
- The double judgment of information: by thought (from logic or what seems to be a universal truth) or by feeling (from our personal experience of what seems good for us and for those we love).
Among these four “functions” (sensation, intuition, thought and feeling), each one has its specialty, but among the highly sensitive, it is often intuition that directs them (even if thought and feeling are also very common for them).
10.4 – Dreams, imagination, spiritual guides and synchronicities
Fulfillment[…] also appeals to the dreams and imagination that is activated by these dreams. This is what makes us hear our inner voices and puts us in touch with the elements of ourselves that we have rejected.
For the author, dreams contain more than mere information processed by the subconscious.
In addition to being one step ahead in the quest for ritual space, understanding of religions, sense of existence and wholeness, Elaine N. Aron illustrates through concrete examples how highly sensitive people often go through mystical experiences. Highly sensitive people are particularly receptive to everything that belongs to the spiritual world, what Jung called “synchronicities”.
In the final part of her book, Elaine N. Aron lists a series of tips for health professionals, teachers, and employers to provide information about the characteristics of highly sensitive people and to facilitate relationships.
Book critique of “The Highly Sensitive Person – How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You” by Elaine N. Aron
“The Highly Sensitive Person ” is a book that can prove to be very useful for anyone who sees their sensitivity as a problem or who knows that they are highly sensitive themselves. I recommend it for the following reasons:
The subject of hypersensitivity is comprehensively and thoroughly addressed
Indeed, hypersensitivity is discussed in relation to the many aspects of our lives: intimate relationships, work, health, social relationships, lifestyle, etc.
The information is relevant, researched and scientific. Although widely developed, the subject is addressed in depth.
In addition, I appreciated that hypersensitivity is examined in a neutral way, not only in its positive or negative aspects. The author emphasizes, in this regard, the stereotypes, and generally urges for more tolerance and understanding.
The approach proposed by the author can be a source of appeasement and personal development
Upon introduction, Elaine N. Aron states her goals and her approach. As we turn the pages, we realize that the book is well designed according to that approach:
- We understand, in the first chapters, what a highly sensitive person is, how they react, their feelings, the misunderstandings, their physical reactions, etc. You will quickly realize if you are one or not.
- Once we are aware of this, Elaine N. Aron suggests going back in time to discover how hypersensitivity can impact childhood and adolescence. It is then for the highly sensitive reader to make peace with their past and reaffirm their self-esteem, which is often lacking.
- After this realization, the author provides tips that help a highly sensitive person to heal from their wounds and find their place in the world.
I can easily imagine that this approach, if it is applied, can be a source of true personal development.
A well-designed book, which reads easily despite the information being, at times, complex.
Although the content of the book is dense and very much centered on “psychology”, its reading is facilitated by:
- Points illustrated with examples: these are related in the form of life stories which makes the book come to life; it’s not just theoretical.
- Chapters filled with quizzes and easy-to-do exercises that help the reader situate themselves.
- The book’s structure, which is in keeping with the author’s beginning statement.
- Information that is relevant, well-researched and scientific.
- Dense content but easy to read because it alternates between theoretical information, life stories, tests and exercises.
- The subject is very widely developed and quite comprehensive.
- The highly psychoanalyst side of the book can slow down the reading for those who are not receptive to this style of writing.
My rating :
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