The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You

by Elaine N. Aron

The Highly Sensitive Person delves into a distinctive temperament trait known as high sensitivity, which impacts around 20% of the population. Drawing upon extensive research and personal experiences, Dr. Elaine Aron presents a comprehensive guide to understanding and embracing the qualities of highly sensitive individuals. It also provides practical strategies and coping mechanisms tailored specifically for them, so they can harness the power of sensitivity and thrive in this world that often feels overwhelming.

Summary Notes

Being Highly Sensitive

High sensitivity is a personality trait that affects around 15-20% of the population. People with this trait tend to have a heightened sensitivity to various stimuli in their environment, such as sound, light, and emotions. This sensitivity can have both advantages and disadvantages.

On the positive side, highly sensitive people tend to possess exceptional qualities such as creativity, insight, passion, and caring. They often have a deep understanding of other people's emotions and can connect with them on a deeper level. They tend to be detail-oriented and highly observant, noticing subtleties that others may miss.

However, highly sensitive people also require more downtime and may be more susceptible to overstimulation. They may become overwhelmed by loud noises, bright lights, or crowded environments, which can lead to fatigue, irritability, and difficulty focusing.

To perform at their best, highly sensitive individuals need to be at an optimal level of arousal. Too little arousal can lead to boredom and ineffectiveness, while too much arousal can cause distress, clumsiness, and confusion. In either case, there are many ways to correct the situation.

For instance, if someone is feeling under-aroused, they may seek out a stimulating activity, such as having a conversation with a friend or trying something new. Alternatively, if someone is feeling overstimulated, they may need to take a break and rest. Some people may also turn to relaxation techniques or substances such as alcohol or medication to help manage their arousal levels.

Actions to take

Raising Highly Sensitive Children

Highly sensitive children experience a heightened level of sensitivity towards their surroundings, leading to difficulty managing stimulation and sleep patterns. They are also more susceptible to experiencing bad dreams.

Research suggests that two brain systems are responsible for creating this sensitivity. The first is the "behavioral activation" system, which is connected to the areas of the brain that receive information from our senses and signal our limbs to move. This system is responsible for motivating us to explore and engage with our environment.

The second system is the "behavioral inhibition" system, which is associated with the parts of the brain that detect potential threats and help us remain vigilant. This system helps us recognize and respond to danger in our environment.

To better manage children's heightened sensitivity, we must treat their bodies as infants. This means tuning into our physical and emotional needs and responding to them appropriately. This can be done by practicing self-care and self-compassion, setting healthy boundaries, and seeking out environments that are more conducive to our needs.

Actions to take

Listening to Your Inner Voice

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) have unique qualities that make them well-suited to serve others without becoming overwhelmed.

In today's Western culture, people have greater freedom to choose their work, and HSPs should continue to pursue their traditional professions, such as teaching, medicine, law, the arts, science, counseling, and religion. This is because they have a natural tendency towards empathy, compassion, and intuition, which can be beneficial to these professions.

The process of individuation is also important for HSPs. This is about discovering and becoming your true self, and it requires a high degree of sensitivity and intuition, both of which are characteristics of HSPs. They have a natural inclination towards this process and should aim to pursue their calling in a personal sense. This means seeking the point where their greatest joy intersects with the world's greatest need.

Sadly, many HSPs become overly concerned with external demands like money, prestige, and security. This causes them to lose touch with their inner voice. To achieve true individuation, HSPs must learn to liberate themselves from these external demands and listen to their inner voice instead of the questions posed by others. It's not always easy, but it's worth doing to live a fulfilling life.

Actions to take

Falling in Love as a Highly Sensitive Person

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) exhibit distinct patterns in their relationships compared to the general population. They are more likely to be single or engage in committed monogamous partnerships, and they tend to prioritize close connections with friends and family over romantic relationships.

One remarkable trait of HSPs is their ability to experience profound and intense love. Research indicates that falling in love enhances an individual's sense of competence and expands their self-concept, making them feel more empowered and fulfilled in various aspects of life.

Interestingly, research shows that any form of arousal can trigger attraction when a suitable partner is present. This discovery holds intriguing implications for HSPs. Because they get easily excited or stimulated, they have a higher chance of falling in love (and maybe even falling deeper) when they're with someone they find attractive.

Another factor that contributes to falling in love is self-doubt. Studies have shown that women with lowered self-esteem are more likely to be attracted to potential partners than those with higher self-esteem. Similarly, individuals often find themselves more inclined to fall in love following a breakup.

HSPs may experience low self-esteem because they do not conform to societal ideals, which can make them feel fortunate if someone expresses interest in them. However, it is important to recognize that love based solely on self-doubt can lead to negative outcomes, as one may eventually discover incompatibilities or realize that the person they fell in love with does not meet their standards.

To solve this, HSPs must cultivate and strengthen their self-esteem. This involves reframing their life experiences in the context of their sensitivity, engaging in introspection to address underlying issues that have impacted their confidence, and actively participating in the world on their own terms to validate their worthiness and capabilities. It is surprising how many people will genuinely love HSPs for their sensitivity once they have developed a strong sense of self-worth.

Actions to take

Healing Psychological Wounds

Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) who have faced significant challenges during their childhood and adolescence are more susceptible to developing conditions such as anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. However, there is hope for recovery when they confront their past and embark on a healing journey.

To help HSPs in their recovery, a combination of therapeutic approaches can be employed, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, physical therapy, and spiritual practices. Each of these approaches targets different aspects of an individual's well-being and contributes to their overall healing process.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on examining and modifying the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to emotional distress.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT), on the other hand, centers around the relationship between the person undergoing therapy and others in their life. It explores how these relationships impact their mental health and help individuals develop healthier communication and coping strategies. IPT can address unresolved issues from the past that may contribute to emotional difficulties, offering an opportunity for growth and healing.

Physical therapy also plays a significant role in the recovery process. After all, changes made to the body can impact the mind. Engaging in physical activities and exercise can be immensely beneficial when dealing with depression.

In addition to these psychological and physical approaches, addressing spirituality can also be beneficial for HSPs on their healing journey. This may involve exploring personal beliefs, values, and practices that provide a sense of meaning, purpose, and connection. Spiritual approaches can offer individuals solace, support, and a sense of inner peace.

Actions to take

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