The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You · Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., author

(Book) Published 1996 by Birch Lane Press.

Elaine N. Aron’s book is, to my knowledge, one of the first to put together, at least in lay-reader’s terms, the accumulated insights of psychology and medicine concerning the trait of “high sensitivity.” Aron terms those who share this trait highly sensitive persons or HSPs.

Aron cites Carl Jung as an influence on her work, but found little positively-oriented research conducted in Jung’s wake that further develops the understanding she sought. Aron has conducted extensive interviews, survey studies and other efforts to better describe, understand, and constructively engage the topic of high sensitivity as a personality trait or temperament type. Her academic publications and relevant work by her colleagues are credited in the endnotes, but the style of the text is clearly aimed (chiefly) at a lay readership. The book may serve as a introductory text for the mental health professional.

If the book has a weakness, part of which Aron admits openly, it is in a certain sort of benign neglect. Aron notes that most of her work has been among women, who are far more likely to come forward and seek help with this trait than are men. She suspects, and offers evidence to support the case that high sensitivity is every bit as common among men as among women, which is to say, a trait held by roughly 15% of the population.

Perhaps in a well-meaning effort not to lose what she sees as her relatively rare (but equally needy) male reader, Aron tries to distance sensitivity as a trait from its all too common association with effeminacy or "something not quite right" when it comes to sensitive men. I'm not sure why she does this. And she sometimes (at least to my taste) goes a little overboard, perhaps even edging towards a certain degree of denial.

True, one can be sensitive and exclusively heterosexual, and there is no reason to think that the trait is more common among gay men than among straight men. But in emphasizing that point, she also seems unwilling to address in specific terms how HSPs of whatever sex or gender may need special tools for coping when they may not be members of the (presumed) majority, particularly where it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity. It's a puzzlement, and, to be fair, only a smudge on an otherwise groundbreaking piece of work. Perhaps these particular concerns will be addressed in a later book, a revised edition, or in a volume particularly devoted to such issues.

Related topics:

“too shy”, “too sensitive”, shyness, hyper-sensitive, Jung, introversion, neurotic (a term heavily used, then abandoned somewhere in the 1970s), inhibitedness, timidity, high reactivity, cortisol

Phrases the HSP might have heard in her/his childhood and adolescence:

Cry baby!


Don’t be a spoilsport!

The book includes a self-test, numerous case studies and focuses on some of the following topics, by chapter:

The Facts About Being Highly Sensitive: A (Wrong) Sense of Being Flawed
An introductory chapter, told by way of case studies. Defining High Sensitivity. Stimulation. Arousal. Special traits and talents common to HSPs, relatively rare in other temperaments. “Reframing” as a way of positively thinking about your trait. Hereditary factors. HSPs and the dominant culture. Majority rule: how to cope. How to thrive.
Digging Deeper: Understanding Your Trait for All That It Is
The biology of a trait. A case study of twins, one HSP, the other not. Sleep troubles. Jerome Kagan’s physical research on the trait. Approach and avoidance. Childhood development and the tendency to become mistrustful or inhibited when faced with the unfamiliar.
General Health and Lifestyle for HSPs: Loving and Learning From Your Infant/Body Self
Strategies for coping with overarousal, boundaries and other challenges to the HSP temperament.
Reframing Your Childhood and Adolescence: Learning to Parent Yourself
Attachment issues for the HSP. Culture and the special problem of boys, gender stereotypes and sensitivity. Adolescence and young adulthood’s challenges.
Social Relationships: The Slide Into “Shy”
Why “shy” is not the right word for HSPs. Self-fulfilling prophesy. How to reframe your “social discomfort.” Five coping strategies. Developing social skills.
Thriving at Work: Follow Your Bliss and Let Your Light Shine Through
Work as “Vocation” or Calling. Knowing your Own Vocation. Careers HSPs thrive at. HSPs and the challenge of office politics to one readily overwhelmed by conflict, noise and related workplace tensions.
Close Relationships: The Challenge of Sensitive Love
How HSPs form relationships and how they are maintained. Coping with intensity. Note: Aron has written a separate book since this one devoted to HSPs in Love
Healing the Deeper Wounds: A Different Process for HSPs
Mental health risks of HSPs. Coping and getting help when help is needed. Advice for HSPs and those who care for/about them.
Medics, Medication, and HSPs: “Shall I Listen to Prozac or Talk Temperament With My Doctor?
Sensitivity also often means unusual sensitivity to drugs and to stress, tension and other “unseen” aspects of medical treatment settings and present-day technological medicine.
Soul and Spirit: Where True Treasure Lies
The role (and importance of) spirituality in the life of (many) HSPs. Non-denominational and not overtly Christian. As much about ritual, meditation and personal forms of spiritual practice; less focused on religion as a mass social phenomenon.
Tips for Health-Care Professionals Working With Highly Sensitive People
Tips for Teachers Working With Highly Sensitive Students
Tips for Employers of Highly Sensitive People

Revision notes
Drafted: 8/20/2000
Revised: 8/21/2000
First noded: 8/21/2000

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