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Content Warnings: Mental illness, suicide, child abuse, trauma
Synopsis: Do you often find yourself over-stimulated when out in the world and long for the comfort of home? Are you strongly affected by other people’s moods? Do you consciously avoid violent films, TV shows or books?
If so, you may be what Elaine Aron calls an HSP (highly sensitive person). And you’re not alone – apparently, we make up 20% of the population! Her book is aimed at helping HSPs to survive in a competitive, demanding world where sensitivity is often viewed as a weakness.
Why The Highly Sensitive Person?
Right now, you may be thinking – why a book review that’s only relevant to 20% of the population? Especially if you didn’t answer yes to any of the above questions. However, I would still recommend the book to non-HSPs too! A further 20% of the population are ‘moderately sensitive’ so you can still pick up some useful tips!
“Highly sensitive people tend to have rich imaginative lives and a passion for the arts”
Reading The Highly Sensitive Person will also give you a deeper understanding of close friends and family members with the trait. Not only that but reading the book together will help them to understand you too. The more you know about a trait, the more you know about its opposite.
Highly sensitive people tend to have rich imaginative lives and a passion for the arts, so my theory is that a greater proportion will be found among the blogging community!
The best way to describe my experience of first picking up The Highly Sensitive Person is the odd but reassuring feeling of someone explaining you to yourself! I had always thought of myself as ‘weird’ because I just didn’t enjoy doing the same things as my peers.
“It’s reassuring to have someone explaining you to yourself!”
I was always the first to leave a party and my first night out clubbing at uni was an unmitigated disaster. I got sick from pure exhaustion and stress before even consuming a single drop of alcohol! Needless to say, I politely declined further invitations and my friends were probably relieved.
Experiences like this can be isolating, so it is very comforting to know that there are so many other people similar to you.
This reassuring feeling of not being alone is improved by the case studies scattered throughout the book. However, the cases are often extreme and chosen to prove a point so they can be upsetting and shocking – be warned.
The Highly Sensitive Person is divided into ten chapters, each dealing with a different theme e.g. love, careers etc… At the end of every section, there is an activity to help process the information it contains. Some of these were helpful for self-reflection, but I found the more spiritual ones centred around deep meditation difficult.
“It is very comforting to know that there are so many other people similar to you”
Aron includes many elements of practical advice:
- Striking a balance between being excessively ‘out’ in the world and getting over-stimulated or retreating and being ‘in’ too much
- Talking to others about your sensitive trait without using it as an excuse
- Considerations when working or thinking about careers
- Treatment options if in need of further help
Overall, though, The Highly Sensitive Person is more centred on understanding the trait of high sensitivity to improve self-awareness and self-esteem. The stereotypes surrounding sensitivity in a culture that emphasises progress, achievement, networking and status are dismantled in a way that can be vastly empowering.
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The author, Elaine Aron, is a psychologist who has invested a lot of research into the book. She is also a highly sensitive person herself and this element of genuine care and understanding prevents the writing from feeling detached and dry, even at its most scientific.
“Elaine Aron is an HSP herself and this gives her writing an element of genuine care and understanding”
Aron’s explanations are clear and not full of jargon. On the other hand, she refuses to over-simplify – her approach often goes along the lines of ‘you may be like this, the complete opposite of this, or somewhere in the middle and here’s why they all make sense’.
I appreciated the validating emphasis on the fact that everyone is individual and cannot be fully accommodated within a certain group or category.
“this rich and varied world with its overflowing and intoxicating life is not purely external, but also exists within” ~ Carl Jung
Read if: You want an informative yet warm insight into the trait of high sensitivity.
Cover image courtesy of Goodreads.
Have you read any good self-help books recently? Do you have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!