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The Highly Sensitive Person

Understanding The Highly Sensitive Person

People with the trait of high sensitivity are often labeled shy, neurotic, or introverted.

This sensitivity is innate and not learned: biologists have recognized the differences in the way sensory data is processed.

Leading psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron is noted in the field of studying high sensitivity. She has written several books on the topic, explaining this common trait.

About Dr. Elaine Aron

Dr. Elaine Aron has a Ph.D. in clinical depth psychology. She and her husband, Dr. Arthur Aron, are field leaders in the study of psychology and relationships and have pioneered the study of sensitivity and love using functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI).

In 1991, Dr. Aron started her research of Sensory-Processing Sensitivity. She has written several books on highly sensitive persons (HSP) so that people with this trait can understand more about it. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You (Broadway Books) offers an introduction and an overview of this trait. Dr. Aron followed up with The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook (Three Rivers Press) as a user-guide for HSP to care for themselves in everyday life.

What Does “Highly Sensitive” Mean?

The highly sensitive person is not “weird.” In fact, between 15 and 20% of the population has this trait. It is ingrained and instinctive: high sensitivity is found in most animals and biologists believe it is a form of survival strategy.

Dr. Aron describes this trait as a “preference to process information more deeply.” An HSP notices more than other people because their brain processes and reflects on stimuli more intensely. She has studied HSP brains and non-HSP brains using FMRI technology. The perception centers of HSP’s brains light up more than those of a non-HSP.

As a result of this inherent processing, things feel chaotic and intense, and a HSP often feels overwhelmed. This overstimulation leads to a HSP feeling tired and may lead to he or she “falling apart” during times. Dr. Aron suggests that the HSP take more downtime for themselves, including daily periods to let the mind wander and rejuvenate, and weekly and yearly breaks to recuperate from life’s overstimulation.

The HSP is Not Shy

Being labeled shy is common for the HSP. Dr. Aron notes that shyness is a learned trait rather than innate. They are also frequently labeled as introverts, when according to her research 30% of HSP are extroverts. Other common words used to describe HSP include inhibited, fearful, or neurotic.

The HSP will take his or her time in new situations or relationships. While they tend to make good decisions, it often takes them a while and can seem like a struggle. Dr. Aron wrote The Highly Sensitive Person in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You (Three Rivers Press) to explore how HSP and non-HSP can develop and maintain relationships and what they can learn from each other.

The Highly Sensitive Child

Throughout her research, Dr. Aron has heard from many adult HSP about the difficulties faced in childhood: from being bullied to having parents who didn’t understand why they were so “sensitive.” Dr. Aron stresses the importance of parents with highly sensitive children in understanding different child rearing and temperament techniques to ensure a valuable childhood is experienced.

Her best-selling book, The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them (Three Rivers Press) for parents to develop a childhood from which highly sensitive children will flourish.

Dr. Aron features a self-test on her website [www.hsperson.com] and a checklist for parents to use when determining whether or not their children are HSP. She also publishes a quarterly newsletter called The Comfort Zone, which features articles and resources on all sorts of HSP related topics.

Watch a video interview with Dr. Aron discussing The Highly Sensitive Person >


To learn about Dr. Aron’s book, click the cover below:

The Highly Sensitive Person