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

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

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by Elaine Aron

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Are you a highly sensitive person?

Do you have a keen imagination and vivid dreams?  Is time alone each day as essential to you as food and water?  Are you "too shy" or "too sensitive" according to others?  Do noise and confusion quickly overwhelm you?  If your answers are yes, you may be a Highly


Are you a highly sensitive person?

Do you have a keen imagination and vivid dreams?  Is time alone each day as essential to you as food and water?  Are you "too shy" or "too sensitive" according to others?  Do noise and confusion quickly overwhelm you?  If your answers are yes, you may be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).

Most of us feel overstimulated every once in a while, but for the Highly Sensitive Person, it's a way of life.  In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Elaine Aron, a psychotherapist, workshop leader and highly sensitive person herself, shows you how to identify this trait in yourself and make the most of it in everyday situations.  Drawing on her many years of research and hundreds of interviews, she shows how you can better understand yourself and your trait to create a fuller, richer life.  

In The Highly Sensitive Person , you will discover:
* Self-assessment tests to help you identify your particular sensitivities
* Ways to reframe your past experiences in a positive light and gain greater self-esteem in the process
* Insight into how high sensitivity affects both work and personal relationships
* Tips on how to deal with overarousal
* Informations on medications and when to seek help
* Techniques to enrich the soul and spirit

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“I wept through almost every page of this book out of sheer self-recognition. To say this book changed my life would be an understatement. I am forever grateful to elaine aron.”
—Alanis Morissette, singer, songwriter, activist

"This remarkable a fresh perspective, a sigh of relief, and a good sense of where we belong in society."
—John Gray, author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

"Elaine Aron's perceptive analysis of this fundamental dimension of human nature is must reading. Her balanced presentation suggests new paths for making sensitivity a blessing, not a handicap."
—Philip G. Zimbardo, Ph.D., author of Shyness: What It Is, What to Do About It

"Enlightening and empowering, this book is a wonderful gift to us all."
—Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A therapist offers insight and stress-control tips for "HSPs." (July)

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Read an Excerpt

"Cry baby!"


"Don't be a spoilsport!"

Echoes from the past?  And how about this well-meaning warning: "You're just too sensitive for your own good."

If you were like me, you heard a lot of that, and it made you feel there must be something very different about you.  I was convinced that I had a fatal flaw that I had to hide and that doomed me to a second-rate life.  I thought there was something wrong with me.

In fact, there is something very right with you and me.  If you answer true to fourteen or more of the questions on the self-test at the end of this preface, or if the detailed description in chapter 1 seems to fit you (really the best test), then you are a very special type of human being, a highly sensitive person—which hereafter we'll call an HSP.  And this book is just for you.

Having a sensitive nervous system is normal, a basically neutral trait.  You probably inherited it.  It occurs in about 15-20 percent of the population.  It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations.  It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted in a nervous-system sort of way.  Thus, being sensitive has both advantages and disadvantages.

In our culture, however, possessing this trait is not considered ideal and that fact probably has had a major impact on you.  Well-meaning parents and teachers probably tried to help you "overcome" it, as if it were a defect.  Other children were not always as nice about it.  As an adult, it has probably been harder to find the right career and relationships and generally to feel self-worth and self-confidence.

What This Book Offers You

This book provides basic, detailed information you need about your trait, data that exist nowhere else.  It is the product of five years of research, in-depth interviews, clinical experience, courses and individual consultations with hundreds of HSPs, and careful reading between the lines of what psychology has already learned about the trait but does not realize it knows.  In the first three chapters you will learn all the basic facts about your trait and how to handle overstimulation and overarousal of your nervous system.

Next, this book considers the impact of your sensitivity on your personal history, career, relationships, and inner life.  It focuses on the advantages you may not have thought of, plus it gives advice about typical problems some HSPs face, such as shyness or difficulty finding the right sort of work.

It is quite a journey we'll take.  Most of the HSPs I've helped with the information that is in this book have told me that it has dramatically changed their lives—and they've told me to tell you that.

What You'll Need

I have found that HSPs benefit from a fourfold approach, which the chapters in this book will follow.

1.  Self-knowledge.  You have to understand what it means to be an HSP. Thoroughly.  And how it fits with your other traits and how your society's negative attitude has affected you.  Then you need to know your sensitive body very well.  No more ignoring your body because it seems too uncooperative or weak.

2.  Reframing.  You must actively reframe much of your past in the light of knowing you came into the world highly sensitive.  So many of your "failures" were inevitable because neither you nor your parents and teachers, friends and colleagues, understood you.  Reframing how you experienced your past can lead to solid self-esteem, and self-esteem is especially important for HSPs, for it decreases our overarousal in new (and therefore highly stimulating) situations.

Reframing is not automatic, however.  That is why I include "activities" at the end of each chapter that often involve it.

3.  Healing.  If you have not yet done so, you must begin to heal the deeper wounds.  You were very sensitive as a child; family and school problems, childhood illnesses, and the like all affected you more than others. Furthermore, you were different from other kids and almost surely suffered for that.

HSPs especially, sensing the intense feelings that must arise, may hold back from the inner work necessary to heal the wounds from the past.  Caution and slowness are justified.  But you will cheat yourself if you delay.

4.  Help With Feeling Okay When Out in the World and Learning When to Be Less Out.  You can be, should be, and need to be involved in the world.  It truly needs you.  But you have to be skilled at avoiding overdoing or underdoing it. This book, free of the confusing messages from a less sensitive culture, is about discovering that way.

I will also teach you about your trait's effect on your close relationships. And I'll discuss psychotherapy and HSPs—which HSPs should be in therapy and why, what kind, with whom, and especially how therapy differs for HSPs.  Then I'll consider HSPs and medical care, including plenty of information on medications like Prozac, often taken by HSPs.  At the end of this book we will savor our rich inner life.

The Research Behind This Book

As knowledge about my trait changed my life, I decided to read more about it, but there was almost nothing available.  I thought the closest topic might be introversion.  The psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote very wisely on the subject, calling it a tendency to turn inward.  The work of Jung, himself an HSP, has been a major help to me, but the more scientific work on introversion was focused on introverts not being sociable, and it was that idea which made me wonder if introversion and sensitivity were being wrongly equated.

With so little information to go on, I decided to put a notice in a newsletter that went to the staff of the university where I was teaching at the time.  I asked to interview anyone who felt they were highly sensitive to stimulation, introverted, or quick to react emotionally.  Soon I had more volunteers than I needed.

Next, the local paper did a story on the research.  Even though there was nothing said in the article about how to reach me, over a hundred people phoned and wrote me, thanking me, wanting help, or just wanting to say, "Me, too." Two years later, people were still contacting me.  (HSPs sometimes think things over for a while before making their move!)

Based on the interviews (forty for two to three hours each), I designed a questionnaire that I have distributed to thousands all over North America.  And I directed a random-dialing telephone survey of three hundred people as well. The point that matters for you is that everything in this book is based on solid research, my own or that of others.  Or I am speaking from my repeated observations of HSPs, from my courses, conversations, individual consultations, and psychotherapy with them.  These opportunities to explore the personal lives of HSPs have numbered in the thousands.  Even so, I will say "probably" and "maybe" more than you are used to in books for the general reader, but I think HSPs appreciate that.

Deciding to do all of this research, writing, and teaching has made me a kind of pioneer.  But that, too, is part of being an HSP.  We are often the first ones to see what needs to be done.  As our confidence in our virtues grows, perhaps more and more of us will speak up—in our sensitive way.

Instructions to the Reader

1.  Again, I address the reader as an HSP, but this book is written equally for someone seeking to understand HSPs, whether as a friend, relative, advisor, employer, educator, or health professional.

2.  This book involves seeing yourself as having a trait common to many.  That is, it labels you.  The advantages are that you can feel normal and benefit from the experience and research of others.  But any label misses your uniqueness.  HSPs are each utterly different, even with their common trait. Please remind yourself of that as you proceed.

3.  While you are reading this book, you will probably see everything in your life in light of being highly sensitive.  That is to be expected.  In fact, it is exactly the idea.  Total immersion helps with learning any new language, including a new way of talking about yourself.  If others feel a little concerned, left out, or annoyed, ask for their patience.  There will come a day when the concept will settle in and you'll be talking about it less.

4.  This book includes some activities which I have found useful for HSPs.  But I'm not going to say that you must do them if you want to gain anything from this book.  Trust your HSP intuition and do what feels right.

5.  Any of the activities could bring up strong feelings.  If that happens, I do urge you to seek professional help.  If you are now in therapy, this book should fit well with your work there.  The ideas here might even shorten the time you will need therapy as you envision a new ideal self—not the culture's ideal but your own, someone you can be and maybe already are.  But remember that this book does not substitute for a good therapist when things get intense or confusing.

This is an exciting moment for me as I imagine you turning the page and entering into this new world of mine, of yours, of ours.  After thinking for so long that you might be the only one, it is nice to have company, isn't it?

Are You Highly Sensitive?  A Self-Test

Answer each question according to the way you feel.  Answer true if it is at least somewhat true for you.  Answer false if it is not very true or not at all true for you.

I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment.

Other people's moods affect me.

I tend to be very sensitive to pain.

I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation.

I am particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine.

I am easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by.

I have a rich, complex inner life.

I am made uncomfortable by loud noises.

I am deeply moved by the arts or music.

I am conscientious.

I startle easily.

I get rattled when I have a lot to do in a short amount of time.

When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable (like changing the lighting or the seating).

I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too many things at once.

I try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things.

I make it a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows.

I become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around me.

Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.

Changes in my life shake me up.

I notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art.

I make it a high priority to arrange my life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations.

When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise.

When I was a child, my parents or teachers seemed to see me as sensitive or shy.


If you answered true to twelve or more of the questions, you're probably highly sensitive.

But frankly, no psychological test is so accurate that you should base your life on it.  If only one or two questions are true of you but they are extremely true, you might also be justified in calling yourself highly sensitive.  The rest of this book will help you understand yourself better and learn to thrive in today's not-so-sensitive world.

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The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book pulls together a lot of information and education into a very readable guide that will help anyone who reads it, no matter how sensitive they are or aren't. It just makes SENSE! Sensitivity isn¿t a problem; it¿s a gift, with a true biological cause. I¿ve fought being too sensitive my whole life. This book changed my whole frame of reference about myself and the world around me. I stopped trying to control my reactions to my environment, and started finding ways to deal with my surroundings in a healthy way instead. Not only was this book a God-send for me, but discussing the book quickly helped my husband understand me better, and know how to deal with me better. It wasn't long before the material we were discussing also began to help him reframe his own world too. You don't have to have the problem/gift yourself to get a lot out of this book -- anyone who has to relate to highly-sensitive people in the home or the workplace will find those relationships greatly enhanced by reading this book.
Colleen57 More than 1 year ago
A fairly accurate depiction of what it is like to be a highly sensitive person. Useful information for those of us who are, to help us to better understand ourselves, and also for those of us who are not, to make us aware of how it all works. Easy to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My fiance` found some information online about highly sensitive persons and though I might should check into it. I'd never heard of such, but I got this book after doing some research and clearly I am highly sensitive. It helped me feel better to know I'm not the only one and also to know how to care for myself and relate to others. I'm excited to read more on the subject.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. Highly recommended. --------------------------------------------------------- --------------- There is no end to the ways in which human personality types can be categorised. According to Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., one of these categories, comprising about 15¿20 percent of humanity, is the 'highly sensitive person.' HSPs are individuals whose threshold for overarousal, physical or emotional, is lower than that of non-HSPs, although it falls along a scale. HSPs may be labeled 'shy' or 'avoidant' in school or society, when in fact they are really just trying to avoid the stress of overarousal. Aron is quick to point out that, while most HSPs are introverts, many are indeed extroverts. HSPs do not necessarily have better hearing, sense of smell, vision, etc., but their brains seem to process such incoming information at a different level. To a non-HSP, a rock concert or a casino is a loud, fun, exciting place to be. For an HSP, it is a loud, overwhelming, exhausting one that may require hours of aloneness and quiet to overcome the overarousal. According to Aron, the concept of the HSP is not mere psychobabble, but based on both psychological and physiological studies. In American culture, and indeed in most Western cultures, HSP traits are generally seen as negative (hence, words like 'shy,' 'withdrawn,' 'avoidant,' 'inhibited'). Aron notes, however, that, in some cultures, HSPs are highly respected¿in China, for example. HSP traits are neither bad nor good, but they have their positive and negative elements. While non-HSPs are warrior-kings, quick to make decisions and necessary to lead and act when such decisiveness and action are essential, HSPs are the the priests-judges-advisers, the more thoughtful group that 'often act[s] to check the impulses of the warrior-kings.' Both clearly have an important role. The Highly Sensitive Person defines the traits (with a self-assessment); asks you to accept yourself and your traits (or your HSP friends and theirs if you are a non-HSP); discusses childhood and provides guidelines for reframing experiences now that you understand your trait; and talks about such things as health, lifestyle, social relationships, work, love and sex, medicine and medication, and spirituality, with advice on how to avoid overarousal, especially unhealthy (physically and emotionally) long-term overarousal. The message is that HSPs are valuable and have a great deal to contribute to a non-HSP world that doesn't understand us, doesn't always value us, and sometimes is downright hostile toward us ('scaredy-cat' is something more than one HSP child has heard). The Highly Sensitive Person is an attempt to help us understand what we need to do to find our optimal level of arousal (which is unique to the individual); manage unhealthy overarousal; and educate our family, friends, lovers, employers, teachers, physicians, etc., about our trait. It is also designed to assist non-HSPs understand their HSP friends and acquaintances. To me, it explained a lot about myself that I didn't realise I share with others (a heightened sensitivity to loud or repetitive noises that don't bother others, for example, and a tendency to find social events draining). There are no doubt some who would dismiss this all as self-help psychobabble¿but for the HSP, this is invaluable self-help psychobabble. Highly recommended. Companion books are The Highly Sensitive Person Workbook and The Highly Sensitive Person in Love. Diane L. Schirf, 6 January 2002.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you consider yourself a sensitive person, you MUST read this book!It is also very useful for those who encounter sensitives(i.e.: teachers,doctors,employers,etc)Finally! A book that helps me understand why I am the way I am(sensitive)helps me to use this to my best ability instead of being afraid. And also to educate those close to me on my sensitivity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was loaned this book by a friend and had to go by my own copy. It is a wonderful and life changing book. All the things that I always thought were odd about me are actually completely normal since I do qualify as a HSP. There is a quiz in the first chapter that you can take to see if you are or not. I highly recommend it.
BruceWayne90016 More than 1 year ago
This book is FANTASTIC! I've managed to learn quite a bit not only about my own person being highly sensitive, but that others whom I would've never assumed to be far from sensitive to actually be sensitive. Anyone who's interested in going into the field of psychology should definitely read this book and absorb EVERY word of it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As an educator for over twenty five years I found Elaine Aron's insights to be extremely helpful.  She also validated many experiencesthat I have had not only with my students and family, but gave me insight into my own behaviors as well.  Though some of the suggestions given were not ones that I would choose for myself, I understand and accept that they would or could be appropriate for others and should be considered when feeling overwhelmed.  I found her insights into the gifts that HSP's give to be some of the most important lessons in this book.  As a teacher I always try to remember Einstein's quote, "Everybody is a genius, but If you judge a fish by it's ability to climb a tree it will live it's whole life believing it is stupid."  In my opinion, the gifts that are inherent in HSP's should be viewed as a component of genius. Often viewed as undesirable or weak components to character and/or personality, the traits of an HSP are invaluable to our to our human culture and should be understood for their ability to provide a complete perspective. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in finding out more about themselves or who might have a relationship with someone who appears to have greater sensitivities than others. 
DrJenski More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book! I value sensitivity and it's a big part of my identity. I wouldn't have it any other way! I recommend this book to other sensitive people and those who love them.
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This is a great book both in written and the audio book. I will admit there is so much to this book that just the aduio version is going to be hard to deal with think about getting both.
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I bought the book because I am sensitive to caffeine, liquor and chocolate, and have other characteristics which the author identifies as common among "highly" sensitive people. I agree with some of the statements I read. However, I have always known that my sensitivity has made more cautious and perceptive (or is it being perceptive, that makes one more "sensitive?"), and my husband is very aware and appreciative (or tolerant) of my sensitive nature. I decided to cut my losses and drop the book when I read that "highly sensitive people" should make travel plans that can be cancelled at any moment, and should advise their travel companions that they might leave at any point of a planned trip. I see the cost of the book as a contribution to the author's travel cancellation budget.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book for myself and upon reading I found the print way too small and the comprehensiveness of the book much too complicated. It's like reading what a counselor would say in the language of a professor. Very disappointed!