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The Facts About Being Highly Sensitive
A (Wrong) Sense of Being Flawed
In this chapter you will learn the basic facts about your trait and how it makes you different from others. You will also discover the rest of your inherited personality and have your eyes opened about your culture's view of you. But first you should meet Kristen.
She Thought She Was Crazy
Kristen was the twenty-third interview of my research on HSPs. She was an intelligent, cléar-eyed college student. But soon into our interview her voice began to tremble.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "But I really signed up to see you because you're a psychologist and I had to talk to someone who could tell me—" Her voice broke. "Am I crazy?" I studied her with sympathy. She was obviously feeling desperate, but nothing she had said so far had given me any sense of mental illness. But then, I was already listening differently to people like Kristen.
She tried again, as if afraid to give me time to answer. "I feel so different. I always did. I don't mean—I mean, my family was great. My childhood was almost idyllic until I had to go to school. Although Mom says I was always a grumpy baby."
She took a breath. I said something reassuring, and she plunged on. "But in nursery school I was afraid of everything. Even music time. When they would pass out the pots and pans to pound, I would put my hands over my ears and cry."
She looked away, her eyes glistening with tears now, too. "In elementary school I was always the teacher's pet. Yet they'd say I was 'spacey.'"
Her "spaciness" prompted a distressing series of medical and psychological tests. First for mental retardation. As a result, she was enrolled in a program for the gifted, which did not surprise me.
Still the message was "Something is wrong with this child." Her hearing was tested. Normal. In fourth grade she had a brain scan on the theory that her inwardness was due to petit mal seizures. Her brain was normal.
The final diagnosis? She had "trouble screening out stimuli." But the result was a child who believed she was defective.
Special But Deeply Misunderstood
The diagnosis was right as far as it went. HSPs do take in a lot—all the subtleties others miss. But what seems ordinary to others, like loud music or crowds, can be highly stimulating and thus stressful for HSPs.
Most people ignore sirens, glaring lights, strange odors, clutter and chaos. HSPs are disturbed by them.
Most people's feet may be tired at the end of a day in a mall or a museum, but they're ready for more when you suggest an evening party. HSPs need solitude after such a day. They feel jangled, overaroused.
Most people walk into a room and perhaps notice the furniture, the people—that's about it. HSPs can be instantly aware, whether they wish to be or not, of the mood, the friendships and enmities, the freshness or staleness of the air, the personality of the one who arranged the flowers.
If you are an HSP, however, it is hard to grasp that you have some remarkable ability. How do you compare inner experiences? Not easily. Mostly you notice that you seem unable to tolerate as much as other people. You forget that yoü belong to a group that has often demonstrated great creativity, insight, passion, and caring—all highly valued by society.
We are a package deal, however. Our trait of sensitivity means we will also be cautious, inward, needing extra time alone. Because people without the trait (the majority) do not understand that, they see us as timid, shy, weak, or that greatest sin of all, unsociable. Fearing these labels, we try to be like others. But that leads to our becoming overaroused and distressed. Then that gets us labeled neurotic or crazy, first by others and then by ourselves.
Kristen's Dangerous Year
Sooner or later everyone encounters stressful life experiences, but HSPs react more to such stimulation. If you see this reaction as part of some basic flaw, you intensify the stress already present in any life crisis. Next come feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
Kristen, for example, had such a crisis the year she started college. She had attended a low-key private high school and had never been away from home. Suddenly she was living among strangers, fighting in crowds for courses and books, and always overstimulated. Next she fell in love, fast and hard (as HSPs can do). Shortly after, she went to Japan to meet her boyfriend's family, an event she already had good reason to fear. It was while she was in Japan that, in her words, she "flipped out."
Kristen had never thought of herself as an anxious person, but suddenly, in Japan, she was overcome by fears and could not sleep. Then she became depressed. Frightened by her own emotions, her self-confidence plummeted. Her young boyfriend could not cope with her "craziness" and wanted to end the relationship. By then she had returned to school, but feared she was going to fail at that, too. Kristen was on the edge.
She looked up at me after sobbing out the last of her story. "Then I heard about this research, about being sensitive, and I thought, Could that be me? But it isn't, I know. Is it?"
I told her that of course I could not be sure from such a brief conversation, but I believed that, yes, her sensitivity in combination with all these stresses might well explain her state of mind. And so I had the privilege of explaining Kristen to herself—an explanation obviously long overdue.
Defining High Sensitivity—Two Facts to Remember
FACT 1: Everyone, HSP or not, feels best when neither too bored nor too aroused.
An individual will perform best on any kind of task, whether engaging in a conversation or playing in the Super Bowl, if his or her nervous system is moderately alert and aroused. Too little arousal and one is dull, ineffective. To change that under-aroused physical state, we drink some coffee, turn on the radio, call a friend, strike up a conversation with a total stranger, change careers—anything!
At the other extreme, too much arousal of the nervous system and anyone will become distressed, clumsy, and confused. We cannot think; the body is not coordinated; we feel out of control. Again, we have many ways to correct the situation. Sometimes we rest. Or mentally shut down. Some of us drink alcohol or take a Valium.
The best amount of arousal falls somewhere in the middle. That there is a need and desire for an "optimal level of arousal" is, in fact, one of the most solid findings of psychology. It is true for everyone, even infants. They hate to feel bored or overwhelmed.
FACT 2: People differ considerably in how much their nervous system is aroused in the same situation, under the same stimulation.
The difference is largely inherited, and is very real and normal. In fact, it can be observed in all higher animals—mice, cats, dogs, horses, monkeys, humans. Within a species, the percentage that is very sensitive to stimulation is usually about the same, around 15-20 percent. Just as some within a species are a little bigger in size than others, some are a little more sensitive. In fact, through careful breeding of animals, mating the sensitive ones to each other can create a sensitive strain in just a few generations. In short, among inborn traits of temperament, this one creates the most dramatic, observable differences.
The Good News and the Not-So-Good
What this difference in a
Excerpted from The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron. Copyright © 2013 by Elaine N. Aron. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Author's Note, 2012.................... ix
Are You Highly Sensitive? A Self-Test.................... xxxiii
1 The Facts About Being Highly Sensitive: A (Wrong) Sense of Being Flawed.................... 3
2 Digging Deeper: Understanding Your Trait for All That It Is.................... 23
3 General Health and Lifestyle for HSPs: Loving and Learning From Your Infant/Body Self................. 40
4 Reframing Your Childhood and Adolescence: Learning to Parent Yourself.................... 66
5 Social Relationships: The Slide Into "Shy".................... 90
6 Thriving at Work: Follow Your Bliss and Let Your Light Shine Through.................... 116
7 Close Relationships: The Challenge of Sensitive Love.................... 138
8 Healing the Deeper Wounds: A Different Process for HSPs.................... 167
9 Medics, Medications, and HSPs: "Shall I Listen to Prozac or Talk Temperament With My Doctor?"......... 189
10 Soul and Spirit: Where True Treasure Lies.................... 209
Tips for Health-Care Professionals Working With Highly Sensitive People.................... 233
Tips for Teachers Working With Highly Sensitive Students.................... 234
Tips for Employers of Highly Sensitive People.................... 236
Posted October 4, 2010
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.