Book Review: The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron

Last year I discovered or rather acknowledged that I am a highly sensitive person (short HSP). I went to a support group although I would rather call it a meetup or a safe place for people like me. There the moderator brought some books for the newbies to check out. Elaine N. Aron was one of the first people to write systematically about HSPs. You can find a lot about sensitivity and introversion in C.G.Jung’s writings but this book is really an introduction for people like me who kind of stumble upon their sensitivity and need some further information.

What I liked

The book “The Highly Sensitive Person” is an introduction to the topic written for HSPs. It contains a description of the trait and offers some basic help in accepting yourself and dealing with common issues associated with growing up, relationships, work, health and mental health issues. What I really liked was the way in which high sensitivity was framed as a trait and not a disorder. According to Aron up to 20% percent of the population are considered highly sensitive. I always felt weak, difficult or fussy and this was the predominant feedback I received from others too. Learning that it is simply a trait with pros and cons gave me sense of acceptance. I also felt less alone knowing that others are similar to me. I think this the greatest accomplishment of this book. For young people there are a lot of suggestions on how to deal with common issues and how to find the right kind of help. She also has a healthy skepticism about medication for what is essentially a normal character trait and not a disorder.

What I liked not so much

As someone who already had psychoanalysis I found very little new information in the chapters about childhood, relationships and therapy. I was also hoping for more advice, more descriptions of other cases or more analysis of certain common issues for HSPs. I don’t think this is a good book if you really want to learn about high sensitivity. It simply lacks additional content. I also felt a bit left out with Aron’s emphasis on spirituality. Most likely because I am not a spiritual person and as she said in the beginning HSPs can differ quite a lot from each other. The book is also very “American” so some cultural references and attitudes might be difficult to understand if you live someplace other than the United States.

Conclusion

A lot about what Aron wrote was quite obvious to me. She did put many things I knew or suspected together in an easy to read way. So in a sense I only learned a few new things but it helped me to clarify my thoughts. Reading the book also made me see my sensitivity as a trait and not just a burden or a defect. It helped me to accept how I “work” and to worry less about what might be wrong with me but to simply take the appropriate steps to accommodate my specific needs and attributes. I wish my 25 years old self would have discovered this book. In fact I do recommend “The Highly Sensitive Person” to young people with little life experience. Someone older and especially with experience in therapy might consider this book a bit too simple. Nevertheless it is a quick and easy read and it reframed a lot of what I already knew. Some things I still considered remnants of depression and anxiety are now much clearer when viewed as over-arousal. I would also recommend a few chapters to non-HSP partners so that both sides understand each other better.

If you are interested you can get the book here.

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