A long time ago I read a book called “The Highly Sensitive Person,” by Elaine Aron. At the time, I was just starting to get into my personal journey of self-help and empowerment literature. I was very open to good ideas that I thought would help give me clarity about myself. This book provided a piece of the puzzle.
In “The Highly Sensitive Person,” Aaron posits the idea that there is a certain percentage of the population that could be considered, not just sensitive, but highly-sensitive, and that this quality is unique enough and important enough as to merit its own category of human being: the highly-sensitive person, or “HSP.” According to Aron, these HSPs tend to be especially sensitive to other people’s emotions, sensitive to conflict and drama, and sensitive to high stimulation things such as loud noises. When they are happy and well-adjusted, they will often choose lives that fit their sensitivity, even if that means living more modest or quest lives. I still recall vividly Aron’s description of a man who realized his own sensitivity and picked a life where he could live in a smaller town atmosphere where he could get to know people well and live at a pace that fit his sensitive nature. I could be wrong about some of the details of that man, but I know him because I have become him. I have built my own life around that model, despite my at-times grandiose ambitions: I have chosen personal happiness over worldly ambitions, and am not unhappy that I did.
So needless to say, when I read the book, I quickly identified with the personality type being potrayed. I had recently gotten off five intense and grueling years of schooling, first going 40 miles away from home to go to high school in San Francisco, then going 3000 miles away from home to go to college in New York, where I did not finish. For various reasons, and not just because of the distance, I came out of this experience completely burned out and exhausted, from years of academic overload and sensory overwhelm.
To realize that my personality “type” was a thing gave me instant relief. I started to realize that maybe I just wasn’t living my life in a way that suited who I was. When I went back to college, I chose to attend a school in my back yard, right in the Bay Area, where I had grown up. This provided a much-needed sense of familiarity that was much more suitable for my own sensitivity.
To this day, the highly sensitive model fits me. Aron describes how highly-sensitive people do not always get over things easily: one of the biggest stumbling blocks in my own career is how hard I have tended to take rejection and criticism. I went through an episode of my own difficulty around this just a couple of weeks ago when a student quit suddenly. Even a simple slight or rude comment from someone else can send a highly-sensitive person into a personal tailspin, Aron suggests. She might as well be describing me.
Ultimately, the value for me of the highly-sensitive person idea is validation that I am not alone. If you, like me, think that you are highly-sensitive, I highly recommend you check out Aron’s book. Or you can visit her website. I recognize that you have your own unique ways of finding answers for yourself. Because I am the exact same way. And I would never want to step on your process, because I know how easily it can be to feel stepped on. We highly sensitive people have a very strong need to do things in ways that work for us. We have tried other people’s ways. They did not work!
We have our own needs. We are highly sensitive people!