Book Review: Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You
The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I read Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Child about six years ago, the friend who’d recommended it said I’d really only need to read that one to get the main ideas of this one. I pretty much agree with her.

There were several things I found useful in this book. The first is a simple one. Aron suggests that, while we may be used to tensing our shoulders up by our ears even in sleep as an attempt to block out excess stimuli, we try situating our bodies in a posture consistent with relaxation. Even if we don’t initially feel relaxed, if we move our shoulders down and back and center our heads over our shoulders and hips as though we were relaxed, our minds will gradually follow and calm down, too. I’ve found this to work for me to a degree.

The other really helpful thing is just to focus on the stimuli in my environment, trying to maintain a balance between very stimulating things and calmer things. When I become overwhelmed, I tend to lash out and yell. Then I bad-mouth myself for my lack of discipline or control and tell myself that I’m a bad person for yelling at my wonderful children. This new focus, though, seems to be more productive (surprise, surprise). Instead of trying to identify when I’m feeling angry (which is difficult for me), I try to identify when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. Then, if I have enough presence of mind, I can look at the various stimuli in my environment and try to cut out one or more of them. Sometimes this means turning off the radio or asking my children to speak one at a time instead of making their requests simultaneously (you can guess which one of those is more effective).

Along with these helpful things, though, I found the book to be very repetitive. In addition, she uses a different definition of “introversion” and “extraversion” (her spelling) than the one I use (mine’s more a Myers-Briggs definition about whether we get our energy from inside ourselves or externally, while hers seems to be more a matter of where we direct ourselves, which is a subtle but significant difference), so her discussions about HSPs in relation to introversion and extroversion were a little irrelevant to me. She also seems to go on a lot of tangents (something of which I’m guilty, too) and spends a lot of time really rah-rahing for HSPs, which feels a little unnecessary to me. Sure, talk up the positives of the trait, but I find a cheering section a little patronizing.

Aron puts a lot of focus on healing insecure attachments in childhood, to the point that one of her exercises is suspiciously like a re-birthing exercise. That’s all a little woo-woo for me, but it might float someone else’s boat. Oh, and the anecdote she tells about the highly sensitive child who grows up, goes to college, and hangs himself…yes, that was a little jarring and I think I’d kind of rather not have that story in my brain.

But despite all of this, I did find the book gave me insights into the kinds of things that overwhelm me and how to manage them in my everyday life. Doesn’t mean I always follow her suggestions though. I mean, right now I’m trying to type a book review while sweating in a bathrobe that’s way too warm and while one child is strewing paper clips all over and the other is yelling from the bathroom that she needs more toilet paper even though there’s an extra roll just a couple of feet from the toilet. The stimulus I ought to cut out is the book review (or maybe the bathrobe, or maybe I ought to just give my child the toilet paper), but am I doing that?

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8 comments

  1. Pingback: 2012: My Year in Books « Imperfect Happiness
  2. omalone1 · June 14, 2012

    Just another ginmick.

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    • CJ · June 15, 2012

      Thanks for visiting and commenting, omalone1.

      I didn’t really see it as a mockery or a gimmick. I think Aron’s motives were pure, and she takes the symptoms of “intensity” seriously. The things I didn’t like were mostly shortcomings of the genre. All self-help books have similar failings, and the “Rah-rah!” aspect and the reliance on opinion rather than data are, to my eye, two of the big ones, but some of these books do have helpful perspectives, even if they are light on data. And this one certainly isn’t the most self-helpy of the self-help books I’ve read.

      Like

  3. omalone1 · June 13, 2012

    I think that these authors really make a mockery of the reality of intensity

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  6. Susan · January 6, 2012

    I started reading this a year ago, then got kind of annoyed and didn’t get very far. The author seemed to be creating some kind of “special” class of introverts who were really quite fragile and needed gentle handling. That seemed off to me, in some way — kind of less empowering somehow.

    However, I suspect my nephew is a highly sensitive child. I bought the Highly Sensitive Child for my sister and I really need to pick up the Highly Sensitive Person and give it a fair chance.

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    • CJ · January 6, 2012

      I preferred The Highly Sensitive Child to this one. I remember it staying on topic a little better.

      I definitely don’t think she uses the term “introvert” the same way you do. She refers to HSPs who are extroverts, but I never really got a good sense of how someone like that might look/act. If you’re sensitive to and overwhelmed by stimuli, it seems like it would be difficult to get recharged being around other people. I think her definition of a highly sensitive person is about the same as my definition of an introvert. It comes down to semantics at one point or another, I guess. You might enjoy her discussions of shyness vs introversion vs the highly sensitive trait, though.

      If you do tackle the book again, you might want to jump into the individual sections that interest you rather than trying to read through the whole thing (if you’re the type of person who can read a book piecemeal like that. I never was, but I’m getting better at it).

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