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

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You
Reviewed by Christine Koslosky

This intriguing book was loaned to me by Janus teacher Debbie Staudt, who thought she recognized in it something previously unnoticed or overlooked in some of our students.

Dr. Aron defines the trait of HSP partly by defining what it’s not: it’s not shyness. It’s not anxiety. It’s not fearfulness. It’s not high intelligence. It does, however, often co-exist with all the above. It is a personality type that is defined by the following: conscientiousness; carefulness and vigilance; intuition and creativity; ability to spot errors; ability to concentrate and process information deeply; metacognition; being an implicit learner; being sensitive to other people’s moods and emotions; and most notably, being highly sensitive to over stimulation.

As early as 1997, Dr. Aron noticed and began writing about the idea of a sensitive temperament, which she says psychologists had casually noticed for a long time, even though no systematic research had been conducted on the subject. She identifies herself as an HSP, and conducts interviews with many other people who share the trait.

According to Dr. Aron, many HSP’s are misunderstood and mistreated throughout their lives. She writes intriguingly about ways for HSP’s to reimagine their past; one chapter is titled “Reframing Your Childhood and Adolescence: Learning to Parent Yourself.” The next chapter, about social relationships, is subtitled “The Slide Into Shy,” which is what often happens to people who do not feel heard or whose needs are not being met. Dr. Aron offers thought-provoking insights into relationships and making one’s peace with the past. If you perceive that you or someone you are close to is a HSP, this book gives much food for thought. The last three chapters offer tips for health-care professionals, teachers, and employers who work with HSP’s.

The myriad of personality types and traits that populate our school and our world means that the richer our understanding, the more successful we will be in our dealings with each other. This book introduces yet one more shade in the colorful prism of human variety.

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