Highly Sensitive People (HSP)

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Elaine Aron pioneered new ground over a decade ago when she wrote the trade book The Highly Sensitive Person; this was followed up by a workbook, a book on parenting children who are highly sensitive, and even a primer for therapists. Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP), in her view (which incorporates findings from important developmental psychologists such as Chess and Thomas), often show traits of what Carl Jung called Intraversion: they find grounding in thinking, nature, or reading, they rejuvenate themselves through rest and down time, and they may find themselves at odds with the teamwork and outgoing culture of business or Dale Carnegie aficionados.

Aron notes that 15-to-20 percent of the population may consist of HSP, and they may find that they have to accommodate their style of being with the 80-to-85 percent of persons without this characteristic. In school they would rather sit in rows rather than be facing each other in desks; they work more comfortably in a small office with a door to close than with cubicles set up to foster “teamwork”; and they probably enjoy listening to their music at home rather than going to frequent concerts where loud crowds are present.

One of Aron’s contributions is to note that the temperamental style of these persons has frequently been seen as something that is negative or pathological. For example, colleges now place great emphasis on letters of reference that document just how outgoing a young person is. Businesses want gregarious team leaders. And the DSM writers and editors may even confuse HSP qualities with elements of anxiety, depression, or OCD.

The issue of finding balance is a crucial one for persons with HSP. Although they may prefer to live, metaphorically or in reality, in a small cabin in the woods, they also need close relationships, and need to venture out into the cities: brick-and-mortar or activity-laden places where they can find the human nourishment that is also required.

There is a huge variety in HSP characteristics, and one of the most intriguing (and taxing) modes is the HSP who also requires a high level of stimulation and activity. Finding that balance point where restfulness doe not fuel boredom can be a challenging task.

If you are interested in learning more about HSP, visit Aron’s Web site, or read one of her books.

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