Notes from reading the book ‘The Highly Sensitive Person’

These are some notes on the book The Highly Sensitive Person, by Elaine Aron.

Note that I did not read this entire book – just the first 70 pages or so one rainy Sunday, after which I skimmed the rest. The later chapters focus on various aspects (love relationships, work, etc.) but IMO are not that weighty; I think I already got the gist from the first 70 or so pages.

(Aside: there is also a documentary on this topic featuring Elaine Aron, I think on Netflix – see below.)

Key takeaways:

  • Uses the acronym “HSP” throughout

  • 20% of the population (or so)

  • Nervous system is more sensitive to stimuli

  • Often (incorrectly) deemed “shy” or “withdrawn”, esp. in the (IMO bombastic) USian culture.

  • Difficulties can be exacerbated by out-of-sync, insensitive caregivers

  • In particular, a neglectful or mean caregiver can lead to avoidant attachment style (DING DING DING)

  • The Infant/Body’s message (p. 62) is very powerful. I strongly related to several parts of it. In particular “Keep my toys simple and my life uncomplicated. Don’t take me to more than one party in a week”. Also, “Please don’t make me handle more than I can.”.

  • highly sensitive babies with inattentive sitters showed more cortisol (stress hormone) in their saliva

  • Some parents and environments can make things much worse… especially experiences of failing to be calmed or helped, of being punished for exploring, and having others who should be helpful become dangerous instead. (p.35)

  • The culture you are in can help or hurt a lot, too. Especially if you are in a culture that deems your traits the less desirable ones.

  • Research study: Chen & Rubin of UWaterloo and Sun of Shanghai Teachers University compared 480 schoolchildren in China to 296 in Canada to see what traits made children most popular. In China “shy” and “sensitive” children were among those most chosen by others to be friends or playmates. In Mandarin, the word for shy or quiet means good or well-behaved, sensitive can be translated as “having understanding”, a term of praise. In Canada, shy or sensitive children were among the least chosen. Chances are, this is the kind of attitude you faced growing up.

See also “Sensitive, The Movie”:

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I'm the author of 'Jelec: the White Bear, or, Beware an Encounter with a Raven and his Friends.' For my day job, I work as a technical writer at a software company.

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