The Highly Sensitive Person

The Highly Sensitive Person

by Elaine Aron Ph.D

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“Elaine Aron has not only validated and scientifically corroborated high sensitivity as a trait—she has given a level of empowerment and understanding to a large group of the planet’s population. I thank Dr. Aron every day for her having brought this awareness to the world.”
—Alanis Morissette, artist, activist, teacher

Do you have a keen imagination and vivid dreams? Is time alone each day as essential to you as food and water? Are you noted for your empathy?  Your conscientiousness? Do noise and confusion quickly overwhelm you? If your answers are yes, you may be a highly sensitive person (HSP).
Over twenty percent of people have this amazing, innate trait.  Maybe you are one of them.  A similar percentage is found in over 100 species, because high sensitivity is a survival strategy.  It is also a way of life for HSPs.
In this groundbreaking classic, Dr. Elaine Aron, a research and clinical psychologist as well as an HSP herself, helps you grasp the reality of your wonderful trait, understand your past in the light of it, and make the most of it in your future. Drawing on her many years of study and face-to-face time spent with thousands of HSPs, she explains the changes you will need to make in order to lead a fuller, richer life.

Along with a new Author’s Note, the latest scientific research, and a fresh discussion of anti-depressants, this edition of The Highly Sensitive Person is more essential than ever for creating the sense of self-worth and empowerment every HSP deserves and our planet needs.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806536705
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 11/26/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 26,613
File size: 731 KB

About the Author

Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., a clinical and research psychologist, is the internationally bestselling author of The Highly Sensitive Person (translated into 30 languages) and its companion books: The Highly Sensitive Parent, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, The Highly Sensitive Child, and Psychotherapy and the Highly Sensitive Person. Credited for first recognizing high sensitivity as an innate trait and pioneering the study of HSPs since 1990, she has established the Foundation for the Study of Highly Sensitive Persons, maintains the website and online resource, and has published numerous scientific articles on sensitivity in the leading journals in her field. Dr. Aron earned her M.A. from York University in Toronto in clinical psychology and her Ph.D. at Pacifica Graduate Institute in clinical depth psychology as well as interning at the C. G. Jung Institute in San Francisco. In addition, she and her husband, Dr. Arthur Aron, are two of the leading scientists studying the psychology of love and close relationships. They are also pioneers in studying both sensitivity and love using functional magnetic resonance imaging. She maintains a small psychotherapy practice in Mill Valley, CA and can be found online at

Read an Excerpt

The Highly Sensitive Person

How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You

By Elaine N. Aron


Copyright © 2013 Elaine N. Aron
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8065-3670-5


The Facts About Being Highly Sensitive

A (wrong) Sense of Being Flawed

In this chapter you will learn the basic facts about your trait and how it makes you different from others. You will also discover the rest of your inherited personality and have your eyes opened about your culture's view of you. But first you should meet Kristen.

She Thought She Was Crazy

Kristen was the twenty-third interview of my research on HSPs. She was an intelligent, clear-eyed college student. But soon into our interview her voice began to tremble.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "But I really signed up to see you because you're a psychologist and I had to talk to someone who could tell me —" Her voice broke. "Am I crazy?" I studied her with sympathy. She was obviously feeling desperate, but nothing she had said so far had given me any sense of mental illness. But then, I was already listening differently to people like Kristen.

She tried again, as if afraid to give me time to answer. "I feel so different. I always did. I don't mean — I mean, my family was great. My childhood was almost idyllic until I had to go to school. Although Mom says I was always a grumpy baby."

She took a breath. I said something reassuring, and she plunged on. "But in nursery school I was afraid of everything. Even music time. When they would pass out the pots and pans to pound, I would put my hands over my ears and cry."

She looked away, her eyes glistening with tears now, too. "In elementary school I was always the teacher's pet. Yet they'd say I was 'spacey.'"

Her "spaciness" prompted a distressing series of medical and psychological tests. First for mental retardation. As a result, she was enrolled in a program for the gifted, which did not surprise me.

Still the message was "Something is wrong with this child." Her hearing was tested. Normal. In fourth grade she had a brain scan on the theory that her inwardness was due to petit mal seizures. Her brain was normal.

The final diagnosis? She had "trouble screening out stimuli." But the result was a child who believed she was defective.

Special But Deeply Misunderstood

The diagnosis was right as far as it went. HSPs do take in a lot — all the subtleties others miss. But what seems ordinary to others, like loud music or crowds, can be highly stimulating and thus stressful for HSPs.

Most people ignore sirens, glaring lights, strange odors, clutter and chaos. HSPs are disturbed by them.

Most people's feet may be tired at the end of a day in a mall or a museum, but they're ready for more when you suggest an evening party. HSPs need solitude after such a day. They feel jangled, overaroused.

Most people walk into a room and perhaps notice the furniture, the people — that's about it. HSPs can be instantly aware, whether they wish to be or not, of the mood, the friendships and enmities, the freshness or staleness of the air, the personality of the one who arranged the flowers.

If you are an HSP, however, it is hard to grasp that you have some remarkable ability. How do you compare inner experiences? Not easily. Mostly you notice that you seem unable to tolerate as much as other people. You forget that you belong to a group that has often demonstrated great creativity, insight, passion, and caring — all highly valued by society.

We are a package deal, however. Our trait of sensitivity means we will also be cautious, inward, needing extra time alone. Because people without the trait (the majority) do not understand that, they see us as timid, shy, weak, or that greatest sin of all, unsociable. Fearing these labels, we try to be like others. But that leads to our becoming overaroused and distressed. Then that gets us labeled neurotic or crazy, first by others and then by ourselves.

Kristen's Dangerous Year

Sooner or later everyone encounters stressful life experiences, but HSPs react more to such stimulation. If you see this reaction as part of some basic flaw, you intensify the stress already present in any life crisis. Next come feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.

Kristen, for example, had such a crisis the year she started college. She had attended a low-key private high school and had never been away from home. Suddenly she was living among strangers, fighting in crowds for courses and books, and always overstimulated. Next she fell in love, fast and hard (as HSPs can do). Shortly after, she went to Japan to meet her boyfriend's family, an event she already had good reason to fear. It was while she was in Japan that, in her words, she "flipped out."

Kristen had never thought of herself as an anxious person, but suddenly, in Japan, she was overcome by fears and could not sleep. Then she became depressed. Frightened by her own emotions, her self-confidence plummeted. Her young boyfriend could not cope with her "craziness" and wanted to end the relationship. By then she had returned to school, but feared she was going to fail at that, too. Kristen was on the edge.

She looked up at me after sobbing out the last of her story. "Then I heard about this research, about being sensitive, and I thought, Could that be me? But it isn't, I know. Is it?"

I told her that of course I could not be sure from such a brief conversation, but I believed that, yes, her sensitivity in combination with all these stresses might well explain her state of mind. And so I had the privilege of explaining Kristen to herself — an explanation obviously long overdue.

Defining High Sensitivity — Two Facts to Remember

FACT 1: Everyone, HSP or not, feels best when neither too bored nor too aroused.

An individual will perform best on any kind of task, whether engaging in a conversation or playing in the Super Bowl, if his or her nervous system is moderately alert and aroused. Too little arousal and one is dull, ineffective. To change that underaroused physical state, we drink some coffee, turn on the radio, call a friend, strike up a conversation with a total stranger, change careers — anything!

At the other extreme, too much arousal of the nervous system and anyone will become distressed, clumsy, and confused. We cannot think; the body is not coordinated; we feel out of control. Again, we have many ways to correct the situation. Sometimes we rest. Or mentally shut down. Some of us drink alcohol or take a Valium.

The best amount of arousal falls somewhere in the middle. That there is a need and desire for an "optimal level of arousal" is, in fact, one of the most solid findings of psychology. It is true for everyone, even infants. They hate to feel bored or overwhelmed.

FACT 2: People differ considerably in how much their nervous system is aroused in the same situation, under the same stimulation.

The difference is largely inherited, and is very real and normal. In fact, it can be observed in all higher animals — mice, cats, dogs, horses, monkeys, humans. Within a species, the percentage that is very sensitive to stimulation is usually about the same, around 15-20 percent. Just as some within a species are a little bigger in size than others, some are a little more sensitive. In fact, through careful breeding of animals, mating the sensitive ones to each other can create a sensitive strain in just a few generations. In short, among inborn traits of temperament, this one creates the most dramatic, observable differences.

The Good News and the Not-So-Good

What this difference in arousability means is that you notice levels of stimulation that go unobserved by others. This is true whether we are talking about subtle sounds, sights, or physical sensations like pain. It is not that your hearing, vision, or other senses are more acute (plenty of HSPs wear glasses). The difference seems to lie somewhere on the way to the brain or in the brain, in a more careful processing of information. We reflect more on everything. And we sort things into finer distinctions. Like those machines that grade fruit by size — we sort into ten sizes while others sort into two or three.

This greater awareness of the subtle tends to make you more intuitive, which simply means picking up and working through information in a semiconscious or unconscious way. The result is that you often "just know" without realizing how. Furthermore, this deeper processing of subtle details causes you to consider the past or future more. You "just know" how things got to be the way they are or how they are going to turn out. This is that "sixth sense" people talk about. It can be wrong, of course, just as your eyes and ears can be wrong, but your intuition is right often enough that HSPs tend to be visionaries, highly intuitive artists, or inventors, as well as more conscientious, cautious, and wise people.

The downside of the trait shows up at more intense levels of stimulation. What is moderately arousing for most people is highly arousing for HSPs. What is highly arousing for most people causes an HSP to become very frazzled indeed, until they reach a shutdown point called "transmarginal inhibition." Transmarginal inhibition was first discussed around the turn of the century by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, who was convinced that the most basic inherited difference among people was how soon they reach this shutdown point and that the quick-to-shut-down have a fundamentally different type of nervous system.

No one likes being overaroused, HSP or not. A person feels out of control, and the whole body warns that it is in trouble. Overarousal often means failing to perform at one's best. Of course, it can also mean danger. An extra dread of overarousal may even be built into all of us. Since a newborn cannot run or fight or even recognize danger, it is best if it howls at anything new, anything arousing at all, so that grown-ups can come and rescue it.

Like the fire department, we HSPs mostly respond to false alarms. But if our sensitivity saves a life even once, it is a trait that has a genetic payoff. So, yes, when our trait leads to overarousal, it is a nuisance. But it is part of a package deal with many advantages.

More About Stimulation

Stimulation is anything that wakes up the nervous system, gets its attention, makes the nerves fire off another round of the little electrical charges that they carry. We usually think of stimulation as coming from outside, but of course it can come from our body (such as pain, muscle tension, hunger, thirst, or sexual feelings) or as memories, fantasies, thoughts, or plans.

Stimulation can vary in intensity (like the loudness of a noise) or in duration. It can be more stimulating because it is novel, as when one is startled by a honk or shout, or in its complexity, as when one is at a party and hearing four conversations at once plus music.

Often we can get used to stimulation. But sometimes we think we have and aren't being bothered, but suddenly feel exhausted and realize why: We have been putting up with something at a conscious level while it was actually wearing us down. Even a moderate and familiar stimulation, like a day at work, can cause an HSP to need quiet by evening. At that point, one more "small" stimulation can be the last straw.

Stimulation is even more complicated because the same stimulus can have different meanings for different people. A crowded shopping mall at Christmastime may remind one person of happy family shopping excursions and create a warm holiday spirit. But another person may have been forced to go shopping with others, tried to buy gifts without enough money and no idea of what to purchase, had unhappy memories of past holidays, and so suffers intensely in malls at Christmas.


Think back to one or more times that your sensitivity has saved you or someone else from suffering, great loss, or even death. (in my own case, I and all my family would be dead if I had not awakened at the first flicker of firelight in the ceiling

One general rule is that when we have no control over stimulation, it is more upsetting, even more so if we feel we are someone's victim. While music played by ourselves may be pleasant, heard from the neighbor's stereo, it can be annoying, and if we have previously asked them to turn it down, it becomes a hostile invasion. This book may even increase your annoyance a bit as you begin to appreciate that you are a minority whose rights to have less stimulation are generally ignored.

Obviously it would help if we were enlightened and detached from all of these associations so that nothing could arouse us. No wonder so many HSPs become interested in spiritual paths.

Is Arousal Really Different From Anxiety and Fear?

It is important not to confuse arousal with fear. Fear creates arousal, but so do many other emotions, including joy, curiosity, or anger. But we can also be overaroused by semiconscious thoughts or low levels of excitement that create no obvious emotion. Often we are not aware of what is arousing us, such as the newness of a situation or noise or the many things our eyes are seeing.

Actually, there are several ways to be aroused and still other ways to feel aroused, and they differ from time to time and from person to person. Arousal may appear as blushing, trembling, heart pounding, hands shaking, foggy thinking, stomach churning, muscles tensing, and hands or other parts of the body perspiring. Often people in such situations are not aware of some or all of these reactions as they occur. On the other hand, some people say they feel aroused, but that arousal shows up very little in any of these ways. Still, the term does describe something that all these experiences and physical states share. Like the word "stress," arousal is a word that really communicates something we all know about, even if that something varies a lot. And of course stress is closely related to arousal: Our response to stress is to become aroused.

Once we do notice arousal, we want to name it and know its source in order to recognize danger. And often we think that our arousal is due to fear. We do not realize that our heart may be pounding from the sheer effort of processing extra stimulation. Or other people assume we are afraid, given our obvious arousal, so we assume it, too. Then, deciding we must be afraid, we become even more aroused. And we avoid the situation in the future when staying in it and getting used to it might have calmed us down. We will discuss again the importance of not confusing fear and arousal in chapter 5 when we talk about "shyness."

Your Trait Really Does Make You Special

There are many fruits growing from the trait of sensitivity. Your mind works differently. Please remember that what follows is on the average; nobody has all these traits. But compared to non-HSPs, most of us are:

• Better at spotting errors and avoiding making errors.

• Highly conscientious.

• Able to concentrate deeply. (But we do best without distractions.)

• Especially good at tasks requiring vigilance, accuracy, speed, and the detection of minor differences.

• Able to process material to deeper levels of what psychologists call "semantic memory." often thinking about our own thinking.

• Able to learn without being aware we have learned.

• Deeply affected by other people's moods and emotions.

Of course, there are many exceptions, especially to our being conscientious. And we don't want to be self-righteous about this; plenty of harm can be done in the name of trying to do good. Indeed, all of these fruits have their bruised spots. We are so skilled, but alas, when being watched, timed, or evaluated, we often cannot display our competence. Our deeper processing may make it seem that at first we are not catching on, but with time we understand and remember more than others. This may be why HSPs learn languages better (although arousal may make one less fluent than others when speaking).

By the way, thinking more than others about our own thoughts is not self-centeredness. It means that if asked what's on our mind, we are less likely to mention being aware of the world around us, and more likely to mention our inner reflections or musings. But we are no less likely to mention thinking about other people.

Our bodies are different too. Most of us have nervous systems that make us:

• Specialists in fine motor movements.

• Good at holding still.

• "Morning people." (Here there are many exceptions.)

• More affected by stimulants like caffeine unless we are very used to them.

• More "right-brained" (less linear, more creative in a synthesizing way).

• More sensitive to things in the air. (Yes, that means more hay fever and skin rashes.)

Overall, again, our nervous systems seem designed to react to subtle experiences, which also makes us slower to recover when we must react to intense stimuli.

But HSPs are not in a more aroused state all the time. We are not "chronically aroused" in day-to-day life or when asleep. We are just more aroused by new or prolonged stimulation. (Being an HSP is not the same as being "neurotic" — that is, constantly anxious for no apparent reason).


Excerpted from The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron. Copyright © 2013 Elaine N. Aron. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Author's Note, 2012,
Are You Highly Sensitive? - A SELF-TEST,
1 - The Facts About Being Highly Sensitive,
2 - Digging Deeper,
3 - General Health and Lifestyle for HSPs,
4 - Reframing Your Childhood and Adolescence,
5 - Social Relationships,
6 - Thriving at Work,
7 - Close Relationships,
8 - Healing the Deeper Wounds,
9 - Medics, Medications, and HSPs,
10 - Soul and Spirit,
Tips for Health-Care Professionals Working With Highly Sensitive People,
Tips for Teachers Working With Highly Sensitive Students,
Tips for Employers of Highly Sensitive People,
About the Author,
Copyright Page,

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The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When The World Overwhelms You 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book validates that being sensitive doesn't imply weakness or that something is "wrong". I learned a lot about my trait, and now I embrace it even more. Nothing for me to apologize anymore. This book offers suggestions on how we can survive in a world that is overwhelming. If you're HSP, read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"The Highly Sensitive Person" was well researched on the subject of emotional and physical sensitivity. I could relate to many stories and agree with the scientific assessments. I have referred this book to several friends who fall into the sensitive category.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book gave me so much insight on why things affect me the way they do. It was very comforting to know I'm not alone in this trait & helped me understand what I need to do in order to make my life better. It helped a lot that the author was an "HSP" too.
traveler7157 More than 1 year ago
This is a very good book for sensitive prople, of for those who may think they are. I have to read some and then pu tit down and think about it, then come back later. I highly recommend this book, especially if you think, or you've been told, you're too sensitive, too introverted, or too shy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I now know why my senses get overwhelmed and need solitude to relax from being overstimulated.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has way too many "maybe, may, could, seemingly" added on to any information on this trait. At the end of the book I feel that I had just followed the author's many educated guesses on different topics related to hsp. I realize a personality trait might not lend itself to a factual or scientific analysis but I expected more from the book. Basically, if you are a person looking for an explanation of the hsp trait based in facts and science this is not the book for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
PVF More than 1 year ago
This book argues that there are more categories than just introvert or extravert to describe sensitive people, and that they also could not be isolated by the MMPI or other standard personality measures. I think it's brilliant. The author has delineated a legitimate personality category, and those readers who self-identify with this category will find this book reassuring and eye-opening.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Elaine Aron writes in a way that is reassuring, comforting, and encouraging. I was hooked from the beginning because I absolutely related to everything Aron was saying. Sometimes just being understood is enough to feel better, but she also gives great advice on how to cope and evolve.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just started reading this book and i feel so understood and at ease. I have always been told you're too sensetive. Yes... i understand now... i am Highly sensetive. This book is a blessing to me!
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Great read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not helpful to me
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is where you ask questions. These questions are/have to be appropiate. Either the less the questions are free for all. ~Greenleaf
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every kindof food can be made here.