The Highly Sensitive Person (Book Summary)

Vista therapist Ben Heifetz, LMFT, LPC provides a compelling summary of Elaine Aron‘s book “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.” Backed by a solid body of scientific research, the book describes how highly sensitive people experience the world differently and what they can do to embrace their trait and live well.   

  • Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are common but in the minority, making up about 20% of the human population, and they are equally represented in both men and women.  However, HSPs make up about 50% of clients in therapy!  One reason for this is that HSPs are impacted more strongly than non-HSPs by difficult childhoods and are more prone to depression and anxiety.
  • High sensitivity, also known scientifically as Sensory-Processing Sensitivity (SPS), is a genetic trait that has been found in over 100 species in addition to humans.  The trait likely developed as a type of survival strategy.
  • The components of high sensitivity can be described by the acronym DOES:
    • Depth of Processing means that HSPs think more deeply and consider more information and nuances than non-HSPs.  This lends certain advantages but can also lead to overthinking and indecision.
    • Overstimulation is common for HSPs because noticing all the details and shades of meaning can feel like quite a lot, especially when the situation is intense, complicated, or lengthy in duration.
    • E is for both Emotional Reactivity (HSPs react more strongly to both positive and negative experiences) and Empathy (HSPs are highly attuned to the feelings of others and actually have stronger mirror neuron systems in their brains).
    • Sensing the Subtle means that HSPs literally perceive more of the details and small variations of information than non-HSPs.  This is likely due to processing the sensory information more carefully in the brain rather than differences in the sensory organs themselves.  This ability leads to qualities such as strong intuition but also contributes to how HSPs can become easily over aroused.  
  • In American culture, HSPs frequently receive the message that they are too sensitive and there is something wrong with them for feeling and experiencing the world the way they do.  Thus, healing for HSPs involves accepting their biologically innate trait, learning to appreciate the advantages of sensitivity, and reframing past experiences in light of their new understanding.  HSPs also need more rest and periods of low-stimulation than non-HSPs.

Curious if you’re highly sensitive?  Take the self test HERE