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Book Summary: The Highly Sensitive Person – How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You

Do your senses and emotions often distract you? Does it seem like other people are oblivious to the things that drive you crazy? Have you always felt a bit different? You may be a highly sensitive person, meaning it takes less stimulation for you to become overwhelmed. In this book review of The Highly Sensitive Person, you’ll learn what it means to be highly sensitive and how you can harness your sensitivity for success and happiness.

Understand this genetic trait that affects 20% of the population.

The Highly Sensitive Person (1996) improves our understanding of that one-fifth of the population whose nervous systems pick up signals the average person can’t register. With greater self-awareness and society’s understanding, people with heightened sensitivity can flourish.


  • Often feel overwhelmed or need to be alone
  • Wonder why you can’t handle the same activities that your friends can
  • Want to learn how to handle sensitivity and overstimulation

What’s in it for me? Learn how to cope, and even thrive, as a highly sensitive person.
Do you avoid parties?

Do you feel compelled to sit through events because leaving will hurt people’s feelings?

Do you feel anxiety when people watch you perform tasks you normally excel at?

Do you leave people stunned by how you come up with genius ideas?

Chances are you’re a highly sensitive person.

Contrary to popular assumption, you’re not shy. You’re not a spoilsport, either. You just have the uncanny ability to pick up nuances others are not equipped to notice. Rather than worry about this trait, you’ll help yourself and everyone around you if you learn to manage and exercise this superpower.

This short Blink will show you just how.


If you’ve been told your entire life that you’re “too sensitive” or “need thicker skin,” you’re probably a highly sensitive person, or HSP. You’ve probably also learned to think of this trait as a flaw or something you need to “get over.”

Book Summary: The Highly Sensitive Person - How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You

But high sensitivity isn’t a flaw. It’s an inherited trait affecting about 20% of people, and it simply means you’re more aware of stimulation than others. Noticing the subtleties in your environment is not a bad thing; it can even be extremely useful in some situations. But it also means you get overwhelmed easily. For example, bright lights and loud noises probably have a greater impact on you, as well as painful or embarrassing situations. You probably find yourself wanting to be alone quite often.

Being an HSP isn’t a defect, nor is it something to overcome. Instead, it is a valuable trait to be appreciated and used to your advantage, just like any other personality trait. If you’ve felt different, weird, or misunderstood your entire life, welcome to the club.

Learn how to cope, and even thrive, as a highly sensitive person.

Do you avoid parties?

Do you feel compelled to sit through events because leaving will hurt people’s feelings?

Do you feel anxiety when people watch you perform tasks you normally excel at?

Do you leave people stunned by how you come up with genius ideas?

Chances are you’re a highly sensitive person.

Contrary to popular assumption, you’re not shy. You’re not a spoilsport, either. You just have the uncanny ability to pick up nuances others are not equipped to notice. Rather than worry about this trait, you’ll help yourself and everyone around you if you learn to manage and exercise this superpower.

This short Blink will show you just how.

Signs you’re a highly sensitive person

Meet Rob and Rebecca. They’re twins – fraternal, not identical.

At age three, they become big brother and big sister, so a friendly couple comes to care for the twins for a few days before the new baby comes home.

When Rob walks into his parents’ room and finds strangers, he’s so terrified, he screams. Rebecca walks in, says hi, and off she goes, smiling.

Rob’s neither shy nor anxious. He just sees, smells, and hears things Rebecca isn’t equipped to absorb.

He’s inherited a highly sensitive nervous system. As he grows, he’ll forget most of what’s happened in his childhood – but his body and subconscious will always remember.

He’ll spend more time processing events. His dreams will be vivid and will have a lot to do with what’s happening in the real world. His dreams might even predict future events with astonishing accuracy.

If that sounds like you, you’re among the 20 percent of people with Rob’s superpower.

What Rob experienced when he saw strangers in his parents’ bed wasn’t necessarily fear. It was information overload. He was just overstimulated.

Highly sensitive people, or HSPs, will complain about the volume of music at a bar. They’ll catch the hint of a frown that says a colleague’s wife hates Christmas parties. They can judge the character of a florist by looking at how she arranges flowers.

These subtle clues can come with great benefits. If you’re an HSP, they can help you enjoy the wholesome sensory experiences of laughter, music, work, and sex.

What you need to look out for is balance. Each person has an optimal arousal level. Get above this threshold and you can experience discomfort, and, in extreme cases, paralysis or panic.

Of course, everyone has a sensory threshold. The difference here is that the highly sensitive have lower thresholds and might not be able to stand honking cars or large crowds. Some might not even be able to take small groups for very long.

It’s all about exposure and intensity. Beyond that red line, HSPs need to recharge.

Getting the best out of your highly sensitive personality

A recluse decided he needed time away from the world. He shut himself inside a cave all alone and meditated. But soon the sound of dripping water in his sanctuary became unbearably loud. He was no happier in the cave than outside it.

The lesson here is that if you’re an HSP, you’re going to need some level of flexibility to find, test, and progressively improve your ability to manage stimulation.

The first step is to be kind to yourself. Treat your mind and body as you would your infant self. Get proper sleep, eat well, exercise, and find a comfortable space you can always run to if you need to feel safe.

That safety might come in the form of deep, meaningful friendships with like-minded people who share your compassion for service, art, or spirituality.

Second, understand that your body will rebel at outside pressure. Follow the path that will lead you toward greater autonomy in things like employment. Even while you’re working for others, however, you can improve the talents that will eventually buy your freedom.

Excelling at your job and communicating with your superiors about what what works best for you will earn you more flexibility.

Always be sensitive to bursts of creativity. Your intuition gives you foresight, making you good at analysis and prediction in ways ordinary people can’t understand. But you must learn to prioritize to see projects through.

Another situation you’ll encounter is performance anxiety. Remember that this doesn’t happen because you’re shy or incompetent. In fact, about 30 percent of highly sensitive people are extroverts, but still experience over-arousal.

To fight performance anxiety, spend time on preparation, and go into meetings or presentations with notes to help you focus.

Remember, you need a social life as much as any other person. You just need it in different doses. Help your significant other and friends understand why you need a break – but occasionally make the effort to stay out longer. This will make them happy, and has the added advantage of raising your arousal threshold.

Raising a sensitive kid? Make sure they’re securely attached. Give them the protection they need while helping them build the confidence to go out and experiment.

Meditation is an effective way to calm HSPs. Apart from its healing powers, meditation can transform past negative events into positive change.

Say you got flustered at your first work presentation. Recall the experience and your reaction. Was it shame, anger, or humilitaion?

Let yourself feel that emotion. Don’t resist if your body expresses it through tears, rage or laughter.

As an HSP, how can you make it work next time for you? Resolve to take that step. Writing it down will make your resolve even stronger.

Being kind to yourself, managing stimulation, preparation, good communication, and meditation will make you thrive as an HSP.

The Facts About Being Highly Sensitive

As a child, loud noises made Kristen upset. She worked hard in school, but her teachers called her “spacey.” Her parents tested everything from her hearing to her psychological development to her brain activity. Doctors concluded that Kristen was completely healthy; she simply struggled to filter out excessive stimuli. But all the tests and doubts made their mark: Kristen knew she wasn’t “normal.”

Stimuli that most people can ignore, like loud noises or strong smells, are highly stimulating for HSPs. But there are two facts to remember about high sensitivity:

  • First, the best amount of arousal for anyone, not just HSPs, is right in the middle. Too little stimulation is boring, but too much is stressful and confusing.
  • Second, the exact same situation or stimuli can arouse two radically different responses in two different people.

This means that HSPs notice stimuli that other people don’t, which is why HSPs are often more intuitive. Sensitive people also tend to be conscientious and wise, and compared to everyone else, HSPs are especially vigilant and accurate, noticing errors quickly and learning subconsciously. Many innovators and artists are HSPs.

But on the flipside, this also means that HSPs become overwhelmed by stimuli that is considered moderate or inconsequential to others. And unfortunately, overstimulation usually leads to poor performance in daily life. If you find yourself fumbling through a task when someone is looking over your shoulder, you might be an HSP.

Being highly sensitive can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the situation. Thus, it’s best to dismiss the idea of clear-cut positivity or negativity and think of sensitivity neutrally. Some people are sensitive, and some people aren’t; the world needs both kinds of people.

Digging Deeper

Rob and Rebecca are fraternal twins, but they were different from each other from the beginning. Rebecca would fall asleep right away, but Rob cried until his parents rocked him. Rob later suffered from nightmares, while Rebecca slept soundly. Rebecca loved restaurants, the ocean, and carousels — and Rob feared all these things.

High sensitivity is not a learned behavior but a congenital trait that is genetically determined and informed by your early life. Cases like Rob and Rebecca’s make this clear, but there is also scientific evidence to support the claim that sensitivity is genetically determined. Dr. Jerome Kagan found that that some babies have higher levels of norepinephrine and cortisol, the hormones associated with stress and arousal. These babies had stronger reactions to stimuli and were more likely to fear new scenarios later in life.

Some have concluded that there are two brain systems affecting sensitivity: The activation system, which tells the body to move toward stimuli, making us curious and bold, and the inhibition system, which warns us to stop and consider danger, making us more cautious. The strength of these systems will determine your sensitivity level.

The distinction between these two systems also explains why there are varying levels of sensitivity among HSPs. An HSP with an average-to-strong inhibition system and weak activation system is probably hesitant and quiet, but the HSP with a strong activation system and an even stronger inhibition system feels torn between curiosity and caution. These people are probably daring and anxious, bored yet overwhelmed.

Fortunately, Rob’s parents were calm, understanding, and nurturing. He learned that he had support, which gave him the courage to explore and grow. Less fortunate children with poor support systems often avoid new stimuli, creating even more unknown scenarios and fear in a vicious cycle of anxiety. But this isn’t a life sentence: Adults who understand their sensitive trait can use it to their benefit.

General Health and Lifestyle for HSPs

The highly sensitive body has special needs, but many HSPs abuse their bodies in two main ways: over-protecting and overstimulating.

An HSP may turn inward, seeking respite from the overwhelming world. But the more you engage in a habit, the less interesting it becomes. Think about the first time you drove a car: You were probably nervous and excited. Your heart was pounding, and you noticed every tiny detail on the road. But now, after years of practice, you can practically drive on autopilot. The same will be true of any activity. Before you can enjoy the world, you must be in the world.

On the other hand, some HSPs feel pressured by societal standards and force themselves to be out too much in their career goals, leisure activities, or relationships. But HSPs’ bodies react negatively to this stress, giving them warning signs like fatigue, insomnia, or migraines. When you do become overstimulated, there are many strategies for calming your senses. One is reframing: Take note of the familiar aspects of the situation and remember that you have successfully dealt with them before. Another strategy is repeating a mantra that calms you down.

Practice this mantra daily through meditation for it to be powerful and effective. An HSP must decide what is right for them personally, even if it means ignoring societal expectations. Just because the world says you “should” want to go overseas or become a powerful executive doesn’t mean you would enjoy those things. The balance between in and out is a fine line, and it’s a very personal decision.

Reframing Your Childhood and Adolescence

As discussed above, one of the most effective strategies for embracing your sensitivity is reframing your past experiences in light of your new understanding of sensitivity. Situations that made you feel like a failure or outcast look completely different once you know yourself better.

Going to school for the first time is overwhelming for any child, let alone HSPs. New sights, sounds, and faces bombard you, and you must deal with them for an entire day. As a child, you may have withdrawn, preferring to play alone or observe from the side. You weren’t being “weird” or antisocial; you were simply doing your best to deal with the stimulation. Thus, playing alone is perfectly healthy.

Adolescence is another stage that is stressful for everyone. Research shows that HSPs usually identify high school as their most difficult and stressful time. New responsibilities, future goals, and biological changes may have been too much for you during this period, possibly leading you to make drastic decisions like dropping out of school or abusing drugs. Remember to give yourself grace: High sensitivity is hard for stable adults, so it can be especially brutal for adolescents.

Some HSPs cope by delaying adulthood. Perhaps you lived at home for a few years after high school or stayed in your hometown. These are perfectly legitimate and helpful strategies for HSPs, not failures.

Social Relationships

Shyness and sensitivity are often confused, but they’re not the same. Sensitivity is inherited, but shyness is not; rather, it is a learned behavior resulting from perceived failure in social situations. If someone thinks they failed socially in the past, they will think about that in their next social encounter, making them more aroused and more likely to “fail” again. This can develop into a downward spiral and result in chronic shyness. HSPs aren’t shy by definition; they’re just more likely to enter the spiral that causes shyness.

“Shy” disregards your sensitivity to stimuli. Being over aroused doesn’t necessarily mean you are afraid; it’s just as possible that your overstimulation at a party is due to the loud music or flashing lights, rather than the people. Furthermore, shyness has negative connotations in many cultures, ignoring all the positive aspects of sensitivity, like intuition and conscientiousness.

Additionally, the label “shy” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In one experiment, a group of women had to have a one-on-one conversation with a man. Some of the shy women were told that their symptoms of overstimulation, such as sweating or a racing pulse, were due to the loud music. The rest of the shy women were told nothing. In the end, the “shy” women who believed their physical reaction was due to the music were just as talkative and assertive as the non-shy women. They became less shy because they didn’t think there was a social reason for their arousal. In other words, assuming you’re “shy” because you feel overwhelmed in social settings isn’t necessarily accurate — but if you believe it, it may be.

The next time you feel social anxiety, think of it as a temporary state that can be fixed, like being in a cold room: You can leave, adjust the temperature, or put on a sweater. You aren’t doomed to be cold forever. In social situations, you can find another sensitive person to talk to, look for a quieter room, step outside for a moment, or leave altogether. Don’t buy into the false belief that you are inherently shy or incapable of being social.

Thriving at Work

Of all the challenges HSPs face, work is the most urgent. HSPs can have difficulty at work if they don’t appreciate their trait or if their organization doesn’t understand the enormous value a sensitive person brings to the table. The world needs more HSPs, especially in positions of power. Non-HSPs are more likely to make impulsive decisions, while HSPs detect problems before they arise and act conscientiously. Modern societies may idealize non-HSPs, but they cannot thrive without sensitive workers.

Finding your calling requires listening to your small, inner voice. HSPs excel at this but still struggle at work, likely because they’re at greater risk of succumbing to low self-confidence. You may already know what you want to do but believe you are incapable or unworthy of doing it. But now that you understand more about sensitivity and how to deal with it, there is nothing you cannot do. The only true failure is not trying at all.

The stereotype of an entrepreneur is usually an outgoing extrovert who loves networking and sales, but HSPs can just as easily start their own businesses using other strategies. Marketing through writing and emailing are effective, as is collaborating with a non-HSP. Additionally, HSPs are more likely to analyze trends and intuit market demand, making them better equipped for entrepreneurship than non-HSPs.

In the working world, HSPs do best when they don’t force themselves into overwhelming roles or when they can shape their roles appropriately. One teacher, for example, refused to work after 4 p.m. to give their sensitive body time to rest, and their productivity actually increased as a result.

Keep yourself healthy, listen to your body, and take pride in the traits only sensitive people possess — traits that every industry needs.

Close Relationships

Humans are wired for connection and community; thus, HSPs and non-HSPs alike find their greatest fulfilment in life in close relationships. This doesn’t necessarily mean romantic relationships, but HSPs do tend to fall in love hard. One study showed that people were more likely to fall in love during heightened, aroused states, so it’s easy to see why HSPs might get swept away easily.

Two HSPs can make wonderful friends or partners. There is a mutual understanding of needs and limitations and, often, common interests. However, two HSPs will avoid the same tasks, so important things may go undone. Two HSPs must also be wary of hiding away and becoming withdrawn.

If you’re an HSP in a relationship with a non-HSP, you can each take different roles. Your partner can do the things you find overstimulating, and you can provide less tangible benefits, such as deeper awareness or spirituality. But you should both be wary of falling so hard into your roles that you become incapable of doing anything else. Take the time to try new things, even if the relationship isn’t as efficient that way. There are also going to be times when your non-HSP partner doesn’t understand your limitations. They may push you to join in or feel hurt that you want to be alone. You need to take charge: Explain your high sensitivity and what you need to be your best self.

You should also keep in mind that relationships need fresh experiences to thrive. Because HSPs already find normal life stimulating, they may be tempted to sit at home every night, but their partners may soon become bored. It’s important to do new things together.

Healing Deeper Wounds

Because of their ability to take in the most subtle nuances of a situation, including the disturbing ones, HSPs with difficult childhoods are at risk of developing anxiety disorders and depression in adulthood. Furthermore, HSPs are at a greater risk of suicide than the general population.

Four useful types of therapy for highly sensitive people experiencing depression or severe anxiety are cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, physical therapy, and spiritual therapy. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks and is best suited to different contexts.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) changes your thought processes and behaviors in a logical way and gives you the skills to identify and dismiss irrational beliefs or fears. CBT can help HSPs manage their activation and inhibition systems, giving them more control over their senses.

CBT’s major drawback is that it’s heavily logic-oriented, and therefore, some therapists may not understand the HSP’s intuitive side.

Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a more traditional kind of therapy: You talk with a therapist or group to explore your feelings and experiences. This is great for HSPs to hone their intuition and explore their feelings.

However, it can also be difficult to leave a therapy program. HSPs may use IPT to endlessly explore their deeper side and avoid the world.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapies include medication, exercise, diet, acupuncture, and yoga, among others. These methods are very effective when an HSP is going through an especially emotionally difficult time. If your thoughts or stress are spinning out of control, a physiological change can lead to psychological change.

However, HSPs should be mindful of their sensitivity level when seeking physical therapy, especially if they take medication.

Spiritual Therapy

Spiritual therapy explores the nonmaterial and is rooted in the idea that there is a greater purpose to life or forces behind life that we cannot see. These approaches tend to be appealing to HSPs because of their introspective, intuitive nature. Indeed, seeing the world differently can have a calming effect.

However, spiritual studies shouldn’t replace other work that helps an HSP understand their thoughts and reactions. Spirituality also often focuses on abandoning the “self” to something or someone greater, which can be dangerous for HSPs if they already have low self-esteem.

Above all, psychotherapy is immensely helpful for everyone, especially HSPs and those with traumatic childhoods. These methods can give you the tools to cope with daily life and understand your thoughts.


Viktor Frankl was an Austrian physician and psychologist who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. His classic text Man’s Search for Meaning makes it clear that he was also an HSP. Frankl used his intuition to understand the emotional needs of his fellow prisoners, and he took on the role of spiritual advisor and encourager. During one especially brutal winter night, Frankl spoke to the other prisoners, encouraging them to find inner meaning, despite their circumstances. Several men had been planning to commit suicide that night, but Frankl’s words inspired them to keep living.

As an HSP, you’re not like everyone else. You feel things deeply, sense what others dismiss, and look inward for answers. Throughout your life, you may have been called “shy,” been dismissed or judged, or felt that you needed to change your nature to fit in with society. But Frankl’s story clearly shows the power of the HSP.

You are not inferior to non-HSPs. Your strengths are different, but they are just as valuable and effective. The world needs all kinds of people — especially HSPs.


Highly sensitive people inherit nervous systems that are keener than those of the average person. This makes them feel, see, hear, absorb, and process more information from their environment.

If you experience a high level of stimulation, find out how your mind and body work. Treat yourself with kindness, and progressively seek autonomy in different aspects of your life. Cultivate meaningful relationships, go outside and play – and remember: your superpower can be a gift to the world.

About the author

Dr. Elaine Aron is a psychologist and writer who has been exploring sensory sensitivity since the early 1990s. Dr. Aron and her husband also study the psychology of love and relationships. Her other books include The Highly Sensitive Child, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, and The Undervalued Self.


Psychology, Health, Nutrition, Mindfulness, Happiness, Society, Culture, Nonfiction, Self Help, Mental Health, Personal Development, Science, Reference, Popular Psychology Personality Study, Self-Esteem, Personal Transformation Self-Help

Table of Contents

1. The facts about being highly sensitive: a (wrong) sense of being flawed.
2. Digging deeper: understanding your trait for all that it is.
3. General health and lifestyle for HSPs: loving and learning from your infant/body self.
Reframing your childhood and adolescence: learning to parent yourself.
5. Social relationships: the slide into “shy”.
6. Thriving at work: follow your bliss and let your light shine through.
7. Close relationships: the challenge of sensitive love.
8. Healing the deeper wounds: a different process for HSPs.
9. Medics, medications, and HSPs: “Shall I listen to Prozac or talk temperament with my doctor?”
10. Soul and spirit: where true treasure lies.
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.


NATIONAL BESTSELLER • Are you a highly sensitive person? Discover how to better understand yourself and create a fuller, richer life with the help of a clinical psychologist.

Do you have a keen imagination and vivid dreams? Is time alone each day as essential to you as food and water? Are you “too shy” or “too sensitive” according to others? Do noise and confusion quickly overwhelm you? If your answers are yes, you may be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).

Most of us feel overstimulated every once in a while, but for the highly sensitive person, it’s a way of life. In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Elaine Aron, a highly sensitive person herself, shows you how to identify this trait in yourself and make the most of it in everyday situations.

In The Highly Sensitive Person, you will discover:

  • Self-assessment tests to help you identify your particular sensitivities
  • Ways to reframe your past experiences in a positive light and gain greater self-esteem in the process
  • Insight into how high sensitivity affects both work and personal relationships
  • Tips on how to deal with over-arousal
  • Information on medications and when to seek help
  • Techniques to enrich the soul and spirit

Drawing on many years of research and hundreds on interviews, The Highly Sensitive Person will change the way you see yourself—and the world around you


“To say this book changed my life would be an understatement. I am forever grateful to Elaine Aron.”—Alanis Morissette, singer, songwriter, activist

“I wept through almost every page of this book out of sheer self-recognition. To say this book changed my life would be an understatement. I am forever grateful to Elaine Aron.”—Alanis Morissette, singer, songwriter, activist

“This remarkable book . . . gives a fresh perspective, a sigh of relief, and a good sense of where we belong in society.” —John Gray, author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

“Elaine Aron’s perceptive analysis of this fundamental dimension of human nature is must reading. Her balanced presentation suggests new paths for making sensitivity a blessing, not a handicap.”—Philip G. Zimbardo, Ph.D., author of Shyness: What It Is, What to Do About It

“Enlightening and empowering, this book is a wonderful gift to us all.”—Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade

“This remarkable book…gives a fresh perspective, a sigh of relief, and a good sense of where we belong in society.” –John Gray, author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

“Elaine Aron’s perceptive analysis of this fundamental dimension of human nature is must reading. Her balanced presentation suggests new paths for making sensitivity a blessing, not a handicap.” –Philip G. Zimbardo, Ph.D., author of Shyness: What It Is, What to Do About It

“Enlightening and empowering, this book is a wonderful gift to us all.” –Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade

Video and Podcast

Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

“Cry baby!”


“Don’t be a spoilsport!”

Echoes from the past? And how about this well-meaning warning: “You’re just too sensitive for your own good.”

If you were like me, you heard a lot of that, and it made you feel there must be something very different about you. I was convinced that I had a fatal flaw that I had to hide and that doomed me to a second-rate life. I thought there was something wrong with me.

In fact, there is something very right with you and me. If you answer true to fourteen or more of the questions on the self-test at the end of this preface, or if the detailed description in chapter 1 seems to fit you (really the best test), then you are a very special type of human being, a highly sensitive person—which hereafter we’ll call an HSP. And this book is just for you.

Having a sensitive nervous system is normal, a basically neutral trait. You probably inherited it. It occurs in about 15-20 percent of the population. It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted in a nervous-system sort of way. Thus, being sensitive has both advantages and disadvantages.

In our culture, however, possessing this trait is not considered ideal and that fact probably has had a major impact on you. Well-meaning parents and teachers probably tried to help you “overcome” it, as if it were a defect. Other children were not always as nice about it. As an adult, it has probably been harder to find the right career and relationships and generally to feel self-worth and self-confidence.

What This Book Offers You

This book provides basic, detailed information you need about your trait, data that exist nowhere else. It is the product of five years of research, in-depth interviews, clinical experience, courses and individual consultations with hundreds of HSPs, and careful reading between the lines of what psychology has already learned about the trait but does not realize it knows. In the first three chapters you will learn all the basic facts about your trait and how to handle overstimulation and overarousal of your nervous system.

Next, this book considers the impact of your sensitivity on your personal history, career, relationships, and inner life. It focuses on the advantages you may not have thought of, plus it gives advice about typical problems some HSPs face, such as shyness or difficulty finding the right sort of work.

It is quite a journey we’ll take. Most of the HSPs I’ve helped with the information that is in this book have told me that it has dramatically changed their lives—and they’ve told me to tell you that.

What You’ll Need

I have found that HSPs benefit from a fourfold approach, which the chapters in this book will follow.

1. Self-knowledge. You have to understand what it means to be an HSP. Thoroughly. And how it fits with your other traits and how your society’s negative attitude has affected you. Then you need to know your sensitive body very well. No more ignoring your body because it seems too uncooperative or weak.

2. Reframing. You must actively reframe much of your past in the light of knowing you came into the world highly sensitive. So many of your “failures” were inevitable because neither you nor your parents and teachers, friends and colleagues, understood you. Reframing how you experienced your past can lead to solid self-esteem, and self-esteem is especially important for HSPs, for it decreases our overarousal in new (and therefore highly stimulating) situations.

Reframing is not automatic, however. That is why I include “activities” at the end of each chapter that often involve it.

3. Healing. If you have not yet done so, you must begin to heal the deeper wounds. You were very sensitive as a child; family and school problems, childhood illnesses, and the like all affected you more than others. Furthermore, you were different from other kids and almost surely suffered for that.

HSPs especially, sensing the intense feelings that must arise, may hold back from the inner work necessary to heal the wounds from the past. Caution and slowness are justified. But you will cheat yourself if you delay.

4. Help With Feeling Okay When Out in the World and Learning When to Be Less Out. You can be, should be, and need to be involved in the world. It truly needs you. But you have to be skilled at avoiding overdoing or underdoing it. This book, free of the confusing messages from a less sensitive culture, is about discovering that way.

I will also teach you about your trait’s effect on your close relationships. And I’ll discuss psychotherapy and HSPs—which HSPs should be in therapy and why, what kind, with whom, and especially how therapy differs for HSPs. Then I’ll consider HSPs and medical care, including plenty of information on medications like Prozac, often taken by HSPs. At the end of this book we will savor our rich inner life.

The Research Behind This Book

As knowledge about my trait changed my life, I decided to read more about it, but there was almost nothing available. I thought the closest topic might be introversion. The psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote very wisely on the subject, calling it a tendency to turn inward. The work of Jung, himself an HSP, has been a major help to me, but the more scientific work on introversion was focused on introverts not being sociable, and it was that idea which made me wonder if introversion and sensitivity were being wrongly equated.

With so little information to go on, I decided to put a notice in a newsletter that went to the staff of the university where I was teaching at the time. I asked to interview anyone who felt they were highly sensitive to stimulation, introverted, or quick to react emotionally. Soon I had more volunteers than I needed.

Next, the local paper did a story on the research. Even though there was nothing said in the article about how to reach me, over a hundred people phoned and wrote me, thanking me, wanting help, or just wanting to say, “Me, too.” Two years later, people were still contacting me. (HSPs sometimes think things over for a while before making their move!)

Based on the interviews (forty for two to three hours each), I designed a questionnaire that I have distributed to thousands all over North America. And I directed a random-dialing telephone survey of three hundred people as well. The point that matters for you is that everything in this book is based on solid research, my own or that of others. Or I am speaking from my repeated observations of HSPs, from my courses, conversations, individual consultations, and psychotherapy with them. These opportunities to explore the personal lives of HSPs have numbered in the thousands. Even so, I will say “probably” and “maybe” more than you are used to in books for the general reader, but I think HSPs appreciate that.

Deciding to do all of this research, writing, and teaching has made me a kind of pioneer. But that, too, is part of being an HSP. We are often the first ones to see what needs to be done. As our confidence in our virtues grows, perhaps more and more of us will speak up—in our sensitive way.

Instructions to the Reader

1. Again, I address the reader as an HSP, but this book is written equally for someone seeking to understand HSPs, whether as a friend, relative, advisor, employer, educator, or health professional.

2. This book involves seeing yourself as having a trait common to many. That is, it labels you. The advantages are that you can feel normal and benefit from the experience and research of others. But any label misses your uniqueness. HSPs are each utterly different, even with their common trait. Please remind yourself of that as you proceed.

3. While you are reading this book, you will probably see everything in your life in light of being highly sensitive. That is to be expected. In fact, it is exactly the idea. Total immersion helps with learning any new language, including a new way of talking about yourself. If others feel a little concerned, left out, or annoyed, ask for their patience. There will come a day when the concept will settle in and you’ll be talking about it less.

4. This book includes some activities which I have found useful for HSPs. But I’m not going to say that you must do them if you want to gain anything from this book. Trust your HSP intuition and do what feels right.

5. Any of the activities could bring up strong feelings. If that happens, I do urge you to seek professional help. If you are now in therapy, this book should fit well with your work there. The ideas here might even shorten the time you will need therapy as you envision a new ideal self—not the culture’s ideal but your own, someone you can be and maybe already are. But remember that this book does not substitute for a good therapist when things get intense or confusing.

This is an exciting moment for me as I imagine you turning the page and entering into this new world of mine, of yours, of ours. After thinking for so long that you might be the only one, it is nice to have company, isn’t it?

Are You Highly Sensitive? A Self-Test

Answer each question according to the way you feel. Answer true if it is at least somewhat true for you. Answer false if it is not very true or not at all true for you.

I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment.

Other people’s moods affect me.

I tend to be very sensitive to pain.

I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation.

I am particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine.

I am easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by.

I have a rich, complex inner life.

I am made uncomfortable by loud noises.

I am deeply moved by the arts or music.

I am conscientious.

I startle easily.

I get rattled when I have a lot to do in a short amount of time.

When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable (like changing the lighting or the seating).

I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too many things at once.

I try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things.

I make it a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows.

I become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around me.

Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.

Changes in my life shake me up.

I notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art.

I make it a high priority to arrange my life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations.

When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise.

When I was a child, my parents or teachers seemed to see me as sensitive or shy.


If you answered true to twelve or more of the questions, you’re probably highly sensitive.

But frankly, no psychological test is so accurate that you should base your life on it. If only one or two questions are true of you but they are extremely true, you might also be justified in calling yourself highly sensitive. The rest of this book will help you understand yourself better and learn to thrive in today’s not-so-sensitive world.

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