Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Highly Sensitive Person

I have not read much fiction over the past several months, but that does not mean I haven't been reading.  Most of my library loot consists of non-fiction books on the craft of writing memoir (a post to follow shortly) and the occasional travel and photography books.  But sometime last fall I ran across this book, The Highly Sensitive Person, and I felt a strong urge to buy it sight unseen ( a rare impulse decision for this well-planned girl).  From the very first page I felt as though I had found a validation for my life.  I discovered that I am not weird or eccentric or all alone.  I learned that I am indeed "highly sensitive" (there are 20% of us other there) living in a very low to non-sensitive culture (the remaining 80%).  I took such comfort in this.  And while I have not quite learned how to navigate this world in which I must live, I feel confident that I will indeed learn strategies to help me cope.

The very first chapter offers a 23 question self-assessment - but the test can also be found online here.  Supposedly if you answer 12 of the 23 questions in the affirmative, then you are considered "HSP"  I answered 19 questions in the affirmative --- 10 of which strongly describe my temperament.  Here are my ten defining characteristics:

  1. Other people's moods affect me.
  2. 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.
  3. I have a rich, complex inner life.
  4. I am conscientious.
  5. I get rattled when I have a lot to do in a short amount of time.
  6. I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too many things at once.
  7. I become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around me.
  8. I make it a high priority to arrange my life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations.
  9. Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.
  10. 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.
The remaining characteristics of an HSP that I possess, although not as strongly, include:
  1. I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment.
  2. I am made uncomfortable by loud noises.
  3. I am deeply moved by the arts or music.
  4. I startle easily.
  5. When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable.
  6. I make it a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows.
  7. Changes in my life shake me up.
  8. I notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art.
  9. When I was a child, my parents or teachers seemed to see me as sensitive or shy.

Why do I bother sharing this on the blog?  I suppose I have two reasons.  First of all, for those of you who may also feel somewhat on the fringe of society - that you don't quite belong but you don't know why - I thought perhaps you could find yourself within the pages of this book as I have.  And secondly, for those who do know me, perhaps this will give you a bit of insight into the "real" me: the one who may seem anti-social but really is just overwhelmed;  the one who may seem stressed, but is just trying to multi-task when her temperament is singularly focused;  the one who may seem depressed but that is only because someone close to her is sad and she carries the burden as well.

Lately my world has been filled with all kinds of loss and changes (both good and bad) ... and this constant shifting of the sands has caused me to retreat - to hibernate - because I knew no other way to handle it.  And when that is compounded by the fact that I felt as though I was the only one in the world to feel this way -- to be overwhelmed by life -- well, I just wanted to withdraw from society.  But  I now know that I am not crazy... I am not a misfit ... I am Highly Sensitive, and I can accept that.


  1. I'm so glad you found this book, and that it's given you insight about your personality. There's also a workbook that goes with it.

    I once thought I was highly sensitive, and maybe I was, but being a children's librarian for 11 years, and putting on 1500 programs in front of 10-500 people really took it out of me. Also, going through menopause (losing estrogen) has made me far less sensitive.

    It seems like teaching would be a difficult profession for a HSP.

    I hope the book offers you a lot of suggestions and hope!

  2. I think I saw mention of this book somewhere recently. Maybe a sale of some sort? Anyway, this sounds like an interesting book, and one that came into your life at just the right moment. I hope it does give you the insight you seek.

    I have a copy of Quiet about introversion and one day hope to read that. As an introvert, I imagine I will find much in that book I can relate to.

    Oh, and I took the online test right now and marked 13 of the items.

  3. It's wonderful to discover a book that can resonate with you so much and shed light on dark areas that have plagued you for so long. I answered 15 in the affirmative so I am HSP also.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this book, Molly. I also found Quiet helpful and interesting.

  5. Molly,

    I read this book some time ago and was happy I did. -- Much of what was written fits me to a tee as well.

    (See there are more of us than we realize).


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