Though I’ve done posts before on psychologist Elaine Aron’s 1996 book The Highly Sensitive Person – How to Survive when the World Overwhelms You, the book in which she introduced the concept of ‘HSP’, I have to keep returning to it because insensitivity is running rampant in the world now.
Typically, an HSP is a person who dislikes bright light, loud noise, loud people, violent movies, etc, because they are more sensitive to those things than most people. They react more to physical and psychological stimuli. They usually have strong imaginations and vivid dreams. She emphasizes that high sensitivity is not a disease, but a normal way of being human. She estimates that 20% of the population is highly sensitive.
On her website, Dr. Aron says that, for research purposes, she is now also using the term ‘Sensory Processing Sensitivity’, or SPS.
She doesn’t confine this to introverts. She insists that there are sensitive extroverts. If you have trouble imagining a sensitive extrovert, read the little 2014 book, Ray Bradbury – The Last Interview and other Conversations. Bradbury, one of the most imaginative authors of the 20th century, was a effusive and delightful conversationalist. He fits “HSP extrovert” perfectly.
Although autism can produce what appears to be extremely insensitivity, it can also result in acute sensitivity. And it’s not always obvious what your faced with.
For example, although I’ve perceived myself to be sensitive all my life, and autistic, I have more than once in my life been accused of being insensitive, usually when I was outspoken on some subject. One reason why I’m still a little sorry about the DSM-5 decision to drop the diagnosis of Asperger’s, is that it seemed to incorporate an understanding of this complexity in autism.
I have said somewhere that the autism spectrum should not be seen as linear, but multi-dimensional. Obviously, this is true of all psychology, and I’m sure Dr Aaron would agree.
Checking her book today on Amazon, I was pleased to see that it is still selling well – still a ‘bestseller”. Using Amazon’s “look inside” program – which makes it something of a library of almost everything ever written – I looked to see if there are any updates, which there are, up to 2016. Included is a quote introducing the book now, which I don’t remember seeing in the copy on my shelf at home.
This says everything I want to say, and more:
I believe in aristocracy though – if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power… but of the sensitive, the considerate. … Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names.They are sensitive for others as well as themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure…..
E. M. Forster – “What I Believe”, 1951
Yes, sensitivity is not going to disappear just because of the storm of ignorant, sometimes violent, insensitivity currently rolling through the world. Those of us who are sensitive need to stay on our feet during the storm, and speak out when it’s necessary.