Book review: The Highly Sensitive Person In Love. Understanding and managing relationships when the world overwhelms you (by Elaine N. Aron)

(Details on the book below article)

While 20 to 25% of people estimated are highly sensitive person (HSP) , the problem for various reasons remains an issue not too often spoken about, not too well known.

For those who don’t know exactly what HSP is: it can mean one is very vulnerable to high sounds, chaotic situations, too many impulses at once to absorb ; or it can mean one is emotionally HSP and will feel every emotion extra intensively. Sadness becomes borderline depression, happiness leads to euphoria and extreme hope. The more moderate zone in the middle, is usually skipped. We just happen to experience, and feel, in great intention. Several HSP (such as myself) have both.

Dr Aron is an authority worldwide when it comes to high sensitive people. She is HSP herself, and has been invited as guest speaker around the world. Several other books of her exist, such as the handbook for the HSP, or the book on surviving when the world overwhelms you.

This book about relations however caught my attention first. I am looking for a girlfriend indeed (*slightly shy*) and being HSP myself of course can cause little misunderstandings. After all, when I meet a nice girl I have lots in common with, I feel euphoric and begin to fantasise about my life with her, the things we could share together, … But if things in the end don’t work out, intense sadness that is close to true depression takes over. It is truly a rollercoaster of emotions.

The book is very well written, very clear, and in a very easy to understand language stripped off most jargon. It is amazing to realise, as HSP, how often I have already recognised myself in the things and situations the book talks about. For that reason, I recommend it every HSP, and even every person who is close to a HSP (especially the partners !)

Below are some examples from the book, however not all. Otherwise there’d be no point to follow my advise and run to your bookstore to buy it!

– A lot of outdated stereotypes are still kept intact, sadly enough. Gender stereotypes being a good example. Note that gender, sex, and sexual orientation are very different things (take that from this person who is masculin, heterosexual but with a strongly feminin personality).

Male HSP often suffer more from such stereotypes than females. Because the stereotypical idea of a man (a ridiculous one if you ask me) is a strong, tough, performing, person who doesn’t let emotions show.
But as HSP, we have no choice but showing emotions. We are highly sensitive. So this means that we can simply not be like that stereotypical ‘alpha male" (why would someone want that ?!). This is called the "Boys code". A lot of males suffering from this have had a depressed youth and were often victims of bullying.

Personally, I do not follow this "code". Yes, I am HSP, I am sensitive and emotional. And I don’t mind showing that. There is nothing shameful about a tear, so hiding it is not needed. I think fragility and showing your emotions is actually a beautiful thing. I never felt interested to join the "alpha male" club, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being emotional and showing it.

– A lot of HSP have a very vivid imagination. Dreaming and self reflection are v very important for the HSP, and we are good in it! So using those dreams for the right reasons, can be a benefit actually. We have a strong imagination, and process things happening around us or which we observe in a much deeper, more intense way than the average non-HSP.

What I loved about this chapter was the encouragment to stay dreaming, and to use those dreams for the good purpose. Rather than stating such dreams are naive, the book encourages to dream, to keep those dreams with you and take the useful elements into real situations. I thought that was lovely to read.

– We tend to fall in love with an intensity beyond average. It is also typical that the HSP will be mainly attracted to one’s personality and character, and that this is the main cause for falling in love, which can be in large extremes. We unconsciously seem to seek a soul mate, someone who is a lot like us and with whom a very strong emotional connection can grow. "Opposites attract" maybe for many people, but for us it’s a different situation quite often.

The average HSP falls in love with greater intensity. There is a large need for intimacy (on non-sexual level), trust, and being able to talk openly about everything.

Also, we tend to have a very detailed image of the man/woman we would like to meet. We have a very detailed idea of what we look for in a partner.

I have this experience all the time. Ask me to describe the woman of my dreams and 80 to 90% will be non-physical, but rather describing her character, her personality. And I know the moment I will meet this woman, the feelings will be very heavily.

Since true love can be a very intense emotion, some HSP deliberately search it. But for other HSP, just telling that you like someone can be a very big problem due to the overwhelming emotions it brings. Sometimes too overwhelming.

– A lot of us are heavy thinkers, so we easily get overwhelmed. Sometimes help may be needed to deal with this overstimulation. Some HSP feel a strong need for routine and repetitive day structures, because otherwise the sensations experienced may lead to being overwhelmed.

We tend to also have to face the question "who can know that we are HSP?". The book advises openness, to Always be authentic, Always be open about yourself.

This is a great advice, I have applied this long before I have read this book. To me, telling people about Asperger or my phobias, is as normal as telling someone that I have long hair and blue eyes. Sure, some people may take advantage of your honesty, but the majority of people in my experience actually make efford to adapt themselves to the situation, to avoid causing discomfort. The benefits of being open, outnumber the downsides by far.

– As a relationship would grow, sooner or later there may be the need for physical intimacy beyond kisses and cuddling. Yes, we are talking about sex here! This can be very overwhelming for the HSP, first of all because this brings so many sensations and emotions that it may be too much to process. For the not very experienced HSP these emotions will for sure be overwhelming, risking they’d be too overwhelming.
It is not uncommon to hear people talk about pain during making love, despite being turned on. But when the emotions become too intense to handle, being turned on is no longer enough to guarantee a painless experience.

I heavily recommend this book by E. Aron, it is very useful material for both the HSP (who will, like me, recognise a lot of himself in this book) but also for the people that live with an HSP (eg partner) or are close to a HSP. It will also explain them why certain situations can cause overstimulation to their friend who is a HSP.

So run to your book store and buy this book!

Those understanding Dutch can always buy the Dutch translation of the book here: http://www.hspvlaanderen.be/boeken/elaine-aron

Please find below the general info on the book, both its original English version and its Dutch translation I have read.

The Highly Sensitive Person In Love. Understanding and managing relationships when the world overwhelms you.
by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.
ISBN: 0767903358
Publisher: Broadway Books, New York

Hoog Sensitieve Personen in de Liefde: hoe ga je om met relaties als de wereld je overweldigt
ISBN 9789063052874 of 9063050690
Uitgeverij Archipel
(c) 2000 Elaine N. Aron
(c) Nederlandse vertaling: 2003 Marja Waterman

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About illusionofpurity

I am the founding member and only permanent member of the Illusion of Purity project. The project deals with life with psychological problems such as autism, manic depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, ... and tries to use art to break the taboo about these disorders. Too many people suffer in silence because of the taboo and the many wrong stereotypes. Using art and speeches as a weapon against these taboos and stereotypes, this project aims to raise awareness about the true life with psychological problems. Additionally, a more philosophical and political undertone may appear throughout the project, although the main focus is mental health and the surrounding taboos. I myself have Asperger Syndrome, OCD/anxiety disorder and suffer from unipolar depression. Activism at this moment consists of mainly (but not solely) speeches and poetry. This may increase to include other activities in the future too. The project is based in Spain at the moment, my personal origins lie in Belgium.
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