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The Highly Sensitive Person/Artist/Musician

Coming across a Facebook conversation about a child who was labeled as so sensitive to criticism that he was assigned to a special class, I found myself inspired to share one of the books nearest and dearest to my heart: The Highly Sensitive Person, by Dr. Elaine Aron, Ph.D.

Image result for the highly sensitive person

"How to thrive when the world overwhelms you" mmm, yes

I found this book years ago, and immediately knew it was for me.

Even the cover of this edition suits a sensitive person, with mild contrasts and just enough darkness to make sure you can read what's on the cover. Lovely

There's all kinds of info in this book, from a self test, to discussion on therapy options, to discussion on how to be proud of this trait, not ashamed by it.

What does it mean to be highly sensitive?

An HSP observes before acting, notices more about any situation (artistic, natural, social, etc.) than others, and is therefore more easily overwhelmed than his or her peers.

In the Author's Note for her 2012 printing of The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine writes that the word DOES contains the main characteristics:

     D - depth of processing
     O - over-stimulated easily (due to depth of processing)
     E - emphasis to empathy and emotion
     S - sensitivity to subtlety

As percussionists/musicians/artists/good humans, there are clear lines to be drawn between these traits and our requirements and responsibilities throughout our lives.  A life in the arts particularly suits an HSP, due to the narrow focus, thoughtfulness, and innate vulnerability attached to making personal expression a regular act in the public sphere.

Here are some experiences that you may identify with if you're a fellow HSP.

- I've always worked better alone, even when I was a kid.
- I'd rather work a long time on a project and then show it to you when it's complete, not show you my process.  This means adapting to the private lesson model, where you are criticized and guided in-progress.
- I am highly self-critical, to the point that it's debilitating.  So being called out in rehearsal is the worst.
- In conversations where a person criticizes something I'm tangentially related to, I have to remind myself that it isn't a reflection on my choice to be involved, just a response to the situation in question.
- As a child, it was very easy to discipline me: no harsh tones or increased volume was needed.
- Small group social situations are easier for me, as they facilitate more 'real' discussion over 'small talk.'

Are you highly sensitive?
You can take the self test for high sensitivity on Elaine's website.

Favorite moments from The HSP

On being an HSP but functioning in a world that isn't necessarily "HSP friendly"
Some HSPs, perhaps all of us at times, get sidelined because of thinking that there is no way an HSP can be out in the world and survive.  One feels too different, too vulnerable, perhaps too flawed...  (p. 49)

Note: Elaine uses the word "arousal" to speak about the heightened state of the nervous system.
It is important not to confuse arousal with fear.  Fear creates arousal, but so do many other emotions, including joy, curiously, or anger.  (p.9)

Our culture has an idea of competition in the pursuit of excellence that can make anyone not striving for the top feel like a worthless, nonproductive bystander.  This applies not only to one's career but even to one's leisure.  Are you fit enough, are you progressing in your hobby, are you competent as a cook or gardener?... There is one other reason HSPs drive their bodies too hard, and that is their intuition, which gives some of then a steady stream of creative ideas.  They want to express them all.  (p. 52-53)

The world, as it is today, more readily rewards those that are loud, extroverted, and tend to act before thinking. see: the 2016 election
Ironically and sadly, it is not necessarily the loudest among us who are best-suited to certain positions, leaderships, and mentor roles.

On an open, sensitive mind
An expanded, loving mind, one that is open to the whole universe, is the opposite of a tightly constricted, overaroused mind.   (p. 58)

Introversion arises from a need and preference to protect the inner, "subjective" aspect of life, to value it more, and in particular not to allow it to be overwhelmed by the "objective" world.  (p. 99)
She goes on to quote Carl Jung:
They [introverts] are living evidence that this rich and varied world with its overflowing and intoxicating life is not purely external, but also exists within...Their life teaches more than their words...Their lives teach the other possibility, the interior life which is so painfully wanting in our civilization.

On social discomfort
Elaine talks about the awkward juxtaposition of an HSPs desire for deep connection with the overarousal a new social situation can create.  Often, an HSP will retreat to a corner or sit quietly alone.  The book talks about ways to combat this part of being an HSP, as functioning socially is certainly an important part of leading a fulfilled life.  My experience of social discomfort comes in waves: sometimes I can meet new people and love it, but other times I shut down and cling to my husband like there's no tomorrow.

According to Elaine's research, HSPs tend to strive for deep, meaningful relationships.  "Small talk" does not interest an HSP, and I'd assume that "shop talk" doesn't either, based on my experience.  HSPs want to talk about the inner life full of meaning and depth. can feel wonderful to stay home once you accept that home is truly where you sometimes belong  (p. 154)

You can tolerate high levels of stimulation, especially when you are with someone who relaxes you and makes you feel safe.  (p. 155)

On figuring ourselves out and perhaps going through therapy
Because HSPs have such close contact with the unconscious, such vivid dreams, and such an intense pull toward the imaginal and spiritual, we cannot flourish until we are experts on this facet of ourselves.  (p. 184)

The book goes on to provide tips on how others can deal with working with, raising, or dating an HSP.  Elaine estimates that only about 15-20% of the population could be characterized as being highly sensitive.  She says that's not enough to be widely understood but too many to be called a disorder. (Thanks, Elaine.)
_ _ _ _ _ 

Whether for yourself, your students, your life partner, or your children, learning about this trait can only help in relating to others in terms of communication style and empathy.  I highly recommend any of Elaine's writings.

I'd love to hear from you if you are a fellow HSP, or think this book may be useful to you.


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