When I read the back cover of this book I thought, “Aha! Maybe I’m not a neurotic weirdo who doesn’t fit in with the mainstream, maybe I’m just a highly sensitive person ! At last, an explanation for why I am as I am. Maybe if I read it I’ll learn how to be ”normal” like everyone else.
Mmm, maybe not. The author reframes high sensitivity as a positive and valuable attribute, one that is somewhat maligned and unrecognized in today’s extroverted, fast paced, noisy go go go western world. Go? Go where? Who cares? Let’s just go! The relentlessness and pointlessness of it all just wears me out and it turns out, it also wears out the 15-20% of the population who share this genetic feature of high sensitivity.
Notice I said “western” world? In the east, sensitivity and shyness are prized as a sign of intelligence and value. Notice I said “20% of the population”? Fascinatingly, 1 in 5 of the animal world populations are also hard wired for high sensitivity. It ain’t just a human quirk of our current narcissistic obsession with ourselves forever searching for why we are so special.
And I guess in that last rather poisonous sentence I wrote, is the root of why I felt uncomfortable reading this book and struggled with writing this review.
I like thinking I’m different and special. It’s always defined part of who I am. Even the general sense of rejection and weirdness has shaped me and I’ve turned it into something useful. You think I’d be thrilled to read an explanation that justifies why I’m so blooming sensitive. I know very well what a curse and a blessing I possess. Why I see, feel, hear, think and overwhelm so much. I remember waxing lyrical as a child about why I disliked the letter “K” so much and seeing the blank incomprehension on faces around me. I get ridiculously excited about colours, am deeply in love with fuschia cherry pink and can pick out every ingredient in a recipe by taste. I have wild flights of imagination that cause me to rise and rise… and fall. Sometimes, it’s a long way down.
What I gained from this book is a sense of permission to embrace my sensitivity, yes, revel in it. I no longer need to develop a stomach ache to avoid going to a party. I can just say, “God no! A party. How revolting. I’d rather make a cup of tea and create a flower arrangement for every room.”
I also liked these words from Elaine Aron on page 218 which seem like a good framework for psychologically healthy travel through life: “The pursuit of wholeness is really a kind of circling closer and closer through different meanings, different voices. One never arrives, yet gets a better and better idea of that which is at the centre. But if we circle, there is little chance for arrogance because we are passing through every sort of experience of ourselves. This is the pursuit of wholeness, not perfection and wholeness must by definition include the imperfect.”
What I don’t like about this book is the author’s suggestion that highly sensitives are developed from the “Priestly Advisor class”, those who wisely advised the “Warrior Kings” who ruled for millennia in numerous cultures. Presumably, every one else is an insensitive pleb. I feel this rather romantic suggestion cruels the credibility and strengths of this well researched science-based book. Mind you, as I write this, I’m thinking, mmm, “Who am I to stop someone exploring their ideas?” I don’t know. I just didn’t like it. You may love it.
High sensitivity in any population is a very useful survival attribute. Kind of like the canary down the mine. They are sensitive to dangers that miners don’t perceive until it’s too late. The highly sensitive person is the one who notices changes in patterns, in vocal tones, in levels of movement. They notice subtle differences and bring them to the attention of those who don’t. Depending on the kind of culture you are born into, if you are highly sensitive your skills are either valued or dismissed. And you may go through your life with a strong sense of value or a strong sense of valueless-ness.
If you’d like to learn more about your sensitivity (or lack of it!!!) and how to use it to your advantage, read the book or visit the instantly gratifying website for the highly sensitive person. Take the Sensitivity Test. It makes things very clear in about 2 minutes: http://hsperson.com/
(c) 2016, Geraldine Barkworth is an Australian public speaking coach who works with the psychology and physiology behind public speaking fear. This review is the opinion of the author only. www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au