To celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, I thought I would share with you a wonderful resource on Highly Sensitive People and love relationships. If you’ve been following my work for any length of time, you’ll know that I, for the most part, specialize in working with Highly Sensitive People (or HSP’s for short). Read this to find out more about this area of specialty and how it works in psychotherapy.
The pioneer of the Highly Sensitive Personality is Elaine Aron, Ph.D. Here’s another article I wrote on her work if you want more info. Here is her brief bio from her website which you should also check out:
Besides beginning the study of the innate temperament trait of high sensitivity in 1991, Dr. Aron, along with her husband Dr. Arthur Aron, are two of the leading scientists studying the psychology of love and close relationships. They are also pioneers in studying both sensitivity and love using functional magnetic resonance imaging.
I devoured this book in just under a week and couldn’t put it down because I felt I gained much more rich information about HSP’s than from Dr. Aron’s original book on HSP’s, as this new book speaks to how we HSP’s respond to others in all of our important relationships (especially intimate partnerships). So many lightbulbs went off in my head when I reflected on my almost 20-year partnership with another HSP and a deeper appreciation of our unique way of relating started to take root. Here is a snippet of what Aron says about two HSP’s in love that resonate 100% true for me personally:
HSPs in Love: The Pro’s
Let’s start with the temperament we know, sensitivity. About 20% of us are highly sensitive persons (HSPs); at least 34% of love relationships involve an HSP. And everyone has at least one HSP friend. I have found that when HSPs aren’t understood by themselves and others, that spells trouble. That’s surely part of why my data show that, on the average HSPs, are a bit happier paired with each other. They understand each other.
In my case and my husband’s, we were so relieved to find each other after spending roughly a third of our lives feeling totally misunderstood by most people we interacted with. We were both pretty comfortable being HSP’s and knew our personalities well and did our best to take care of our needs by spending a considerable amount of time by ourselves to recharge our batteries.
For both of us in previous relationships with non-HSP’s, we found ourselves constantly overstimulated and judged for wanting so much quiet and solitude and often felt bad about ourselves for ‘not fitting in’ with the rest of the world around us; full of people who seemed to need constant activity, excitement and stimulation to feel happy and fulfilled (the other 80% of the population!).
When we found each other, we both described the feeling as “coming home”. Neither of us had ever felt so comfortable, understood, appreciated, or happy spending so much time with another human being. Even after nearly 20 years, I sit in constant bewilderment that I met such a perfect match for me and that we continue to enjoy each other so much after all this time has passed.
HSPs in Love: The Con’s
But as Ms. Aron astutely points out, two HSP’s in love isn’t all roses- there is also a downside. She is bang-on when she says:
My data also show that on the average HSPs’ relationships in general are less happy–implying that relationships HSPs are in are less happy…Why? HSPs have nervous systems that pick up more on subtleties in the world and reflect on them deeply. That means, for starters, that they will tend to demand more depth in their relationships in order to be satisfied; see more threatening consequences in their partners’ flaws or behaviors; reflect more and, if the signs indicate it, worry about how things are going.
Because HSPs are picking up on so much, they are also more prone to overstimulation, quicker to feel stress–including the stimulation and stress that can arise in any intense, intimate interactions. They need more down time, which can cause a partner to feel left out. They find different things enjoyable compared to others.
In my own relationship, this couldn’t be any truer. Both myself and my husband are highly anxious and pick up on every little thing going on inside and around us. This can create a lot of internal upset for one or both of us, and if one of us is agitated, the other immediately picks up on it and becomes anxious and wound up as well. You can probably understand why, under such circumstances, I sometimes dread the “How was your day?” conversation over dinner…
It’s not that I am not interested in my beloved’s day and don’t want to know what went on and how he is doing: it’s that I know if he had a rough day and is feeling really anxious or down about something, it’s going to rub off on me and be hard to shake. And as many of you know, it’s much easier to be of service to a beloved when they’re having a rough time when you are feeling strong and resilient yourself so that you can be the rock they need at that moment.
Luckily for us however, we are very rarely both in a really bad place at the same time. We tend to take turns – one up, one down and then switch it around. The good news is that because we are both HSP’s, we are highly attuned to each other’s needs in vulnerable moments and states and are particularly skilled at offering deep compassion and comfort to the other when needed.
I have offered here merely a snippet of the wisdom contained within this book. Some other incredibly important areas Aron covers in the book are:
- The role of genetics on divorce
- Non-HSP’s, or “Sensation Seekers” In Love with HSP’s
- How HSP’s can thrive in their relationships in a non-HSP culture at large
- How HSP’s can be successful in intimate relationship, along with helpful tip
- HSP’s and sexuality
For a detailed overview of the book from the author herself, and to order a copy, go to this link.
Lastly, Aron and some other collaborators are working on a Film being made about HSP’s in love/relationships.