I tend to be a skeptic, which, on the surface, seems uncommon in the self-help and wellness realm, but skepticism should not be equated with close-mindedness. Being open-minded, I’ll try just about any approach to bettering my life, relationships, and health, but that approach has to prove itself. This means that while I may not hang my hat on — or let my actions be influenced by — my zodiac sign or Ayurvedic dosha, I’ll still read the assessment or take the quiz to see if what it says rings true. So when I started reading through the new edition of the national bestseller, The Highly Sensitive Person, a few things immediately jumped out at me in the self-assessment test. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the statements I was supposed to answer true or false, but the explanation of how to score myself:
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“If you answered true to twelve or more of the questions, you’re probably highly sensitive. But frankly, no psychological test is so accurate that you should base your life on it. If only one or two questions are true of you but they are extremely true, you might also be justified in calling yourself highly sensitive.”
Bingo, I thought. The Highly Sensitive Person author, Dr. Elaine Aron, gets it. And she does, which is clear — in page after page, but no more so than during the self-assessment quizzes. Each set of questions relates to how sensitive personalities usually handle things, then she provides suggestions on how to manage our sensitivities in everyday life.
As many of you may know, the word sensitive is often thrown around as a negative. “Geez, don’t be so sensitive,” we’re told if we take something seriously others would prefer we give less weight. Being emotional can make many people uncomfortable, and society shows that discomfort in various ways such as calling us crybabies, touchy, or spoilsports. Sometimes we are even told to “calm down” (a pet peeve of mine, because I wonder when, in the history of the world, telling someone to calm down has ever resulted in them actually calming down).
Whatever it is you’ve dealt with and possibly internalized as an intuitive person (meaning you may even have difficulty labeling yourself “sensitive”), The Highly Sensitive Person has a way of easing you into embracing your emotionally heightened nature. I know because, despite my skepticism and my desire to avoid being thought of as “too sensitive,” I immediately saw myself reflected in this book in the best possible way.
And though the first test is all about determining if you are an HSP (highly sensitive person), Aron’s book isn’t just about the label. As she puts it, “This book labels you. The advantages are that you can feel normal and benefit from the experience and research of others. But any label misses your uniqueness. HSPs are each utterly different, even with their common trait. Please remind yourself of that as you proceed.”
And the tests throughout illustrate that. It took just one quiz for me to start nodding and realizing that, not only am I an HSP but so is my significant other. Great, I thought. This means we have a common trait! But as I continued to read, taking more of the self-assessment tests and checking boxes regarding how I process things and how he does, I realized that two HSPs do not equal clear communication because of the unique sensitivities each of us has, how we express them, and how we process our emotions. And it is within those nuances that are explored and uncovered in each subsequent self-assessment that each HSP will find just how unique their own sensitivities are and how to navigate them.
If you suspect you may be an HSP or you deal with any in your everyday life (HINT: you do), pick up The Highly Sensitive Person and take the tests. Determine if you are, what sensitivities you have (or what sensitivities the person you are in a relationship with has), and utilize the proven tips on how to navigate everything from health and medical choices, job and vocation, to social time and personal relationships.
Illustration: Marie Guillard