The Highly Sensitive Person In Love with Elaine Aron

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Psychologist Elaine Aron talks about the issues facing Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs), and the people who love them.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's Mind and Body Auditorium. Today we are discussing The Highly Sensitive Person In Love, with Elaine Aron, Ph.D.

Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., is a research psychologist at the State University of New York, Stoneybrook, and is in private practice in San Francisco and Santa Cruz, California. She is a member of the American Psychological Association, the International Network on Personal Relationships, and the International Society for the Study of Personal Relationships. Dr. Aron conducts HSP workshops around the country. She and her husband divide their time between San Francisco and New York.

Dr. Aron, welcome to WebMD Live. What exactly is a highly sensitive person or "HSP?"

Dr. Aron: They are the 15 to 20 percent of the population, not only human, but most or all higher animals, whose nervous systems are designed to perceive subtleties and to process them deeply. Humans process them by preferring to reflect before making a decision, and also humans and animals process things unconsciously but they're picking up on a lot of subtleties. They're highly intuitive and I define "intuitive" by simply that we know things without knowing how we know them. We also tend to be very conscientious because we're aware of consequences. For example, what if everybody did that? Or, if I don't get the job done, what will happen? Those are some of the good sides to the trait. The bad news, it's a package deal, is that you're also more easily overwhelmed by not very subtle things, loud noises, strong funny smells, scratchy clothing and also having too much to do in a short amount of time, just having too many changes in one's life at once. HSP's (highly sensitive people) are more easily overwhelmed .

nickye_WebMD: How do I know if I'm a highly sensitive person? Are there certain "symptoms"?

Dr. Aron: Sure. Well, first I might want to change 'symptoms' to 'signs,' but I do have a self-test which is in the book with 22 questions. The name of the book is, The Highly Sensitive Person In Love. It's available on And this was worked out from a lot of scientific research, it's not something I've made up. Indeed, others have been studying this trait, but I think under the wrong terms, such as innate shyness, inhibitedness, innate fearfulness, etc. It's not even introversion. Thirty percent of HSP's are extroverts. So, some of the questions on the self-test are, are you bothered by loud noises? Are you very sensitive to pain? Do you have a rich, complex inner life? HSP's tend to have very vivid dreams. Are you deeply moved by the arts or music? Are you easily affected by other people's moods? And an important one is, when you were young, did parents or teachers tend to say you were shy or sensitive? But, it brings up an important point about people saying you have to have thick skin. In this culture, this trait is not the ideal. Although the trait is not about low self-esteem, in this culture, HSP's often do feel there's something the matter with them. They've been told so often, "don't be so sensitive," "don't be so shy." Or, "don't be so touchy!" So, they try to change on the outside, but they know they haven't changed on the inside. They can't, any more than a right handed person can become left handed.

Moderator: Why did you decide to write a book on love and the highly sensitive person?

Dr. Aron: The first book, The Highly Sensitive Person, was published in 1996, and it surprised everyone, even me, by how much people have appreciated it, even though there's been very little national publicity about it. About 200,000 copies have been sold. Now, it happens that my husband and I have been researching love and close relationships for 30 years. In the academic, social psychology circles, we are among the leading, perhaps top, seven or eight researchers. I sort of abandoned my husband in that research to do the temperament research, so it was natural to combine the topic. And, this new book has research in it never published anywhere else. For example, Chapter 8 has the first results ever from the first ever survey of temperament and sexuality.

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