Psychology: Highly Sensitive Person In Love (cont.)

Moderator: What are HSSs and how do they combine with HSPs?

Dr. Aron: Yeah, this is a little bit difficult to follow, but I'll explain. High Sensation Seekers (HSS) have been studied by Marvin Zuckerman, a psychologist. They are people who have a high level of curiosity and a need for lots of new stimulation. Now, the surprising result is that Highly Sensitive People can also be High Sensation Seekers. This is because these two traits are controlled by two different brain systems. Actually, the opposite of a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is a person who takes many risks, that is acts without reflecting very much. An HSP who is an HSS (High Sensation Seeker) also will find ways to have lots of new experiences, but won't take a lot of unreflected upon risks. People who have both traits tell me that it's like driving with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. And I am moderate on sensation seeking and it certainly, from my experience, makes it difficult to stay in an optimal range of stimulation without being easily bored or easily overwhelmed. So, now we can imagine four types of people, and I think that makes something like 16 types of couples. It gets complicated! You add other important variables, like intelligence, or analytical versus emotional, you have even more types. However, I think the ones that are basic are not too, too many. And I obviously think sensitivity is a big one.

Moderator: How does being highly sensitive affect close friendships, love, and sexuality?

Dr. Aron: I think HSP's are ideally designed for close relationships. They are conscientious, good listeners, loyal, aware of little signs that the relationship needs work. They tend to be spiritual, so that love and close relationships have a deeper meaning for them. For example, with sexuality, they are no more likely to have any sexual dysfunction, guilt, or anxiety, but they do find sex to be more mysterious and powerful than non-HSP's. However, because, in part, because of the culture, HSP's often enter relationships feeling dependent or not quite as good as a non-sensitive person. Another problem they can have is avoiding conflict because it's so arousing for them. But, beyond that, we probably have to talk about the differences in relationships with a sensitive and non-sensitive person.

Moderator: Should an HSP seek another HSP for a close relationship, or someone the opposite, a non-HSP?

Dr. Aron: In my research, I found that there is a very slight advantage for two HSP's to be together. However, it's very slight and hardly a reason for an HSP/non-HSP couple to worry. I'm sure the main reason for that difference is that two HSP's readily understand each other. The "mixed couple" must learn to really believe that they experience the world quite differently. That's difficult because we all tend to assume everyone experiences things the way we do. So the first task is a deep acceptance that the other person's experience is real and valid. They can't help it. Then, I think you have to grieve that you didn't get everything in your partner, but then we never do. One counselor said, "When you choose a partner, you choose a set of problems." It's only in the movies or in dreams that we meet someone who is both an HSP and a non-HSP at once. After you accept and grieve, the two of you can get creative about how to enjoy each other and do things together. The danger is the subtle contempt one can feel for someone not like ourselves. The HSP may find the non-HSP a bit shallow or clueless, while benefitting from the non-HSP's ability to handle a lot more and protect the HSP. The non-HSP may subtlely think the HSP is weak or self-absorbed. For example, HSP's need more time alone. The non-HSP may feel rejected, but also may feel that that behavior is selfish.

While I was doing my research, I ran across somebody that found that 50 percent of your chances of divorce are genetically determined. Your chances of wearing a skirt are 99 percent genetically determined because men rarely wear skirts. Gender is what is affecting this, it's not a gene for skirts. It used to be thought that there was a gene for mental retardation, and at least one of those genes turned out to be sensitivity to PKU (a substance in the body that some people can't metabolize). But if you find out that you have it and solve the problem, it's no longer a gene for mental retardation. I think the so-called 'divorce gene' might turn out to be ignorance of temperament. On my test there are 22 questions. I've seen people answer yes to all of them. And I've seen people who answer no to all of them. Imagine them trying to have a close relationship. They can do it, but only if they are wise to the ways of innate temperament. People are very often attracted to those who are quite different, finding them almost magical. How can someone be like that? But, a year or two later, the disadvantages to the very same traits will now be driving them crazy.

nickye_WebMD: Me being an HSP, how can I help my husband who is non-HSP understand the way I feel and view the world around me?

Dr. Aron: Well, not to be self-serving, but first thing is to have him get the book! (laughs) Have him read it and take the self-test and read chapters 1, 5, and 8. And, besides that, you need to do what is called "dialogue." That is, half of it is the old-fashioned reflective listening. You listen to the other person without interrupting, asking questions, defending yourself, or analyzing. You just listen. Even if it upsets you. Then, when it's your turn, you have to tell your truth. This isn't at all about hurting each other, just making clear your reality, even if the conflicts you have seem irresolvable. Research on marriage shows that all couples have about 66 percent of their conflicts irresolvable, and that's true for happy AND unhappy couples. The difference is that unhappy couples don't listen respectfully to the other's point-of-view and take it seriously. They withdraw, are contemptuous, critical, take it personally and become defensive, and so forth. I hope that helps! (chuckles)