In my book The Shyness Guide, I warn readers against totally committing themselves to a diagnosis they’ve received from a doctor, or have just chosen for themselves.
Because of decades working as a personal injury adjuster, watching psychologists and psychiatrists aggressively disagree with each other, I’ve grown wary of psychological labels.
But there is one label I’m less sceptical of – Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP.
This term was introduced by psychologist Elaine Aron in her 1996 book, The Highly Sensitive Person. Typically, an HSP is someone who dislikes loud noise, bright lights, loud-talking, violent movies, etc., because they’re more sensitive to those things than other people. They react more strongly to physical and psychological stimuli. They usually have strong imaginations and vivid dreams.
Dr Aron doesn’t confine this to introverts. She insists that there are sensitive extroverts. If you have trouble imagining a sensitive extrovert, read the little book, Ray Bradbury – the Last Interview, and Other Conversations (or any biography of him). Bradbury fits it perfectly.
Dr Aron believes HSPs are people who have evolved to be more sensitive because sensitivity has survival value. She refers to the famous sunfish experiments that found shy sunfish more difficult to trap than bold sunfish, making them more likely to survive.
Though I accept that this shy/bold divide exists in humans, I question whether it has any value in society. Dr Aron thinks it does, or at least used to. For example, in a herd of wild buffalo, zebras, etc., she suggests that sensitive individuals may serve to alert the herd to dangers, while the tough/less-sensitive individuals take over when combat is required.
But it’s hard to imagine the same degree of distrust, misunderstanding, conflict and lack of sincere co-operation in a buffalo herd that you find in human groups.
Even if they possessed bigger brains, it’s hard to imagine zebras fighting each other in the tens of thousands, or torturing each other, or lying about each other behind each-other’s backs.
But when it comes to the description of sensitivity in us, and how it works, I found Dr Aron’s book more insightful and more useful than most of what is out there.
Although I’ll warn you that she doesn’t want the high-sensitivity concept to be equated with shyness, I think sensitivity is fundamental to most shyness and I found The Highly Sensitive Person useful for understanding shyness. Here is an Amazon link to her book:
Here is a link to Dr Aron’s own interesting website: