close this bookVolume 10: No. 36
View the document1) Opportunities
View the document2) Technology news
View the document3) AI resources
View the document4) Review -- A General Theory of Love
View the document5) Review -- The Highly Sensitive Person
View the document6) Cognitive science

I also recently finished Elaine N. Aron's "The Highly Sensitive Person in Love" (Broadway Books, 2000). Like Thomas Lewis et al., Aron considers attachment style fundamental. On pp. 94-9, she says that about 50% of people tested have secure attachment styles; 10% are "preoccupied" with love and are needy but insecure (due to inconsistent parents); 25% (more commonly men) are "dismissive avoidant" and not seeking closeness (due to unresponsive parents); and 15% are "fearful avoidant": chronically shy, anxious, depressed, and lonely -- even hostile -- but fearing rejection and feeling unlovable (in response to neglectful or abusive parents).

I haven't been able to figure out whether I'm a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) or not. I get a low score on the self-test in the book, though I can convince myself that my basic nature is more sensitive than the persona I've adopted over the years. (As my life slows down, more of my sensitive qualities emerge.) Lily is equally ambiguous, but the two of us together seem to qualify as one sensitive person and one non-sensitive person split between us. Aron admits that anyone could be sensitive in particular ways, though she claims that most people either are or are not HSPs. She describes high sensation-seeking (HSS) as an orthogonal classification that has a much higher incidence of intermediate values.

Among non-HSPs, the non-HSS individuals are simple, superficial people, low in curiosity; HSS individuals are curious, eager, impulsive, risk-taking, and easily bored -- but not very aware of subtleties. Among HSPs, non-HSS individuals are reflective, quiet, and not impulsive or risk-taking; HSS people have vision and drive, but are easily bored and also easily overwhelmed: they function in a narrow range, and have trouble finding partners who share the right level of experience-seeking without big risks or too much arousal.

The book is a fairly straightforward treatise on relationship issues that HSPs face, with other HSPs or with non-HSPs. As with "The New Birth Order Book," which I reviewed recently, it's nice to see temperament discussed separately from personality. Temperament is something you can't change and needn't feel guilty about, whereas personality is your evolved expression of that temperament. Aron is a Jungian therapist, and advocates paying attention to your dreams as a way of learning who you really are. (She and Lewis et al. are equally dismissive of Freudian therapy.) Once you learn your limits and dreams, coordinate with your partner's limits and dreams. Watch for the traps common to your types, and don't expect more than your partner can give. Sounds reasonable.

Later sections of the book seem fairly clinical, summarizing the results of any studies that have included both sensitivity and love-related questions. The final chapter, with most of the information about dreams, is a discussion of spiritual paths often taken by HSPs. (E.g., "Avoidants were by far the most likely to experience a sudden religious conversion -- 44% in this attachment group, 10% in the other groups combined.") Good stuff, particularly for its discussion of Self as the opposite of self-centered ego -- as in merging your individuality within a universal Self or divinity.

Still, I'd have to say that the most memorable part of the book is Aron's mention of her husband's ground-breaking research into romantic attachment. Art Aron found that people who met on a swaying suspension bridge over a canyon tended to be romantically attracted, whereas those meeting on a sturdy footbridge over a ditch were not. It has now been shown that people tend to bond whenever they share exciting experiences. Take your date to a scary movie, or to a carnival, or work together organizing a meeting or supporting a candidate. Even a workout on a stationary bicycle is sufficiently arousing. For an HSP, starting a new pottery class may be enough. (Work your way up to skydiving.) In the lab, simulated torture scenes were effective. If you do fall in love, you may find that HSPs fall harder than others -- especially if moonlight and windswept beaches are involved.

(or for the Feb01 paperback).

----- "There are far too many people living in our society who forget daily that other creatures -- five kingdoms worth of them -- are cohabiting the planet with us. Over half a century ago, Robinson Jeffers suggested that 'The whole human race spends too much emotion on itself. The happiest and freest man is the scientist investigating nature or the artist admiring it, the person who is interested in things that are not human. Or if he is interested in human beings, let him regard them objectively as a small part of the great music.'" -- Gary Paul Nabhan, "Cultures of Habitat: One Nature, Culture, and Story." [NewsScan, 23Oct00.] -----