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Dr. Elaine Aron on Highly Sensitive People in Relationships

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Dr. Elaine Aron on Highly Sensitive People in Relationships

You fall in love hard, yet you fear the ramifications of getting close. It's difficult for you to overlook your partner's behaviors when they seem harsh or shallow. You're tired of feeling misunderstood by your partner. Maybe you're so daunted by the wounds of love that you've given up the idea of having a relationship.

In her book The Highly Sensitive Person in Love , psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD, explains why the risk of an unhappy relationship is especially high if you're among the 15-20% of people who are highly sensitive. The gifts of sensitive individuals—deep reflection and the ability to pick up on subtleties—are beneficial when both partners understand them. But without that understanding, close relationships can become difficult and complicated.

Dr. Aron discusses her latest book in the interview below.

What prompted you to write a book about highly sensitive people in love?

My area of expertise is in relationships. Relationships are extremely important for well-being, especially the well-being of highly sensitive people. One of the main reasons for this is that, as a whole, highly sensitive people tend to have lower ]]>self-esteem]]> than the rest of the population. Close relationships can offer us support, and the chance to experience our sensitivity as valuable.

What are some of the assets that highly sensitive people bring to relationships?

We are conscientious, tend to be aware of consequences, and are concerned about others' welfare. We're more likely to be truthful. We tend to stay in relationships and work things out because breaking up is especially hard for us. We're good listeners, and good at spotting what's going on in another's subconscious. We pick up on non-verbal language and are good at knowing what others are feeling. In relationships we are able to see what's deep and spiritual about the other person, and this makes our relationships more meaningful.

What are some of the challenges highly sensitive people face in relationships?

Generally, we find conflict and confrontation highly arousing and therefore tend to avoid it. Due to low self-esteem, we are also more likely to choose a partner who isn't right for us; we think we can't get anybody better. We're bothered more by subtle things such as others' nervous ticks. Of course, we don't like to complain about these things and tend to feel bad that they bother us.

When in a relationship with someone who's not highly sensitive, we may be annoyed by their volume of speaking. They may seem too brash and blunt. And to someone who's not highly sensitive, we're too subtle, not forward enough. We also attend to other's needs more than our own, and may be overwhelmed by them.

What advice would you give someone who is in an intimate relationship with a highly sensitive person?

First of all, believe the trait exists. Adjust your volume. Count your blessings. See it as a package deal. Accept and grieve those things you wanted with your partner that you don't have. Don't be overprotective or let your partner use his or her temperament as an excuse to avoid change. Don't throw your weight around just because your partner doesn't like conflict.

What advice would you give to a highly sensitive person in an intimate relationship?

Speak up about your own needs and experiences. It's easy for us to be labeled as having something "wrong" with us. We need to validate ourselves and defend our viewpoints. You need more "down-time;" ask for it. Try to find friends with a similar temperament. Get plenty of rest. Also, keep in mind that you and/or your partner may be upset after learning that you have temperamental differences.

Are there any other important points you'd like to add?

Yes. Just as many men are born with this trait as women. Our cultural ideal for men in relationships is to be aggressive, to sweep the woman off her feet. This is not the style for highly sensitive men. Unfortunately, they often feel they have to cover up their sensitivity. Sometimes these expectations cause them to avoid any relationship that could go beyond friendship.

Last reviewed September 2005 by ]]>Steven Bratman, MD]]>

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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