By Cat Robson
Could it be that what makes us more vulnerable might also make us more durable?
I believe in aristocracy, though–if that is the right word, and if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power…but…of the sensitive, the considerate….
Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages…there is a secret understanding between them when they meet.
They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and chaos.
Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive for others as well as themselves…considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure.
– – E . M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy.
Sensitive people…may have suffered much pain [in the concentration camps] (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less.
They were able to retreat…to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom.
Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a more robust nature.
–Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Those quotes are from the article Sensory-Processing Sensitivity and Its Relation to Introversion and Emotionality [PDF] by Elaine N. Aron and Arthur Aron, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1997, Vol. 73, No. 2.
The Arons go on to write:
Considering together the research on introversion in adults, inhibitedness in children, what is called innate shyness in both, and similar traits in at least some other species, there is strong evidence for two strategies in the face of novel stimulation — either exploration or a quiet vigilance, which may lead to retreat.
A characteristic we call sensory-processing sensitivity may be the underlying basis of this difference in strategy.
Elaine Aron is author of one of the key reference books: The Highly Sensitive Person.
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