10 Books for Sensitive People to Help Navigate Life

by Aly Hazlewood on September 4, 2018

I am what has now been coined, a Highly Sensitive Person. Perhaps you are too? What I once viewed as a major flaw, I now see as my greatest Superpower, particularly in my present roles of EFT Therapist and Meditation Teacher. However, it took almost 40 years to arrive at that place of acceptance and peace. What certainly helped along the way were recommendations of books on this broad subject by fellow HSP’s. I’m sharing them here in the hope that you might find them as useful and nourishing as I did.

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The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You

“In this important book, Dr. Aron provides examples of characteristic behaviours of HSP’s, and these are reflected in the questions she typically asks interview subjects:

  • Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
  • Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
  • Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
  • Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
  • Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
  • Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
  • Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
  • When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?

Dr. Aron explains that in the past HSPs have been called “shy,” “timid,” “inhibited,” or “introverted,” but these labels completely miss the nature of the trait. Thirty percent of HSPs are actually extraverts. HSPs only appear inhibited because they are so aware of all the possibilities in a situation. They pause before acting, reflecting on their past experiences. If these were mostly bad experiences, then yes, they will be truly shy. But in a culture that prefers confident, “bold” extraverts, it is harmful as well as mistaken to stigmatize all HSPs as shy when many are not.”

For me, this book felt like having the light turned on. Suddenly my quirks and sensitivities made much more sense, were validated and normalised, and I felt much less alone and ‘weird’.

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Wild Mind – Bill Plotkin

“Our human psyches possess astonishing resources that wait within us, but we might not even know they exist until we discover how to access them and cultivate their powers, their untapped potentials and depths. Wild Mind identifies these resources — which Bill Plotkin calls the four facets of the Self, or the four dimensions of our innate human wholeness — and also the four sets of fragmented or wounded subpersonalities that form during childhood.

Rather than proposing ways to eliminate our subpersonalities (which is not possible) or to beat them into submission, Plotkin describes how to cultivate the four facets of the Self and discover the gifts of our subpersonalities. The key to reclaiming our original wholeness is not merely to suppress psychological symptoms, recover from addictions and trauma, or manage stress but rather to fully embody our multifaceted wild minds, commit ourselves to the largest, soul-infused story we’re capable of living, and serve the greater Earth community.”

I particularly loved all the practical exercises at the end of each chapter of this beautifully poetic book.

 

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Coming Back to Life - Joanna Macy

“Authors Joanna Macy and Molly Brown address the anguish experienced by those who would confront the harsh realities of our time. In this fully updated edition of Coming Back to Life, they show how grief, anger and fear are healthy responses to threats to life, and when honored can free us from paralysis or panic, through the revolutionary practice of the Work that Reconnects. New chapters address engaging communities of color, children and teens in the Work.

The Work that Reconnects has spread around the world, inspiring hundreds of thousands to work toward a life-sustaining human culture. Coming Back to Life introduces the Work’s theoretical foundations, illuminating the angst of our era with extraordinary insight. Pointing the way forward out of apathy, it offers personal counsel as well as easy-to-use methods for group work that profoundly affect peoples’ outlook and ability to act in the world.”

Not only is Joanna Macy one of my heros, she is also a wonderful poet, public speaker, eco-champion and runs life affirming workshops around the world. I heart her.

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The Places That Scare You – Pema Chodrun

“We always have a choice, Buddhist Nun Pema Chödrön teaches: We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us and make us increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder. Here Pema provides the tools to deal with the problems and difficulties that life throws our way. This wisdom is always available to us, she teaches, but we usually block it with habitual patterns rooted in fear. Beyond that fear lies a state of openheartedness and tenderness.

This book teaches us how to awaken our basic goodness and connect with others, to accept ourselves and others complete with faults and imperfections, and to stay in the present moment by seeing through the strategies of ego that cause us to resist life as it is.”

I highly recommend this and all other books by Pema Chodrun. Her compassionate, humorous heart is evident in every sentence. They have been lifesavers for me over the years.

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The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible – Charles Eisenstein

“In a time of social and ecological crisis, what can we as individuals do to make the world a better place? This inspirational and thought-provoking book serves as an empowering antidote to the cynicism, frustration, paralysis, and overwhelm so many of us are feeling, replacing it with a grounding reminder of what’s true: we are all connected, and our small, personal choices bear unsuspected transformational power. By fully embracing and practicing this principle of interconnectedness—called interbeing—we become more effective agents of change and have a stronger positive influence on the world.

Throughout the book, Eisenstein relates real-life stories showing how small, individual acts of courage, kindness, and self-trust can change our culture’s guiding narrative of separation, which, he shows, has generated the present planetary crisis. He brings to conscious awareness a deep wisdom we all innately know: until we get our selves in order, any action we take—no matter how good our intentions—will ultimately be wrongheaded and wronghearted. Above all, Eisenstein invites us to embrace a radically different understanding of cause and effect, sounding a clarion call to surrender our old worldview of separation, so that we can finally create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.”

Charles Eisenstein is one of the great wisdom thinkers of our time. My dream is that everyone finds their way to this beautiful and encouraging book. I recommend Charles’ talks online too.

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The Artists Way – Julia Cameron

“A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self,” the book is a program designed to help readers reject the devils of self-doubt on their shoulders and pursue creative activity not as a profession but as a form of therapy. At the core of the process is a ritual called “morning pages,” based on the premise that writing out three pages of free-form writing, in longhand, each morning, will unclog one’s mental and emotional channels of all the muck that gets in the way of being happy, productive, and creative. Simple enough. The other essential ritual involves taking oneself on an “artist’s date” each week—planning an outing to a museum or some other site of inspiration, free from the weight of obligation, work, or cellphones.”

The ‘Morning Pages’ ritual was helpful to me in ways that I couldn’t possibly have imagined. This book gave me the courage to write, paint and make pottery free from the usual weight of self-criticism.

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Belonging – Toko-pa Turner

“We live in one of the most connected times on earth but never before have we been so lonely, so alienated from each other, from ourselves, and from the natural world. Whether this manifests as having difficulty finding community, feeling anxiety about your worthiness and place in the world, or simply feeling disconnected, the absence of belonging is the great silent wound of our times.

Most of us think of belonging as a place outside of ourselves, that if we keep searching for, that maybe one day we’ll find it. But what if belonging isn’t a place at all, but a set of skills, or competencies, that we in modern times have lost or forgotten.

In Belonging, Toko-pa explores the origins of our estrangement, how that alienation affects the choices we make as individuals, and as a culture, and what are those skills to which we can apprentice ourselves, to restore a sense of belonging in our lives, and in our world.”

I have followed Toko-pa’s writing on Facebook for some time, and her words often feel like a magical salve to my sore spots. Her writing is exquisite.

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Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings – Rob Brezsny

“Rob Brezsny brings the message of a smiling universe to this self-help book for people who may be skeptical about self-help books. He persuasively advises readers to go along with the universe’s good intentions, but his rejection of cynicism and a bleak view of human nature isn’t rooted in denial. On the contrary, he makes a case for a cagey optimism that requires a vigorous engagement with the dark forces. He asks us to rethink life as a sublime game created for our amusement and illumination.

The book is a chameleon of a tome. You can read it straight through, slowly and surely, or else pick it up and open it at random for tasty hits of inspiration as the spirit moves you. You can even start at the end and weave your way backward. Brezsny has substantially updated this edition–he added nearly one hundred pages–by expanding various sections, adding more than a dozen new pieces and a new chapter, and providing readers with a number of playtime activities and exercises that let them participate through their own writing and drawing.”

This book is funny and tender and often felt to me like a warm hug, and I often read passages from it in my meditation classes.

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10% Happier – Dan Harris

“10% HAPPIER is a spiritual book written for – and by – someone who would otherwise never read a spiritual book. It is both a deadly serious and seriously funny look at mindfulness and meditation as the next big public health revolution.

Dan Harris always believed the restless, relentless, impossible-to-satisfy voice in his head was one of his greatest assets. How else can you climb the ladder in an ultra-competitive field like TV news except through nonstop hand-wringing and hyper vigilance? For a while, his strategy worked. Harris anchored national broadcasts and he covered wars. Then he hit the brakes, and had a full-blown panic attack live on the air.

What happened next was completely unforeseen. Through a bizarre series of events – involving a disgraced evangelical pastor, a mysterious self-help guru and a fateful gift from his wife – Harris stumbled upon something that helped him tame the voice in his head: meditation. At first, he was deeply suspicious. He had long associated meditation with bearded swamis and unwashed hippies. But when confronted with mounting scientific evidence that just a few minutes a day can literally rewire the brain for focus,happiness, and reduced reactivity, Harris took a deep dive. He spent years mingling with scientists,executives and marines on the front lines of a quiet revolution that has the potential to reshape society. He became a daily meditator, and even found himself on a ten-day, silent meditation retreat, which was simultaneously the best and worst experience he’d ever had.

Harris’s life was not transformed into a parade of rainbows and unicorns, but he did gain a passion for daily meditation. While the book itself is a narrative account of Dan’s conversion amid the harried and decidedly non-Zen world of the newsroom, it concludes with a section for the novice on how to get started.”

This book is wickedly funny, and a must read for anyone who’s contemplated starting a meditation practice and never quite managed it.

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The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – Bessel van der Kolk, MD

“Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he uses recent scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust.

He explores innovative treatments – from neurofeedback and meditation to sports, drama, and yoga – that offer new paths to recovery by activating the brain’s natural neuroplasticity. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score exposes the tremendous power of our relationships both to hurt and to heal – and offers new hope for reclaiming lives.”

Being highly sensitive is often – but not always – associated with childhood trauma. This book can initially be quite triggering, offering many shaky “Aha!” moments that help one make sense of their experiences and resultant behaviours. But I personally found it to be life-changing. We cannot heal what we do not see, so bringing light to trauma is the first stage of recovery. This book contains a wealth of useful information and tools to help with our healing. I recommend the Audiobook version as it can be a little overwhelming to read and retain some of the information.

Some other titles I highly recommend for those of us who clearly see the tipping point we have passed and want to know how best to be of service to humanity follow:

Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble – Stephen Jenkinson

“In his landmark provocative style, Stephen Jenkinson makes the case that we must birth a new generation of elders, one poised and willing to be true stewards of the planet and its species.

Come of Age does not offer tips on how to be a better senior citizen or how to be kinder to our elders. Rather, with lyrical prose and incisive insight, Stephen Jenkinson explores the great paradox of elderhood in North America: how we are awash in the aged and yet somehow lacking in wisdom; how we relegate senior citizens to the corner of the house while simultaneously heralding them as sage elders simply by virtue of their age. Our own unreconciled relationship with what it means to be an elder has yielded a culture nearly bereft of them. Meanwhile, the planet boils, and the younger generation boils with anger over being left an environment and sociopolitical landscape deeply scarred and broken.

Taking on the sacred cow of the family, Jenkinson argues that elderhood is a function rather than an identity–it is not a position earned simply by the number of years on the planet or the title “parent” or “grandparent.” As with his seminal book Die Wise, Jenkinson interweaves rich personal stories with iconoclastic observations that will leave readers radically rethinking their concept of what it takes to be an elder and the risks of doing otherwise. Part critique, part call to action, Come of Age is a love song inviting all of us to grow up, before it’s too late.”

Optimism over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change – Noam Chomsky

“This volume offers readers a concise and accessible introduction to the ideas of Noam Chomsky, described by the New York Times as “arguably the most important intellectual alive.

Wide-ranging interviews on war, power, and politics with Noam Chomsky, the world’s leading critic of US foreign policy.
This volume offers readers a concise and accessible introduction to the ideas of Noam Chomsky, described by the New York Times as “arguably the most important intellectual alive.”

In these recent, wide-ranging interviews, conducted for Truthout by C. J. Polychroniou, Chomsky discusses his views on the “war on terror” and the rise of neoliberalism, the refugee crisis and cracks in the European Union, prospects for a just peace in Israel/Palestine, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the dysfunctional US electoral system, the grave danger posed to humanity by the climate crisis, and the hopes, prospects, and challenges of building a movement for radical change.”

 

 

 

 

 

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