An Open Letter to Socially Timid Highly Sensitive People

I’m so excited to share with you my first article published on Introvert, Dear. Read an excerpt below, then follow the “Read More” link for the full article.

Dear fellow highly sensitive person,

Like many of you, I didn’t know I was a highly sensitive person (HSP) for a long while. I just knew I was “different.” For me, this was particularly marked in social situations. Other people went shopping together to unwind, but I felt tense in brightly lit malls bombarded by flashing advertisements, milling crowds, and heavy perfumes. My friends didn’t wince at dances when the music was turned up, they danced harder. My classmates in college seemed like they could relax and focus, while I noticed the flickering lights, the quality of air, the spot on the professor’s shirt, the scratch of pencils on paper.

Sound familiar? If you were like me, you were sure this wasn’t normal—but you weren’t sure what to do about it. I couldn’t understand why it was so hard to get over my shyness and start acting like other people. I had discovered my Myers-Briggs personality type was INFJ when I was preparing to graduate high school as a homeschooler, but it wasn’t until I was floundering through the social landscape of college that I started really researching it. I began at the library, desperately digging through books, looking for ways to cope with my introversion. …. Read More

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Falling In Love With Anyone

Falling In Love With Anyone | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Renee Barron, CC BY-ND, via Flickr

The study is 20 years old, but I first became aware of it last week. In two days, I saw two different articles talking about falling in love and Dr. Arthur Aron’s “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness.” (As an interesting side-note, this Dr. Aron is married to Dr. Elaine Aron, who we’ve talked about in connection to her research on Highly Sensitive Persons [HSPs].)

Aron’s study wasn’t actually intended to explore the science of falling in love — it was designed to study closeness and included both men-women and woman-woman pairs (because the sample group, a psychology class, was 70% women). The couples who fell in love were an unintended side-effect. Mandy Len Catron’s recent article “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” which called attention back to this study, demonstrates that the principles Aron used for studying accelerated intimacy between strangers can be applied to romantic relationships.

It’s a fascinating idea, made even more fascinating when you read his published research paper (what can I say? I’m a nerd) and find out about some of his other results. Is there a difference in closeness for introverts and extroverts? Can you truly become close to someone in less than an hour? What is it that effectively increases closeness?

Introverts and Extroverts

One thing I found fascinating about this study, which wasn’t brought out in any of the other articles I read, was Dr. Aron’s observations on the role introversion and extroversion played. In Study 3, Dr. Aron had the participants take a Myers-Briggs test, then used those results to create extrovert-extrovert, extrovert-introvert, and introvert-introvert pairs. Some of the pairs were told the experiment’s goal was to get close to the person you were paired with, and the others were told the study was about “dyadic interaction” and their job was simply to work through the questions.

Extroverts reported closeness in all cases, but introverts only reported closeness when they were told that closeness was a goal. Dr. Aron says, “these data shed doubt on the view that introverts are less social because they are less skilled at getting close. Indeed, when getting close is made an explicit task, introverts became as close as extraverts.” When introverts want to get close to someone, we’re just as capable of socializing with them as extroverts.

Is It Real?

The experiment succeeded in producing a feeling of closeness between two people, but is that closeness as real as a relationship that develops over time? Of the 58 people who completed follow-up questionnaires, 57% had a least one more conversation with their study partner, 35% got together to do something, and 37% started sitting together in class. One couple got married 6 months after the study.

So are we producing real closeness? Yes and no. We think that the closeness produced in these studies is experienced as similar in many important ways to felt closeness in naturally occurring relationships that develop over time. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that the procedure produces loyalty, dependence, commitment, or other relationship aspects that might take longer to develop.
In one of Dr. Aron’s tests, he paired individuals with shared interests, and individuals who shouldn’t have gotten along well based on their different responses to a questionnaire. He also conducted tests where pairs were assigned without filling out pre-tests to determine whether or not they were compatible. In all cases, participants reported similar levels of closeness. That indicates we can rapidly feel close with just about anyone, but on the long-term this closeness might not last because other considerations (like whether or not you share important values) will eventually come up.

Small Talk’s Not Enough

One thing Aron’s research found was that small-talk doesn’t do anything to bring people closer together (which I’m sure many of us have suspected for years). Talking about things people had done, what they liked and disliked, or other people they knew did not produce closeness between the two study participants. Here are some examples of the small-talk prompts used in his study:

  • If you could invent a new flavor of ice cream, what would it be?
  • Do you like to get up early or stay up late? Is there anything funny that has resulted from this?
  • What is the last concert you saw? How many of that band’s albums do you own? Had you seen them before? Where?

In contrast, the types of questions which did draw people closer together focused on how they feel about the way they live their lives, why they think the way they do, and what helps them connect with other people. Here are a few examples, and you can read the full list of closeness-generating questions at the end of his published research paper (which I linked in the intro), or by clicking this link.

  • What would constitute a perfect day for you?
  • Is there something that you’ve dreamt of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  • Tell your partner what you like about them: be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

Maybe there is a reason people devote so much time to small talk, which we introverts find so frustrating because we crave deep conversations. If we were having deep conversations with everyone, though, we’d feel very close to a lot more people. Maybe small talk protects us in a way, though it can also hinder genuine conversation.

Some Thoughts

Now that I’ve read about this research, part of me would really like to try it out and part of me thinks it sounds scary. I always thought that love is a choice, but there’s a part of me that feels like falling in love should just happen, then once you commit to the relationship you choose to keep loving each other. But Dr. Aron’s research indicates that you can choose who you become close to in the first place, and you can reach a level of closeness in less than an hour that approaches closeness you feel for people you’ve known many years. I think I’d be rather picky about who I went through these questions with, but it might be a great way to let yourself be vulnerable and open up possibilities in a relationship.

 

HSPs, Violence, and Guardians of the Galaxy

Honestly I have no idea what to write about. Guardians of the Galaxy? the book I just read about HSPs? how much I hate head colds that keep me from attending a wedding?

your very own potted Groot!

Let’s go with a combo of the first two. My sister talked our whole family into going with her to see Guardians of the Galaxy yesterday. After being … let’s just say less than impressed with the trailers, I found that I actually enjoyed the film for the most part. I’d thought it would be the characters or humor or plot that would be the part I didn’t enjoy, but that wasn’t it.

It was the violence. You expect a certain level of violence in a Marvel superhero film. But at least in The Avengers they were trying to minimize casualties and none of the main characters enjoys killing. The Guardians do (spoiler warning) save an entire planet, but there’s a lot of collateral damage in a mining colony that no one seems concerned about, and Rocket Raccoon, Drax, and Groot are all seen laughing or grinning while killing people. The deaths are played for audience laughs too, like when Groot grows a tree limb through about 5 bad guys and batters them around inside a spaceships corridor to kill them and their companions. I think Peter Quinn and I were the only ones in the theater not laughing.

If you take Elaine Aron’s self-test for High Sensitivity, one of the questions is “True or False: I make a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows.” When I first took the test, I answered “false.” I wouldn’t watch things with what I considered excessive violence, but I would watch the occasional Criminal Minds episode and I had seen too many R-rated movies to count on one hand (but just barely, and most in a film class at college). Even so, during our yearly re-watching of The Lord of the Rings, I’d leave the room for most of the Battle of Helm’s Deep and if I was watching Henry V on my own I hit the skip button for Agincourt.

Now I think I’d answer “true,” partly because I’m being honest about how I’ve approached violent media in the past and partly because I’m becoming more aware of how violence affects me. I had to stop watching Criminal Minds because the nightmares got too bad (and even after I quit, they came back after reading Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue). I almost wished I hadn’t seen X-Men: Days of Future Past in theaters because the battle scenes were so dark and raw (almost — wouldn’t give up seeing the character development for young Professor X and Magneto). And I was troubled by Guardians of the Galaxy.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who flinches when a character gets stabbed, punched, kicked, shot or otherwise maimed. That there’s other people who think even superhero movies could do with fewer explosions, mayhem, and destruction. Or maybe I could stop watching movies … nah. I’ll probably skip The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, though, at least till DVD, and (spoiler warning) delay the inevitable deaths of all my favorite dwarves for as long as possible.

I’ll still go see Avengers: Age of Ultron, though. Probably for the same reason I let my sister talk me into seeing Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel films are addictive.