Make Friends With Books


It is in the nature of highly sensitive people to use our deep processing to ponder life’s gifts, opportunities, complexities, conflicts and purpose. Often that processing goes on in our quiet moments, or sometimes we are pushed into it by an experience that our intense emotions indicate has some meaning beyond the now, and therefore deserves our attention. This processing is innate and begins in earliest childhood.

HSPs And Books

Highly sensitive people have over time, in the majority, tended to be book-worms in one way or another. Before the arrival of TV, mass video capability, social media, it was quite normal for sensitive people, (whether they are academic or not, whether they are introvert or extravert, whatever their educational background), to browse book shops and libraries, taking an interest in a huge variety of topics which also included social and personal psychology, personal development, self-help, philosophy and much, much more. In pursuing our reading, we made time to identify what we are interested in, we perused book shelves, we bought or borrowed books, and importantly, we made time to read and digest them. This entailed some work, not only to read, but to think, to pause, to reflect on the message, to dream. To sleep on it, to discuss any meaning with someone else who could meet us at depth.

I am becoming more and more aware of how little time HSPs in general are spending actually reading good quality, well-researched literature on high sensitivity and related topics. It’s so fashionable, to receive information in short sound-bites, or made ‘nice and easy’ by little videos that summarise the main points in bite-sized, undemanding pieces that even a child could understand. You might ask, what does it matter whether you get information by reading or by watching it on a screen? Aren’t they the same thing? Well, no, they are not. They are very different processes.

The Importance Of Engaged Reading

Compare reading and study, if you will, to the passive acquisition of information, ideas and stories that we have become accustomed to of late. In news, politics, philosophy, entertainment, arts, there are a multitude of short summaries, theories pre-packaged for absorption without thought, often omitting the innumerable possibilities in favour of a simpler, single ‘truth’. Since we get little pieces of material this way, how do we know what is missing from what we are absorbing?

Yet if we pick up a book and choose to pick a chapter at random to read, it is impossible to ignore the fact that there are multiple chapters in that book, all potentially providing context, enrichment and depth to what we are absorbing and introducing our profound depth of processing to. If we have a book, we might read one chapter and find we have questions as a result. If we keep reading, we may come across more questions and possibly the answers to those questions – so we keep the book handy, we take our time to absorb, to ponder, and importantly, we give ourselves time to assimilate where those ideas or awarenesses fit in with our burgeoning sense of self, of other, of the world and of meaning. We read the whole book.

Now let’s look at the other angle. Pre-packaged, small and detached pieces of information, provided in a way that does not challenge us, does not give us pause or complexity of context before we accept a conclusion and in our boredom, reach out for the next shallow presentation. Something that potentially encourages us to lose our ability to ‘work at’ knowledge, to stick with a problem, to reach for an understanding, at a pace that facilitates a truer and higher quality awareness of complexity. In contrast, a constantly moving feast of shallow, under-developed content, erodes away our ability to ponder at depth. We forget that often these pre-packaged and basic presentations are really only supposed to pique our interest – somehow we mistake them for the full story and have no idea we have left ourselves floating in a small eddy rather than exploring the ocean.

So, what examples could I give perhaps, about how the habits of highly sensitive people, have undermined our true nature and, therefore, the likelihood of fulfilling our purpose. Let’s take an example that is specific for HSPs. Elaine Aron’s book, ‘The highly sensitive person”, which has been out there now for 25 years. Looking at social media on HSP topics, Facebook pages and so on – how often do we find that the same questions are being asked over and over again – answers to which are all in the book. HSPs who are so grateful to have found others like them, who have been struggling with being different and to find ways to be authentic and fulfilled as a sensitive person. So often they seem to feel fine saying ‘oh yes, but I haven’t read Elaine’s book yet, haven’t had time – but I just wanted to ask this question……’. And then proceed to ask one question at a time, ultimately slowing down their potential, their development, into the truly wonderful person their genes destined them to be. What is it about reading the book that is so hard? Twenty years ago, no-one seemed to have this problem. One read the book, worked through it, so many questions were answered and one could then start to look at other questions, making links to Questions of Life, bigger picture issues.

Doing The Work

It concerns me that we as HSPs, regardless of our intelligence, our sensitivity and our potential, are often failing at the first hurdle of self-improvement – that of giving ourselves time to do the work, to absorb and reflect at a deep level – not just when we are too tired to do anything, but when we have energy and apply ourselves to what we are designed to do – to absorb at depth, to analyse, to question and to connect with things bigger than ourselves. I feel that perhaps we, as an important minority, are in danger of losing valuable habits that nurture wisdom due to cultural change. Book reading being just one of them.

If it is the case that the very format by which we absorb information is also a mediator of how deeply we process, what are we going to do in response to that idea?

By deep reading, we mean the array of sophisticated processes that propel comprehension and that include inferential and deductive reasoning, analogical skills, critical analysis, reflection, and insight. The expert reader needs milliseconds to execute these processes; the young brain needs years to develop them. Both of these pivotal dimensions of time are potentially endangered by the digital culture’s pervasive emphases on immediacy, information loading, and a media-driven cognitive set that embraces speed and can discourage deliberation in both our reading and our thinking.

Maryanne Wolf and Mirit Barzillai, ‘The Importance of Deep Reading.’ 

My view is that too many of us are being influenced by the larger culture, who think of us either as broken, ineffectual or weak. That habit of flitting over short commentary, avoiding deep study, avoiding just – books – is a symptom of the way in which a society, influenced by the majority of non-HSPs is setting us up to go against our nature and in that process, they are losing us. We may even be cooperating in the removal of HSPs as an integral part of the survival of humankind. I wonder if we truly appreciate how a loss of our true selves can affect not only those around us, but also the way in which we carry out our purpose in the bigger picture of life.

So, how can we make positive changes? Habits, by their very nature, are learned and repetitive – some work to our good, some do not. Some habits develop through our own personal growth path, others develop as a result of external influence. Those that do not support our authentic pathway, slowly move us towards becoming negatively aligned against our innate purpose(s). Habits that reinforce our positive, authentic purpose might also come under attack – subtly or not so subtly, by external culture. The fact that habits can change is a positive, but requires us to consciously screen our behaviour for a match with our purpose.

How many highly sensitive people have not realized just yet, that exploring, finding and expressing your authentic self, with all your gifts and awareness, is only the beginning of what you can do for the tribe of man? And how poignant, that all it takes for an HSP to become a sage, is not to become rich, not to become successful, not to have huge swathes of time or fans, but simply to apply their depth of processing wherever they go and not give up?

However poor or short of time we are, we can also usually afford books or borrow them from a library. We can write emails and make phone calls. We don’t necessarily have to wash our clothes by hand, or walk everywhere, or wait three weeks for an answer to a letter to arrive by snail mail. Whatever we have in terms of difficulties, for most of us they do not compare with those of few generations ago. Yes, for some, life was simpler back then, but lack of access to education meant that there could be necessary limits to how one pursued one’s purpose in the bigger picture, where one’s role might be to share profound awareness or messages. Even so, HSPs did influence their peers, becoming pastors, musicians and good neighbours.

Which Pathway Do We Take?

So, here we are now – do we allow ourselves to catch the habits of the masses, habits that whilst they work for them and their different purpose, actually take away ours? Do we take the easy route of superficiality? Do we avoid reading books and keep asking random questions that are already answered in the books? Do we continue to allow ourselves to mistake feelings of boredom, inauthenticity and lack of depth for depression and anxiety? Do we look for the easy way or the inspired way? Do we allow the philosophy and culture of the other 80% to dictate our path and deprive us of our role within the numinous (where we point to what is bigger than us) – do we allow it to deprive us of our roles as the sages, the teachers, the philosophers, the signalers, the inventors, the visionaries, the compassionate?

Well, lots to ponder there. But even if you do a small thing differently as a result of reading this, I hope that the next time you see a book, you will give it the courtesy of spending time with it. I hope that next time you have a question, you will ask yourself what’s the real reason you don’t already know the answer. I hope that you will fulfill your highest self and in doing so, provide the spiritual security to the rest of your tribe that they so need you for right now. Maybe some will even end up being the authors of books to enlighten and influence future generations?

Good luck ☺.

Image: Ben White – Unsplash

About Barbara Allen

Barbara Allen is based in the U.K. She founded Growing Unlimited Therapeutic Consultancy (2002) and the National Centre for High Sensitivity (2010-19). In 2013, she retired as a qualified integrative therapist, group worker and supervisor after working in the therapeutic field for 20 years. Barbara has received training on high sensitivity directly from Dr Elaine Aron in the USA. She has written and presents continuing professional development workshops (CPD) for professionals on the trait of sensory processing sensitivity and is a speaker on the topic of highly sensitive people and sensitive living. She facilitates the empowerment of individual HSPs as a mentor 1-1, also supporting parents of HSCs and providing assessments and reports for schools. She facilitates groups and workshops nationally and internationally, co-hosting a number of 4-day HSP Gathering Retreats with Jacquelyn Strickland and creating personal development workshops for HSPs in Europe and USA. She is a founding member of International Consultants in High Sensitivity. You can contact her at +44 7773124854 at her email or visit her website for more information.


  1. Tamara S. Graham on March 29, 2021 at 9:10 am

    Great article. Equally important is for kids to have resources and stories that help them to not feel alone. This has been my life passion. I just published the first book in my series of 9 for HSPs families. Ive gotten great feedback from parents wishing they had these as kids and how deeply healing it is for them even now. For more info on the series: ☀️?

    • Maria Hill on March 29, 2021 at 9:16 am

      Thanks for sharing!