Flip-Flop Guy

As I sat in the library waiting for my computer to boot up the other day, I opened the book I’d just picked up from the “New Releases” shelf on my way in. Titled “In Pursuit of Silence,” it was about noise in our society, the reasons for it, and the history behind why we’re so noisy. As I read the first paragraph, a guy in flip-flop sandals walked to the cubicle beside mine and started to unpack his bag. I noticed him mostly because his shoes made such a loud and distracting sound, particularly in the otherwise mostly quiet library.

I chuckled to myself at the irony, and continued reading. A page later, after the flip-flop guy had made two or three noisy trips past me as he settled in, I read this in the introduction:

“I reached a point a couple years ago when I’d had it. I was as tired of hearing myself complain about noise as I was about the noise itself. I was time to do something. I wanted to understand whether my sensitivity to sound and longing for silence was ridiculous….”

Like the author, I’m constantly in search of quiet. I know my sensitivity to sounds is more acute than most people’s, and I really really really wish I could ignore all the things that I find so grating in the world, but it seems to be something hardwired into me. In some ways I feel it’s a disability, because I often avoid places and activities that “normal” people enjoy when I know from experience that I’ll be too preoccupied with the irritations to enjoy myself. That’s the worst part, really. I even skip my beloved weekly knitting group occasionally when I know I can’t deal with the noise of 8 or 10 women all talking at once for 2 hours. Sad, huh?

Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading this book very much.

I’ve had two other instances in life of reading a book and having that moment of realization that there are other people who deal with some of the same issues I do. I know it reeks of self-absorption to say this, but I feel I’m alone in my feelings so much of the time that any chance I have to feel less alone is a reason to celebrate.

“>Highly Sensitive Person cover imageThe first “aha” moment was about 10 years ago, when I discovered the book “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You,” by Dr. Elaine Aron. I actually cried as I found myself not only described perfectly in this book, but was told that my “disabilities” were really wonderful gifts that should be cherished rather than suffered through. And even more importantly, about 15% of the general population is like me in this way. So I’m not alone after all! That book changed my life and I always keep it handy for the times I find myself being overwhelmed by the world.

The second time this happened was only a few weeks ago when I read “Refuse to Choose,” by Barbara Sher. I’ve been frustrated my entire adult life because of my inability to identify a single career path and stick to it like I was “supposed” to. This book labels people like me “scanners”, and puts forth the theory that we’re genetically programmed to be like this, having interest in everything under the sun and wanting to try a little bit of this, a little bit of that. The author, like Dr. Aron, claims that there’s nothing wrong with being like this, and people like me shouldn’t feel pressure or judgment from the rest of society to conform to their idea of what we should do with our lives. Sounds simple, but it was so liberating to hear someone else describe us in such depth and make suggestions for how to live our lives happily.

Our society has lots of words to disparage people like me: “Jack of all trades, master of none”, dabbler, superficial, fickle, shallow, self-indulgent…. and I could go on.  Here’s what the author said about the letters she got upon publication of this book:

“The people who wrote me were unbelievably grateful to hear themselves described in positive terms — usually for the first time. For years they had struggled to understand why they were so different from everyone they knew. They had spent years of their lives bewildered and frustrated. Many had gone to therapists for help but couldn’t follow the program they were given to choose one path and stick to it.”

She goes on to talk about famous people who were Scanners, like Aristotle, Ben Franklin, and Leonardo da Vinci. Yes, yes, I think this book will be good for my self-esteem….

I’m not used to baring so much of my soul here (it’s scary), but I hope somebody out there will find something useful in all of this. Who knows, maybe one of you is a “scanner” or a “highly-sensitive person” too, and will be helped by knowing there are others like you out there.


  1. What you are not appreciating is the evolutionary advantage to being highly sensitive! (I thought about this after you and I talked …) In the very old days, it was a survival strategy! A breaking branch – a footstep – an unusual sound (like maybe a bird alarm call). Those who were sensitive enough became aware – and lived to make kids – evolution!
    While living in Los Angeles, I realized our brains are now better used as filters! Again an evolutionary strategy! What if we hear and think we need to respond to all outside noises? Traffic, sirens, and even home noises (as you and I do)? Geez!!! I lived by a freeway! Constant noise! Yes it bothered me! I learned the brain is mostly acting like a filter!!! We would go crazy if we “heard” everythihng! Somehow we learn to turn it off! And, yes, we (you) can understand that some/most noises can potentially cause no harm and can be eliminated!
    I still often mute the TV to try to hear a sound. It drives wife crazy! Sometimes it was a bird (fun). Sometimes the neighbors, and – sometimes a malfunctioning device that needs attention. She has no idea… but I have caught many problems this way. Weird, yes, but I do treasure the gift!


    • That’s very true, and I’ve caught problems early due to my high-sensitivity to sounds and smells. In fact, we had a gas leak in the house that Eric couldn’t smell even after I told him about it. So I do value my high sensitivity in that way too!

      I only wish my “brain filter” would work better. I have a hard time tuning out irritating noises. More than once, including today, I’ve actually left the house to get away from the nonstop beeping of the Road Commission trucks when they’re working on Dutton Road. It makes me feel like I’m going to lose my mind sometimes! But I guess I need to get out of the house more anyway…. 😉


  2. I’m ordering the HSP book by Aron, for sure! I am like you with the noise factor. I hear sounds others don’t hear (high-pitched and buzzing), and cannot handle being in most public places as the noise is deafening. My husband has hearing loss, which really compounds the problem in our home! Noise reduction headphones don’t even help me. It does help to discover others who suffer… and it’s nice to know it’s something that we should maybe embrace instead of curse!! Great post Kim!


    • I’m glad WordPress sent a notice of a “new” post when I imported this one today from 2010. I just stumbled upon my blog archive file and decided to pull some more of my old posts into this blog.

      I’m sure you’ll love Dr. Aron’s book, Lori. You and I are so alike, and this book is like my bible. I’ll look forward to hearing what you think after you’ve got it in your hands.


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