In a recent exchange with Alex, who was inquiring about Focusing, I sent along information about high sensitivity (HSP).
Alex mentioned that he had come across Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person. He commented, “Very interesting. I don’t like labeling myself but I see something in me that is very sensitive. I can see the connection with shame for feeling sensitive and how I and others push me.”
I felt that Alex had captured a key point in an eloquent way, and I wrote back to say I agreed with him about not labeling. I added, “The HSP information is a helpful aggregate of information which can make sense of a lot of things, but in the end it all comes down to letting go of all stories and connecting to one’s spiritual source. It’s just easier to do that when one is caring for oneself well, and because HSPs need a different kind of self-care than the majority of people, this can be hard to do if we don’t get some kind of normative information or validation along the way.”
This issue of the “sensitive” label is painfully relevant for many of us, so it is worth taking time to explore it further.
Labels are a risky business
First of all, let’s be clear that positive or negative, a label is a form of judgment. Labels are too often used to lump people into groups in a way that inevitably overrides their individual humanity. And the sensitive label is no exception. The term “sensitive” is often used in a pejorative way to mean “too sensitive”. Even without that judgment, though, there’s another reason we might reject the sensitive label: managing your sensitive trait can be a serious challenge. You didn’t ask to be born this way, after all. You may hope that if you avoid calling yourself sensitive, you can avoid being sensitive.
The downside of rejecting the label
The problem is that a rose by any other name is still a rose. If you try by sheer force of will not to be a rose, you create a dilemma for yourself, because roses need different care than daisies need. Alex was speaking to this problem when he remarked, “I can see the connection with shame for feeling sensitive and how I and others push me.”
There’s no way around it: if we are built sensitive, we experience the different aspects of the trait in our bodies, whether we acknowledge that as legitimate or not. If we don’t acknowledge our sensitivity as legitimate, we will, like Alex, push ourselves to match the pace and intensity of the less-sensitive majority culture. And we will allow ourselves to be pushed by others.
But is there a way to use the “sensitive” label that is non-limiting, non-judging, and helpful? Fortunately, there is. Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, we can take back the label, dust off the judgments we and others have put on it, and use the word “sensitive” as a convenient name for “a helpful aggregate of information”, as I described it to Alex.
The fact is, if you are built sensitive, the information available to you—including Elaine Aron’s books—is invaluable. By accepting the reality of the trait, you gain access to transformative information about your life and why you experience things the way you do. Even more importantly, you learn what you need to do to take the best possible care of yourself.
“But I still don’t like labeling myself!”
Fair enough. But here’s the great news: you can have your cake and eat it too. First, you embrace and absorb the invaluable information contained under the label of sensitivity. Then, rather than rejecting the label because it has at times been used to shame you, you can transcend it. To revisit my comment to Alex,
“…in the end it all comes down to letting go of all stories and connecting to one’s spiritual source. It’s just easier to do that when one is caring for oneself well, and because HSPs need a different kind of self-care than the majority, this can be hard to do if they don’t get some kind of normative information or validation along the way.”
To be more specific, sensitive people are hardwired for spiritual connection. But our wires can get crossed easily if we don’t know how to manage the deep thinking, the tendency to overwhelm and anxiety, the emotional intensity and the sensory sensitivity that come with the trait.
Harnessing the power of “both/and”
So we have a paradox on our hands. We need to attend to the self-care needs defined by the HSP label, in order to transcend our sensitivity. We do best when we take advantage of the practical information defined by the sensitive trait, while simultaneously holding on to the truth that our reality lies beyond any concept or definition.
You can test this approach for yourself when you assess information about sensitivity to determine its usefulness to you. Take in the information.Then get quiet and sense if the insight or the suggested action resonates with your spiritual intuition. If it does resonate, take action accordingly. Then get quiet again and sense how you feel.
If you are more peaceful, more joyful, more energetic, more in integrity with yourself, and more in harmony with others, that is clear feedback that you are on the right track. You have taken action on the physical plane that serves you on the spiritual plane. The two are closely related: it’s hard to hear your spiritual intuition when you are exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious, hungry, or overstimulated.
The sun rising over water perfectly captures the feel of immersing oneself in information about sensitivity, then transcending it. And, like the sunrise, this is not a “one-and-done” action, but a daily unfolding. You learn more about how best to care for yourself; you gain more peace and presence, which helps you transcend your sense of self a bit more; and you repeat the process.
Join us for
FOCUSING 1 FOR SENSITIVE PEOPLE
A 6-week online class starting February 28, 2019
QUICK COURSE FACTS
Who this course is for: If you are built sensitive and think deeply, feel intensely, and crave a judgment-free, safe place to process all that goes on in you, I highly recommend you take this class. If you are an Inner Bonding practitioner, Focusing skills will deepen your Inner Bonding process. For in-depth information about the course, click here.
What you’ll learn: You’ll learn focusing partnership skills with a special emphasis on common challenges sensitive people deal with every day. It’s a powerful synergy. You’ll come out of the class with skills to manage intense emotions; new insight about your sensitivity; and Focusing partners with whom you can exchange support after the class ends.
What’s included: A one-to-one Focusing session with Emily; 6 online classes (two hours each); Focusing manual
Where: We meet on Zoom videoconference–easy to use from your computer or phone
When: 6 Thursdays, 3 PM to 5 PM EST: February 28, March 7, 14, 21, 28, April 4, 2019
Tuition: $395 (Last day to register: Sunday, February 24, 2019)
To register or to read more: Click here
Read what recent course graduates are saying…
“I’ve been able to acknowledge and feel some pretty big emotions and support myself without being overwhelmed. I am getting SO much out of this class. I am so glad I decided to do this.
∼M T, Superior Township, MI
“I am able to recognize my sensitivity a little bit better and I am learning to “be with” my inner critic instead of trying to stop her from criticizing or even criticizing her for criticizing! Focusing is helping me to be kinder and gentler to myself and others. It is stopping me in my tracks when I get overwhelmed and showing me that there is a way to manage my sensitivity by being with, instead of reacting to, the intense feelings that sometimes arise in me.”
∼NN, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
“The overwhelming feeling is that I’ve gained a superpower: kind of like an inner tool that is mine to use at my own discretion… I feel empowered by it, and I’d say one of the key things I’ve noticed is more comfort with hearing the truth within, and acknowledging that truth, and acting on it…”
∼B S, Waterloo, Ontario
I was looking for a blog to share what I have to share and this one is the closest I could find. I just watched a youtube video by an LFMT (hopefully I have the letters in the right order). She has a video about being HSP. She states she scored 14 (which is just above the 12 mark ) on Dr. Aron’s HSP self test . She goes on to share how HSP people need to share this trait reality with their Mental Health Care Providers……I just went through hell (really) trying to explain to a psychiatrist, for a good 8 months, as to how senstive I am to the side effects of medication. ( I answered yes to all of the HSP self test questions) I also tried to explain my HSP trait to a psychologist. Being HSP IS NOT A MENTAL HEALTH CONCERN, it is a physically inherited trait. I know you, Emily, know this, I’m more or less venting here. I couldn’t find a ‘contact’ place on this woman’s website to share my concerns about what she was saying on her video. This was the first HSP video I have come across that really did no service to the HSP trait. I hope someone points this out to her. My attempts at explaining my HSP trait to a psychiatrist was overlooked and met with a prescription for Zyprexa! ( a very potent antipsychotic drug). He told me , because I had been crying so much, that ‘it would take the edge off’. WOW……..I’m doing much better now….only on my antidepressant…but WOW. Thanks for having this space for HSPs to comment and share. So….to tie this in……HSPs need to find health care professionals who understand the HSP trait and are knowledgeable with it…otherwise we are treated as extremely sensitive people…neurotic, hypochondriacs, unintelligent..and the list goes on.
I recently shared with my nephew, who is only 20, about this inherited trait…calling it a Highly Absorbing Nervous System Trait….and Magnifying Glass Nervous System Trait….gets away from the ‘sensitive label’.