vrijdag 30 april 2010

A Love Letter to Highly Sensitive Men

I would like to share an article by Elaine Aron on Sensitive Men.

As a woman I absolutely love men, but sometimes find them hard to understand and communicate with.  So yes, I am always happy to meet a Highly Sensitive Man who has awoken to his Power and easily goes from one pole (the feminine) to the other (male).  Yes, I just LOVE a strong, sensitive man!

Back to Comfort ZoneFebruary 2010: Comfort Zone ONLINE
A Love Letter to Highly Sensitive Men
Someone recently pointed out that Comfort Zone has rarely had articles specifically about being a highly sensitive man. There have been some, but there are not more for two reasons. 

First, I think of this as a specialty of Ted Zeff, who will soon be publishing a book about raising sensitive boys. But I know it will be equally interesting to sensitive men, as much of the book is based in interviews with sensitive men from around the world. 

Second, I have thought that as a woman it would be a bit presumptuous of me to tell sensitive men about themselves. However, you hold a special place in my heart (and thoughts), so I will speak more about that.

To be honest, until I married, all the boys and men to whom I had been attracted were sensitive. My husband answers true to 8 questions on the HSP Scale, and we joke that those 8 are essential to our marriage. I will always enjoy the depth of conversation I can have with a sensitive man. You immediately "get it." Even if you are brainy engineers or intellectuals, your feelings seem readily available when appropriate.

Contrary to what some might think, I find you excellent in emergencies. Often you have just the right thing with you, have thought through all types of situations before they have happened, and are so caring that you think of the other person first. What a blessing.

You often listen better than most men, who according to research typically do most of the talking when conversing with (to?) a woman unless she interrupts them, which, to be fair, most men do not generally mind. But how nice to have those long, quiet pauses with sensitive men while we both think it over, and to be asked what I think. As a result, the response one receives from a sensitive man is usually a thoughtful one, not the typical response based on a moment of listening, followed advice based on the listener thinking he has been through almost the same thing.

The history of your emotional life and struggles with being a different sort of man is, to me, almost uniformly tragic, although most of you are generally reticent about your pain unless strongly encouraged to share it. It always amazes me that even if sensitive man have had a very troubled childhood, they are usually caring towards others. They simply are not ones to gripe. That is true character. I don't know how you guys do it.

Beyond what I have written in general about being highly sensitive, you should ask each other how to cope with it, and read Ted's new book. But a woman is in a special position to tell you how wonderful you are, and I'm glad I've taken this chance to express it again.

dinsdag 27 april 2010

Why, Really, Do We Have to Feel So Bad?

Today I would like to share an article written by Elaine Aron on grief.

Grief is thought to serve the function of drawing attention to the fact that a hole has been rent in the social fabric that holds you up and sustains you in love. We are social animals, so we live in a web of human (and animal) connections as much as fish live in the sea. We do not choose consciously to become attached to our parents or have favorite friends or fall in love. We don't have to. It's instinct. It is so important to survival that it is not left to rational decision making. We don't have to say to ourselves, "I think I'll love this interesting person named Jane" the way we say, "I think I'd like to take a vacation in New Zealand." There's no escaping. We love. And so there's also no escaping loss and grief.

Except for a few monks who have vowed to give up all attachments, the threads in your social fabric differ in the centrality of their role of supporting you in that weaving. They range from those you would deeply miss to those very, very few whom it may seem that you could not live without. (Fortunately, the three whom I lost in April and June were not in that last category. If I had lost one of them, I would not be writing this right now.)

These categories of importance are not about our relative appreciation or valuing of them as people (or animals--pets can also fall into these categories), but simply how much they currently feel like necessities. At the top are those whose loving presence has been almost constant, a source of basic security and daily companionship. Or a special friend or teacher who gives your life meaning. With parent or child, biology itself keeps the attachment at a high level. Whoever they are, these are the few who shape your life so that it would be shapeless without them. It may seem that their loss would create "unbearable" suffering. In these cases we say, "I couldn't live without him" or "I can't imagine my life without her," and we seriously mean it. I am going to focus on this level of loss and grief, because I suspect it is what HSPs experience more often than others and certainly fear the most.

Fear of the Really Big Loss
The fear of the grief caused by a big, big loss is as important a subject as getting through such a loss, because this fear can pretty well ruin things, and it can all go on in the unconscious to protect our conscious mind from being afraid all the time. This is where being an HSP might enter: Our trait makes us tend to look ahead and try to prepare for what we think may be coming. In this case we know the size of our love and so we can feel the size of the loss that is almost certain to come. And if you have a personal history of early losses and separations, that in combination with your sensitivity means you often look ahead far more than you would like to the possibility of losing one of the one or two threads that hold your entire life in place. Can anything or anyone prepare you for such a loss?
I don't usually discuss spiritual matters because one's beliefs are so personal, and everyone's are so varied. But my first rule is to say what might help one of you. After years of seeking the type of spiritual faith, philosophy, practice, or community that I could imagine sustaining me through such a loss, I have come to the conclusion that, for me, it does not exist. And I think it is okay if you are like me in this. If you read C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed you see that even this very devout Christian was truly overwhelmed for a time after his wife's death. (Shadowlands, the movie based on the last years of his marriage, might be worth your watching.) Accepting this has been an odd relief, actually. I can stop straining for something that will hold at such a time and stop feeling like spiritual a failure because I have not found it in the sense that it would end this special fear.

Mind you, faith, philosophy, practice, and community have benefited me and I would not give them up. But in regard to my imagining these helping much in the case of the Big, BIG Loss? No. Not at first. And well, why should they? As someone wise told me, when you love or attach so strongly, of course the "I" or the ego can't handle the immensity of the loss. Loss, like love, does not operate on that level of consciousness. It goes along its own course, and steering it is like thinking we are steering a wild elephant because we happen to be on it as it goes where it will go. If the ego decides to go to Hawaii, it can usually make that happen, and if it can't go for some reason, the ego can recover from the disappointment, or even decide not to be disappointed at all. But when you lose someone you love, your reaction is an instinctual process as much as birth and death, and mostly we have to go with that process and endure as best as we can, using our measly coping strategies and receiving a lot of help from others. (One source of help I liked was Nancy Cobb's In Lieu of Flowers: A Conversation for the Living.)

Avoiding Loss (Not) 101
Perhaps love and the loss that comes with it might still seem like a source of pain that we could avoid if we were determined to. In a way we can. After a trauma around love or attachment, we often build a defense that overrides instinct (a defense that may be an instinct of its own) that keeps us from really loving anyone again. It doesn't make us very happy, but it does in its way limit future grief, even if it causes a different kind of ongoing grief.

Most people spend a lot of time in therapy or couples counseling whittling down whatever fear of loss they have that is based on the past. That could seem like a dumb idea, fostered by optimistic therapists who tout love without mentioning its cost. Why not leave the defense alone? Because the defense doesn't really work anyway. If we try to stop our love impulse, it just sneaks out and attaches itself to the most awful choices. So as with love, so with grief--almost the only thing the ego can do is "go with it," perhaps steering a little bit but not doing much more.

You could still try, at the time of the loss, to build a huge wall around the grief or around yourself or both. But we have all seen now how badly that works out. It leads to psychological, if not physical, death. Or, if you have said a million times that you could not live without a certain person, perhaps there is something in your unconscious that would at least consider physical death. But almost all of us have that darn instinctual need to survive that stands in our way. And even if the will to live failed, the HSP's conscientiousness would keep you alive: You would feel too guilty that you had put yourself out of reach of those who might need you. No, usually the flow of grief does not end up in the sea that is life's end, even if we might at times wish it would. You are going to be stuck with this nightmare for awhile. You have to go with it.

Riding the River of Grief
The flow of grief, however, is no easy ride. Personally, I often fear I cannot survive it for the same reason I'm scared of kayaking, roller coasters, or even sliding down a slide. I'm a coward about going with any flow. Something awful could happen. In the case of grief, it is dead certain that it will. And I will have no choice about it.

However, what I have learned from the grief I'm having now is that to some degree it helps if you can let go into it. Human instinct or the human spirit (same source but different terms) has its own wisdom that definitely, definitely cannot be found in my highly sensitive mind or highly scared ego. These are instincts regarding grief that all humans have had since the dawn of time. (As do all social animals--we know elephants, whales, primates, dogs, etc. also grieve.) If I let go into this instinctual reaction, only attempting to steer around the worst rocks, the raft will usually get through the rapids just as a twig would. I could be scared, wet, and miserable, but time and the river will take me through to quieter waters. With the worst rivers, mind you, you may need to paddle more and have others helping, and still might not be perfectly safe. The rocks are a serious danger, "perfect conditions are a must," but the river still carries us.

Does that mean I've found my spiritual answer? Does the river love me, or the raft, or the source of these and of everything? Not sure, but you could see it that way, and that would definitely help. Perhaps it all depends on the class of rapids. As grief guidelines, I have included the standard classifications of rivers (from ABC-of-Rafting.com). I think you will see how it works.

Class I – Easy
Characterized by low waves, small rapids, and slow current, Class I rivers are very easy to navigate. Maneuvering is not required in this class.

Class II – Moderate
Basic training is necessary to navigate this river class, which is characterized by faster currents. Experienced paddling skills may be required.

Class III – Moderately difficult
Rapids in this river class change all the time. This class, which has harsh currents, requires maneuvering and experienced paddling skills.

Class IV – Difficult
Aside from experienced paddling skills, boating maneuvers are also essential when navigating this river class. Violent currents, moreover, can throw a rafter off a boat.

Class V – Extremely difficult
Intense rapids that hide rocks are a regular in a Class V river, making it dangerous for some rafters. Therefore, advanced whitewater experience is necessary.

Class VI – Extraordinarily difficult
No one actually attempts to ride this river class since this poses extreme difficulties. The fatality risk is high, and if one does have to brave Class VI rapids, perfect conditions are a must.

P.S. A practical point: Cry as much as you can. It helps to press something soft and full against your chest. Ideally make that another person. Otherwise, you can make do with a pet, pillow, or, yes, a stuffed animal.

maandag 26 april 2010

Neuroscience and sensitivity – our superior colliculus and amygdala


A recent news item by ScienceDaily reported on research that may explain more about the neuroscience that underlies high sensitivity.

“Researchers have discovered that a primitive region of the brain responsible for sensorimotor control also has an important role in regulating emotional responses to threatening situations."

“This region appears to work in concert with another structure called the amygdala to regulate social and emotional behavior.”

The story explains, “Georgetown University Medical Center researchers have recently discovered that activation of a primitive brain region, the deep layers of superior colliculus (DLSC), elicits defensive behaviors such as an exaggerated startle, hypervigilance, cowering, and escape…. in addition to triggering defensive behaviors, the activation of DLSC leads to a decrease in affiliative social interactions.”

Like mainstream media – and probably psychiatry in general – this news story was framed in terms of dysfunction: “Researchers say it is possible that a prolonged activation of this defense system may lead to emotional disorders” including post traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders.

[From Two Brain Structures Key To Emotional Balance Especially In Threatening Situations, ScienceDaily (Oct. 23, 2009)]

As we know who have one, a highly sensitive nervous system is not necessarily a “disorder.”

Ashley Judd: That is not to discount very real medical and mental health issues, such as anxiety, and PTSD – which can include very disruptive or disabling behaviors, emotions, and another kind of over-activation of the nervous system: hypervigilance.

That is something actor Ashley Judd experienced.

She had a “very unsafe” and disruptive childhood, and became what she calls a “hypervigilant child.”

vrijdag 23 april 2010

Nurturing our sensitive self: Ted Zeff, PhD on strategies

At the beginning of March, I posted a message on dr Ted Zeff and sensitive men.  I got a lot of reactions on thet article.

Today I want to share a video by dr Zeff on strategies for nurtering one self.

“At least 50 million Americans have a finely tuned nervous system.”

Books by Ted Zeff, PhD :

His site: www.drtedzeff.com
Source video: Highly Sensitive People: Coping Strategies

maandag 12 april 2010

Ultra-sensitive? It’s in your brain

Photorealist painting is one form of creative expression that demands a high degree of technical prowess and attention to detail.
The image is Tom’s Diner, 1993, a watercolor by Ralph Goings – from the book Photorealism at the Millennium, by Louis K. Meisel, Linda Chase.

A recent CNN article on “sensory processing sensitivity” reports that people with this trait “tended to have more brain activity in the high-order visual processing regions.” 

 Here is the article:

Ultra-sensitive? It’s in your brain, by Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

If you are particularly sensitive to the world around you – whether it’s music, caffeine, other people’s emotions, you may have a personality trait called “sensory processing sensitivity.”

People who are highly sensitive in this way tend to look and observe and process things deeply, as opposed to boldly going ahead, says Elaine Aron, professor of psychology at Stony Brook University, who helped pioneer research on the subject in the 1990s. 
Having vivid dreams and being aware of subtleties in your environment are also characteristic of this temperament, she said.

Now, Aron’s group has shown evidence in the brain that these people are more detail-oriented. The study is published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. [See abstract below.]

Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the brains of 18 participants. They found that people with sensory processing sensitivity tended to have more brain activity in the high-order visual processing regions, and in the right cerebellum, when detecting minor details of photographs presented to them.

“They are better at noticing subtle details in their environments than people without the trait,” said Jadzia Jagiellowicz, lead author and doctoral candidate in the department of psychology at Stony Brook University.

Sensory processing sensitivity has been associated with introversion, but only loosely – about 30 percent of highly sensitive people are extroverts, Aron said.

Highly sensitive people probably make good counselors and recruiters, said Jagiellowicz, because of their attention to detail. They are able to more deeply process details as well as emotions, which are good skills in these professions. Accounting, which requires taking in a lot of information at once, may also be a relevant field, she said.

But the study showed that highly sensitive people do not quickly take in these details; in fact, they spend more time looking at them, so a job that requires a quick assessment of minutiae may not be the best fit, she said.

From Paging Dr. Gupta – CNN.com Blogs, April 7, 2010

Response to subtle changes in visual scenes
The trait of sensory processing sensitivity and neural responses to changes in visual scenes
By Jadzia Jagiellowicz, Xiaomeng Xu, Arthur Aron, Elaine Aron et al.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Oxford Journals

This exploratory study examined the extent to which individual differences in sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), a temperament/personality trait characterized by social, emotional and physical sensitivity, are associated with neural response in visual areas in response to subtle changes in visual scenes.

Sixteen participants completed the Highly Sensitive Person questionnaire, a standard measure of SPS. Subsequently, they were tested on a change detection task while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). SPS was associated with significantly greater activation in brain areas involved in high-order visual processing (i.e. right claustrum, left occipitotemporal, bilateral temporal and medial and posterior parietal regions) as well as in the right cerebellum, when detecting minor (vs major) changes in stimuli.

These findings remained strong and significant after controlling for neuroticism and introversion, traits that are often correlated with SPS. These results provide the first evidence of neural differences associated with SPS, the first direct support for the sensory aspect of this trait that has been studied primarily for its social and affective implications, and preliminary evidence for heightened sensory processing in individuals high in SPS.

vrijdag 9 april 2010

Jenna Avery on helping sensitive souls thrive


Jenna Avery is “The Life Coach for Sensitive Souls” – helping individuals recognize and more fully express their gifts as highly sensitive people.

Today I have added a link to an interview in which she talks about some of the challenges we may face in taking care of ourselves and living our purpose, such as being overly self-critical or not setting good self-care boundaries.

She also talks about her new project of interviewing creative visionaries about how they stay on track and make more effective contributions.

Her main site, where you can sign up for her newsletter, and learn more about her Embrace Your Essential Self program and other resources: http://highlysensitivesouls.com

Also see her Sensitive Professionals Network site http://www.sensitiveprofessionals.com

Jenna mentions an HSP Conference with Jacquelyn Strickland – listen to our podcast interview

dinsdag 6 april 2010

Kristen Stewart and shyness and sensitivity

kristen_stewart_1173995493.jpg Kristen image by MyBlAcKgUiTaR49

Many interviewers and entertainment writers have described Twilight Saga actor Kristen Stewart as “cautious” and “shy.”
At least one news story refers to her as a “Self-proclaimed introvert.”
By the way, I am not presuming Kristen Stewart is shy, introverted or highly sensitive, and I don’t know her personally.
But just from my gut reaction to seeing her in movies and interviews, she does seem to have all those traits, like many other very talented actors.

She recently made press appearances at the Sundance Film Festival for her movies “Welcome to the Rileys” and “The Runaways” (she plays Joan Jett).
What is interesting is the reactions by some reporters, and their interpretations of her behavior.

A USA Today article (Kristen Stewart in a different light at Sundance, By Anthony Breznican) said, “Visibly shaking with stage fright, Stewart tended not to say much in front of the crowds.”
A Los Angeles Times article (For Kristen Stewart, this is her dawn, by Chris Lee) said she “appeared to not enjoy the red carpet activities” and referred to her “continuing hostility toward the celebrity limelight” and that she “appeared visibly repulsed by the red-carpet action.
In a New York Times article, Brooks Barnes writes about “Ms. Stewart’s shyness and hints of awkwardness” that “make her accessible to fans.”
The article adds that Stewart “has coped with the suffocating attention by giving off an air of inapproachability, a tough exterior that Chris Weitz, the director of New Moon, said she has methodically adopted.”
“Jodie Foster, the article continues, “who co-starred with Ms. Stewart in David Fincher’s ‘Panic Room’ said ‘Kristen isn’t interested in blurting out her emotions all in front of her, and that results in really intelligent and interesting performances.’”
[From Media Vampires, Beware, by Brooks Barnes, nytimes.com]

Getting more comfortable with experience
Kristen Stewart does seem much more relaxed and confident and expressive in more recent videos of her interviews, compared with ones she was doing a year or more ago.
She says, “I think I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with talking about myself and knowing that what you say, people are really going to take into consideration.
“That always intimidated me so much that I minced every word that came out of my mouth. I couldn’t finish a sentence because I was so concerned about how it was going to sound. I didn’t want to come across insincere about something that I really love to do.”
[From dawnmasuoka.com interview]

And introvert-related actions like “holding back” in interviews and public appearances (and ordinary conversation, for those of us who aren’t celebrities) can often lead to negative judgments and reactions from others, such as fans writing that she is aloof, a snob, obnoxious or rude.
One of her co-stars in Twilight, Robert Pattinson, has also referred to himself as introverted, and others have called him shy.
Actor Christian Serratos (who plays Angela in the movie) thinks all the frenzied fame has affected Pattinson: “If anything he’s become more humble and more introverted.” [okmagazine.com]

Signs of sensitivity
Many highly sensitive people experience the kind of strong concern for authenticity and truthfulness, and caution (even perfectionism) when speaking that Stewart mentions above.
Another indication may be how much she cared about creating her character Bella in “Twilight” and making her dialogue ring true.
A magazine article noted, “Stewart, who was just 17 when she shot the movie, was uncompromising about what she’d allow her character to do and say. ‘We had to rewrite and improvise a lot of the most intense scenes, because Kristen will not say something if she doesn’t feel good about it,’ recalls [director Catherine] Hardwicke.”
[From Entertainment Weekly, Nov 14, 2008 - posted on kristenstewartweb.com]