dinsdag 30 november 2010

E is for Empathy

Today I share with you a wonderful blog post by Ann from the blog on her website: http://recoveryourbalance.com/

I’m on yet another learning journey at the moment, and it’s one that might interest you if you often find yourself off balance. Via the wonderful Kat Tansey, author of Choosing to Be – Lessons in Living from a Feline Zen Master, I came across the work of Dr Elaine Aron on what she calls ‘Sensory Processing Sensitivity’.  It was a revelation, and it explains a lot.  Kat Tansey’s interview with Elaine Aron is here.

Recognise this?

Test your reaction to these scenarios. Whom do you most closely identify with?
  • A woman is standing in line waiting to pay for purchases. The woman behind her is standing very close, and with each move, unconsciously prods, nudges and pokes her with assorted baggage and elbows.  Eventually the first woman turns round and politely asks the woman behind to please stop prodding her. The second woman puts on an air of mock astonishment and responds, “What? Are you REAL?”
  • It’s Remembrance Sunday in a shop in an English shopping mall. At 11.00, the piped music stops, the staff ring a tiny bell, and everyone stands still for two minutes. Well, almost everyone. Despite the almost tangible, heavy silence, the sudden lack of jolly Christmas music and the fact that people are standing exactly where they were when the bell rang, one man crashes around in some crockery, and calls to his wife, “Hey, Susan, here they are – come and look at these.” “I’m busy looking over here”, she shouts back.
They both happened.  I was present at the second, and overheard woman 2 stridently telling the story of the ‘unreal’ person in front of her in that line to anyone who would listen.  Why did they strike such a chord with me?

High sensitivity is real

They’re two sides of the same coin – high sensitivity to sensory stimuli, and a complete lack of it.  Aron, a clinical psychologist, has researched High Sensitivity for almost 20 years. She has found that around 20% of the population, male and female, are what she calls Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs).  Many don’t realise it, and it’s not a trait that Western society values.  The strength of this trait is that people who possess it are aware of tiny nuances and subtle shifts in what’s happening around them, are highly perceptive of others’ changes of mood, may be highly intuitive and often visionary. The downside is that the same stimulus that most people take in their stride can be overwhelming for an HSP. They’re often told they are over-sensitive and end up feeling there’s something wrong with them.  Well, there isn’t.

Please don’t SHOUT at me!

I took Aron’s self-test and came out with a high score and a big lightbulb moment. Being highly sensitive to sensory stimuli can be both helpful and painfully arousing.  Take the BBC World Service, for example.  I love it.  I download podcasts regularly.  But if I’m awake at night and want to listen to something, I no longer choose the World Service.  Why?  Because for the past year or so, every podcast and every programme is prefaced with a rumbling musical intro culminating in a loud, intrusive three-note musical yell in a minor key:  DA DA DAAAAH!  It might not bother 80% of the population, but it makes me wince,  and probably the other 20% with me.
HSPs take time to process stimuli, and will need to take space to do it.  Overstimulation can lead to the constant presence of stress hormones such as cortisol in the body. Balancing the dual challenges of dealing with the discomfort of over-stimulation and staying out in the World where we need to be is a lifelong task that gets easier if it’s done consciously. It doesn’t mean we’re unintelligent or antisocial.  It doesn’t mean we’re ‘over-sensitive’.  We are simply more sensitive to sensory stimuli than about 80% of the population, and if we don’t understand this we might wonder what’s wrong with us. And you can imagine what happens when the office bully homes in on an HSP.

Are you an HSP?

I’m currently wondering whether the people who bounce back least well from the bad things that happen at work might also include a higher than usual proportion of HSPs?  It would explain a lot.  If you empathised with the woman who didn’t want to be constantly prodded, or wondered how the couple in the shop could have failed so completely to notice what was going on around them, why not take Aron’s self-test and see what you come up with?

…or not?

And if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, maybe you’ll still find Aron’s work worth exploring. After all, up to 20% of people around you may possess the trait.  Perhaps the colleague you think of as over-sensitive is nothing of the kind.

donderdag 25 november 2010

Are You A Highly Sensitive Person?

Today I would love to share a wonderful blog post by Sandra Lee

Love yourself!
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” -Aristotle

Do you find yourself highly sensitive to the physical circumstances and/or the people around you?

A few days ago, a small bird smacked into the glass panel of the sliding door in my bedroom.  This happened at another residence about eight months ago.  The first time, I was probably more traumatized than the bird.  The suffering of others has affected me so strongly all my life; it seemed to penetrate far into my being.  In both cases, the bird look stunned and paralyzed, not moving a micro-millimeter, but clearly still alive.

The first time, my husband assured me that the best approach would be to leave the bird alone and let it reorient itself.  It was an hour of pure torment for me.  The bird did indeed recalibrate itself in about an hour’s time and flew off into the wild blue yonder.  Happily, the second bird did the same.  Animals intuitively know how best to cope with trauma.  This is explained exceptionally well in the book, Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma, The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences, which elucidates how these same principles apply to the human experience of trauma.


Suffering and overcaring

The second time around, I was naturally concerned about the bird’s suffering, but, interestingly, I didn’t let it get under my skin in the same way.  This is due, in part, simply to knowing from experience that the bird would likely recover and fly off as before.  At the same time, I feel this is also due to a gradual process of inner change that is taking place as I more firmly secure myself through Amygdala Retraining and other means of self exploration and personal development.  Let me be clear that this doesn’t mean becoming indifferent, uncaring, or cold-hearted.   I still feel emphatic to the suffering of others, but I understand more fully than ever before how allowing it to jar me so strongly is neither necessary or useful.
Indeed, overcaring may actually be harmful.
“Is your care producing or reducing stress?”  This is a key question in the Heartmath approach, which also says:  “Excessive care, or overcare related to an issue or situation can create stress and negative emotions, so it is important for your care to be balanced.”
If you are stuck in the habit of perpetual giving, this might be a crucial question to ask:  “Is your care producing or reducing stress?”

Suffering is an inevitable part of life for all of us.  When you know and accept the reality that suffering will occur, it’s not such a shock when it actually does.  With this understanding, you can have more acceptance and clarity when suffering arises. I’ve been fortunate to meet many great spiritual masters in my lifetime.  All of them have been deeply compassionate.  Indeed, their love and compassion have no limit:  the whole purpose of their existence is to relieve the suffering of this world.  But they are not bowled over by suffering.  They don’t go into a state of personal angst if a bird flies into a pane of glass.  They are compassionate warriors—courageous, confident, determined, yet also relaxed, open, and spacious.


Are you a highly sensitive person?

I’ve been super sensitive as far back as I can recall.  According to Elaine Aron, 15-20% of the population is highly sensitive, possessing an uncommonly sensitive nervous system.  She says that being a highly sensitive person means:
“…you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted.”
Aron defines this not as a flaw but as an asset that you can learn to use.  She says, “If we try to live by the same operating instructions that others use, we develop all kinds of chronic illnesses, as so many of you have learned the hard way. Yet if we overprotect ourselves, our assets go unexpressed, and that can also lead to stress and illness.”
1 in 5 people are highly sensitive – an eye opening statistic!


Sensitized Nervous System

The evidence is mounting that a sensitized nervous system is involved in a wide range of disorders.  Wikipedia explains:
“A third type is central sensitization, where nociceptive neurons in the dorsal horns of the spinal cord become sensitized by peripheral tissue damage or inflammation. This type of sensitization has been suggested as a possible causal mechanism for chronic pain conditions.”
“Sensitization has been implied as a causal or maintaining mechanism in a wide range of apparently unrelated pathologies including substance abuse and dependence, allergies, asthma, and some medically unexplained syndromes such as fibromyalgia and multiple chemical sensitivity. Sensitization has also been suggested in relation to psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic anxiety and mood disorders.”
In another view of sensitization, Ashok Gupta and Annie Hopper believe that a small structure in the brain thought to be responsible for triggering the adrenalin response, the amygdala, becomes sensitized in cases of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Chronic Pain Syndromes, and related disorders.  They respectively offer their own innovative brain retraining programs to assist people in recovering from these disorders based on the science of neuroplasticity.


Reducing overstimulation and retraining the brain

The first step foreword is recognizing that you are indeed a highly sensitive person.  If this is the case, it’s important to take on board that trying to live a highly stimulated, stress filled lifestyle may very well have negative ramifications for you.  From there, you can explore options for reducing over-stimulation. Elaine Aron’s books are one resource for this purpose.

It’s far better to do this early on so you can lead a sane, healthy, and happy life instead of developing chronic illness down the road.  However, if you do develop certain chronic illnesses, Dynamic Neural Retraining and Amygdala Retraining are wonderful programs to help you feel better. There are no magic pills.  You must faithfully apply the techniques offered in these programs on a regular basis to effectively retrain the brain and improve.  You need to change your fundamental way of being.  Loving yourself enough to make the commitment is part of the equation.  This is a huge step, but there’s tremendous support for accomplishing this. Be heartened!  Breakthroughs are happening in the realm of these previously unexplained illnesses.

Are you a highly sensitive person?  What steps do you take to reduce stimulation in your life?

You might also like this related articles:  Retraining the brain for CFS, FMS, MCS, PTSD, & GWS