Monday, April 28, 2008

Highly Sensitive People

I've often wondered whether I feel things more deeply than other people I know, or if at this stage in my life I have a great need to express my feelings, and other people I know don't.

Perhaps the reason is because I spent decades keeping my feelings to myself. From my earliest remembrances (maybe in kindergarten), I used to get my feelings easily hurt. For some reason, I tried to "toughen up," although I don't remember ever discussing this with my parents--or having them give me this advice.

Although I could certainly express happiness, love, affection, joy, and other positive emotions, I wonder why I never thought it okay to express sadness, unhappiness, disappointment, or anger. And now that I'm in my late fifties, I can't (or won't) keep these feelings to myself.

What's interesting is that I'm not a highly sensitive person (HSP), as defined by Elaine N. Aron, author of Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. Actually if you go to her website, you can take a self-test.

In Aron's definition, HSP have a nervous system that is more sensitive to subtleties (which I do). According to Wikipendia, "This means that regular sensory information is processed and analyzed to a greater extent, which contributes to creativity, intuition, sensing implications and attention to detail, but which may also cause quick overstimulation and overarousal."

While I have the former characteristics (creativity, intuition, sensing implications and attention to detail), I don't have a problem with overstimulation and overarousal. However, what's interesting about all this to someone who's bipolar is that this HSP temperament may correlate to high cortisol levels, something I wrote about at the end of an earlier post.

The point I'd like to make is that I believe temperament is a very important area of study for bipolar researchers. When I was talking about bipolar diagnosis last week, one of the tests I think people should be given relates to temperament.

(more to come)

14 comments:

Danielle Says Hello said...

An interesting post as always! I also believe that as we get older (I am also in my mid-fifties) we tend to let go of many of our 'filters' as we no longer yearn for 'acceptance' which is a 'developmental norm' from adolescence through young adulthood.

I have to think about the correlation between temperament and a person diagnosed with a mental disorder. My first reaction is that they are not intertwined...but I am not going to commit to it (grin)

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Danielle,
That's interesting about "filters." When I was playing my Authoharp at my mom's assisted living facility, I was struck by how "honest" the residents were in expressing their emotions.

The only way I could figure it out was to say, "Hey, by the time you reach your eighties and nineties, it's just a waste of time to continue to be anything less. If you can't say what you want to in your eighties, then when?"

Susan

P.S. I'll write more about temperament and personality tomorrow.

Duane Sherry said...

'Highly Sensitive People' -

The title of your piece says it all....

Your decision to use the word 'highly' rather than 'overly' in regard to discussing our connection to others and the world around us....

'Connections' - this is how I would describe these 'feelings' of ours - sure, we can jump into medical textbooks, and discuss all the key players medically - serotonin, dopamine, norepenephrine, and down the list.....

Or we can get into lengthy academic dialogues about nature vs nurture, and come up with all kinds of clinical reasons why some people tend to be so senstitive....(so 'overly' senstitive)....

The problem with both of these approaches is that they leave the person being 'diagnosed' with the sense of being somewhat 'abnormal'....

This is what I think -

There is simply no such thing as being 'too sensitive' - it would be the same thing as calling somebody 'too short'.....

Many people who feel deeply are deeply injured - early on, as these feelings are not validated - as they are told not to feel this, and not to feel that.....or that they are 'overly' sensitive....

This kind of invalidation does great damage, and leads to adults who no longer trust their own feelings.....

Conventional Psychiatry insists on 'managing' this 'illness' (of hyper-sensitivity).....I say it is much better to embrace our own sensitivity - to learn how to turn it into one of our greatest asssets.

This is no easy task, and I think it takes incorporating a wide-array of tools to help us learn to function in this world (one that can often be cruel).....

There are many tools - the best ones? The creative ones people find/learn on their own, or with help of people who love them (including good counselors or therapists)....Your blog points toward many of these tools - the ones you've found that work for you....

I believe that highly senstitive people have a challenge - to look at this thing from a spiritual angle as well - one that requires a belief in our design - one that insits there were are no mistakes or flaws in it.....Otherwise, a person is left with nothing more than a medical model that insists the opposite....

If a person reaches this level, they are able to disregard the medical model, and tap into some pretty neat stuff - about who they are....

As a person begins to see themselves as truly unique, there are no labels that are fitting....as they begin to see their own feelings as a central part of their makeup, there is no reason to merely 'manage' these feelings. In fact, they begin to be seen as 'gifts' - And gifts are meant to be treasured.....We are meant to do great things with them....

Feeling things deeply....

Is there a greater gift?
If so, what is it?

Duane

BPD in OKC said...

I think anyone with a mental illness feels things stronger than someone who doesn't have one. I think it's just how our minds work.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear BPD,
Since I don't believe in the label of "mental illness," I'm not sure I agree. But let's see what others think. Thanks for your comment, and for letting Marissa at Depression Introspection know that I didn't stop writing this blog!

Susan

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Duane,
Your comments continue to amaze me. Your insight on a wide array of topics and your ability to so seamlessly express your thoughts is truly a gift!

Susan

Gianna said...

Hi Susan,
I've read the book you cite and I fit into the category very nicely too. I think it's a very nice way to think of oneself and learn to love ourselves based on our sensitivities which can be truly special.

I've been reading you Susan, just not leaving as many comments lately.

I'm so glad to hear you say you don't believe in the label mental illness...I don't like bipolar disorder either and have distanced myself from the label repeatedly on my blog (ironically first called Bipolar Blast) I named the darn thing many years ago before I started publishing and before I had what I call my conversion.

I'll gladly call myself highly sensitive...I call myself bipolar only for disability purposes now and I hate doing that...but when you have a world and a mental health system that doesn't understand unfortunately I don't have an option.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
I'm glad to see that you're able to write at all. I've been receiving your blog through email, and I'm so glad you're finally getting help in your heroic effort to get off medication.

I agree about highly sensitive; also about bipolar mood disorder. What if we're just different, but not "disordered"?

I sometimes wonder if I had understood that I was more sensitive, had different values, and a different orientation to life--and knew it was okay--whether I ever would have gotten depressed. Just a thought!

Know that I think of you often and wish you well!

Susan

KJ said...

Susan, My whole life people have called me overly sensitive (including my spouse who suffers from manic and depressive episodes, so I guess he wouldn't be considered such). I am really glad that you posted this as just taking the assessment I learned a lot about myself. I am extremely sensitive to the emotions and needs of others and can become depressed very easily if others are experiencing such emotions. Although I have not experienced the mania, I do not what it is like to get so overwhelmed I must escape to a quiet place and regroup (not so easy with 4 kiddos) :) I agree that as I get older I long for acceptance less so my feelings get hurt less but my high sensitivity to others around me and the feelings of overwhelming anxiety actually have increased. Thanks again for being my teacher!

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear KJ,
I'm glad the post helped. You might find the book interesting. (I checked out my copy from the library.) The woman who authored it researched this topic because she is highly sensitive and it was becoming a problem for her. While I personally disagree with some of her advice, there are other tips that are helpful!

Also, with a bipolar husband and four kids, it would only seem normal that you'd need some time to yourself each day. That's a big responsibility for anyone--whether you're highly sensitive or not.

Susan

Duane Sherry said...

Susan,

Couldn't find your email address on the site -

Decided to put a post up about your site - Would you please edit? Happy to change any thing you would like...

Also, if you would prefer I take it off my site, and/or take off the picture, please let me know -

http://discoverandrecover.wordpress.com/2008/04/29/susan-bernard-bipolar-wellness-writer/

Thanks,
Duane
P.S. - We're about the same age - I'm 51 years young...

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Duane,
Thanks ever so much! I like it just the way it is, and I so appreciate it. You're a dear!

Susan

The Perennial Sam said...

"From my earliest remembrances (maybe in kindergarten), I used to get my feelings easily hurt."

Dear Susan,

My name is Samantha and I just came across your blog this evening. I have been reading back through your entries and can identify with your quote above. My formal diagnosis is major depressive disorder, but I feel that I am a highly sensitive person and have been more acutely aware of uncomfortable feelings as far back as I can remember. Your mention of kindergarten struck a chord with me because I can remember hiding in my school's kindergarten playhouse while the other children had storytime - I had a "bad feeling," one that it is still hard for me to describe today, and couldn't face being around the others while I tried to deal with this. I would tell the teacher I "didn't feel good," and eventually they would call home to have someone come pick me up.

I am thankful that there are blogs like yours online for people to access - informative, open-minded and inspiring. Earlier today I was looking for blogs to do with mental health and came across several sites that did not seem as if they would be helpful in promoting wellness.

Would it be alright if I provide a link to your blog on my own blog site? I am working on putting together a list of resources for well-being.

All the best to you,

Samantha

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Samantha,
I wish you the best with your blog, but I must tell you that I'm not comfortable with the ads that are running on it, and would prefer not to be listed. That's just not my audience.

Susan