“The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron
“The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron
The quickest way to stop the crying of a child who is upset for not getting what he or she wants is to just give in and hand over the desired object to him or her. Although this may be the quickest solution, it is by far one of the worst solutions in the long-run. Instant gratification robs your child of the opportunity to learn some very important lessons: (1) we will not always get everything that we want so immediately; (2) our imperfect world can never be set in a way that it perpetually provides whatever it is that we want; (3) the difficult feelings associated with not getting what we want are a normal part of the human experience and they will eventually go away with mindful acceptance and positivity.
Mindfulness and delayed gratification build patience.
Let’s start off by exploring a scenario that all parents are familiar with. You and your daughter are in a toy store. She wants a toy. You say no. She cries because she is overwhelmed by some unfamiliar feeling of discomfort in her heart. What do you do? You help her identify and express her thoughts and emotions by getting her to think about what she is thinking in her head and feeling in her heart. She may be feeling betrayal and rejection because her thoughts are saying, “All this time I thought you loved me. How could you betray me like this by denying me of what I understand to be love?” After she puts these thoughts and emotions into words to the best of her ability, you deliver comfort, not by handing over the toy, but by giving her comforting words of truth and physical affection. You assure her that you love her. You teach her your more mature definition of love. You explain to her that, although it is ok for her to communicate to others what she wants, she cannot expect to always get that from them. You also explain that, in the context of generosity and gift giving, she is not entitled to a reason when others do not give her what she wants. Therefore, in most cases, you too do not give her a reason. Help her then to accept and feel her difficult emotions. Assure her that they are only temporary and that good emotions are just around the corner. Help her practice delayed gratification by getting her to wait for some time before she gets that toy. Ideally, you do not want to choose birthdays or special occasions as that will just transfer the sense of entitlement to those specific days of the year (I am not sure if there is any way to avoid that). All of this will greatly reduce your child’s chances of developing a sense of entitlement in his or her later years.
The next scenario is one that is not as obviously connected with instant gratification and I see a lot of parents, especially in the past recent years, just “giving in.” You decide to take your family out for dinner at a restaurant. Your son gets bored. He cannot stand the waiting time for the food to arrive and the time after he finishes his own meal. He becomes restless and starts to make a scene as an attempt to create more stimulation for himself. What is the quickest way to calm him down? I see a lot of parents these days just hand over their iPhone or iPad (full of games) to their children. It works like a charm!
This quick fix, however, robs your son of the opportunity to learn how to recognize and cope with the difficult feeling of boredom and understimulation. So what do you do instead? Like the example above, you get your son to identify and express in words his feelings of discomfort. You validate his experience by showing empathy. You let him know that he will be ok and then challenge him to accept and feel his difficult emotions. Assure him that they are only temporary and that good emotions are just around the corner. Help him practice delayed gratification by getting him to wait for some time before he gets his chance to play. All of this will greatly reduce your child’s chances of developing problems with inattention, impulsivity, addiction, and escapism in his or her later years. Many gifted people struggle with these problems because, growing up, no one really stopped them from utilizing their instantly gratifying coping methods to their intense feelings of boredom and understimulation.
Finally, the last scenario is one that is least likely to be recognized by parents as instant gratification because it is often confused with something else that is very positive. Your child looks upon the condition of his own work or the work of somebody else. He sees the gap between how things are and how excellent they could be. This gap causes him intense frustration inside. In attempt to remove this difficult feeling, your child takes immediate action and tries to close that gap. From the outside, the closing of this gap just looks like your child has great work ethic. What parent would not feel even slightly proud about his or her child having this from such an early age? What you fail to notice, though, is that your child is removing his own opportunity to develop patience in this area. After years and years of taking immediate action whenever this difficult feeling of frustration arises, your child grows up to be an adult who is incapable of being OK with this gap. The most painful part of it is… this person sees this gap everywhere and all the time. This is one of the main challenges of people with OCPD. So how do you prevent this? You stay close while your child is at work. You examine his motives. Is he doing it out of pure love, joy, and curiosity or is he doing it out of frustration? If it is out of frustration, just like all the examples above, teach him how to recognize, express, accept, and feel this difficult emotion. All of this will reduce your child’s chances of developing problems with obsessive compulsivity, workaholism, and perfectionism in his or her later years.
As a result of all the instant gratification I grew up with, I am not the best at giving 100% of my attention to anything that I am not hyper-passionate about. It all began in elementary school when I experienced the frustration of having to sit still and listen to the teacher. I noticed that, out of all of the words that came out of the teacher’s mouth, only a fraction of them were relevant and interesting to me. I figured that it was pointless for me to give 100% of my attention when I could just get the meat of the lesson with only 30% of my attention. I would then allocate the remaining 70% of my attention on some other activity, usually finishing my homework (to maximize my playtime once school was over). This continued all the way into my later years. But in university, I had a laptop computer instead. During all my business classes, I could now simultaneously work on other exciting activities like video editing. Having always participated in some other stimulating activity in these times of frustration, I now cannot help but feel intensely irritated when I have no way out of others’ communication that is long-winded, uninteresting, and disorganized. One of the most excruciating settings for me is group sharing circles where it is considered very rude to do anything other than give full attention to whoever is speaking. When I share, I make the extra effort to deliver my message in a concise manner by prioritizing the juicy parts of my story and minimizing the irrelevant “filler” parts of my story. But why doesn’t everyone else do this? My frustration then turns into anger and my mind gets bombarded with extremely negative and judgemental thoughts. “Why is it that the least interesting member of this group, who ironically begins her exhausting monologue with ‘I don’t have much to say,’ takes up the most time sharing about her bland life!?” The agony gets so bad for me that my heart rate goes up, I start to sweat, my nervous ticks and compulsions (cracking my knuckles, scratching my neck, touching my face, digging my nails into my head, shaking my legs, blinking my eyes) go on hyperdrive, and I feel sick in my stomach. I feel like running full speed into a brick wall. There have been numerous times when my pain got so bad that I had to excuse myself out of the room to cool down by stepping on patterns on the floor (one of my obsessive-compulsive cooling down strategies). Although this looks very much like ADHD, it is not (ADHD is actually the most common misdiagnosis of gifted people). Nevertheless, it is an area that I really need to work on building my patience in.
Are you that child who grew up with too much instant gratification and now you have very little patience in one or more areas in your life? No problem. There is a solution! It certainly does not come in the form of a small pill that you just convenient pop into your mouth (come on now, that would just be another form of instant gratification!). The solution is to accept and experience the difficult feelings that arise every time you do not get what you want. This may be very painful at first but it will get easier with time.
FOR YOU: “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Henepola Gunaratana
FOR CHILDREN: “A Boy and a Bear: the Children’s Relaxation Book” by Lori Lite
Overcoming OCPD was not an easy task. It is by far the most difficult thing that I have had to battle through. After being diagnosed with OCPD, I put everything in my life on hold to focus all my attention on overcoming this challenge from every angle. I was open to anything and everything – medicinal and non-medicinal, religious and non-religious. Up until today, however, I have not shared too much on what I have learned about OCPD as a believer and follower of the Christian faith. I would like to do that now.
OCPD is burden bearing gone wrong.
You have what is called the “burden bearer” personality. Our good and generous God designed you in His own image and gave you a huge heart. Your heart was designed to not only feel what God feels, but also feel what others feel. God created you to be incredibly gifted in empathizing with Him and His children. Our God is full of joy. You were meant to bask in that joy with Him. God is so in love with you, so delighted in you, so proud of you. You were meant to intimately sense His unconditional love and acceptance. Our mighty God is victorious. Even when the world appears to be falling apart, He is full of hope and peace. You were meant to closely share in that hope and peace with Him. But God still grieves. His heart breaks when He sees His beloved children hurting. You were meant to feel God’s heart for them. Your compassionate intercessory prayers are so powerful because they come straight from God’s own heart. You were meant to lift up to Him the burdens that you feel and trust that He will take care of everything. Life was meant to be light for you because of your unshakable trust in God. You are so generous. Your generosity changes people’s lives. God admires your heart so much that He delights in giving you the opportunity to partner with Him in sharing His love to those in need. God gifted you with the ability to restore joy to His hurting children. Because you give so much of yourself to others, you really understand sacrifice. This better understanding of sacrifice was meant to bring you closer to Jesus, the one who sacrificed the most. You were meant to enjoy deep intimacy, intimacy that not many people can ever dream to experience. The condition of your beautiful heart enriches the lives of so many people around you and it changes the world. You were meant to see the way that you were created as a wonderful gift from God.
Read more about “Who You Are Without Fear.”
DAMAGE TO THE DESIGN
But there is also one who is against God and His great plans. We have all kinds of different names for him, including the devil, the enemy, and Satan. He knows how much of a threat you would be to his own plans to oppose God if you were to fully be who you were meant to be. So what does the enemy do? He strategically attacks your identity and tries to disarm you. When you are most vulnerable (for someone as emotionally sensitive as you, that is usually when you are overwhelmed by your difficult emotions), the enemy speaks lies to you about your identity, others, your circumstance, your future, the world, and God. He puts all these thoughts into your mind in a way that you think they are your own. The enemy convinces you through lies that difficult emotions are to be feared, that you will not be OK unless you control them or escape from them. One of the biggest lies he will say to you is, “You are not good enough!” He laughs as he watches you desperately striving to be good enough by being perfect in every way. Your fear of difficult emotions then makes you incapable of sharing in the difficult emotions of others. In this way, the enemy disables your gift of empathy. You still, however, retain a good sense of the needs of others. But because of your own distrust in God and His ability to bring healing (again… forged by the lies of the enemy), you take it upon yourself to fill the needs of others rather than lifting up those burdens to God. Consequently, you become drained and overburdened with the heaviness of the load you must carry. The enemy also attempts to eliminate your generosity by convincing you that others will only take advantage of you if you give too much of yourself to them. The enemy loves to see you feel guilty about being yourself. He loves to see you being very calculating about only giving to others as much as they give to you. The enemy also cripples your God-given ability to restore joy in others by removing your own joy and replacing it with depression and anger. He does this by flooding your mind with negativity. The enemy builds resentment against humankind inside of you so that you become increasingly isolated, pushing you further and further away from the person of intimacy that you were meant to be. Though you were meant to be amazing in relationships, the enemy convinces you that you are relationally inept. He attacks your relationships so much and loves to break up your family and marriage. The enemy wants you to see yourself as diseased, disordered, and cursed. He hopes you give up and end your own life.
Is it not interesting how similar the “Damage to the Design” description is to the DSM’s assessment of OCPD? Can you now guess why I might not be the biggest fan of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?
SO WHAT NOW?
(NOTE: I understand that the commission to repent comes with a lot of hurt for many people as they are reminded of haughty “Christians” who impose their beliefs onto others. While I do mention repentance in this next portion of my writing, I do not use it out of a place of judgment. This “SO WHAT NOW?” is more for my readers who are seeking a Christian approach to overcoming OCPD.)
You definitely can restore your original identity! God is on your side and there is nothing too problematic or screwed up for Him to restore! Jesus did not die on the cross so that we would remain enslaved by sin, fear, worry, control, shame, distrust, pain, depression, anger, and disease. No, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to win back humankind’s authority over sin for good! In Christ, you have the authority to break OCPD! Repent to God for having thus far agreed to the lies of the enemy and having participated in the sins of OCPD. Receive God’s forgiveness and trust that His forgiveness is good enough – do not get all OCPD and try to earn His forgiveness through some kind of hard work or performance. Partner with the Holy Spirit and ask God to help you to turn away from the ways of the enemy. Be joyful and have faith that God will heal your heart 100%!
Here are some ungodly beliefs that people with OCPD are likely to have because of their past hurts:
- My value is in what I do and how well I perform. I am valuable because I am “successful.” I need recognition from people to have worth. I have to plan every day of my life.
- I have to continually strategize – I can’t relax. Things will work out better when I am in control of the situation. Only I can take care of myself and protect myself the best.
- Others will just use and abuse me. In relationships, I will always be the one who sacrifices and loses the most. I will be the one who gets taken advantage of.
- I will always be angry and feel like I’m better than everyone else.
- I will always have something wrong with me. I will never be healed or free from all the hurts and bondages in my life.
- It is better to reject someone before they can reject me. That way I don’t have to waste my time with them and get hurt.
When these thoughts come into your mind, do not listen to them. Tell the enemy to shut the hell up. Do not act out on the above thoughts.
Instead, read out loud and try to act out on the following godly truths everyday for the next few months (there is power in your spoken word since you were created in God’s image – light came into existence after God SAID, “Let there be light.”):
- I have incredible value and worth because I am God’s beloved and precious son/daughter. That never changes, no matter what I do or don’t do or how well I do it. God is so proud of me and loves me for who I am. He has his mark of approval on me and that is enough for me.
- God loves to take care of me. He will never reject me or abandon me, and He is always protecting me. God is in control and I can always feel safe with Him. I can trust Him fully with my life and surrender my control to Him because I know He has even better plans for me than I have for myself.
- God has designed me to be a blessing to others and to give of myself generously. When I am doing what God has designed me to do, I can experience true freedom and joy. God has placed people in my life that love me and want to bless me and help me be all that I was born to be. I am learning to trust them and depend on them so that I can walk out the fullness of my destiny.
- God has created me to be a joyful and gracious person who is patient and able to forgive easily. I am learning to see beyond people’s weaknesses and recognize the amazing ways that God has created them to be.
- God’s grace is unending and abundant and He will always accept me, no matter what. God is greater than all my mistakes and He has the power to redeem every mistake I have made and make it for His good. God has an amazing destiny for me and will use all the decisions I make to get me there. He will help me to make good decisions.
- God created me for deep intimate relationships. It is my heart’s desire to truly know someone and have them truly know me and love me. Conflict and disappointment are opportunities to go deeper in intimacy. God will give me the courage to pursue intimate relationships by helping me to trust Him and trust the people He’s given me.
I do not recommend books too often only because there are hardly any good books on OCPD. But this one is great! A MUST READ for Christians struggling with hypersensitivity.
One of the most frustrating things about having extremely high standards is feeling like nothing is ever done as well as it could be. It is exactly this frustration that I experienced when I first looked for information on OCPD after I was diagnosed with it. No matter how much I researched, I found nothing that could fully satisfy my longing to understand and better myself. I decided to take matters into my own hands.
For an entire year now, I have been filling in the missing pieces of this highly misunderstood and overpathologized personality type. In a year’s time, my unconventional way of looking at this condition has attracted many loyal readers, encouraged people to give their marriage another chance, and saved people from committing suicide. This blog is now the #1 online self-help resource for OCPD and it appears as one of the first search results for “OCPD” on Google.
As a lover of psychology who studies this subject for fun, I also happen to come across other “disorders” and “illnesses.” Like the information out there on OCPD, I cannot help but think that so much is missing. My mind then begins to question and wrestle with conflicting theories until I find the one that makes the most sense. After much questioning and wrestling, I now feel ready to share my own personal (and very different) theory about the real difference between OCD and OCPD.
People with OCD are gifted with a huge imagination. People with OCPD are gifted with a huge heart.
Most of the information out there will emphasize that OCD is an anxiety disorder while OCPD is a personality disorder. I do not think such distinction really matters. I believe it is quite simple: both OCD and OCPD are caused by the anxiety that comes with being highly sensitive.
Both OCD and OCPD come from being extremely “left-brained.” This “auditory-sequential” linear thinking/learning style draws many people with OCD and OCPD toward facts, details, rules, routines, efficiency, order, cleanliness, organization, linear processing, logic, etc.
Psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski identified five areas of “overexcitabilities:” psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational, and emotional. OCD happens as a result of a dominant imaginational overexcitability while OCPD happens as a result of a dominant emotional overexcitability. In other words, people with OCD have a HUGE imagination and people with OCPD have a HUGE heart.
GIFT VS CURSE
Possessing extreme sensitivity in one area can be both a gift and a curse. When a person with OCD is not overwhelmed, his or her imagination can greatly enrich his or her own life, the lives of others, and assist in problem-solving. The same goes for people with OCPD and their emotions. Unfortunately, it is exactly these areas of extreme sensitivity that also betray them the most. People with OCD can imagine extremely disturbing events and consequences that most people cannot imagine with the same intensity. People with OCPD can feel extremely disturbing emotions that most people cannot feel with the same intensity. I am in no way suggesting that OCDers and OCPDers “make up” what they imagine and feel. They do not conveniently choose the thoughts/emotions that enter their imagination/heart.
WRONG LESSON LEARNED
The very first thought that enters the mind of people with OCD and OCPD upon feeling overwhelmed by their dominant overexcitability is “I feel very uncomfortable. This thought/feeling cannot be right. How do I get rid of this immediately?” Without the right kind of parenting and counselling from childhood, people with OCD and OCPD teach themselves from a very early age the wrong lesson that they must get rid of their imagination/emotions altogether. After seeing the positive results of their self-taught strategies, they repeat those strategies over and over again until those strategies become compulsions and addictions.
OCD COPING STRATEGIES
Fear of the unknown can come with having such a huge imagination. One way people with OCD attempt to eliminate this fear is by turning the unknown into the known through checking. Another way people with OCD attempt to eliminate this fear is by working hard at doing everything possible to prevent the unknown from ever happening. Lastly, many people with OCD distract themselves from their fear of the unknown through hyper-focusing on an activity (quite often one that requires extreme attention to detail) that takes their mind off of their imagination.
OCPD COPING STRATEGIES
Fear of emotions can come with being so emotionally sensitive. Most of the coping strategies of people with OCPD are aimed at removing emotions altogether. Whenever negative emotions are present, people with OCPD do whatever they can to avoid feeling them. They often think their way out of their emotions and exercise all kinds of psychological strategies in their head to comfort themselves. A great deal of energy is also invested into the prevention of future negative emotions. Lastly, many people with OCPD participate in distracting activities that drown their difficult emotions.
WHEN THE CURSE WINS…
When the curse wins, both groups live with a high level of anxiety for the majority of their existence. Both groups never experience a minute of peace in their respective areas of sensitivity. When their anxiety gets really bad, neither group can get through the day, no matter how much time and energy they spend on their coping strategies. Even if both groups find a way to get through the day, most of them are left with their dominant overexcitability so dulled that they never reach their potential in creativity or empathy. The inability to imagine also affects relationships differently than the inability to feel. While relationships can get by without imagination, not many relationships can function without emotions. Consequently, many people with OCPD still have extreme difficulty in their interpersonal relationships.
WHEN THE GIFT WINS…
You most definitely can turn both OCD and OCPD into gifts! When you do, life becomes so exciting. You no longer are pushed to do things out of fear, but you are pulled to do things out of joy. Your sensitivity adds to your life. Your dreams, imagination, and emotions inspire you. People with OCPD who have their gift for empathy restored can experience intimacy in relationships like no one else can. People with OCPD can experience compassion for entire nations of the world and be selfless enough to give up their life for the benefit of others.
You are going to be just fine! Now go ahead and experience your imagination and emotions. :)
NOTE: I use the words “gifted” and “genius” in the place of “extremely sensitive” and “so extremely sensitive that there are not too many of them in this world.” I believe these definitions work better than the results of IQ tests because there is much more to these people than their intellectual overexcitability.
“It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.”
- Albert Einstein
Being born into the one percent of the population that is extremely sensitive not only comes with many great advantages, but also many challenging difficulties.
One of the most challenging difficulties experienced by gifted individuals and geniuses is loneliness.
[ Russell Crowe as John Forbes Nash in "A Beautiful Mind" ]
Psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski identified five areas of “overexcitabilities” in gifted individuals. We experience both the “bright side” and the “dark side” of these overexcitabilities:
|Psychomotor||• Extremely active
• Surplus of energy
• Defining ourselves by what we DO, not by who we are
• Difficulty sitting still, relaxing, sleeping
|Sensual||• Heightened awareness of all five senses||• Constant physical discomfort
• Seeing, hearing disturbing things (not seen, heard by others)
|Intellectual||• Extremely smart
• Love of knowledge and learning
|• Thoughts, logic, reasoning that hardly anyone understands
• Workaholic mind
• Existential depression
|Imaginational||• Extremely imaginative
• Vivid dreams
|• Imagining disturbing events (not imagined by others)
• Fear of the unknown
|Emotional||• Great depth of emotions
• Concern for others, empathy
|• Intense emotions that hardly anyone understands
• Fear of our own intense emotions
Just like everyone else, we go through hard times. Just like everyone else, we experience painful thoughts and feelings. And just like everyone else, we would like to have someone who would listen to us, understand us, validate our experiences, and care for the things we care about.
Sadly, while the rest of the world gets this kind of understanding and care from their loved ones, many gifted people and geniuses are famished in this area. When we struggle with our “dark side,” the rest of the world tells us that we are wrong to see, think, and feel what we see, think, and feel. The rest of the world tells us that we are being too extreme, too dramatic, and too crazy. The rest of the world sees us as being disordered and labels us with ADHD, OCD, OCPD, schizophrenia, etc. By the way, before you go on accepting any diagnosis, be sure to read this first. The rest of the world leaves us to “professionals” who put us on medication that kills our “bright side” along with our “dark side” so that we become more “normal,” more like everyone else. In order to avoid the pain that comes with being misunderstood and outcasted by others, so many of us have trained ourselves to be “normal” on the outside while still experiencing our unsharable intense thoughts and feelings inside. We are accepted by others on the condition that we continue to pretend to be people we are not.
This loneliness is the root cause of the painful depression experienced by many gifted individuals and geniuses. Well-meaning friends and family members who think they understand this kind of depression then advise us to just be more optimistic – but how does a roof over my head or my many talents address the issue of how incredibly lonely I feel?
Many gifted individuals and geniuses then choose to distract themselves from their loneliness with an obsessive, all-consuming pursuit of excellence. But no matter how big of a dent we create in the universe, no matter how excellently we perform, our loneliness still exists and it kills us inside. Those of us who are not distracted enough are at a very high risk of committing suicide.
SO WHAT NOW?
HOW TO HELP YOUR GIFTED/GENIUS FRIEND FEEL LESS LONELY (OTHERS):
Resist judging your friend’s experience. Rather than thinking that your friend is wrong or crazy, be open to the idea that your friend is just “different.” Even if you cannot relate to your friend’s experience, still try to show that you care. If you do not have the right words (if you are less sensitive than your gifted/genius friend, you probably do not have the right words), use physical touch. A caring hug can make your friend feel much less lonely.
HOW TO ADDRESS YOUR LONELINESS (GIFTED INDIVIDUALS/GENIUSES):
First of all, acknowledge your loneliness and recognize the pointlessness of living an exhausting life of moving from one distraction to another. Put an end to your distractions and forms of false intimacy. Face your loneliness once and for all. Stop agreeing with the thoughts in your head about how no one understands you. Work hard at reversing those thoughts. If no one around you is able to give you the sense of intimacy that you long for because of their lack of sensitivity toward your differences, find a professional therapist who is trained to give you that sense of intimacy through the patient-therapist relationship. For me, what eliminated my loneliness was choosing to believe in an omniscient God who not only knows all the things that I think and feel, but also cares about all the things that I think and feel.
This message was approved and shared by American Mensa (the largest and oldest high IQ society in the world)