Archives for April, 2012
You might imagine that emotionally sensitive people would be popular as friends. Someone who is tuned in to what you are feeling, your needs and wants would be the perfect friend, right? Many times it's true. Your emotionally sensitive companion is often the one who brings soup when you are sick and remembers that you don't want chocolate cake for your birthday--you prefer lemon. She's entertaining, witty and caring. But sometimes you may be shocked that the person you were sure would be the first to show up when you need her is not available. How could such an emotionally tuned-in person be so uncaring? Actually, the ups and downs of their relationships have nothing to do with not caring.
We all have certain beliefs about ourselves. We may believe that we are athletic, smart, good at English, or that we are terrible at math. We believe that we are good at making friends, shy, or outgoing. Most of the time our beliefs about ourselves work to help our lives flow more easily. We don't have to re-decide who we are in every situation. Sometimes though, the emotionally sensitive don't consider or lose awareness of what their ideas, preferences and values are. By paying attention mainly to what other people seem to prefer and changing themselves to fit what those people want, they can lose awareness of their beliefs. Changing to fit what others believe and think can be a way to avoid conflict and rejection but can create anxiety and depression, not to mention feelings of alienation and emptiness. By changing to fit what others seem to want them to be, the emotionally sensitive lose the opportunity for true intimacy.
Understanding how to maximize self-control of your emotions and behavior can decrease some of the emotional pain that emotionally sensitive people experience. Not acting on impulse and thinking through how your actions in the short-term will affect your long term goals will decreae the suffering that you experience. The good news is that some of the most effective strategies are everyday actions that are only surprising in terms of their effectivenss. Ways to Strengthen Self-Control Slowing Your Breath: Slowing your breathing to four to six breaths per minute will activate the prefrontal cortex and increase heart rate variability which helps shift the brain and body from a state of stress to self-control. When you are in stress mode, you are not able to think as clearly.
Self-control or willpower is the ability to effectively manage your attention, emotions and desires. Understanding how willpower works can help you better manage your emotions and make the changes you want to make in your life. When you are working to build more effective coping skills, you may find that no matter how strong your commitment to practicing new ways of soothing yourself, solving problems effectively, or managing your intense emotions in healthier ways, you fall back into old patterns. Falling back can be discouraging and you may blame yourself for not having enough willpower or stick-to-it-ness. As we noted in the last post, self-control has nothing to do with your character. It's a limited resource for everyone. We have to practice and keep going, recognizing that having lapses is just part of developing new behaviors and skills. If we know some of the ways to enhance our self-control while we are practicing new behaviors, that can help too.
Sometimes people who care and want to help the Emotionally Sensitive tell them to "Just get over it," or "there's no reason to be that upset," or "think before you act." Though they don't intend to invalidate the emotionally sensitive person, they are. They probably don't realize how many skills are necessary to not act on intense emotions. To manage emotional responses and use effective problem-solving strategies takes a lot of energy. Most everyone has a natural tendency to prefer short-term gratification over long-term goals. Yet we often delude ourselves and believe that in the future we will be able to put our long-term goals first. Somehow we are sure we will have more self-control tomorrow, next week, or next month. Given a future choice of two cookies on Tuesday versus six cookies four days later, most everyone would choose the six cookies four days later. But if we have to choose right now? Research shows we'll take the two cookies rather than wait for six.
Emotionally sensitive people are often advised to exercise to calm their anxiety or to help overcome depression. Grandmothers, psychiatrists, friends and even strangers often suggest, "Exercise. You'll feel better." In our recent survey, 71.4% of the emotionally sensitive have found exercise helpful in managing their mood. Turns out the research, as reported by John Ratey, MD in his book Spark, shows exercise has a strong effect on mood as well as other important functions of the brain. Exercise is effective in treating anxiety and panic. Getting active provides a distraction, reduces muscle tension, builds brain resources (increases and balances serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, all important neurotransmitters involved in mood), improves resilience by showing you that you can be effective in controlling anxiety, and breaks the feeling of being trapped and immobilized. The effects can be equal or even better than medication. The problem is that when people are upset or depressed, they don't want to exercise. Establishing a regular exercise program, one that you could maintain when your mood was unpleasant, may be part of the answer. Continuing a routine when you are emotionally dysregulated is easier than starting a new activity. Regular exercise would also help prevent relapse.
Thank you again to the many people who took the time to answer my survey and give such thoughtful answers. The information you shared has been invaluable. Let's continue looking at what you had to say about being emotionally sensitive. There were many experiences that you treasure. Feeling great joy and rarely being bored was one of them. Many believe that being emotionally sensitive enhances creativity. Some feel special in their ability to enjoy the positive and some consider it a gift. Several believe it enhances their spiritual connection to God. (Please see the previous post for more characteristics that they valued about being emotionally sensitive.)
Many thanks to every one of the two hundred and sixty two people who answered the questions on the survey about emotionally sensitive people (ESP). The answers were enlightening, heartfelt and touching. Let's take a look at what you said about being an emotionally sensitive person. Most had at least one other person in their family who was also emotionally sensitive and many had more than one. Most of you (68.3%) were told as a child that you were too sensitive. The teen years seem to be time that you were the most emotionally sensitive (60%).
One of the most important levels of validation in Dialectical Behavior Therapy is cheerleading. Cheerleading involves holding and encouraging hope. Hope is what keeps people going forward when difficult emotions and harsh experiences slam them against the ground--hope for a better life, for a life with less suffering, for the skills to manage challenging emotions in healthy ways. For the emotionally sensitive, less desired emotions like irritation, hurt, sadness and shame can take over their thinking and behavior and become their whole world. When others might be angry or frustrated, the emotionally sensitive may feel rage or fury. What might feel hurtful to others may be crushing and what would be sad to others may be depressing. It's difficult to go to work, clean house, keep appointments, talk with friends, or otherwise function when experiencing such intense feelings.
One of the skills a young child must learn is to comfort himself when he is upset. One way he learns to do this is by being soothed by his parents or caregivers. Touch and holding are two ways caregivers comfort children. Gradually the child learns ways to calm himself. These activities are critical for the healthy development of the young child. Adults may have others to comfort them as well, such as good friends who offer companionship or spouses who give hugs. But self-soothing is a basic skill important for emotional and physical well-being. Self-soothing is particularly important for the emotionally sensitive, yet many don't think about, forget, or discount the need for and effectiveness of self-soothing activities. In upset moments, it's hard to think about calming yourself. Plus, self-soothing does not come naturally to everyone and requires thought and action.