Temperament

Are you a Highly Sensitive Person?

HSP book cover.jpg

I have been reading a self-help book recently by Elaine N Aron – an American clinical psychologist who has spent her career researching, writing about and providing therapy to Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs). Aron discovered this group and set about testing her theory that some people are more sensitive than most – she believes HSPs make up about 20 per cent of the population. Her book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, is written for HSPs like herself, as she is an unusually sensitive individual too. 

I must admit that this book has had a huge impact on me. Not only does it describe at least 90 per cent of the people I work with, but it also describes me with eye-opening accuracy. HSPs, according to Aron, have an unusually sensitive nervous system. This means that they pick up on far more of the information in their environments than less-sensitive people. They are affected by bright lights, loud noises, crowds and strong smells. If there is tension in a room, they will pick it up and find it uncomfortable. They will intuit which people in a group are friends and who dislikes each other. They are like tuning forks for subtle interpersonal vibes.

Aron is quick to point out that being an HSP does not make us superior to our less-sensitive friends, family members or colleagues. This sensitivity is a trait – largely genetic but also affected by our life experiences – that is neutral. In some ways, it is a real advantage – I always tell my clients that I could not be a schema therapist without a high level of sensitivity. Being this sensitive makes me, and all other HSPs, more thoughtful, empathic, attuned to other people and their needs, as well as a whole host of other good things.

Sensitivity is no bad thing

But perhaps the most important point that Aron makes – and one I really want you to take on board – is that being sensitive is in no way a bad thing. I don't know about you, but all my life people have told me I should be less sensitive. 'It's just a joke – stop taking things so seriously!' Or, 'Why do you always make such a big deal about things? Just man up and toughen up, for God's sake.' Don't be so shy/introverted; be the life and soul, speak louder, be more of a 'character'. 

For men especially, sensitivity is often seen as a weakness, or something to be ashamed of. Many HSPs get bullied at school, for precisely this reason. And extra-sensitive women are often told they are crazy, or over-emotional, because they feel things deeply and cannot just lighten up, or get a grip, or let it go. So if this describes you, please understand that there is nothing wrong with you – and certainly nothing to be ashamed of. You are just genetically, temperamentally, a bit different from most other people. This probably means that you have been very much affected by difficulties in your childhood, or family of origin.

You may have an anxiety disorder, or get depressed. You may even have personality problems, or struggle with addiction. All of these things need help, from a professional like me or one of my colleagues, who are trained to help sensitive people (and less-sensitive ones, of course) become happier and healthier. I would also strongly recommend reading this book. And if it describes you, give it to your partner, friends and family, so they can better understand you and why you behave as you do.

If you would like some help, call me on 07766 704210, email dan@danroberts.com or use the contact form to get in touch.

Warm wishes,

Dan

 

 

 

Are you an orchid or a dandelion?

One of the key ideas I always share with my clients is that we all have a certain temperament, which we are born with and which has a profound impact on the way that life experiences, good or bad, affect us. Many of my clients have a sensitive, emotional temperament, which means that they are much more affected by problems in the family than someone with a robust, more intellectual temperament. It's important to emphasise that having a certain kind of temperament is neither good nor bad – it's just like being born with brown or blonde hair, blue or green eyes, not your choice or fault in any way but simply how you arrived on this planet.

I also tell my clients that I have a sensitive, emotional temperament too. This can make life difficult at times, as I am affected deeply by negative experiences and my childhood was pretty bumpy, to say the least. But it also bestows on me particular talents and gifts – I could not be a therapist without this kind of temperament. After all, you wouldn't want a therapist who was insensitive, unempathic or unkind! 

Dandelion children

Psychologists have, in recent years, been investigating the theory that we are all either orchids or dandelions. This is based on the Swedish idea that 'dandelion children' are pretty robust and do well in any environment, even if the parenting and family dynamic are less than perfect. US psychologists Bruce Ellis and W. Thomas Boyce extended this idea to include 'orchid children', who were especially sensitive and so needed just the right conditions to thrive. In practice, that means loving, nurturing parents; a relatively calm and stable family environment; and no traumatic experiences during childhood.

If orchids have a difficult family dynamic, they will struggle – developing a number of schemas which will affect them throughout their life and very likely experience depression or anxiety, among other problems, when these schemas are triggered by stressful events. But, if these sensitive children are well-nurtured, they will bloom into beautiful young people and later adults – just like the orchids above.

If you are a dandelion, you may not need my help. But if you're an orchid whose childhood was not what you needed, life may be a struggle. If you would like some help, call me on 07766 704210 or email dan@danroberts.com

Warm wishes,

Dan

 

Why is your temperament important?

We are all born with a certain temperament, which varies from child to child – even siblings in the same family may have very different characters. Exactly what gives us our temperament is still being investigated by psychologists, but it's probably a combination of our genes and brain makeup, as well as experiences during pregnancy and early infancy.

One thing is for sure: your temperament is extremely important, because it determines how much you are affected by the experiences – both good and bad – you have in the family and at school, throughout childhood and into early adulthood, when your brain, personality and ways of thinking, behaving and coping with life are all being formed. In schema therapy, we are also very interested in schemas and modes, which are also formed in part because of your temperament.

You can think about temperament in terms of spectrums, for example between being introvert and extrovert, rational and emotional, sensitive and thick-skinned, passive and aggressive... If you plotted where you fall on all of these spectrums, that would be your temperament.

Sensitivity: a double-edged sword

Most of the people I see for therapy have sensitive, emotional temperaments, which means they are much more vulnerable to negative experiences in their family such as abuse, emotional neglect, harsh criticism, angry outbursts, excessively strict parents, or those struggling with drug, alcohol, or mental health problems as they try to raise their children. Having a sensitive temperament means you will be much more affected by even minor problems in the family – this will lead you to form painful schemas, which will be triggered in adult life when you experience similarly difficult events.

But as I often tell my clients, having a sensitive and emotional temperament is a double-edged sword. It does make life difficult, but it also gives you great gifts – of kindness, empathy, intuition, creativity, the ability to love and nurture others. I know this to be true, because this describes me very well too! Being a sensitive and emotional sort of person has made life difficult at times but also makes me – I hope – a kind, compassionate, insightful therapist.

So if you are struggling with the impact of a painful childhood, remember that a big part of this story is your temperament – which, of course, is not your fault, because it's something you were born with. Try to be compassionate to yourself as you embark on a journey to heal your painful schemas, free yourself from the long-term effects of a tough childhood and become a happier, stronger, more self-nurturing person.

If you would like help with healing your schemas, email dan@danroberts.com

Warm wishes,

Dan