Susan Meindl, MA, psychologist, joins us October 18th, 2019 to share with us her expertise on highly sensitive people (HSP), introversion, and sensitivity as special ways of experiencing life. It promises to be an interesting evening with opportunity for questions and a workshop the next day. Register here for the Friday evening lecture.
What do you see as some of the greatest struggles of highly sensitive persons?
Jung observed that “Psyche knows both its limitations and its potential” and he was very aware that in difficult circumstances the natural advantage of “Sensitivity” could become a disadvantage.
Sadly, relatively few Highly Sensitive people have been raised, or are able to live, in optimal circumstances. Most Sensitive people are asked to tolerate a lifestyle which continually over-runs their natural sensory or emotional limits and they struggle valiantly to get along in our fast-moving world. Many of them know in their hearts that they have valuable qualities and a lot to contribute and feel sad or exasperated that “coping“ takes up so much of their time that they have little energy left to manifest their potential.
I feel it helps to recognise that High Sensitivity is a normally occurring human quality and not a pathology. It’s been evolutionarily selected for at a rate of 15-20% in all human and animal populations because the ability to be attentive and reactive provides survival benefits for the individual and the group.
In an ideal world HSP’s would have more power to manage their surroundings so as to be less overwhelmed! Still, when HSPs recognize what a central factor “overstimulation” is in their distress, they can often find creative or empowered ways to make concrete changes… to stay within their psychic limits in a healthy way that lets them manifest their gifts.
Many sensitive people suffer more than necessary because they have been made to believe that they are broken and inadequate. They have developed a “learned helplessness” towards their circumstances which evokes anxiety, depression and hopelessness.
It is highly likely that Jung himself wrote about Sensitivity from an “insider” perspective and as a result, Jungian thought is much more hospitable to, and appreciative of, the qualities of Introversion and High Sensitivity. The Jungian perspective offers support, recognition and a pathway to better self-esteem to HSP’s who feel devalued by psychological programs which emphasize Extroversion and “adaptation to the group norm.” The Jungian attitude with it’s respect for interiority and it’s understanding of the value of unique or idiosyncratic life pathways is a breath of fresh air and many HSPs encountering Jungian thought for the first time feel, “I have finally found my tribe!!!”
Where or when does a highly sensitive person feel most safe?
I think that for most highly sensitive people, even though it often feels overwhelming, it is not the physical world that feels dangerous but rather the interpersonal world. Most HSPs in fact feel very comfortable in nature even when it is loud or wild!
HSPs tend to feel safest and permit their insight and creativity to be expressed most fully in a human environment which is interested, supportive, and non-judgmental.
What are the real gifts or assets of a highly sensitive person.
We have a tendency to focus on and value the “products” of sensitivity such as creativeness, intuition, empathy and spirituality but interestingly, the truly central capacity, which is the wellspring of all the other abilities seems to be a “detailed cognitive style”. This means having the ability to take in a lot of information… from the world, from their bodies and from their own intuitions… and then to mentally and emotionally work with the implications of this information.
Working through the implications can can lead to anxiety about decisions or the future or it can promote safety moving forward… often depending on how empowered a sensitive person feels.
Considering the concrete, moral or creative potential of every experience also leads to a complexity of interpersonal, psychological, and spiritual thought that creates the social, artistic and spiritual contributions that we all need and value.
I also feel that many sensitive people benefit immediately from recognizing how their gifts and their vulnerabilities are linked through this quality of “detailed cognitive style”. Many sensitive people (or those around them) would like to turn off their “intense” emotional reactions… often particularly their easily evoked feelings and tears… but when they realize that they cannot get rid of their “excessive” emotionality without also changing the quality of their empathy, creativity or their spirituality, they may decide that the tears are not too high a price to pay!
In the Saturday workshop following my Friday night lecture, I am going to explain in more detail about the qualities and challenges of High Sensitivity across the lifespan and I will be spending some time looking at the idea of “mature Sensitivity” and the stages of the Jungian individuation process in relation to this quality.
Susan Meindl MA, is a psychologist in private practice in Montreal. She is a graduate of the McGill Counseling Psychology program and the Argyle Institute of Human Relation’s Individual Psychoanalytically-oriented Psychotherapy program. She is a long-time member of the Steering Committee of the C G Jung Society of Montreal and she has made a specialty of working with Introverted and Highly Sensitive clients.