There have been numerous studies done about Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs) since Dr. Elaine Aron’s groundbreaking work first done in the 1990s, as well as books on the topic, including Quit by Susan Cain.
According to Dr. Aron’s work, you can tell if you are an HSP if you:
- Are affected by other people’s moods and emotions
- Pick up and often absorb energies in the room—negative or positive
- Have vivid dreams and a keen imagination
- Need time alone each day and a quiet place to go to, especially during the busy times
- Are told repeatedly that you are “too sensitive”, “too reactive”, and not to “take things so personally”
- Are easily startled or cry easily
- Get nervous or shaky if someone is observing you work or competing with you
In our clinical work at Zenshin institute, we often find that highly sensitive persons also tend to have delicate digestion and more “reactive” physical functions, for example in their immune systems.
This is not a blanket statement, however, because there are also highly sensitive souls that “seem” to have no health concerns right now and really don’t see a point in working on their nutritional health due to their apparent lack of “symptoms”. For the purposes of this article, I am not talking about this latter group.
I am talking about those of you who react to just about everything you eat that is not cooked at home with clean and real-food ingredients. You, that have to spend a good portion of your day making sure that you don’t accidentally eat something that will end up causing you to have bloating, indigestion, and gas later in the day. You, with the super-sensitive physiology that makes you react to dust, pollution, exhaust, smoke, perfume, and exposure to electromagnetic fields that are now inescapable.
Like the “canary in a coal mine”, you react and get sick before everyone else does, sending warning signs to other people around you, if they’re paying attention, but who still tend to look at you with annoyance and that unmistakable “You are too sensitive!” look.
I am talking about people like us.
Chris will share his own story, but I have been sensitive all my life, in all areas of my life—energy in the room, planetary shifts and moon cycles, dust, air quality in airplane/cars/buses/stores, criticism, racism, injustice, noise, light, and last but not least, FOOD.
One of my earliest memories as a child was feeling so badly about myself and struggling everyday because I didn’t tolerate many foods, and I was so constipated all the time. Like many people that have experienced traumatic brain injuries, my bowel movements dramatically changed after suffering a concussion as a 4 year-old. In my case, I fell out of the back of a moving vehicle, hit my head against the pavement, and rolled over railroad tracks. I was a sensitive child to begin with, but this experience further heightened my sensitivity.
Unfortunately, my inability to poop every day earned me the label “difficult” from early on. My mom would shake her head and say, “Komatta-ko”, meaning impossible, unmanageable, and hopeless child, every time I got off the toilet without success. I already had a head injury that affected my digestion (disrupted gut-brain axis). And on top of that, I was given foods daily like milk that didn’t entirely agree with my system and constitution, which caused me to have difficult bowel movements, which caused me to have anxiety about going to the bathroom, which caused me to have further worries in anticipation of my mom’s predictably negative reactions.
It was a vicious circle.
Although I had no choice as a child—you can’t really choose your food or the environment in which you live and eat—I still believed that I was a burden and a nuisance.
Society doesn’t tolerate things well that are complicated, different, and require extra or special care.
The world around you expects things to move smoothly and evenly, disliking exceptions, interruptions, and exemptions. Not only was I a highly sensitive child, but I simply stuck out like a sore thumb living in rural Japan as a half-Japanese child with curly strawberry-blond hair and freckles.
I was the definition of “Komatta-ko”.
Like my mom, who had never raised a highly sensitive child before, other non-sensitive people don’t quite understand what you go through every day, so they say things like, “What’s wrong with you?”, “It’s all in your mind!”, or “Stop being so sensitive.” You are treated like you are the problem—or at least something getting in the way of their comfort.
Now that I am capable of taking time for myself (without feeling badly about it), having a healthy routine, eating healthy foods that work for me, checking my mineral levels regularly, have daily practice to strengthen my gut-brain axis, and taking nutrient supplements daily, I am able to have a loving relationship with myself, especially towards my lifelong challenges with food, cravings, and digestion. But, all of this took some time for me to start honoring my physical needs and choosing to listen to what “I” required—and I didn’t arrive here today completely unscathed!
In the course of dealing with my food and digestions struggles, I abused laxatives (I never traveled without them), took anti-ulcer medications for years, went on fasting benders, had multiple colonoscopies done in my early 20s in search of "problems" while not eating well, became anorexic, became antisocial, and for a while became a total recluse because every time I ate, I struggled with pain and bloating, AND it was too exhausting for me to have to explain my “special needs” to others every time. It was easier to stay home...be isolated.
So how do you thrive in a world where everything you eat, smell, or touch can potentially overwhelm you?
First, you have to accept that your “sensitivity” is your innate awareness and your body’s inner wisdom talking. It cannot be suppressed or dismissed so easily by others as “too sensitive”, “difficult”, or “komatta-ko”. It is the reality of your experience, nothing more, nothing less. Owning this fact changes your entire outlook, and hence, your life. Being born as I was and developing heightened sensitivities to so many things often seemed a curse to me, but all the challenges have definitely guided me to listen to my own intuition, to pursue what I do now, and to develop Zenshin Method. In the end, they have become a gift that keeps me sharp and tuned-in.
Second, you must not give up on your sensitive self. Become active in finding out what works for you and what doesn’t. And don’t stop trying, failing, correcting course, and learning! For me, years of healthy eating and taking care of myself made an enormous difference.
But I still continued to struggle with chronic infections, low energy levels, and intense reactions to external stimuli (especially noise), until I learned about Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) and found out that I had high levels of mercury (a toxic heavy metal) and extremely low levels of essential minerals like Magnesium and Potassium. Only when I started to balance my essential mineral levels and other micronutrients, did I start to experience profound healing that I couldn’t have achieved through diet and lifestyle alone.
The third step is for everyone, sensitive or not. We as a society need to listen more, appreciate and respect sensitive souls with delicate digestion and constitutions, who are in constant dialogue with the environment around us. The “sensitives” are best understood as messengers of imbalances in this world, and the world needs to hear their messages clearly.
So, dear sensitive reader, I invite you to own who you are and learn to see your sensitivities as a voice that the world needs to hear. You are not just too delicate or losing your mind—you have abilities that can help you and others around you to find your way to healing and balance.
Chris and I have created a 2-day weekend workshop intensive, called Sensitive Soul, Delicate Digestion (see below), where we explore the 4 Qualities of Zenshin—Wholeness, Movement, Goodness, and Essence—through the eyes of the sensitive individual.
About the Sensitive Spirit, Delicate Digestion Workshop
In the Wholeness module, we will look at your diet, nutrition, mineral levels, heavy metal toxicity, environmental toxicities and how to address them. In addition, we will investigate the connection between sensitivity and childhood traumas, injuries, emotional pain, toxic relationships, etc.
In the Movement module, we will address digestion, detox, and elimination, as well as long-term self-care, mineral balancing, supportive practices and lifestyle choices for sensitive souls like you.
In the Goodness module, we will explore the topics of personal boundaries, listening to what is and what is not “working” for you, and your interactions with not only food, but with family, friends, community and the world around you and investigate what it is to honor your own voice and speak your truth.
In the Essence module, we dive deeper into the dialogue between you and the “background” environment of your life, and contemplate your role and purpose as a sensitive soul on this earth.
Our launch of Sensitive Spirit, Delicate Digestion will be in Bristol, UK from May 26-28, 2017, with more locations to follow. Please join us if you can, and stay tuned for more to come!
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