Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A-Z: Everything Gets Under Your Skin
If You've Got Hyper-Sensitivity

Nails on a chalkboard.  Every (hearing) person knows and loathes that sound.  Nobody is very fond of the scratchy clothing tag at the back of our necks, either.

But what if many of the sounds, smells, and sights that other people enjoy, or at least, tolerate with seemingly little distress, set your teeth on edge?

You may be a Highly Sensitive Person.

Being highly or hyper-sensitive is not the same thing as actually being allergic to fragrances, foods, etc.  They simply really, really bug the HSP person.

From Being Highly Sensitive on Holistic Healing:

Porous Systems

As we have come to know, Highly Sensitive People's systems are very porous, meaning that external stimuli seems to be more directly absorbed into their bodies. (It has been said that it is as if HSP "have no skin" to protect them from these outside stimuli.) Non-HSP generally are less porous and have natural defenses which defuse external stimuli thereby not directly impacting and overloading their nervous systems.

Another way to think about this is to visualize the curve on a chart: At the point where the Non-HSP would have little or no stimulation, the HSP would be somewhat stimulated. Where Non-HSP would be somewhat stimulated, the HSP would be pretty well stimulated. And, where the Non-HSP is well stimulated, the HSP may be reaching, or might have already reached, a state of being over stimulated, over aroused and overwhelmed, which may manifest itself in Highly Sensitive People as getting upset, frazzled or even angry, needing to get away, or possibly "shutting down" and becoming unable to function.

From The Highly Sensitive Person
In defining the Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Aron provides examples of characteristic behaviors, and these are reflected in the questions she typically asks patients or interview subjects:
  • Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
  • Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
  • Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
  • Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
  • Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
  • Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
  • Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
  • When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?
from Wikipedia on Sensory defensiveness:
Common symptoms of sensory defensiveness include intolerance of high-pitched noises, intolerance of chewing sounds, intolerance of overhead lights (especially fluorescent lighting); experiencing a feeling of being attacked upon being touched (especially from light touch or sudden touch); intolerance of certain types of fabrics in contact with the skin; becoming nauseated upon smelling something that does not smell bad to neurotypical individuals; difficulty maintaining eye-contact; severe intolerance of foods due to taste, texture, or temperature; and generally becoming overwhelmed when exposed to a lot of sensory stimuli at once.

Intolerance in this context should not always be taken as unwillingness to be subject to the sensory stimuli in question; rather, intolerance is an inability to process the sensory stimuli in any way other than as over-stimulating, because the sensory stimuli provokes a fight-or-flight reaction. This is also known as sensory overload.
High or  hyper-sensitivity has been linked to autism, Asperger's Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, and at least via anecdotes, to OCPD. My ex was offended by my cologne, by the sounds of children playing, by too much light, and he hated being touched by me unexpectedly, whether it was a kiss, gentle touch on the arm, butt-pat in passing. (Yes, this did not have a healthy impact on our relationship.)  I've read dozens of accounts of others with OCPD partners who recount similar experiences.

I've blogged before on the analogy that people can be compared to vacuum cleaners.  We're "sucking in" about two million bits of sensory data every moment.

But we don't process anywhere near that amount, more like 40,000 bits (subconsciously), even less than that consciously.

from Internet of the Mind- How Thought Creates Reality
But what if our filter is damaged, like a vacuum cleaner with a missing bag, or one which is too tightly sealed? We might be taking in too little or too much data. We might be overwhelmed by it.

Many women (myself included) report increased sensitivity to odors during pregnancy, and at different points in our menstrual cycle.  Likewise, the sensitivity to light and other stimuli that often precedes a migraine can also be tied to bodily cycles or consumption of certain foods. This points to the possibility that some chemical imbalance in the brain can be responsible for triggering migraines.

What becomes ever clearer, is the more we learn about the brain, the more we realize there is much we don't know.

My A-Z theme is Issues related to Mental Health or Mental Illness.

Have you had times in your life when you were super-sensitive 
to external stimuli? How did/do you handle it?
Your thoughts?
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