The Highly Sensitive Person

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Back to Comfort ZoneNovember 2004: Comfort Zone ONLINE
With Depth:
Healing the Split

Long ago I vowed not to discuss political issues in Comfort Zone, so that it can be a true sanctuary for all of us. And I plan to stick by it. Our motto is, “Support as we tend and contend with a not-so-sensitive world.”

However, as priestly advisors, we sometimes have to deal not-so-sensitive political types. Therefore I have written something that you might find useful, whatever your persuasion. While it was stimulated by U.S. election and is made simpler by addressing U.S. HSPs, it is applicable to every country, as many are dividing along similar lines. So if you are not in the U.S., think of yourself as being “cc’ed.”

As A Depth Psychologist, I See A Problem

This country is splitting and it’s not into red or blue states, but black and white thinking. Psychological splitting. “They always” and “we never.”

To a depth psychologist like myself, splitting means the patient’s inner conflict is so even, so intense, that one side must be banished, and both sides are driven to desperate acts.

We all split when threatened. Everything becomes so ridiculously clear. “He’s a bastard.” “She’s crazy.” If desperate enough, we start throwing things.

I know political conflicts cannot be solved like a marital dispute: “Just try to understand the other’s viewpoint.” But it’s still true that a nation consists of individuals, and its mental health depends on them. Insight helps, but most of us have trouble seeing splitting as a psychological defense. So here’s the scoop.

First, let’s deal with the resistance. “Oh, those psychologists always blame it on your childhood. People need to take responsibility for their lives.” Right. We’re free to choose and should be held accountable when we are operating from our neocortex, the rational brain.

But the brain also has an older, more powerful limbic system for storing intense emotional memories, or “cognitive-emotional schemas.” I call them “complexes.”

Their purpose is to alert us to the possible recurrence of dangers. To be safe, they give countless false alarms. Touch one part of this neural network and it acts like a spider web: Out comes the whole darn spider, to suck in everything perception. A coil of rope is a coil of rope–unless you have a snake complex.

So, yes, I am going to say it: If you have a complex about fundamentalists or homosexuals, you can’t see them for who they are.

Reviewing What I Mean By A Complex

Most of you have read my thoughts on complexes before. But let’s review. We all have complexes. They are the “building blocks of the personality.” And every complex has two poles, which act like two autonomous subpersonalities. One we identify with, the other we deny and deal with by seeing it in someone else. That person may have a bit of it, but not the whole load.

If you are a hardworking country man or woman, you probably have a complex about self-reliance. You resent those city slackers being handed your hard-earned money. And you deny the part of you that’s helplessness about your own poverty.

If you are ghetto-born, you probably have a complex about your chances being stolen before you were even born. But when you identify with the victim, you deny the inner dominator–the fact that many people live in fear of your simmering anger.

Do you have a complex about homosexuality? Do you feel it has to be contained for the health of the whole country? I know your darkest nights, when you have those arousing dreams involving your own gender. Are you gay and outraged? I know the part that feels ashamed, even evil.

Clearly it is easy for politicians to stimulate a complex for their own purposes, but it won’t help to put all the blame on them–they are in a complex themselves.

So what do you do about your complexes and the next person’s? One thing I know is that it never works to argue with a person in a complex. Prove them wrong and you win the battle but lose the war. You are shaming them, and shame is so painful we’ll do anything to avoid it. (Indeed, the brain registers it like physical pain.)

So wait for calm, then try, “What do you suppose was going on with you right then?” It’s important to be even-handed. (If a recount would ease suspicions, go for it.) Eventually you hear the hidden pole speak. Every country voter has a city personality–one that dreams of a more exciting, possibly sinful life. Every city person has a country personality that longs for simple values. A little cabin with a garden. Self-reliance.

Our rural part keeps us grounded. It feeds us and stands by this country through thick and thin. But it has less experience with other cultures–and hates admitting it. The urbanites are always flying off into the new and blue. But they disparage where they came from, when in fact they can only fly with the support of strong rural roots.

So to start the personal healing, I suggest a national Know Your Unconscious Day. Who cares how it affects the nation. You need it. Your friends do too. Here’s the plan. Spend a day thinking like the type of voter you most hate. You’ll be surprised how easy it may be. Go ahead, feel your disgust with your own side. Maybe those pitiful people really should all die of AIDS. Or from overeating like the pigs they raise.

Being an HSP, you know what I mean. What about those thoughts of yours that high sensitivity is a curse, a congenital weakness, and all HSPs really ought to be drowned at birth like defective puppies and kittens? Or, what about your thought that the same should be done to all non-HSPs, who lack what is really a form of advanced, higher intelligence? The thought you’d love to get rid of the HSP part of you. Or, you’d love to get rid of the part of you that plans things that the HSP part just can’t do without developing chronic illnesses?

Then face it once more. You need and love both sides of you. It’s who you are. Likewise, you need a whole nation and a working democracy to hold it. So maybe we can grow up, get well, and see both sides as in a complex. Troubled. Desperate. Then start thinking like a healer, a priestly advisor, a psychotherapist to your culture. Work from that place. The issues remain, to be discussed as rationally as possible. But we don’t have to be in a complex about it.

November 2004 Articles:
A Letter from Elaine
Coping Corner: “Worry is Faith in the Devil”--Containing Fear the HSP Way
With Depth: Healing the Split
The Highly Sensitive Child (and Adults, Too): Is Sensitivity the Same as Being Gifted?

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