The Highly Sensitive Person

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Back to Comfort ZoneMay/June 2005: Comfort Zone ONLINE
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Three Quick Reviews

The Temperament Perspective: Working with Children's Behavioral Styles
by Jan Kristal (Paul H. Brooks, 2005)

What is the temperament perspective? That children have different innate styles, high sensitivity being the one you know best. That even children who are extreme in one or more styles are not suffering from a disorder. Or at least they need not be, if parents learn to provide these children with a "good fit" between their temperament and their environment until they are old enough to manage this on their own.

I could not have written The Highly Sensitive Child without the help of The Temperament Perspectives author, Jan Kristal, who is one of the foremost authorities on actually working with children's temperaments. She has years of experience, hundreds and hundreds of cases to her credit, TV shows about her, and a legion of parents who feel they could not have raised their children without her help. Her specialty is assessing a child's temperament from the parents, then giving parenting advise (which also has spared quite a few children from child psychotherapy, which can be both a stigma and not very helpful when the problem is actually an unusual temperament, such as a highly sensitive child).

She calls this work temperament counseling, and Dominican College in San Rafael, CA is about to launch a program of certification in this specialty, should any of you be looking for a new career. Temperament counseling works with all the temperament "flavors" and the blends of these, including the degree of sensitivity, of course, but also the degree of flexibility, distractability, and emotional expressiveness as well as activity level and rhythmicity of bodily functions.

Back to the book, perhaps the best thing about it is that it is written for everyone! Parents can use it, but it is professional enough to hand to teachers and doctors and have them be impressed and informed at their level. This is not simply a parenting book, but a very inclusive handbook on "the temperament perspective."

If you want to learn more, besides reading this book, you can go to Jan Kristal's website, and if you also want to reach her for a consultation, click on Resources.

Howard's End
by E. M. Forster.

This is a novel about being highly sensitive. That's not surprising, since it was written by the man I quote at the start of The Highly Sensitive Person, who says "I believe in an aristocracy...of the sensitive." (For most of the longer essay from which that came, I highly recommend going right now to and reading it. If you have trouble, I found it through Google.)

The recent movie of Howard's End seemed kind of boring to me, so I did not get around to reading the novel until recently. What a delight. And the story has a great ending (very important to HSPs, I think). I won't bother to say more. A novel needs no summary, just a hearty recommendation.

The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life
by Daniel N. Stern (Norton, 2004).

This is a heavily scientific book, but so intriguing I have to tell you about it. Stern is a brilliant psychologist, famous for providing almost singlehandedly the evidence that from birth we are designed to live in an interpersonal world and without the right kind of interaction we cannot develop well at all. But this book is about time. Specifically, how we experience the present, right now, which is such a hot topic in spiritual circles.

Stern is not vague, however. He has studied now. The present moment is 1 to 10 secs. long, with an average of 4 secs. It is a moment of consciousness, often appearing between periods of nonawareness. Sometimes these are trivial, sometimes momentous. He has interviewed people for hours about the contents of just one such present moment, using a memory of something that happened at breakfast! From each episode he tries to uncover all the thoughts and emotions that went on, developing the "temporal contour," the plot so to speak, of such moments.

But the book is also about the moments, big but also small, that change us. Regarding psychotherapy, he feels that these present moments, often nonverbal and never discussed, cam be more important than the insights and interpretations that occur. Again Stern is placing "intersubjectivity" at center stage. Some of the moments that most change us are those when I know that you know what I am feeling, and I know that you are feeling the same, and I know that you know that we are feeling the same. These are critical moments of "affect attunement" that infants must have, and adults trying to become more emotionally secure must also have, as well as anyone needing to feel emotionally connected to others, which we all need, all the time. Stern figures that the patterns in the brain that cause less than optimal emotional development were laid down in many, many present moments, and they are only changed by many more of a different nature.

So, if you are interested in the psychology of the perception of time, the "now" of spiritual writings, or what creates change in psychotherapy, I recommend this book. It's pretty dense. I think you could receive a good sense of it by reading the three-page glossary at the back, then Chapter 13, his summary of the implications of the present moment for psychotherapy and any intimate dialogue. You can read that while standing in a library, which is where I found this momentous book.

May/June 2005 Articles:
A Letter from Elaine
From the Field: How the HSPs Organized Themselves in Holland by Rijn de Jonge
Sensitive Children: How Can We Talk About Sensitivity to Children (For Example, to Sixth Graders)?
With Depth: A Book Review Leads to a Lesson about the Body
More Books: Three Quick Reviews

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