Strategies for Dealing with Overexcitabilities
By Regina Hellinger
Recently I wrote an article for the SENGvine, “The Gift of Emotional Overexcitabilities.” The article received a lot of attention on Facebook and other social media sources. Many expressed their relief at being seen and understood. Others were concerned about what this reality would look like for children; would highly sensitive children be perceived as mentally unstable or would they be bullied for their sensitivities?
The intention of this follow-up is to provide strategies to embrace the gift of being highly sensitive. I have devised a strategy called the BERRY Approach, which is a combination of strategies that work together to authenticate and empower. The BERRY Approach is an acronym for the following strategies:
Being With IT
Experience E-Motion: Energy in Motion
Recognize the Saboteur
Your Compelling Purpose
The description of these strategies is as follows:
Being With IT: The first strategy is to be with the experience of an emotion without judging it or thinking of it as a problem.
A coaching tool that I use with clients who want to be with their emotions can be explained in five steps:
Notice the emotion: recognize that the feeling is there
Drop the resistance and let it be without judgment
Treat it with compassion
Notice what happens once you allow yourself to be with it
This acceptance allows for the next step to occur.
Experience E-Motion: Emotion is a form of energy. If we allow ourselves to fully experience that emotion we can allow it to be as it is meant to be: energy in motion. We get into trouble when we bottle up this energy or internalize it. Emotion is a sensation that is meant to pass through us, like weather passes through the atmosphere. Knowing emotion is meant to flow through us, both in and OUT is very empowering. The only way we can allow it to flow out is to let it run its course. When we suppress our emotion we are stopping it midstream.
Two misconceptions often cause us to suppress the natural flow of this energy.
The first misconception is that we think we are better off fighting against the emotion than allowing ourselves to experience it. Being afraid of feeling the intensity of the emotion can lead us to bury it and avoid it. However, it is still there, and we are using a lot of our energy keeping it contained within us. The fear of facing the emotion is worse than the act of being with it.
The second misconception is that we confuse our identity of being highly sensitive to emotional experiences with needing to hold onto that emotion to be a compassionate or empathetic person. While being a sensitive person may be something that defines a core part of our being, the feelings themselves are not owned by us. Hanging on to these emotions does not make us more empathetic or compassionate. It only stops the motion of a process that is meant to stay in flow and actually takes us away from being fully present to others because we are confusing our identity of being a sensitive person with being consumed with a particular emotion.
By allowing our emotions to be in flow we experience more spaciousness within us, literally more room within our physical beings to breathe and to experience other emotions like the deep experiences of joy, love, gratitude, and connection.
Recognize the Saboteur: Saboteurs are our inner voices that prevent us from living our most fulfilled lives. Emotions are natural experiences, but our personal interpretation of what they say about us can turn these emotions into negative experiences and cause us to feel bad about ourselves as people. Messages that we send ourselves, such as, “I am weak, Why can’t I stop myself from feeling this way?” or “No one gets me, so there must be something wrong with me” are examples of the voice of the saboteur. These messages do not reflect reality or the truth but represent our fears in the form of statements that keep us small and insecure. When we buy into the saboteur we feel bad about ourselves as a person, and we may hold ourselves back from doing or feeling what comes naturally to us. Listening to the saboteur makes us feel that we need to live as an impostor rather than love who we are. Getting to know our personal saboteurs (everyone has them) empowers us to distinguish this voice from the voice of reason and authenticity. Once we are able to recognize our saboteur voice we can choose to listen to it or not. When we choose to listen to it we make ourselves smaller, and when we choose to dismiss it we empower ourselves to live authentically and happily, with self-compassion and peace of mind.
Resonant Choices: When we experience resonance, we feel fully alive. Resonant experiences can make our skin tingle, and sometimes make our heart feel like it is so full it could burst (in a good way). We experience resonance most when we honor our personal values, the things that mean the most to us. Resonance leads to peace of mind, confidence, joy, connection, and love. This is the positive side of having emotional overexcitabilities because all of these emotions are felt even more deeply by those that are highly sensitive and impact us that much more powerfully. Many times we tend to take the safe, proven, well-trodden route to navigating through life at the cost of experiencing resonance. No matter how safe or productive a path may be, if it does not honor our personal values and create resonant experiences for us then we experience the opposite: dissonance. Dissonance is the experience of being disconnected from our own life events and often leads to depression. While we do not have the ability to control the depth to which we experience our emotions, we can support environments that are resonant to us and limit our experiences that lead to dissonance.
The ability to do this requires us to pay attention to the things that “light us up” as opposed to those that make us shrink and shrivel. Applying this to working with children may mean that a child does not become the baseball player that his parents dreamed he would be, but actually becomes an amazing Lego builder who spends the majority of his spare time in his room building things that no one else ever would have envisioned. The more resonance we experience, the more we will experience the intensity of emotions that are satisfying and fulfilling, capitalizing on the gift of emotional overexcitabilities!
Your Compelling Purpose: Building on Resonant Choice, finding a way to have a positive impact in areas that are important to us gives us opportunities to experience meaningful connection to our values, our world, and others in it. Finding our compelling purpose, the “what I am called to do in the world” provides meaning and fulfillment in our lives. This is important for all human beings and especially crucial for gifted individuals who crave meaningful existence. When connected to our compelling purpose and being free to experience all of the intensity of our deep emotions though this connection, we are also able to access our greatest forms of creativity, genius, and innovation. It is from this place that our giftedness is most powerfully manifested in the world.
In summary, there are ways for living with our emotional intensities that actually help us thrive in the world and celebrate our essence. There are also several strategies that can be used to help individuals cope with the actual experience of these emotions. The key is in using these strategies together in ways that continue to honor and celebrate the sensitivities that are at the core of each individual.
Regina Hellinger is a professional coach who specializes in working with gifted individuals and their families to find ways to understand their unique nature, use their giftedness as a strength, and manage the challenges that come along with their giftedness so they can thrive in a society that doesn’t understand them but desperately needs them. She also works with teachers who are working toward their gifted endorsement in Orange County Public Schools, Florida as an instructor of Nature and Needs of the Gifted, Guidance and Counseling of the Gifted, and Special Populations of the Gifted. She can be contacted via email at [email protected].