I share with Dr. Brian (my light touch chiropractor) the challenge of being a highly sensitive being. This challenge bleeds into both my personal and professional life. Through my healing journey, I have learned how to manage my sensitivities in order to make my sensitive nature an asset instead of a liability. I had to learn to be in charge of my sensitivities instead of letting my sensitivities be in charge of me. This is an ongoing process which requires a great deal of self-awareness.

The Gift and Curse of High Sensitivity

[Note to reader: Although I wrote this letter to Dr. Brian, I ended up not sending it because of how long and detailed it became. (In fact, what you will see below is a shortened version of the letter.) Writing it with Dr. Brian in mind, knowing he would be reading it, helped me enormously on this very difficult night, even though I didn’t send it in the end. It was different from journaling because I felt witnessed as I imagined Dr. Brian receiving my words. I didn’t feel alone. I often feel I can get through anything if I have adequate support. Even though I have endured enormous trauma, I have always felt that the lack of support, up until recently, was far more damaging than the actual trauma. Writing to someone I care about and who cares about me allowed me to make it through a tight spot; it didn’t matter so much whether I actually sent the letter or not. He held me through the night without even knowing it.]

March 1, 2014

Subject: when nothing works . . .

To: Dr. Brian

I felt so good when I left your office on Friday.  Twenty-four hours later . . . it’s a different world.  My body is going through so many changes.  Last night I had to switch back to the firmer mattress in my bedroom.  (I have two beds.  I have a bed in my bedroom with a firm mattress.  I also have a bed in my living room with a softer mattress that I purchased recently.)  Sometimes I need the softness, and the firmness causes pain and discomfort, and sometimes the softness causes pain, and I feel my body calling for the support of something sturdier.  So things shift, that is certainly nothing new.  Yet, because there is so much change going on, my body seems to be oscillating in a state of flux that is a little difficult to hold at times because I move in and out of pain and pleasure . . . in and out of comfort and discomfort . . . I feel my body trying to “resolve” something as I move in and out of these states.

I put “resolve” in quotes because “resolution” is a theme in my life right now.  The frustration, the angst, the back and forth between states seems to be my body’s way of trying to figure things out, of trying to resolve things.

I’m writing you tonight because I’m having a very, very difficult night.  I feel that familiar compression in my chest.  It can last for hours.  Honestly, I have had this pain in my chest—consciously—since my early twenties.  I’m unsure how I’m still alive with a heart that has suffered so.  Yet, after all my effort, which has been quite extensive [including  yoga, meditation, fifteen years of psychotherapy, and many other healing practices], I am still left with this inexplicable pain in my heart.  Sometimes I dialogue with my heart to try to get information as to the source of the pain, but the story I receive is not consistent.  Sometimes the sensation in my chest feels like a punch, other times a squeeze.  I wish for my heart to be permanently liberated from whatever is binding it.

This evening I used all the tools in my toolbox to try to reduce this pain in my heart—I did my “drama therapy,” I tried sending healing energy to my heart through gentle therapeutic touch, I used my crystals, I took an Epsom salt bath—but I just couldn’t find relief.  I asked my heart if I could assist it in some way.  I invited my heart to tell me how I could best support it.  I did not receive an answer.  My heart just moaned and whimpered out tones of despair.

There are many possible triggers for the pain I am feeling tonight.  I had my theater class today, and often I feel residual pain after class.  This is because I have such a high sensitivity to other people’s pain.  Often I take on their pain, sometimes without consciousness, acting out a pattern I developed as a child.  I could also be feeling grief over my cancer diagnosis.  I could be processing things from my childhood.  I could be feeling lonely.  The list of possibilities is exhaustive.

Regardless of the source of the pain, there is a common interplay between light and dark—an interesting dance.  I find in my healing, as each layer of light is unveiled, there is usually an accompanying layer of darkness, and vice versa.  The dance reaches a point where it’s difficult to tell which comes first, the darkness or the light, but there is definitely a connection and a dance.  It’s as if the light creates strength and a container to hold, process, and release more of the darkness, and releasing the dark creates an opening for more light . . . and so the dance continues . . . So perhaps my pain tonight is simply part of this dance that is building to a crescendo as our work, and my overarching larger work, continues . . .

Dr. Brian, my capacity to resonate with other people actually feels too strong at times, or at least it is not yet balanced with enough protection.  The process is a little complex.  I feel what is going on in other people’s bodies—sometimes with consciousness and often without.  I feel what they feel, as well as what they are blocking.  In groups, I feel what’s “in the air,” what is unspoken and unmetabolized.  As a child, I carried what my family could not carry—which was pretty much everything.  This pattern continued into adulthood.  I went through the world like a sponge, taking in whatever was not wanted.  I was like a walking toxic dumping ground—as if wore a sign that said, “If you don’t want it, dump here.”  Of course, the last few years I rewrote my job description and am learning to use my sensitivities in a way that is more healthful and not harmful to myself.  But I am still learning and still very vulnerable to the phenomenon I just described.

Wow, this is reminding me why I wanted to quit being a psychotherapist.  During my training, there would always be one client where the resonance was too strong for me.  After seeing that client, I might be in bed for several days, consumed with pain that would make no sense to me.  Often I would “draw it out” [with art] and what I would draw would clearly be trauma from the client, whose pain was incapacitating me.  With most of my clients I found my work to be a beautiful experience, but there was always one client who took me to my edge.   It only took one . . . and there was always one . . .

A real life story . . . I had a strong resonance with one of my male adolescent clients.  We had some profound similarities that helped us forge a deep connection.  Like me, he carried the family pain and was very sensitive.  After working with him for a while, I decided in the moment to model for him what he was doing.  He had this pain in his chest that was with him pretty much constantly.  I could feel his pain in my own heart.  It felt like a burning sensation.  So I decided to take a risk and ask him if his pain felt like a burning sensation.  He immediately replied with a firm “yes.”  I was modeling for him how we can sometimes feel other people’s emotions and sometimes we can mistake someone else’s feelings as our own.  After that session, I felt his pain for over a week.  It felt like his pain was branded into my chest.  Then I had a breakthrough and realized this was how he felt about his pain.  He felt like it was branded into his chest.  At the moment of my realization, his pain left my body.

I came up with an idea on how to help this client begin to deal with this enormous pain.  I decided to have him make a graph to chart the intensity of his pain.  He would choose a color each week to represent his suffering and then he would rate the intensity with a number, which we would transfer to his graph in whatever color he chose.  After graphing his pain for many weeks, we slowly added other emotions to his graph, and eventually we changed the format of the graph to a large circle.  He would color in the circle, giving each emotion a color and the appropriate amount of space in the circle, to reflect what he was feeling internally.  We came to call these drawings emotional pies.  With time, we were able to review these pies and see patterns and changes.  He came to love this process!  It was very rewarding because he was resistant to art therapy, and I do not push it.  It’s not helpful for everyone.  But I found a way to make a simple entrance—pick a color and a number and let’s make a graph of your pain—and that evolved into art therapy and was so acknowledging of his feelings.

I’m going to end this letter by focusing on positive thinking.  Sometimes we minimize the power of such a simple practice.  Beyond positive thinking, there is also the practice of focusing on pleasure in the body instead of focusing on pain.  By focusing on areas of pleasure, the frequency of my overall system is raised so it has more support to address the distress, and the distressed areas are invited to join the areas of pleasure.

Healing the pain in my heart is a journey that has not yet ended.  But I feel I am on path.

Blessings and thanks for your support,



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