Hypervigilance and Highly Sensitive People
The idea of the “sensitive artist” may be a cliche, but still basically true. Sometimes high sensitivity may be based on or intensified from difficult or hurtful situations.
To fuel creative expression requires that we have an ability to be in touch with internal and external feelings and sensations.
As Michael Eigen, PhD, author of the book The Sensitive Self, puts it, “Thinking and feeling are ways sensitivity unfolds or grows… without the sensory sea we take for granted, feeling and thought would dry up and die.”
From his article Sensitivity (an excerpt from his book).
But there are different forms of high sensitivity.
A Success magazine article reported that Ashley Judd to a large extent had a very unsafe childhood, “But that doesn’t mean my parents didn’t love me,” she says, “because, of course, they did. I can say this with genuine, heartfelt clarity; they did absolutely the best they could with what they had at the time.”
The article continues, “Sometimes that wasn’t good enough, she admits. In her early years she was shuttled to as many as 13 different schools in 12 years, alternately living with her mother, her father and her grandmother.
“She became what she calls a ‘hypervigilant child,’ raising herself under unpredictable circumstances, becoming lonely, depressed, isolated—all feelings she kept under wraps for years.”
She entered a treatment program in 2006.
“All I know is that I am grateful now for those experiences because I had the opportunity to do a lot of healing work on myself, and that has endowed me with a fairly awesome capacity for compassion and empathy.”
“Her focus these days is an organization called Population Services International (PSI), a nonprofit organization with grassroots health programs in 65 developing countries that is focused on prevention and treatment.”
From article Just Like Us – “Ashley Judd brings hope to the world’s most impoverished,” Success magazine success.com May 2009.
Judd also relates being “a hyper-vigilant child” to “always striving to be perfect” – another issue for personal development that affects many gifted adults.
“A wonderful pastor once told me, perfectionism is the highest order of self-abuse,” she said. “So now I try to remind myself that if I engage in perfectionism, I am abusing myself. Period.”
From post Ashley Judd and working in creative flow
A summary definition of hypervigilance is provided by Wikipedia as “an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats.
“Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion.
“Other symptoms include: abnormally increased arousal, a high responsiveness to stimuli and a constant scanning of the environment for threats. Hypervigilance is a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder.”
But hypervigilance is not the form of high sensitivity that is probably most associated with creative expression.
Therapist Susan Meindl notes that intensity is often a feature of creative individuals, plus “a low sensory threshold (ie: stimulation cannot be stopped from entering) – strong reactions to sensory stimuli.
“High sensitivity easily leads towards excitability and individuals often respond with strategies intended to manage and control their level of stimulation.
“Some of these attempts to live life in response to a sensitive temperament may appear eccentric or cause problems for others… but sensitivity also opens up pathways towards the important and highly valued human ability to create and also to live creatively.”
From her article Highly Sensitive Persons – High Sensitivity and Creative Ability.
For help with anxiety, see the Anxiety Relief Solutions site.
For more on being a highly sensitive person and using the trait for creative expression, see the list of posts on the TalentDevelop site, and list of Highly Sensitive articles.
Ashley Judd: “If I engage in perfectionism, I am abusing myself”]
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”