The body has an internal and external plane. The internal plane regulates what is going on inside of us. The external plane relates to elements from the outside world that influence the body and visa versa that the body influences.
On the internal plane, we can observe highly sensitive child behaviours using the traditional holistic health determinants: genetic, physical, biological (nutritional, chemical, genetic), emotional, cognitive and spiritual (and/or psychological depending on beliefs).
On the external plane of being, a subtler dimension is the inter-connection of the senses to the environment as we saw previously. It may seem redundant to include to spatial aspects in this section but it is important to acknowledge the feedback loop that exist between different dimensions of being. We must distinguish between spatial communication inputs, how space influences our sense and spatial communication feedback: the signals the body puts back into space. Thus a second layer of space exists in this model. At this level, we are concerned with what we are introducing into the environment. We can be in-tune with the environment when in a positive state or we can be in complete discordance and affect the environment negatively.
All these aspects influence each other and changes in perception of one, will alter the others, as illustrated by the spiral in the figure below. As such, many of the health elements belong to multiple dimensions at the same time, they move through the various dimensions, and one change in perception in one quadrant will transform what is in the others and influence the outer layer of the person, via behavioural changes.
Genealogy: Ethnicity/ Genetics Health Quadrant
The highly sensitive trait is becoming increasingly associated with identifiable behaviours, genes, physiological reactions, and patterns of brain activation (Stony Brook 2014)[i].
Understanding the impact of our genealogy on our children is an important step in the process of well-being. As we saw in chapter 4, our ancestors shaped who we are today culturally, genetically and chemically. Our reactions to food and the environments depend in large on our genealogy. Furthermore, psychologists recognize that there is a “genetic memory”: “ a memory present at birth that exists in the absence of sensory experience, and is incorporated into the genome over long spans of time (Rodolfo , 2001, p. 190-191).[ii] It is based on the idea that common experiences of a species become incorporated into its genetic code, by a tendency to encode a readiness to respond in certain ways to certain stimuli. There is also a “blood memory”, a chemical trail that is past amongst generations as well as a cultural memory that shapes our values and ways of being in the world. As Gabor Maté explains:
“Parenting, in short, is a dance of the generations. Whatever affected one generation but has not been fully resolved will be passed on to the next. Lance Morrow, a journalist and writer, succinctly expressed the multigenerational nature of stress in his book heart (…): “The generations are boxes within boxes: Inside my mother’s violence you find another box, which contains my grand-father’s violence, and inside that box (I suspect but do not know), you would find another box with some black, secret energy – stories within stories, receding in time.”[iii]
In other word, some traits are transmitted transgenerationally. This has tremendous consequences in our sensory abilities, chemical and spiritual life as well as emotional. Generational pain and fears or well being are not only a family issue, they also exist in our various forms of spirituality, culture and tradition and are highly personal components that affect our health. These ancestral influences have a direct impact on our body, mind and spirit and tacitly affect all quadrants of our health.
While we inherit traits from our family, our genes adapt to our environmental contexts. According to Scott Barry Kaufman Ph.D;
“in recent years, studies have shown the importance of gene by environment interactions. But here’s the thing: we’re not just finding that the environment matters in determining whether mental illness exists. What we’re discovering is far more interesting and nuanced: some of the very same genes that under certain environmental conditions are associated with some of the lowest lows of humanity, under supportive conditions are associated with the highest highs of human flourishing.
These findings shouldn’t be understated. They are revolutionary, and suggest a serious rethinking of the role of genes in the manifestation of our psychological traits and mental “illness”. Instead of all of our genes coding for particular psychological traits, it appears we have a variety of genetic mutations that are associated with sensitivity to the environment– for better and worse”[iv].
This is a clue as to why medicating children with “out of sync” behaviours can be very detrimental. Our genes can adapt to the environment and when we chemically alter the brain, we interrupt the natural adaptation process we possess. Could autism be an extreme reaction to environment stress that eventually lead to genetic mutations that protect the individual? Could sensitivity affected by trauma (chemical, emotional, etc) alter our genes and affect our children? Slowly, the answer is moving towards a definite yes. While the past influence what we are at birth, what we become can change if our environment changes.
In the presentation “Differential Susceptibility to Environmental Influences”, Dr. Jay Belsky explains that genes are moderators of environmental effects and that we are armed with a cumulative genetic plasticity[v]. Other researchers have pinned point a specific gene for this plasticity. Variation in the gene CHRNA4 appears to contribute to personality by affecting degree of developmental sensitivity to both normal and adverse environments[vi].
This is another reason learning self-regulation skills is essential, it can positively affect our genes. According to Belsky and his team:
”the capacity to control or regulate one’s emotions, cognitions and behavior is central to competent functioning, with limitations in these abilities associated with developmental problems. Parenting appears to influence such self-regulation. Here the differential-susceptibility hypothesis is tested that the more putative ‘plasticity alleles’ adolescents carry, the more positively and negatively influenced they will be by, respectively, supportive and unsupportive parenting.”[vii]
These findings suggest that if we eliminate toxicity from highly sensitive children’s lives, and as a consequence reduce life stressors, and focus instead on creating sensory nourishing environments, we can alter their genetic make up. This could help them thrive as adults not only genetically but also in all other aspects of health and in the process drastically reduce mental health problems and significantly decrease any symptoms currently associated with an illness or learning disability.
Emotional/cognitive Health Quadrant
Given that highly sensitive children feel their emotions in a much deeper way than others, their emotional health is crucial to being in sync with the world. When their world is toxic, children will most likely experience sensory disruption, not being in a calm and alert state means that stress and anxieties becomes a daily underlying struggle that will negatively impact their nervous central system. Indeed, research shows that children with sensory processing disorder and sensory processing differences have a greater tendency to switch from the PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) to the SNS (sympathetic nervous system) based on an adverse stimuli or an environment with new or a great amount of sensory stimuli. One study in particular found that children with sensory modulation issues had less effective parasympathetic functions than typically developing children[viii].
Angie Voss, an occupational therapist specialized in sensory processing differences explains that when we are in a calm alert state, we are using our parasympathetic nervous system: This is where our nervous remains most of the time and when we are at “ready state” for learning, and social interaction. But when sensory disruption happens, the sympathetic nervous system comes into play and we enter a state of “fight or flight”. This part of our nervous system is intended for safety and the ability to react to a perceived dangerous situation, it governs the ‘involuntary’ visceral processes. According to Angie Voss:
“children with sensory defensiveness or who over-register sensory input perceive their environment as dangerous and painful based on how they process sensory information. Therefore their nervous system switches to the SNS and displays a “fight or flight” response. A child who has a difficult time processing and modulating sensory input can also have the tendency to switch to “fight or flight”. And almost all children with sensory differences have a difficult time with self-regulation, in turn, a greater risk for “fight or flight” episodes”[ix]
According to Roz Carroll, this “fight or flight” process is the body’s natural response to perceived threat or danger. It is important to note that the response can be due to both real and imaginary threats. During this reaction, certain hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released, speeding the heart rate, slowing digestion, shunting blood flow to major muscle groups, and changing various other autonomic nervous functions, giving the body a burst of energy and strength. Originally named for its ability to enable us to physically fight or run away when faced with danger, it’s now activated in situations where neither response is appropriate, like in traffic or during a stressful day at work. When the perceived threat is gone, systems are designed to return to normal function via the relaxation response, but in our times of chronic stress, this often doesn’t happen enough, causing damage to the body[x].
This reaction is an acute hormonal reaction meant to be a response to temporary acute stress, the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous systems stimulates the adrenal glands triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. After the threat is gone, it takes between 20 to 60 minutes for the body to return to its pre-arousal levels.When this stress goes unnoticed, this hormonal reaction becomes continuous and can begin to create long-term damage and trauma to the body and mind.
HSP Health discusses a type of accumulated stress that can be thought of as another type of stress. When stress is unrelenting it will accumulate if we are not able to take the time, for whatever reason, to restore our bodies and psyches. If the stresses come from many directions, work, home etc., then we may not notice the stress accumulation taking place.[xi]
The body however will pay the consequence. The brain begins to always feel “anxious” when it switches to fight or flight all of the time. And the cumulative result of this releases more and more of the stress hormones throughout the body.
Angie Voss, after years of experience with sensory disruption, started to see a pattern. Many or most of these children also had a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD, OCD, and/or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). She considers that these other diagnoses are often just the symptoms, and “side effects” of sensory processing difficulties. Her professional opinion, formed from years of experience, is that almost all children with sensory differences have difficulty with self-regulation and modulating (processing) the ever changing sensory input coming into the brain on a constant basis:
“This can be very unpredictable, scary, painful, and uncomfortable for the child. As a result, anxiety is almost always going to be a factor. It is a very reasonable symptom and a result of the difficulty in processing sensory information…wouldn’t you be anxious if being touched or a loud unexpected sound or loud voice/laugh was painful and caused a fight or flight reaction? I sure would be!!! This is what is happening for our children…and it creates a generalized anxiety response to their little world.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms are also quite common. The way I see this and correlate this to sensory challenges is via “sensory anchors”. When a child is dysregulated and feeling disorganized, sensory anchors are used to help the brain feel good and feel a sense of control. This is when you will typically see OCD symptoms at their finest. So a child will do something that feels good to the nervous system such as lining up toys or counting things out in repetition because their little world is so unpredictable and they do not feel in control of their body or brain, and especially the environment…so they do something they CAN control.
And ADD/ADHD is probably the most misdiagnosed, over diagnosed, and medicated diagnosis out there. The components of ADD/ADHD go hand in hand with sensory processing disorder. If a child’s brain is unable to sort out irrelevant sensory stimuli then OF COURSE they will be easily distracted and have trouble attending! And…if the child’s brain is under registering sensory input and not getting the necessary and proper sensory nutrition in which the brain needs to attend and maintain a ready state for learning, behavior, and social skills…OF COURSE they will also be so called “hyperactive”! They are trying to get sensory input on a constant basis!
Please respect these side effects/symptoms and address them via sensory integration. Find sensory tools and strategies that work for your child. It may be tools for defensiveness or a sensory retreat to help self-regulate. Living a sensory life and applying sensory strategies in the home is critical for success.” [xii]
Voss stresses the importance of addressing the root of the problem, which is most likely an over or under registration of sensory input. When you get to the root of the problem and address the foundation of sensory development, the rest begins to fall into place.
But when sensory processing difficulties remain unresolved, a child is left to be in a constant state of anxieties, which will lead to physiological, social, behavioural and emotional instabilities.
Dr. Stephen Porges, Director of the Brain-Body Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, developed the Polyvagal Theory that establishes how trauma creates physiological responses. According to occupational therapist blogger Teresa Garland:
“Polyvagal Theory claims that the nervous system employs a hierarchy of strategies to both regulate itself and to keep us safe in the face of danger. In fact, it’s all about staying safe.
Our “highest” level strategy is a mechanism Porges calls social engagement. It is a phenomenal system – connecting the social muscles of the face (eyes, mouth and middle ear) with the heart. You knew that your heart came alive with social interaction, and it’s true! This system is regulated through a myelinated branch of the vagus nerve. In evolutionary terms, this is our most evolved strategy (mammals only) for keeping ourselves safe. We use this all the time to clear up misunderstandings, get help, plead for forgiveness, and so on.
The next mechanism, or strategy, is fight or flight. It’s regulated by the sympathetic nervous system. This system is our fall-back strategy when social engagement isn’t a good fit. (Think of seeing someone sneaking up on you!) Note that freeze is not a part of fight or flight.
Our freeze option is primal and is a remnant of our reptilian past. Freeze is a great strategy for turtles and lizards, but it’s usually a bad idea for humans – think of fainting. Therefore, we typically use it last, when social engagement and fight/flight aren’t going to work for us. But there are good uses for freeze. During severe injury, it shuts us down and turns off our registration of pain. We also make use of it during sex, and it helps women regulate pain and response to pain during labor.
Now these systems appear to work in tandem. The social engagement system puts the brakes on the other (fight, flight, freeze) strategies, thus keeping our heart and body active while we work through a situation. The social engagement system will release the brakes to engage a different response to the environment (i.e. running) if engagement doesn’t help to get us into a safe situation.”
Garland links these findings to sensory experiences. When we are operating using the social exchange, our gut and other organs do their job uninterrupted. But sensory sensitive children, who can recoil from sound, touch, smell or taste, are not able to work from our social engagement strategy, they revert to a modified fight/flight strategy, which puts them in high alert. If they use too much of the fight/flight or freeze strategies, they may end up with gut issues because the gut comes to a halt and we stop digesting food during fight/flight activation.
As she explains, researchers are beginning to understand how sensory difference also implies a difference in physiological response to stress:
“Two researchers looked at a biological marker of the social exchange system, RSA, in typical children and in children with sensory modulation issues. RSA is the measure of high-frequency fluctuation in the heart between heartbeats. It is a window into the social exchange system. The researchers found that children with sensory modulation issues have a lower level of RSA than their peers, meaning that these children are better prepared to put the breaks on social strategies and instead use fight-or-flight strategies.
As part of the study, the children were (each in turn) given a sensory challenge. The chairs they were seated on tilted backwards unexpectedly. The level of RSA was monitored in each child throughout the incident. The RSA of typical children dropped quickly and then stayed low for a short time. The children with poor sensory modulation skills had a very brief drop of RSA and a quick rebound to their RSA baseline.
This implies that children with sensory modulation symptoms use different strategies to handle safety-related situations than their peers. At this time, it is harder to draw greater conclusions since we do not have an easy-access window into the fight/flight system or the freeze system. With time, we’ll get a better understanding of this. The article can be found here.[xiii]
Perhaps the most interesting new work making use of the Polyvagal Theory is the work of A. D. (Bud) Craig. Mapping our emotions, this is what he found. (Read about it here.)[xiv]
Emotions arise from feelings in our organs and gut. The feelings are sent via the vagus nerve to the Anterior Insular Cortex (AIC) in the brain. (There’s a lot going on in the vagus nerve – think of it as a cable with lots of separate wires.) The AIC captures feelings over time and stores them as snapshots of feelings. This is our working emotional memory. These feelings are massaged and integrated with the social exchange to give us both an emotional response to the world around us as well as a safety-driven strategy.
Think of this: I am relaxing in a lounge chair on the beach. I feel safe. Suddenly, a beach ball hits me. My fight or flight instinct kicks in and the sympathetic nervous system stops everything that’s happening (i.e. digestion) in my organs and gut. The gut passes the feeling of stoppage as “alarm” to the brain. This translates in the brain to fear and my body is set in motion. I quickly turn and see it’s a ball and that a child is nearby and smiling at me. My social engagement strategy puts the breaks on my fight/flight response and also calms my heart. I smile at the child. This sends a sense of relief to my gut and it in turn sends a “warm” feeling to the AIC. My heart is still pounding from the surprise, but my response is guided by compassion.
In the above scenario, we specifically looked at a situation with a challenge to safety. But in fact, we spend much of our time worrying about safety. Unless I am completely safe, listening to quiet music in a locked room, I will most likely have safety challenges to respond to. The challenge may be from the scary book I am reading, or from the sense of anxiety I feel when I drop a spoon on the floor. Almost any activity will involve the combined interaction of the various strategies. The bottom line: we are constantly adjusting ourselves to meet the world. Polyvagal Theory gives us a look at how this works.” [xv]
Highly sensitive children’s limbic system is very intense and reactive (self-regulation and emotions) therefore the child may feel and process emotions much stronger than the average person. This phenomenon has been studies and one scientific study[xvi] showed that people with social phobias and anxieties are hypersensitive to other people’s states of mind. People who are more socially anxious are able to discern the mental states of people much more accurately. Results from the study support the hypothesis that high socially anxious individuals may demonstrate a unique social-cognitive abilities profile with elevated cognitive empathy tendencies and high accuracy in affective mental state attributions. The researchers used specific testing to measure levels of empathy within specific individuals, and found that those same individuals demonstrated high levels of social anxiety-like behaviour. This suggests that there is a connection between social anxiety and high empathy.
Highly sensitive children often have a very strong need to succeed, and a fear of failing or making mistakes. They tend to fear change and need predictability in their lives. This can lead to mental stress. Mental stress factors include worry, anxiety, fear, impossible expectations or demands, unreasonable expectations or demands, inappropriate expectations or demands, inflexible thinking, resistance to necessary change, powerlessness.
Worrying in itself is not a negative trait. According to researchers at SUNY Downstate medical center, Worrying may have evolved along with intelligence as a beneficial trait. According to the J. Coplan and his team[xvii], it may well be that intelligence may have co-evolved with worry in humans. As Coplan explains:
“While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be,” (…) “In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates. Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species.”[xviii]
Highly sensitive children possess a heightened awareness of sensory input, some sensory systems being more heightened than others; they have an acute awareness of “the big picture” understanding very complex concepts of life at a much younger age. When they do not know how to self-regulate, emotional upset and quick mood changes are sure to follow and go hand in hand. Depending on their temperament, some children with anxiety as a result of a nervous system that over-registers sensory input will also have very quick shifts in emotions, while those who under-registers sensory input or presents with other sensory processing challenges may lack emotions and have more of a “flat affect” (lack of emotion) and also demonstrate difficulty in reading emotional cues from others[xix]. But this lack of reading is most likely due to a process of shut down when the stimuli is too painful.
Emotional health for a highly sensitive child must address. Helping them how to approach over-excitabilities, intensity and positive disintegration processes as being normal to their lives and learn how to regulate these uniqueness instead of suppressing them. As in their case, suppression can only lead to further emotional stress as adults. Emotional stress factors can be feelings of fear and dread, rejection, abandonment, anger as well as guilt, shame, embarrassment and humiliation.[xx]
Stressful emotional states change the balance of hormones, which in turn modifies how skin reacts to stimuli and increases sensory and/or emotional irritability. This can affect our immune system and increase food and sensorial sensitivities, among others. And visa versa, food affects our emotional energy making it more or less positive or negative and, in turn, influences our ability to have healthy or toxic social relationships by affecting our moods and sensory capacities.
Emotions work in tandem with our thoughts, the cognitive level of our being, which is important to consider, as certain thought patterns are more or less helpful to our health. Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas are the first to substantiate memory deficits in individuals with depressed mood. Such findings indicate that emotions, in this case negative, will affect cognitive capacities (Center for BrainHealth. (2015)[xxi]. In the case of children, this memory loss can be misdiagnosed as a learning disability. Without addressing the underlying emotional issues, such as depression or anxieties, a child can be stigmatized for cognitive conditions he/she does not have.
Not surprisingly, highly sensitive children can easily develop very low esteem, especially when their identities, experiences and behaviours are not validated by cultural and social expectations. Thus the importance to help them develop positive though patterns and reduces negative self-talk. Barbara Fredrickson developed the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. The theory asserts that people’s daily experiences of positive emotions compound over time to build a variety of consequential personal resources. Using field experiments, she examined the impact of meditation on positive thinking, her research results:
“showed that this meditation practice produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms). In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms. “(Fredrickson, 2008)[xxii]
These findings were among the first to suggest positive emotions broaden your sense of possibility and open your mind up to more options. The biggest benefit of positive emotions is an enhanced ability to build skills and develop resources for use later in life.
For Fredrickson, positive emotions broaden our sense of possibilities and open our mind, which in turn allows us to build new skills and resources that can provide value in other areas of our life. While negative emotions do the opposite, since building skills for future use is irrelevant when there is immediate threat or danger and the flight or fight hormones take hold.
Healthy emotions will help them handle life’s challenges, build strong relationships, and lead productive, fulfilling lives. It will allow them to bounce back when bad things happen and to manage stress without falling apart.
Fredrickson’s research revealed that people who meditate daily display more positive emotions that those who do not and also built valuable long-term skills. For example, three months after the experiment was over, the people who meditated daily continued to display increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms.
Although yoga and meditation have been used for stress reduction with reported improvement in inflammation, other researchers are exploring the biological mechanisms mediating such effects. David Black and his team have found that meditation reduces cortisol and increases melatonin, and this changes the pattern of gene expression (Black et al, 2012)[xxiii]
Positive emotions also affect our heart’s electromagnetic field, which contains certain information, or coding that is transmitted throughout and outside of the body. Some researchers posit that intentionally generated positive emotions can change this information/coding:
“ That discovery raises the question whether the cardioelectromagnetic field information transmitted from an individual who is angry, fearful, depressed or experiencing some other negative emotion, takes on beneficial properties when it is influenced by positive emotions. Also, is the care, compassion, love or other positive emotion not only transmitted throughout an individual’s body as the cardioelectromagnetic field radiates through it, but transferred externally as well to people in close proximity or even, perhaps, over long distances?“[xxiv]
As we explored earlier, sensory difficulties can lead to emotional problems and visa versa, emotional difficulties can aggravate sensory difficulties. Both can result in physiological difficulties and negatively influence a child’s behaviours but other elements also affect our physiology.
Physical/Biological Health Quadrants
Highly sensitive children can also suffer from physical stress. Physical stress factors are poor food, unsuitable diet, too little sleep, excessive noise, bright lights, strong scents, all kinds of chemicals in household products, paints, and clothes, too strenuous physical labour, heavy lifting inappropriate for one’s age, multitasking, too many hours of work, too much sun, extreme and sudden changes in weather, excessive speed or changes in speed, all forms of environmental pollution. Keeping track of such stress is essential to a highly sensitive child as constant stress can lead to chronic disease. While modern science and medicine is beginning to acknowledge this connection between stress and disease, ancient Ayreveda health tradition understood a long time ago how toxins affect the body. As explained by HSP Health:
“According to the ancient medical system of Ayurveda, disease develops in a six stage process:
the body accumulates toxins. For the HSP, stresses to the nervous system are toxic and so great that an HSP has no choice but to intervene at the source of the problem to have any chance at health.
the body starts to become aggravated by the spread of the imbalancing toxic factor in the body
the aggravating imbalances spread into the body
the beginning of structural damage
the manifestation of illness
the development of a chronic disease due to unattended imbalances over a long period of time, a situation that an HSP can minimize by learning to eliminate imbalances.”[xxv]
It is clear that diet and exercise are important to health, as we will explore in the next chapter. Without exercise toxins are not eliminated quickly from the body and can lead to depression and/or anxiety. A Sensory diet is also crucial to a highly sensitive child, as the body needs a constant balancing of sensory inputs. Issues we will also explore in the next chapter. But sometimes, it is not possible to address this aspect of health when emotional health is very damaged.
Another particularity of highly sensitive children is that they can be extra sensitive to pain and to internal bodily processes. They tend to recover more slowly from illness, trauma and medical procedures. They also can be extra sensitive to medications and can experience different therapeutic effects and side effects from them; this sometimes makes it more difficult to treat their medical conditions. And in some cases, medication will increase the toxicity of the body.
As a naturopath explained to me, highly sensitive children who have heightened chemical reactions, actually have a very healthy immune system, which is partly why they easily show signs of distress/stress. We are chemical beings and part of the sensory system functions is to detect chemical signatures from space and from what we ingest.
It must be understood that our chemical body influences our ability to feel lethargic or able to move and chemical imbalances can also alter our moods and our ability to be social.
Such imbalance can come from food. We tend to forget that food is chemistry. Yet, it is our original form of medicinal remedies. The nature of the foods we eat changes our chemical body, and as a result our energy and emotional levels.
Spiritual/psychological Health Quadrant
Spirituality/psychology are another important quadrant to incorporate, as having a purpose beyond ourselves is important in situating ourselves in the world but also directs our understanding of spatial knowledge. These two levels are combined as they echo each other in their relation to our inner desires which, depending on the belief system we abide by, are the manifestations of our soul or unconscious mind.
Helping a highly sensitive child connect to spirituality can help alleviate potential mental health difficulties. Researcher M. king has found that people who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder[xxvi]. In a spiritual sense, some illnesses result from not fulfilling the inner desires of the soul, and in a psychological sense, illness, depression, anxiety can appear when an individual is not true to his/her inner soul/psyche needs. In both cases, dreams are central to finding solutions, by communicating with spirits or with the unconscious. Could the empathic sense be a key to this communication? Could suppression of the empathic sense results in depriving the inner soul of needed nourishment?
Given the culture we live in, with so many problems and inequalities, a highly sensitive child can easily feel disconnected and powerless. As we saw, these children who can accurately feel, interpret, and sense the thoughts and emotions of others and feel interconnected to their environment and detect threats before other people. These qualities can make them feel powerless in front of a world that is in need of repair. Spirituality can become a way to channel some of their qualities and help them develop a belief system to survive the sense of powerlessness they feel during childhood.
Figure 16: Body Dimension of Health
All of these quadrants are in constant fluid interactions and an imbalance in one can affect the others. While we cannot address this complexity of issues all at once, we can use this matrix of influences to begin the process of de-cluttering the senses of our children. This will help detoxify the space within which they live, as we will see next.
Space As a Feedback System
As we saw, space includes many dimensions that affect the senses. When trying to understand unbalanced spatial sensorial input, we can break it down into more distinct components. Space is composed of Nature, artificial places (rooms, buildings, etc), culture which dictates how we interact with space, beings (animals, plants and people) which affect us and chemistry that can emanate from any of these components or objects or substance, and culture.
But highly sensitive children are not just influenced by space, they also contribute to its make up. Their energy, positive or negative, is distributed within space and influences all of its elements. I have watched someone in a very repressed, toxic, emotional state make my herb garden wilt. The energy from this person was so intense, that over a short period of time he passed on this energy to what surround him, plants but also people and animals. Cats ran away from him and children began highly anxious in his presence.
If it is clear that we behave in space differently based on the positive or negative nature of our body and identity, it is not yet understood that we also affect our environment. Part of a feedback loop, all the elements that can affect a child, as seen earlier in this chapter, can in turn be affected by the child. This is crucial to understand as it can have serious consequences for a child.
Let say for instance that you are visiting friends with a very friendly dog, but for some reason your child gets bitten, what could be the reason? Or is your child getting bullied? In both cases, how the child feels may be influencing the dog or people. If the child is highly anxious and sends out very negative signals, the dog could simply sense danger and react. Or a child’s very low self-esteem can be sensed by others whom, when themselves not well, use it against that child.
Technology: An Outer Skin Layer
We can also explore the role of technology in helping our children simplify spatially embodied social experiences to practice these situations without the physical discomforts of sensory over loads. And of course, our understanding of the relationship of space to social life must be revisited to take into account technologies as potential communication and learning tools. Technology can be helpful for retraining of the brain, an area we will explore in chapter 8. While technology can be toxic in many ways, it can also play a role in fostering positive emotional, sensory and physiological self-regulation via simulation and other types of gaming strategies. Over time, these can help a highly sensitive child learn to regulate various aspects of his or her sensory life.
[i] Stony Brook Newsroom (2014). “Sensitive? Emotional? Empathetic? It Could be in Your Genes”. http://sb.cc.stonybrook.edu/news/medical/140623empatheticAron.php
[ii] Rodolfo R. Llinas (2001). I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self. MIT Press. pp. 190–191.
[iii] Maté, Gabor (2003). When the body says no. The cost of hidden stress. Alfred A. Knopp Canada, Random House.
[iv] Kaufman, Scott Barry (2012). “New Sensitivity Gene Discovered”. Beautiful Minds. Dec 14, 2012.https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201212/new-sensitivity-gene-discovered
[v] Belsky, Jay (2010). Differential Susceptibility to Environmental Influences. Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues. Berkbeck, University of London. 17 November 2010. Retrieved from: http://www.med.uio.no/klinmed/forskning/sentre/seraf/aktuelt/arrangementer/konferanser/konferanser-2010/presentasjoner-children-at-risk/Jay%20Belsky_Differential%20Susceptibility%20to%20environmental%20influences.pdf
[vi] Rachael G. Grazioplene, Colin G. DeYoung, Fred A. Rogosch, and Dante Cicchetti. “A novel differential susceptibility gene: CHRNA4 and moderation of the effect of maltreatment on child personality ”. chol Psychiatry 2012; *(*): **–**
[vii] Belsky, J. and Beaver, K. M. (2011), Cumulative-genetic plasticity, parenting and adolescent self-regulation. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52: 619–626. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02327.x
[viii] Schaaf, R.C., Miller, L.J., Seawell, D., & O’Keefe, S. ( 2003). Children with disturbances in sensory processing: A pilot study examining the role of the parasympathetic nervous system. AJOT, 57. Retrieved at http://www.spdfoundation.net/resources/library/articles/millerpara/
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