Time is another important yet often invisible dimension of health that is key to understand.
First, a highly sensitive child’s harmony depends on a fluid experience of time. When time is fluid, all activities are intertwined and exist as one, within the environment. We move in sync within the world using our broad sensory attention to understand our existence. Whereas when space and time have been colonized, each is separated and compartmentalized, every activity requires a lot more energy and focus and the overworking of the senses can become a sort of trauma. According to HSP Health, time stress is so much a part of our daily lives in the form of aggressive deadlines, too much work in a short period of time, too many claims on one’s attention.[i]
Second, we can consider ancestral time. This time is composed of the ancestral knowledge and history that influence what we are today. It also incorporate how what we do today, influence who are children will be. For instance, Asian cultures have known for a long time that every aspect of diet and behaviours a mother is exposed to during her lifetime, determine the supply of elements to the foetus. Given the levels of stress in our culture, many pregnant women unintentionally are affecting the health of their children. All the emotional and environmental toxins women are exposed to end up in their children. Unfortunately, many women are unaware of this and have little knowledge of the chemicals they are putting in their bodies.
Further more, becoming aware of family traumas can help us become conscious of these hidden dynamics that play a central role in how we interact with others. Only by conscious aware of them, we can begin the process of healing them through a process of examination and retraining of our ways.
Indeed, an invisible influence of time is generational transmission of trauma. Scientists have been studying what is referred to as ACEs. ACEs denotes adverse childhood experiences, a term coined in the CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study, first published in 1998[ii]. The study revealed that childhood trauma is very common — two-thirds of adults have experienced at least one type of trauma. According to Donna Jackson Nakazawa, journalist and author of the book “Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal”, the consequences of the toxic stress caused by that trauma damages kids’ developing brains (and damaged our developing brains when we were children), as well as our bodies and genes. The ACE Pyramid, illustrated in the figure below, represents the conceptual framework for the ACE Study. It shows the progression of damage ACEs can create within a person.
Figure 17: ACE Pyramid
If two third of adults have experiences ACE, it has often gone untreated. And what has gone untreated is transmitted to the next generation. The book “Lost in transmission: studies of trauma across generations”[iii] builds on the idea that “what human beings cannot contain of their experience—what has been traumatically overwhelming, unbearable, unthinkable—falls out of social discourse, but very often on to and into the next generation as an affective sensitivity or a chaotic urgency.” According to researcher Molly S. Castelloe[iv], these legacies are often passed on through unconscious cues or affective messages that flow between child and adult. Sometimes anxiety falls from one generation to the next through stories told (Fromm, xxi). A highly sensitive child who has been transmitted a previous generation’s trauma can be deeply affected by this process. This means that we must take an honest look at our own traumas, analyses what we are transmitting to our children and learn to communicate these issues instead of letting them operate at an unconscious level. This is hard work.
The alternative, a quick medical intervention or suppression of the issues will allow to learn to listen to our senses and empathic responses.
Third, on more positive note, time has other aspects that are particularly important to highly sensitive children and other gifted children. It can help us reveal the levels of depth and complexity of development that we move in and out of. Highly sensitive children’s development timeframes do not follow a linear time frame. Not only does it take time and slow changes to ease their distress, it is also takes time to understand the layered sensory uniqueness of their situation, which will also change over time.
Central to this model is the idea that we change over time and continuously and that for highly sensitive children, a very slow process, that incorporates small incremental changes is very important to avoid creating more strain through too much simultaneous change. Any new trauma can bring on a regression in development that will also take time to solve.
Slow change allows for deep listening to the senses and empathic awareness to flourish instead of being suppressed.
With so many variables involved, a slow process of change allows examining one element at a time. Also, slow incremental changes tend to be more sustainable in the long-term than drastic quick fixes.
Our behaviours are also altered by time. Our behaviours transform over time depending on how our body exists in space. As our senses uses our awareness to decode sensory input, the way we interact with the world, our thoughts and behaviours adjust to mirror our new insights. When irritable responsiveness is reduced, and the senses rebalance towards a more harmonious relationship with the world, in time, the ability for empathy should increase. Visa versa, when we move forward a more balanced sensory life, we become calmer. As our behaviours transform, so will the quality of our relationship to people.
Over time, the awareness of a person changes as their understanding of themselves, the senses, the environment, space, the body, perceptions of the world also change. In this process, as deep empathy begins to resurface, deep listening can begin to take place and alter our understanding of how to live with others. This can drastically reduce stress and anxieties.
Once anxieties and stressors are reduced, a person or child can start focusing on the rest of the world. As the senses are balanced, instead of constantly struggling with sensory regulation, it becomes possible to distinguish between the self and other and in the process be able to be with others without being overwhelmed. Our understanding and compassion will vary depending on the values we hold and develop and the modalities of engagement we choose will trigger new responses to others. As the empathy sense becomes better understood, we can develop behaviours that incorporate deep listening and other empathy driven modalities.
As these changes in behaviours and social relationships take place, we can begin to analyze our ways of being by reflecting on past experiences and cultures to understand the present and how we behave. As our values change, history and myths can help us frame our new insights with existing stories of how our ancestors dealt with putting these values into actions.
Finally, as our understanding of sensory health changes, so do our values. We are born into the values of our family, community and society. As such as we grow older and go through cycles of change, our values change and become more personal. As cycles of positive disintegration are achieved, an individual moves away from following the rules of a group towards a deeper understanding of his/her identity and creates values more in tune with that understanding of the self. Valuing solitude, for instance, may emerge as a highly sensitive child begins to understand the need to decompress, even if his/her family encourages high level of social activities. Over time, all of these elements can lead us to a deeper sense of awareness.
Dr Aron believes that high levels of awareness and emotional responsiveness are fundamental features of humans characterized as HSPs. Nonetheless, as Stanley Greenspan[v] explains, each child he sees in his practice has a different way of taking in sensations, planning actions, sequencing and so forth. Each has a different sensory profile, different levels of thinking, and different levels of self-awareness. He considers that the key to helping children adjust to their world is to find if there is an underlying cause for potential over or under-stimulation and strengthen their core abilities instead on focusing on surface symptoms.
Central to this model is the cyclical nature of change. For every type of perception that we can attain, those directly related to the layers found in this model: the senses, the body, space, time and our awareness, exist a corresponding type of awareness. To be healthy, highly sensitive children need to learn how to develop self-awareness and over time evolve to incorporate what they have learned in their understanding of the senses, the body, space, time and our awareness itself.
[i] HSP Health (n.d). “Types of Stress”. HSP Health http://www.hsphealth.com/library/what-is-stress/types-of-stress/
[ii] Vincent J Felitti, Robert F Anda, Dale Nordenberg, David F Williamson, Alison M Spitz, Valerie Edwards, Mary P Koss, James S Marks (1998)“Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults”. American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 1998, Volume 14, pages 245–258.
[iii] Fromm, Gerard (2012). Lost in Transmission: Studies of Trauma Across Generations. London: Karnac Books.
[iv] Castelloe, Molly S (2012). “How Trauma Is Carried Across Generations: Holding the secret history of our ancestors.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-me-in-we/201205/how-trauma-is-carried-across-generations. Posted May 28, 2012
[v] Greenspan, Stanley (2009). Overcoming ADHD: Helping Your Child Become Calm, Engaged, and Focused–Without a Pill (Merloyd Lawrence Books)