The Highs and Lows of The Very Sensitive Person, or the “Artistic Temperament”

Have you known someone (maybe you) who seems to be more affected by life’s ups and downs than most people? A film about genocide can leave them absolutely shaken, or a beautiful piece of art can give them an exaltation that few experience. They may stay in bed for days after writing a piece of poetry or having a difficult fight with a friend. Some psychologists call this the “artistic temperament”; others call it being very sensitive. Some might call it simply being neurotic. What is it? First, is not simply an issue of getting your feelings hurt easily, but a whole way of subjectively experiencing the world differently than most of the population. And it can be a very good thing.

Sensitivity and Creativity

In fact, there has long been a connection between neuroticism and creativity. The mania of bipolar disorder for composers, writers, and artists has been shown to heighten imaginative and creative powers that are simply not accessed by people not suffering from the condition. Think Lord Byron, Alexander Hamilton, and Jimi Hendrix. Unfortunately, because of their soaring creativity and often unparalleled artistic productiveness, the artistically gifted strongly resist taking medication to manage their condition. It dampens their creative juices, and they feel lifeless and dead when medicated. At the same time, mood stabilizers provide sleep enhancement and relief from depression and suicidal impulses. It is their Sophie’s choice to be either a chemically balanced and artistically numb average joe or to be an artistic powerhouse with almost preternatural powers on the verge of being mentally unhinged.

For the very sensitive person who does not necessarily suffer from Bipolar Disorder, the jury is out on how much of this sensitivity is nurture, nature, or a delicate dance between the two. What clear is that once very sensitive people reach adult age, they are generally hard-wired as such; this sensitivity is integral to who they are and how they experience the world and interact with others. Very sensitive people, in general, simply feel things differently, and more strongly. Studies show that they look at artwork and photographs for longer periods of time, and feel more deeply moved by it, and remember more detail of the work. They are also more affected by the moods of others, and often have a better intuitive sense of what others are thinking and feeling, and whether or not they are in pain; in fact, they can often find the feelings of others so strong that they are overwhelmed by them, and in extreme cases can feel the feelings of others so strongly that they end up feeling things ”for” them.

The Benefits of Sensitivity

Does this mean being highly sensitive is always a bad thing? Certainly not. But if you are a very sensitive person, you probably already know that you are different, and may feel some sense of marginalization and isolation because of it. You may compensate for this feeling by withdrawing from social situations or overcompensating with false bravado. And if you feel things too strongly, it can be hard to function in a world that does not experience things so acutely as you do. These feelings need to be managed, and if you can accept your feelings of being different, and perhaps think of it as a gift, there are plenty of advantages to being Very Sensitive.

For example, most certainly the very sensitive are more acutely attuned to both internal and external stimuli, and this includes the feelings of themselves and of other people. This tends to make very sensitive people more conscientious and attentive to other people. This sensitivity makes you a better friend and intimate. Also, if developed in the right way it is the foundation for leadership and positions of prominence. People want to follow those that assimilate information well, are intuitive, understand them, and will do the right thing. Very Sensitive people are such people.

Very sensitive people also have a rich imaginative life and inner world. They tend to be more creative, and often possess talents that are one of a kind-think Jim Carrey, Marcel Proust, and Robert De Niro. It takes a special kind of talent to express the pain that they feel so intensely and universalize it for the rest of us.

Very sensitive people, with all of their gifts, need to value their own unique insight and subjective experience. Since they see and experience the world differently and more intensely, their gift can be highly valuable to friends, family, and those out in the world if the very sensitive person values these gifts in themselves.

If you need help managing and appreciating your sensitivity, Jennifer De Francisco practices psychotherapy in the Orange County, Irvine, and Newport Beach area.  Please feel free to contact her at (949) 251-8797.

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