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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Highly Sensitive People seem to develop fibromyalgia

I have always been interested in new theories and scientific research related to healthcare and human behavior.  It seems that behavioral science is coming closer to unraveling the fibromyalgia mystery.  I am active on a fibromyalgia forum and was interested to see a post that had been made by a psychologist involved in research.  This psychologist is evaluating the effect that childhood experiences have had on the development of fibromyalgia.  The theory being studied is that people with fibromyalgia have had an overprotective or unpredictable childhood that resulted in stress.  One of the interesting factors is this stress was not recognized as a stressor by the child.  In addition, it is thought that the absence of non-performance based acceptance and predictability is enough to cause serious psychological wounds.  Other characteristics that are implicated in fibromyalgia are perfectionism, needing to hold it all together, using your head to make decisions regardless of how you feel, poor self care, always being there for others to help fix their problems and having a Type A personality.  Certainly some interesting research.

The August 2011 issue of Psychology Today had an article titled Sense and Sensitivity.  This article discusses concepts regarding the 20 percent of the population that are highly sensitive people.  The highly sensitive person absorbs the moods and feelings of others around them and is able to sense moods in an entire room and cultural trends too.  The highly sensitive person is "attuned to subtleties of all kinds, they have a complex inner life and need time to process the constant flow of sensory data that is their inheritance."  The highly sensitive person has a nervous system that is set to register stimuli at a very low frequency and then these stimuli are amplified internally.  It is thought that the highly sensitive person is particularly prone to disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.  The highly sensitive person gets their feelings bruised easily and tend to personalize the behavior of others and the negative comments that are made, even if the comment isn't directed at them.  It seems the highly sensitive person has a highly permeable nervous system and is highly emotional; they tend to cry easily if they receive an unexpected compliment, feel sentimental about a scene before them, or express a sentiment to another person.  If they are the subject of gentle ribbing they may brood for days.  The highly sensitive person reacts strongly to everything in their environment, which places heavy cognitive demands on them and the need for extra processing time.  It seems that highly sensitive people even react to fragrances that may give them headaches, and paints, pesticides or trace elements in the air which may be disabling.  These people suffer more from migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, allergies and fibromyalgia.  The article goes on to say that HSP's have a distinct personality type that matches their touchy nervous system.  "They perceive the slightest sensory or emotional provocation, then respond with a flurry of brain activity that begets an outsize reaction -- rumination, tears, histrionics, on one hand, or unbridled enthusiasm on the other.  Their personalities may run the gamut from moody to dramatic -- all the product of their unique biology."  HSP's make compassionate friends who truly care about others, they channel beauty from the world into art and music and they notice small things that others miss.  If HSP's reside in safe environments and are protected from the negativity of others, they can flourish.  "HSP's inhabit a teeming world of vibrant colors, sharp smells, striking sounds, and powerful tugs at their emotions."  Does any of this sound familiar to you?  I'm sure it does if you are suffering from fibromyalgia.  My synopsis here does not do this article justice; I would recommend that you locate this article and read it in its entirety.

So what can you do to enjoy the gift that you have been given, but one that can cause so much emotional and physical pain?  The answer isn't simply to "toughen up".  It isn't possible and why would you want to change who you are anyway?  I'm sure you frequently feel out of step with others and that can be a lonely place.  It is beneficial to find others that possess the same gifts you have so you may feel some comraderie with others.  You do need to be aware that you will be with others that are hypersensitive, which can result in interpersonal fireworks!  It is critical to avoid people that are immersed in negativity and to create a positive, supportive environment for yourself.  Having a better understanding of the sensitivity you have to your environment means that you can provide the time you need to process the volumes of cognitive information that is bombarding you and to give yourself some time to refresh.  Being bombarded with so much environmental stimuli can be exhausting and you already feel exhausted!  So pacing yourself when going out of the house is a key strategy for not overdoing it.  It is also beneficial to recognize the situations and people that create a sense of dissonance.  Avoiding these types of situations and people will keep you more centered and grounded.  When you have an emotional response to something in your environment you will feel exhausted afterward so be kind and gentle with yourself when you are exposed to emotional situations.  Creating a kinder and gentler environment for yourself that allows you to be who you are will give you an opportunity to thrive in a world that frequently can be quite harsh.  Blessings to you and take good care!

Bartz, Andrea.  (2011, August)  Sense and Sensitivity, Psychology Today, pg 72 - 79.
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