Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. There have been over 360 of them now and if you would like to check out previous ones, go to www.batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P, click on the past interviews menu and you’ll see them all categorized in various ways. You can subscribe to an audio podcast of the show and you’ll start to load up on your iPod or whatever and you can listen to them, skip ones that bore you, listen to ones that interest you. There’s hundreds of hours to check out. This show is made possible by the support of appreciative viewers and listeners, and so if you appreciate it and feel like supporting it to any degree, there’s a donate button on every page of the site. So, my guest this hour is Ted Zeff, Ph.D. Ted is the author of “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide,” “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Companion,” “The Strong Sensitive Boy,” and “The Power of Sensitivity.” In other words, he’s into sensitivity. Elaine Aron, Ph.D., who’s an old friend of mine, also the author of “The Highly Sensitive Person,” has written the forward to his books about sensitive people. Dr. Zeff’s books have sold more than 75,000 copies and have been translated into eight languages. He has more than 25 years’ experience counselling sensitive children and adults. He currently teaches workshops and consults internationally on coping strategies for highly sensitive children and adults, and has given presentations around the world in various countries and in the U.S. You might wonder why I’m interviewing Ted about this topic. One reason is that I think that, and we’ll hear what Ted has to say about this in a second, among spiritual people, the types of spiritual aspirants, people interested in spirituality, non-duality and so on, the types of people who would be watching this show, there’s probably a higher incidence of high sensitivity. In fact, I was just at a conference in San Jose, the Science and Non-Duality Conference, and everyone was echoing what my experience was, was that we were all very overstimulated by the atmosphere. It’s like highly charged spiritual atmosphere, and there’s all this talking, and you’re running into all these people, and you’re going to all these things, and you get in bed at night and you’re buzzing, you know, hoping you can get to sleep. So people were all resorting to melatonin and hot baths and whatnot. But in any case, I think that maybe a lot of viewers of this show will relate to this topic, and Ted will have some practical advice about how to deal with being highly sensitive. And it’s not a curse, it’s a blessing, as we’ll discuss. There’s all sorts of nice traits that are associated with it, so it’s good if you are that way, but there are ways of lessening the downside of it. So thanks, Ted, here we are. How did you get onto this topic in the beginning? I presume you yourself are or were highly sensitive, and that’s why you got interested in it, right?
Ted: Absolutely. So, Elaine Aron in 1996 coined the term “highly sensitive person,” and it was a term waiting to happen. 20% of the population have the trait of high sensitivity, and before she coined the term, people thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in with the 80% majority of people. And I think it was about 2002, I read her book, and there’s a questionnaire. You can go to Elaine’s website, hsperson.com, and fill out the questionnaire and see where you rate. And basically, I answered yes to virtually every one of the qualities of being a highly sensitive person. And I remember talking to my niece saying, “You know, this is what I’ve been dealing with my whole life. I should write a book on this subject.” And she said, “Yeah, you should.” I said, “I think I will.” And so Elaine’s book was more of the first one. She’s written many books also. The highly sensitive person is the … even in 2004, when my first book came out, her book sold well over a million copies. And now it’s probably way over two million. I mean, it’s unbelievable. On Amazon, there’s a ranking, and it’s always ranked in the top are just buying it because 20% of the people have this trait, and they always thought there was something wrong with them. So, I figured out … I said, “Well, gee, I have this trait, and I’ve been dealing with it my whole life.” So, my first book was called The Highly Sensitive Person Survival Guide. How do you cope with it? And when I wrote my book, I had met Elaine, and she wrote the foreword to it, which is some kind of great timing for that. But now, if you go to YouTube or you go to Amazon and put in “highly sensitive person,” there’s literally hundreds of people picking up and running with the highly sensitive trait. But I do want to caution people right up front that anybody who doesn’t know so much about the trait of high sensitivity will come up with their advice, and you should make sure you’re listening to someone who has some kind of qualifications, because everybody’s just doing YouTube videos about it and writing books about it.
Rick: So you write in your book that there are four facets that people who are highly sensitive have in common. Do you want to enumerate those facets for us?
Ted: Well, one thing I want to start off saying is that every highly sensitive person is different. So one sensitive person might have a hard time with noise, and another sensitive person may not be bothered by it, but may be bothered by job stress. Another person can have trouble with too much overstimulation, like you mentioned at a conference. And other sensitive people can cope with it better, so everyone’s different.
Rick: Just before you start to get to those qualities, I have friends who are hypersensitive to Wi-Fi, and they can really tell when the Wi-Fi is on, they have to have it turned off. I; Me.
Rick: Irene, for one.
Ted: No, I’ve been getting emails since my first book came out, what’s this, like 12 years ago, saying, “I always thought there was something wrong with me, now I know there isn’t, I just have the trait of high sensitivity.” And I’ve gotten many emails from people who have trouble with the Wi-Fi, electronics, sensitivity to anything of that nature. So again, everybody’s different.
Rick: Imagine there’s a sliding scale, it’s like there might be people who are ultra-sensitive, if we want to use that term, and others who are sort of sensitive, and others who are tough as nails, you know, it’s not all black and white.
Ted: No, and actually, Elaine Aron says, you know, even if you only have four of the characteristics, but they’re very profound in you, you can consider yourself to be highly sensitive. But there is a real distinction, and because I’ve been working with the trait so long, I can usually tell someone, if I’m in a room with someone, for interacting with someone for even just a minute, if they have the trait or not.
Rick: Do I?
Ted: You know, it’s interesting, you saying that, is that when I was …
Rick: No, I really said I don’t.
Ted: I don’t think you do, but what’s interesting is the initial research I was doing, I interviewed a friend of mine who’s very new age and is into trying to be the new kind of man, and being caring and sensitive, and he was actually trying to … I knew the person, so when I asked him one of the questions, he was trying to say, “Well, no, I guess I’m sensitive to that.” When you either have a lot of the characteristics or not, and most of the people who consider themselves to be highly sensitive have … they’ll say yes to like 80%, which is noise bother them, they have trouble with people watching them, if they hear noise somewhere, they can’t concentrate, job stress, sense of smell, they can’t be around anyone who has a perfume on, they’ll jump in the air if a siren goes by, you know, they can’t stand to be around violent movies, they feel pain very deeply, and they just have to have their down time, they can’t go non-stop, they have to have like everyday quiet time where they can’t just keep going.
Rick: So chances are we’re not going to find a highly sensitive person running for president any time soon.
Rick: Too bad.
Ted: And corporations tend to not be highly sensitive. Traditional allopathic medical doctors are, usually, although I have a friend who’s an MD and he said it was just excruciating for him to go through the residency and internship, but many if not most alternative healers, would be highly sensitive, therapists, you’re going to find a high minority or the majority of writers, actors, artists, writers are highly sensitive. Because one of the characteristics of HSP, highly sensitive person, is being very creative. They’re also having very deep spiritual experiences. So, in the olden days they’d be considered the shaman or the priestly advisor. So, the people would recognize these people as being able to tune into higher levels of consciousness easily. Psychics, people who tend to be psychic, pick up people’s energy, are highly sensitive.
Rick: Yeah, and these four facets you mentioned ï¿½ thinking deeply, being easily overstimulated, feeling emotions, pain and empathy so intensely and noticing subtleties others miss. The interesting thing which came to mind as I started reading this, and I was also preparing to have a discussion with you about Amma, is that highly spiritual people, especially extraordinarily spiritual people like her, have all those qualities, they pick up on all sorts of stuff the average person misses, and yet somehow have incorporated a strength along with their sensitivity that makes them impervious to pressures that even your corporate CEO or politician wouldn’t be able to bear. So how do you kind of like … would you say that ideally high sensitivity can and should be counterbalanced by a kind of a strength that offsets the vulnerable quality that it might otherwise imply?
Ted: Well that’s what my whole first book was about, and actually my book The Power of Sensitivity, I collected 44 stories from people from 10 different countries about how they grew up feeling there was something wrong with them because of their sensitivity, and yet through a process of either therapy or their own plan of creating a thing so they could sleep better, a lot of people have trouble falling asleep, through working out a plan they were able to use it to their benefit. There was one medical doctor from Sweden who wrote about how she could intuit what’s going on with a person rather than just writing down notes about, “Oh you have this symptom, you have that symptom.” So you’ll see, I remember there was a man who wrote that he was a pilot and because of his high sensitivity he could just feel the vibration of the plane, in terms of, if it was functioning correctly. So there’s many, many advantages, but it’s a question of being able to manage the trait of sensitivity in a society like the United States which holds high sensitivity in very low regard, while other cultures don’t. So for example, when I wrote my book The Strong Sensitive Boy where I interviewed 30 men from five different countries, the men from India, Thailand, and even though it’s more subtle in Denmark, in Denmark they were not bullied or humiliated for being sensitive like the guys who were brought up in Canada or the United States. There’s actually an interesting study that showed in China the most sensitive children were the most popular and in North America the most sensitive children were the least popular. So it’s all very culturally based in terms of how people regard the trait of sensitivity.
Rick: Interesting. Why do you suppose that is? Why do you suppose it’s different? You know, I noticed that too in a way when I came back from India one time. I’d been over there for about four months and I’ve also been to the Philippines, lived there for nine months, and there was a certain sort of sweet quality to the people, very gentle, very emotional, easily upset by things that the average American wouldn’t be upset by. And when I came back to the States there was a kind of a crudeness that immediately hit me when I landed, basically. There was this feeling of crudeness, which is, of course, I’m generalizing in both cases, but why do you suppose it is that some cultures are characterized by more sensitive people than others?
Ted: Well, I think you have to look at each culture differently. And I wrote in my first book, the HSP Survival Guide, who came to America initially. These are people who wanted to, “Let’s fight the Indians. Let’s conquer the wilderness. Let’s go out there.” Well, a lot of people in Europe were staying there, painting great masterpieces, composing great sonatas. And I think also in Australia, which is kind of very macho, hard culture, you had the same kind of people going there, which is, “Let’s be tough and fight.”
Rick: It’s colonized by criminals.
Ted: Criminals, I was going to say that. I didn’t want to offend any Australians. But I think you have to look at each culture. Now I just got back last week, a week and a half ago, from Copenhagen, where I gave a workshop about highly sensitive males. And it’s interesting, the Danish society is very and a lot of Scandinavian cultures are very egalitarian. And it’s a very quiet country. It’s actually ideal for a sensitive person, because even where I stayed on a busy street, you could hardly hear anything. People are bicycling and they talk quiet. It’s a very calm, peaceful place. So, a lot of it is just whatever the culture grew up in. But yet, it was more of a subtle discrimination in countries like Denmark that are a little bit more progressive. So, they weren’t as crude as you said, like in the American culture, where if a boy shows like some sensitivity, they’ll get maybe humiliated or beat up. And what I noticed is interesting. There’s a study that showed infant boys are actually more reactive than infant girls. But the time a boy reaches the age of four or five, he’s learned to repress every emotion except for anger, because anger is the only emotion that’s allowed for males to express in the United States. Because picture a little boy who says, “I’m afraid,” and then they’ll have a dad or a teacher or something, “Come on, be a big boy. Boys aren’t supposed to cry. Boys aren’t supposed to be afraid. I’m sad. You’re not supposed to show sadness.” And all those t-shirts with signs, it’s like, “Being strong and tough and I can handle everything.” And that has had a profound detrimental effect on our society. And my belief is the only hope for the saving of this planet is more people adopt the trait of high sensitivity, some of the characteristics. Because you’re not going to see any terrorists running around with bombs strapped to them if they’re highly sensitive. You’re going to see the highly sensitive people caring deeply about the environment, about the welfare of people. And of course, one of the detriments is the empathy is so strong, I frequently hear parents saying, “Oh, my five-year-old son or six-year-old girl will get so upset if they see another classmate being upset.”
Rick: Yeah, I’m laughing because I’m thinking about that movie, The Birdcage, where Robin Williams was trying to get Nathan Lane to behave in a more manly fashion because he didn’t want their son’s parents to realize that they were a gay couple. And so he’s trying to get him to act like John Wayne and Nathan Lane’s marching back and forth at this restaurant with this hat on, trying to act like John Wayne, the whole thing. You ever see that movie?
Ted: I did a long time ago.
Rick: Totally hilarious, worth watching.
Ted: But this is one misconception that’s very bad, is that when boys start expressing their emotions or anything that may seem as feminine, they’re immediately ostracized and humiliated and put down as being, “What are you, a girl? What’s wrong with you?” And in my research, 90% of all the men I interviewed were heterosexual. And there’s many gay people saying, “Well, our gays are highly sensitive.” And you think of, not to sound discriminatory at all, but you think of a lot of gays going to bars where there’s a lot of noise and stimulation, and gay people I’ve known, there’s no correlation, is what I’m saying, between your sexual preference and that inborn trait of high sensitivity, which is the neurological, the nervous system.
Rick: So you think it’s still 20% in the gay community?
Ted: I do.
Rick: Although qualities such as appreciation of decor and things like that, and the finer sort of sensitivities or sensibilities are sometimes associated with gay people.
Ted: But yet there are many gay people who are macho athletes, so you can’t stereotype. And even though some might be doing that, again, it might be just people going along with it, even if they aren’t. I just think every single person, gay or straight, sensitive or non-sensitive, is an individual and you can’t really stereotype.
Rick: Okay. So, if we read more of the qualities of high sensitivity here, creativity, intuition, spirituality, strong sense of justice, conscientiousness, loyalty, appreciation of beauty, art and music; Irene’s saying, “God, that’s me”, awareness of potential danger, creating positive changes in the environment, kindness, compassion, enthusiasm for life, it really seems like something one would like to have. And so, the question is, is it something one can culture, or are you born with it? Certain attributes we’re born with, we can’t really develop them, they’re wired in.
Ted: Wired in, you’re born with it, it’s just the way you’re born. And you could have two siblings in a family, let’s say two brothers, and one is a non-HSP and one is an HSP. The fortunate thing is that if a sensitive person had a very supportive environment they grew up in, where their family, their parents, their teachers were saying, “Oh, this is great that you’re sensitive and kind, have a sense of justice, you care about people, you express your emotions,” they turn out not only as emotionally adjusted, but even usually more adjusted than a non-HSP. But if there’s a saying, there are two brothers, and one is a non-HSP and one is an HSP, and you have an abusive parent who beats them or screams at them and humiliates them, the non-HSP brother would say, “Oh, this person is crazy,” you know, it would affect them, but they wouldn’t take it into such a deep level, while the HSP child who is humiliated, beaten, hurt, by peers, teachers, parents, they take it in deeply and you can end up having PTSD because it’s so traumatic.
Rick: Well, let’s consider a couple of questions here, we’ll take them one at a time. I’ll say them both and then we can deal with them separately. One is, what can the HSP do to become more impervious to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, without losing his or her sensitivity? That’s going to be question one. And question two is, someone who is not very sensitive and who rather laments that, who would like to be more sensitive, who feels like they’re kind of a clod, you know, and would like to do … what can they do?
Ted: Let’s do one question at a time.
Rick: Yeah, that’s what I want to do, I just want to lay them both out and then we’ll take them one at a time.
Ted: Okay, so say the first question again please, Rick.
Rick: So the first one is, you know, highly sensitive person, you know, they have a lot of difficulties because they’re so sensitive, they don’t want to lose their sensitivity, but at the same time they want to toughen up a bit so that they can deal with the stresses at work or with the vicissitudes of life. So how do you bring in greater resiliency or ability to deal with difficulties and yet not lose your sensitivity and perhaps even enhance it, you know, become even more sensitive?
Ted: Okay, so it’s like you’re not going to lose any other inborn trait, so you don’t have to worry about losing your sensitivity.
Rick: But doesn’t the buffeting of life sometimes blunt our sensitivities?
Ted: Okay, so wait a second. So one thing I want to say is very important is people are shamed, especially in this culture, for being sensitive. And as you’re growing up, even on a subtle level, even in Denmark when I talked there a couple of weeks ago, people were saying it was more subtle but they still felt shamed. And my feeling is the best way to deal with negativity towards your sensitivity by insensitive, non-sensitive people is to loving your sensitivity. So, I’m going to give a very personal example in my life. So, I wrote the book in 2004, The Highly Sensitive Person Survival Guide, and people then were saying, “You’re writing a book about sensitivity? But you’re a man. I don’t get it, huh? Oh, that’s weird.” And I felt shamed because it triggered all the sensitivity in my whole life of being shamed for being sensitive. And my publisher set me up with all these talk interviews of radio talk show hosts, and Elaine Aron also verified what she had the same experience with me. When there were men who were interviewing me about the trait of sensitivity, they could not handle it, especially if there were two men going, “You’re Sensitive, yeah…” You know, making jokes that they could not handle it. So, my last book that came out a year and a half ago, The Power of Sensitivity, I have totally transformed myself. I love the fact that I’m a sensitive man, I am proud of it, and anyone who thinks otherwise and makes fun of it, there’s something wrong with them. How did I get that?
Rick: And they’re asking for a knuckle sandwich.
Ted: Yeah, high-sensitivity boxing. But basically, the bottom line is, for sensitive people, the more you read books on the trait, you follow Facebook, Twitter, Facebook, social media, there’s groups, there’s a Yahoo chat group, there’s an HSP gathering twice a year in the United States, there’s sessions you can have with this. Now there’s so many people who have been trained by Elaine Aron to be therapists, who are trained to work with highly sensitive people. The more you start accepting your trait, the more confident you’re going to become, the more it won’t bother you. So the whole thing about how do you toughen up with it. So someone humiliates me for being sensitive, there’s something wrong with them, as opposed to 14, 15 years ago, if someone humiliated me for being sensitive, it would re-stimulate all the humiliation I had for being too sensitive as a boy growing up.
Rick: Good. Before we get on to the second part of it, which is how insensitive people become more sensitive, I want to throw in something that I bet Elaine Aron will remember if she watches this interview, which is something from physics called the Meissner effect. The Meissner effect is a situation in which a superconducting material, which means it’s usually brought down near absolute zero and becomes a superconductor, is capable of becoming impervious to magnetic flux. In other words, it has this sort of invincible armor around it, as it were, where a magnetic flux or field can’t penetrate it. And I’m using that as an example, thinking of someone like Amma, who has become superconducting, so to speak. She’s reached a level of coherence and attunement with cosmic intelligence, if you will, where she is, on the one hand, probably one of the most highly sensitive people you’ll ever meet, and on the other hand, able to handle it, kind of impervious to all the intensity that characterizes her life 24/7, year after year. So, I think that in a way, perhaps, if one cultures a deeper spirituality, one is culturing this kind of quality of being able to retain one’s sensitivity and yet take things in stride. And there are even physiological correlates to this we could talk about, in terms of the way the brainwaves work, things like galvanic skin response, where if you’re more accustomed to being open to higher consciousness or deeper consciousness, your whole physiology is less susceptible to stress. Any comments on all that?
Ted: Yeah, well first of all, Ama, you can’t compare Ama to anything, since you’re her sensitivity …
Rick: Well, she’s the ultimate case in point, but we don’t have to go that far.
Ted: Yeah, that’s not comparable. And when I mentioned a little earlier about cultural, I think of a friend of mine who’s highly sensitive, who’s from India, and so he was raised in an environment, for those of you who have been to India, that’s extremely overstimulating. You can’t get into a culture that’s more overstimulating. The noise, everyone’s honking their horns, they’re playing the speakers at full volume, and the crowds and the pushing and the smells. So, what’s interesting is this friend of mine from India who’s highly sensitive, he was raised in that environment, so the noise and all the things that would bother someone coming from the West, from a quiet environment, didn’t bother him. When he would go back to India, he lived in America, when he’d go back to India he had that memory of “that’s how it was, so it was okay.” Now, to answer the second part of your question, you can be very sensitive to justice, to helping the downtrodden, to caring about your relatives, your spouse, your children, being very sensitive, but not have a finely tuned nervous system. So, not to get political, but I think of Bernie Sanders who is fighting for everything for justice from now the Native Americans to climate change to helping any people who are being abused, poor people, Black Lives Matter, he embraces all of it and he’s not in HSP, he does not have a sensitive nervous system. And I think of my dad who’s passed away, who was one of the most liberal, caring, loving people, but when we’d sit in a room and a siren would go by, I would jump in the air, startled, I’d say, “Didn’t that bother you?” He’d say, “I didn’t hear anything.” So you can be a very sensitive person but not have a neurological system that is wired that way. And in my first book, the HSP Survival Guide, I say, “Don’t become an insensitive, highly sensitive person, demanding that the whole world make changes to support your sensitivity.” Because you’ll get some people saying, “Oh, you need to go over here, this doesn’t smell good here, oh, this noise, you need to turn everything off, I want total quiet.” So again, you don’t want to become an insensitive, sensitive person.
Rick: Yeah, there’s a number of restaurants in Fairfield, Iowa that have been ruined by people just complaining about the spices, “Oh, I can’t eat garlic, I can’t eat onions, I can’t have curries,” and so they end up with this bland food in the restaurant and it goes out of business.
Ted: So this brings me to another very important point, which is compromise. And Elaine Aron is highly sensitive, Art Aron, her husband, who’s a researcher who collaborates with her, is non-HSP. And so likewise, the whole key for relating to someone, whether it’s in a work situation, a partner situation, children, anyone, friends, is compromise. So, for example, I frequently tell couples, Oh, this man I met in Copenhagen who just wrote a book about the highly sensitive family, about this Danish family, where he’s totally not highly sensitive, but his wife, his son, and his daughter are. And so, they would just do things differently. So for example, you go on vacation, the HSP person who needs their downtime, instead of immediately landing in a new city like you could do and start going to workshops, needs to stay in their room for a couple of hours and just meditate or read or just relax. And so, you’re always having to negotiate. There’s a party, okay, so you take two cars, and then the HSP can go from nine to ten and then leave, the other person can stay until one in the morning. You go to a restaurant, you compromise, you go to an early restaurant where it’s not so noisy, you don’t go to a blockbuster movie the weekend it comes out, you go to a matinee during the weekday. So, you’re always negotiating and compromising in a living situation in a home. Oh, you want to watch the TV or watch a DVD, so you do it with headphones so I don’t have to watch TV. Got it?
Rick: I’m laughing because that’s what we do. Not that Irene is watching a stressful thing, but a lot of times I’m reading spiritual books and she’s watching something with headphones.
Ted: Yeah, so you’re always compromising.
Rick: Yeah. Here’s a couple of questions that have come in, one from Irene and one from Dan in London, maybe I’ll ask Dan first. He says, “I’m extremely sensitive to other people’s emotions to the point where any slightly negative emotions from other people I often find painful. Sometimes this causes issues in my relationship because I feel it deeply if my wife is even slightly impatient or dismissive and I find it difficult. She means nothing by this and it’s sometimes her way of dealing with everyday issues. For example, giving less emphasis on the interaction with me but more on a practical issue such as feeding the baby or cooking food. Do you have any advice on this?”
Ted: Yeah, so first of all, I was just in London a week and a half ago and Barbara Williams has this HSP group in south of London and she goes all over the country, the UK, to give workshops. I’m doing a Skype interview actually with a man named Andy Mort who’s an HSP. I forgot the city, it’s about 100 kilometres north east of London and he gives workshops. So, I highly recommend if you’re in London to just Google “highly sensitive person England, UK” and to join some group in your area where they meet that can really help you get the support. Again, I go back to the more you accept your trait, the easier it will be for you to speak up and that’s the other big key of speaking up because HSPs are humiliated for having their trait when they’re younger very frequently and so they’re ashamed to speak up and say what they want. So for example, if your wife is doing something, not to be ashamed to say how you’re feeling and, again, the more you start feeling confident in yourself it’ll be easier for you to deal with whatever the issue is in the relationship.
Rick: Okay, here’s Irene’s question, “Do highly sensitive people do better if they spend more time alone than most people?” She says, “I have all the symptoms of high sensitivity and find being alone helps me to cope and feel happier. It depends on the person but often I am too keenly aware of what they are feeling and thinking and it is not enjoyable or maybe upsetting. Also, the general stimulation of being around people is just too much, particularly at night.”
Ted: Yeah, first of all, it’s not a symptom because symptoms may sound like it’s a disease, it’s a trait. So, I would say the characteristics. So, you have the characteristics of being an HSP and, yes, I tell my clients, I do interviews all over the world, Skype and phone consultations with people, I say you need your downtime every day and especially in the evening. So let’s say you can interact a little bit in the early evening but then you’ve got to turn off all the electronic, the iPhone, the iMac, the iThis, the iThat, the iPad and just let go of all, especially if you’re sensitive to Wi-Fi, all electronic equipment and you do things like reading spiritually uplifting books, maybe watching something that’s spiritually uplifting, a DVD or taking a warm bath or meditating or journal writing or doing an art project but at least an hour before going to bed, just being by yourself, doing things to relax. And every day, I tell, and it’s hard for a lot of the young couples with young kids. The man from London sounds like he and his wife have a baby. But I tell people, if you’re working all day in an overstimulating office and you go home, there’s a man I’m working now with who’s actually CEO of a big corporation and he’s working very high pressure all day. He goes home, he’s got I think three stepdaughters and his daughter stays part time there and his wife and he goes, there’s just no break. I go, you need to tell your family when you get home, you’re going to be there present for them more if they give you a half hour to an hour of just downtime where you’re in a room by yourself and you’re just doing some quiet thing and then you’ll be recharged and centred and be able to deal with all the stimulation of being with other people. Also I have a CD you can download called the HSP Healing CD and I have two visualizations. One where you visualize like an armor, a white light protecting you, nothing’s getting in. And I have a grounding one where you visualize from the bottom of your feet like roots of a tree going to the center of the earth. So doing different activities like that to help center you is very important. And then besides daily downtime of however much you can really work out, you need to spend at least once or twice a month in retreat going into the woods. It could be for the day, it could be not in the woods, to a lake, to the ocean, somewhere where you’re in nature and you’re in quiet at a cabin somewhere. If you can’t get away for a full overnight two day weekend, at least try and spend the whole day without any electronic equipment, without interaction. I mean you can go with a partner or friend, whatever, but agree to be in silence for most of the time. And by the way, the best exercise for a sensitive person is a walk in silence in nature.
Rick: Sounds good. Yeah, I mean any kind of meditation that works should be really helpful I should think. In my own case, you know, having been meditating for a long time, if things are really busy, you just feel rejuvenated and refreshed and replenished and a lot of the fatigue and stress of the day washes away and you kind of get a fresh start. Even at from what you’ve been experiencing is washed away. So, well, speaking of meditation again, you know, we’ve talked about the 20% thing. Did I ask this? I don’t think I did. It would seem to me that with people who would be defined as spiritual people, people who are into meditation and that kind of thing, the percentage must be higher than 20. Is it?
Ted: I think so, only because one of the characteristics of having a sensitive nervous system is that you’re open to the energy more. So, part of the energy you’re open to is to the spiritual energy. People who are sensitive have very deep, profound dreams, kind of like from a Jungian perspective. As I said earlier, they’d be considered the shaman where they can tune into energy, the psychics. So, you’re going to see people with a sensitive nervous system and that’s why actually at the Amma programs, they used to sell my book. They have so many books now, I don’t think they â€¦ I think you can still buy actually some through the Amma bookstore, but they sold so well because so many people who go see Amma, who are on a spiritual path, have the trait of high sensitivity. Because you’re open to new energies as opposed to someone who’s non-HSP. But I’d still say at least half, if not the majority of people who come to see Amma are non-HSPs. And people are very surprised because that I can deal with coordinating Prasad and being in all these people. I want to give Prasad time. I want to do this and that, being in this crowd of people all the time. But I’ll tell you how it works. I go to bed early after the bhajans end. I don’t stay late. I get up early in the morning and I meditate and I try and take a break during the day and just go somewhere where I can find it quiet and close my eyes and be quiet for a while.
Rick: Yeah, so in other words, getting enough sleep is an important … in fact, you have a chapter in your book, “Sleep and the Highly Sensitive Person.” Taking care of yourself, getting enough rest is probably an important thing for highly sensitive people.
Ted: Absolutely, and I actually used to have a lot of insomnia and a lot of people who are sensitive do because it’s correlated in Ayurveda like with the Vata Constitution, where the mind just goes very fast and goes all the time. And so, turning it off is hard. So, in all my research, doing my doctorate, I came up with a plan on ways to calm the nervous system down so you can sleep. And I’m happy to say that from when I was a kid, a teenager, and even in my 20s, I had severe insomnia, trouble sleeping. And now if I travel internationally or maybe even within the United States, maybe I’ll have a little trouble falling asleep the first night, but 98% of the time I fall asleep right away and I have a good night’s sleep.
Rick: That’s interesting because generally people who are in their 20s can sleep like a log and people who are your age are starting to have trouble sleeping as they get older, so it’s kind of cool that you turned it around.
Ted: Well, read my chat and on my website, drtedzeff.com, I have a whole thing about healing insomnia if you’re interested.
Rick: Yeah. Speaking of spirituality and high sensitivity, and you were mentioning people coming to see Amma, I have seen real tough-looking types, football player types, come up to her still looking tough and then burst into tears when they have their darshan with her, like something melts.
Ted: Yeah, matter of fact, the New England Patriots quarterback got darshan from Amma.
Rick: Oh, nice.
Ted: So, you get athletes, you get movie stars, you get all sorts of people.
Rick: Yeah, I once instructed the center for the Green Bay Packers in meditation.
Ted: How did he do?
Ted: He did good, yeah, he liked it.
Ted: I don’t think you’re going to get many highly sensitive football players.
Rick: Not too many. Joe Namath was a meditator too, I don’t know if he was highly sensitive or not, but he was into it. So, there’s a lot of different topics in your book, and people can read the book to really go into a lot of detail, but I could start asking you little bits and pieces from various chapters, but I also want to make sure that if anything comes to your mind as we’re going along, and I’m not asking a question about it, just bring it up if there’s something that you feel is important. One thing you mentioned was Vata, and if people are familiar with Ayurveda, which many listeners to this show will be, there’s three doshas Vata, Pitta and Kapha. But are you implying that high sensitivity is a characteristic of Vata types?
Rick: As opposed to Kapha people tend to be more like
Ted: You know, it reminds me of Deepak Chopra once saying, “A Vata,” which is like a highly sensitive person, “can have a half a cup of coffee in the morning and won’t be able to fall asleep,” and he’s a Kapha and he said he could have three cups of black coffee before bed and sleep like a baby. So, yeah, it’s correlated with Vata, and a lot of the information I give in my first book, the HSP Survival Guide, is very similar to what you would do for a Vata constitution in terms of calming down the nervous system.
Rick: Yeah, so that actually brings up an interesting point, which is that if a person has high sensitivity they might look into Ayurveda and there are all sorts of Vata-pacifying things that Ayurveda offers.
Ted: Yeah, and diet, I say that in my book.
Rick: Diet, oil massage, all kinds of things like that.
Ted: Yeah, diet, so sensitive people should eat heavy, warm, moist food, especially in the winter, not to have sprouts or cold salads, because that makes you more off-center. But if you have pasta or heavy soups, that’s grounding food.
Rick: That’s good advice, because somebody might be a spiritual person and highly sensitive and they want to do everything they can, and they might think, “Oh, raw food diet, that’ll be just right for me”, but it may not be at all, and they can really exacerbate things if they push ahead doing something that’s inappropriate for them.
Rick: Okay, let’s see here. Some interesting topics here. Friendship for the HSP, Healing Shame and Addiction for the HSP, highly sensitive… go ahead. I; I have a question.
Rick: Oh, Irene has a question. Well, you want to…
Ted: No, go ahead.
Rick: Go ahead and ask it. I; Do highly sensitive people tend to have more health problems, physical health problems, than the average person?
Ted: You know, that’s a very good question. My experience is they have. Other researchers felt it wasn’t. I think they do, because don’t forget sensitive people tend to feel pain deeper than others, and they can’t tune out the pain the way a non-HSP can. I think you’ll find more sense, because there’s this thing, chemical sensitivity, and I think that could be… when you’re sensitive, you’re picking up energy, so that alone, the stress… I think something like 95% of the people I interviewed said stress on the job affects their health. They’re absorbing this energy, and it’s stressful, and of course, the more stressed you are, the more chances are you’re going to get some kind of physical disorder. So, I would say yes.
Rick: Yeah. Well, and related to Irene’s question, in terms of Ayurveda, there are certain diseases and health problems that are associated with each dosha, so there’s certain vata disorders and pitta disorders and kapha disorders and so on. And so, probably you also see health problems in someone who was kapha, or there are certain ones you would see, but it wouldn’t be due to high sensitivity, it would be due to other imbalances.
Ted: No, the kaphas tend to be pretty healthy. I remember I studied years ago with Dr. Lad, and there was a guy who smoked, ate meat, drank alcohol, and he was one of the few people who had a totally balanced constitution. And we said, “How could that be?” And Dr. Lad went, “He’s kapha, what are you going to do?” And then you get this vata people coming in, I remember, who are highly sensitive, and they would do everything right. They’d take 20, 30 supplements a day, have the perfect diet, do the meditation, oil massage, everything, and they’d still have all these physical issues. So, what are you going to do? It’s just the way the …
Rick: Wait, the way you’re wired.
Ted: The way the cookie crumbles.
Rick: Interesting. But, as you said in the beginning, it is a blessing in a way, it is an asset, there are so many good qualities associated with it, and so you just need to learn to take care of yourself in various ways.
Ted: And also, not to compete with non-HSPs. So, for example, when I counsel parents of sensitive children, you know, group sports are very big, and sensitive people, especially in this country growing up, can you imagine trying to catch a baseball with 17 people looking at you in the outfield? The pressure is going to be so strong. And I’ve counselled sensitive men. There was a guy who was a really good athlete in soccer in high school, but he said whenever he went to the tournament, he wouldn’t do that well. So likewise, if you’re playing tennis with one other friend who knows you and respects you, you do well, but you play doubles with some kind of macho acting guys, oh, we’ll beat you, then they don’t do as well, because they don’t do as well under pressure. So most sensitive people, it’s very important to exercise for everybody, but do things that work. And most sensitive people would prefer biking, walking, swimming, running, individual sports, going to the gym by yourself, going on a machine, as opposed to group sports where there’s a lot of pressure. Although, I had one man I interviewed who was a hockey player in high school and played varsity, ice hockey in college. And I said, “That sounds strange for a sensitive man,” he says, “because of the violence.” He goes, “Well, I didn’t focus on the violence, I just focused on the finesse.” And so, in the movie, I’ve got to mention, there’s a movie called Sensitive, and it was directed by Will Harper, a well-known Hollywood director. It came out a year ago in September. If you Google sensitivethemovie.com, you can watch the movie. Will Harper interviewed the top researchers in sensitivity throughout Europe and the United States. It’s a very exciting, well-done movie with docudramas to illustrate certain points. But the point I was going to make is that in Copenhagen, there was a star athlete, a sensitive teenage boy, and he was a star athlete playing in a group game, but he said he still felt different than the other guys in terms of how they would hang out and stuff. And I got that also from the men I interviewed who even played group sports. They said they always felt kind of different than other guys in their class. But I highly recommend Sensitive, the Movie. If you have any interest in the topic, you’ve got to watch it. It’s a phenomenal movie.
Rick: It’s on Netflix or something?
Ted: No, you can’t get it on Netflix, but if you go to sensitivethemovie.com, you can rent it or download it for $4.99 or $9.99, but it’ll give you and anybody you know, if you’re sensitive living with someone or knows a relative or someone you work with who’s not sensitive, watch it with them because it’ll give them the best understanding of what the treat’s about.
Rick: Talking about sports, and you also have a chapter on highly sensitive children, I remember when I was a kid in my neighborhood, I’d be real confident. I was a pretty good baseball player and I’d run and just feel really outgoing and kind of extroverted and confident. But when I got to school, it was like I had schizophrenia or something. I was switching to this different personality where I was very inhibited and not good at any kind of sports-related thing. I remember my mother once, as I said, I was a pretty good baseball player for kids my size, but when my mother took me to Little League to join it, I wouldn’t get out of the car because I was just too intimidated by all the kids that I didn’t know and stuff. So, I guess maybe we could talk about highly sensitive children a little bit. It seems like confidence and security is important in order for them to flourish in what they’re doing.
Ted: Well that’s really good news that you said that, so you might have some part of you that is highly sensitive.
Rick: Once you get to know me, I’m a softy.
Ted: Because that’s one of the characteristics. So, I tell parents of sensitive children, when the child is very shy and going into a classroom in kindergarten or nursery school, whatever, and the worst thing a parent could do is say, especially to a boy but even to a girl, “Oh, don’t be a little baby. Just get in there and play with the other kids,” and that will destroy the child. The parent needs to be there, let them slowly integrate. There’s a marvellous story in my book, The Power of Sensitivity, that so illustrates it. It’s about a woman from Denmark who moved to Canada and she had a sensitive boy. At the age of six, he was overwhelmed in gym class, the PE class, because of all the kids and the teacher explaining the rules, he couldn’t understand how to play the game and he started withdrawing the way you said you did and he sat on the bench and he wouldn’t participate. Well, you know, it starts early and if the mom didn’t intervene, he’d probably end up on the bench his whole life feeling terrible about himself. So she went to the school and she started playing this game with the other kids and then it gave him the confidence to join in. He joined in and he saw that he was a good athlete, he had fun, and now he plays all the time. So, the parent of a sensitive child has to put in the extra effort to help the child, to avoid that child getting humiliated and shamed. I remember I had a session with a parent, this guy who was kind of non-HSP and he didn’t like the fact that his boy didn’t want to play football and other sports and he wanted to go to this school where he was getting teased. He goes, “Well, I went to that school”, it was a Catholic school, I went to parochial school, whatever, private, and I said, “You have a choice right now. You can keep doing what you’re doing to your son and make sure that he has a miserable life and that he’s humiliated and gets PTSD and shamed or you can start supporting him and intervene at the school and if the school won’t make the exceptions for his sensitivity, send him to a Montessori or a Steiner or a progressive private school or have him homeschooled. It’s your choice, because what happens in elementary school is going to affect that sensitive child the rest of his life.” And I get emails all the time and have consultations with sensitive adults who were just devastated, and it’s devastated their entire life by being humiliated for having the trait of sensitivity.
Rick: I’m remembering Dead Poets Society where the kid wanted to be an actor and his father wanted him to be a lawyer or something, and ended up ruining his plans to be an actor, his activities in acting in school there, and the kid ended up killing himself. I’m sure there are many tragic stories like that. So you really have to recognize each person for who they really are and not try to force them to be something.
Ted: And the parent absolutely has to intervene. My niece’s daughter is highly sensitive and she is in there intervening, making sure when her daughter is overstimulated that she has a timeout room she can go to, that when she’s playing in a PE class she gets afraid being in the center of all the kids around her. The PE teacher knows her daughter could be on the outside. If she’s feeling too overstimulated in an assembly, she can get up and sit down by herself. It’s so important for the parents to intervene in a school situation because school is actually one of the worst places for a sensitive child to be with all the noise of other kids screaming and pushing, overhead fluorescent lights, all the pressure to get good grades. It’s very difficult so parents absolutely have to make sure it’s a calm environment. The child has to bond with the teacher. The teacher needs to understand the trait of high sensitivity and the parent needs to explain it to the teacher, and if the teachers are not amenable to it then they have to go to the principal. If the principal isn’t, then they need to look for another source of education for their child.
Rick: What relationship, if any, is there between HSP and autism and things that are somewhat related to autism?
Ted: I have an article I wrote that talks about the difference between someone who has agoraphobia and sensitivity and just doesn’t like to go outside in big crowds, the difference between being depressed and being able to cry a lot, the difference between having a diagnosed disorder. Frequently, children are misdiagnosed as having, for example, ADHD, autism deficit disorder, because in school they can’t concentrate because of all this overstimulation, they can’t focus. But that same child, if he’s home or she’s home in a quiet environment, they do fine. You can have a diagnosed disorder like Asperger’s or autism and be highly sensitive, but they’re not mutually exclusive. You can be highly sensitive and of course not have a disorder. So, it’s very easy for people to misdiagnose people who are sensitive as having a diagnosed disorder, but you can have a diagnosed disorder and have the trait of high sensitivity.
Rick: Do you see a problem where it seems like a lot of times these days, drugs are prescribed all too readily. Like you said, there could be a misdiagnosis, high sensitivity can be mistaken for ADHD or something. Do you see that a lot of highly sensitive people, especially kids, are being given drugs where there really should be a much more natural intervention of some kind?
Ted: You know, I don’t have statistics on it, but I can tell you that in the huge majority, 90 plus percent of highly sensitive children, if they’re in the right environment, they don’t need any medication to calm them down.
Rick: And I’m afraid that that’s probably misrecognized all too often and there’s all sorts of sad cases where people are just dumbed down with drugs and their sensitivity is blunted rather than being dealt with properly. Okay, so what else is important to tell people about?
Ted: Jobs, careers are important. So, I think any sensitive person in the right environment where their coworkers and their supervisors are accepting and understanding of the trait of high sensitivity, they can do fine. But of course, there are certain job situations that are not good for highly sensitive people. I remember a man working in a corporate environment and he had all these suggestions and he said his supervisors didn’t want to know about any creative ways of dealing with the job. He was very competitive with the other men and he was passed over for promotion. And he was physically getting headaches, digestive disorders, insomnia. He was physically falling apart being in that work environment that was a corporate work environment, very competitive. And Elaine Aron talks about linking rather than competing and not to compete with non-HSPs. So basically, he couldn’t take it anymore. He quit the job. He started his own business. I think he had a background in bookkeeping or accounting where he had his own little office. He was self-employed and all of his physical problems went away because he managed the stress in his work environment. And it’s very easy for the work environment to become a reenactment of the family of origin where you’re humiliated and you feel you don’t deserve better than having a boss or co-workers that mistreat you. So the ideal job for a sensitive person would be self-employment because they control the physical environment who they interact with. The only downside is they can tend to be a little too alone, so you need to make sure that you interact with other people in your profession. Being in a job where your creativity is acknowledged, HSPs do not function well if the job is drudgery, “Oh, I have to go to work.” They have to have a meaningful work life.
Rick: Yeah, something creative. You mentioned taking walks in the woods and stuff like that as being real valuable for HSPs. I would suggest and you can comment that some kind of really good exercise routine, not one that would aggravate vata, but one that would really just ground you and get your blood moving, get your lungs pumping, would be valuable because, well, there’s plenty of research on how that makes you much less susceptible to stress. What do you say to that?
Ted: Oh yeah, anything where you’re getting the endorphins going, it makes you feel better. But again, it has to be an exercise that you enjoy doing and not one that’s going to create more stress like playing on a group team for most HSPs. I actually recommend sensitive children to learn self-defense. It sounds strange because sensitive children don’t like violence, so you don’t necessarily send them to a big class with people punching each other, but it could be an individual class where someone’s just teaching them with one other person, but it’ll give them the self-confidence. See, what happens is sensitive children get teased a lot because the bully is looking for a weakness, for a reaction, and sensitive children are going to react, and that’s just what the bully wants. So if the sensitive child has some self-confidence, and the best way to deal with bullying is to have a group of friends or a teacher when they’re younger to intervene, and then the bully will stop. But this is what bullies look for, a reaction. So as long as there’s no reaction where they have a group of other kids who support them, then it’ll be enough. And by the way, sensitive people, especially for… I wrote the book about sensitive boys, most boys hang out in packs. You know, you said when you played baseball as a kid and do things in groups, that’s hard for sensitive boys because all the boy teasing and stuff. So as long as the sensitive child has one good friend, that’s enough. They don’t need lots of groups of friends in the neighborhood necessarily. And sensitive parents who are worried that their child is alone can arrange play dates with other children who are respectful, and it’s fine to be friends with a non-sensitive child for a sensitive child, as long as the other child is respectful of the sensitive child.
Rick: Yeah. If sensitivity is correlated with spirituality, as you suggested it might be, and if there’s a sort of a spiritual renaissance going on in the world, which I kind of feel like there might be, given the number of people who are waking up and getting more and more interested in spirituality and yoga and meditation and all that sort of thing, then it may be that this whole issue of high sensitivity will become more and more germane, more and more relevant, and prominent in people’s awareness. I mean you can think of cultures … I; Not everybody’s going to become a Vata type.
Rick: Not everybody’s going to become a Vata type, but I just think that sensitivity … I mean we can think of cultures a few hundred years ago where burning people in a town square was a weekly entertainment and everyone seemed to be fine with it. Now everyone would recoil from that sort of thing. I mean that kind of thing still happens in ISIS circles and so on, but I would like to think that a society at large could become highly spiritual and highly sensitive, and that it would be a comfortable and welcome atmosphere for people regardless of their nature, but particularly those who are very sensitive would not have to encounter all the sort of challenges and insensitivities that they often do now.
Ted: Yeah, so for example, the men I interviewed from India and Thailand, they were never teased growing up.
Rick: Yeah, there you go.
Ted: And matter of fact, there was a man from Thailand who said he was always elected class president because he was such a caring person and the ideal in that society was the person who was the most caring and the most helpful, they respected the most. And so likewise, even in species like wild horses, they did some research and they found the horse that everybody followed was this highly sensitive horse because they could spot danger first. And I actually make a joke sometimes, “Why don’t HSPs ever get Lyme disease?”
Ted: Because they’ll feel the tick crawling their body before it can bite them, so they never get Lyme disease.
Rick: That’s pretty good.
Ted: I don’t know if it’s true, but I think there’s a correlation between, “I can feel a tick on my body and get it off before it bites me.” So, there’s a huge advantage in animals and in humans to being very aware. I mean, the sensitive person, you go into a theater, they’ll know where all the fire exits are before anybody.
Rick: Interesting. Yeah, the thing about some cultures, the popular kids being the most sensitive ones, it’s kind of interesting. I mean, in our culture, the hero is the fastest gun in the West, you know, or the guy who can kickbox his way out of a tough situation, the tough guy. But perhaps we’ll see more and more instances of sensitivity being the heroes in movies.
Ted: Well, it used to be more that way with Gregory Peck and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Rick: That’s true.
Ted: Humphrey Bogart, they were more like standing up for justice and not full of steroids and looking ridiculously out of proportion to the average person. And I remember this guy from India saying, “Bollywood, not Hollywood, Bollywood movie stars, you would never see the Hollywood male movie stars acting that way. The Bollywood movie stars could be kind of like a good-looking hero type, and then all of a sudden he’ll go into song and dance and start showing his more feminine side or his gentle side.”
Rick: They always do in Bollywood movies.
Ted: You could never see Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger going into song and dance when they’re in a Terminator-type movie.
Rick: That’s true.
Ted: Or Rocky 15 or whatever.
Rick: Well, this has been good. I think we more or less covered the topic. I’m sure that you’ve written four or five books on it, and Elaine’s written books, so there’s certainly a lot more that can be said. But hopefully we’ve piqued people’s interest, and maybe people who, I’m sure many people are listening, it might be more than 20% are in that HSP category and will have found this valuable, and can get in touch with you for more information, perhaps read your books or even do a consultation with you. And your books do contain some good practical advice, don’t they?
Rick: So it’s not just psychological theory or something, there’s some steps one can take.
Ted: It’s all specific advice on how to manage the trait of high sensitivity, and for children too.
Rick: Cool. Well, thanks for talking to me about it, Ted. I’ve been speaking with Ted Zeff, PhD, about high sensitivity, as anyone who’s still listening knows. And as usual I’ll have a page on batgap.com where I link to his books and his website on the topic, and people will be able to get in touch and find out more, interact with you in some way. So, thanks for participating.
Ted: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.
Rick: And for those who are listening now, I’ll just say that I’ve just come back from the Science and Non-Duality Conference in California and taped a bunch of interesting things, so there’ll be a greater than usual flurry of activity on BatGap for the next few weeks as I post those talks and recordings. So, thanks for listening or watching and we’ll see you for the next one.