Dear Dr. Debra,
I live in London in the UK and Iíve
struggled with sensitivity issues my whole life. I found an
article you wrote for a woman so helpful because I am cursed
with an over-reactive personality. I am in regular therapy
because my reactions are so explosive. I find it so hard to
stop taking things personally. Can you please recommend any
literature that may help with this? Iím sensitive but very
genuine. Youíve helped me believe in myself again.
First of all, Iím glad you found my article helpful. (See
As I said in my prior column, I think sensitive people, whom
I call sensitive souls (SS), are special, imaginative people
who have a spiritual purpose to make the world a better
place through using their intuitions and emotions. Yet if an
SS child grows up in an abusive or neglectful home, or has
suffered the loss (through death or other reasons) of an
important person to them, that beautiful gift of sensitivity
can become a problem and can lead to what professionals term
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Iím relieved to see youíre in therapy. Iím going to suggest
you discuss with your therapist the possibility that you
might have BPD or some traits of the disorder.
Many ďold-schoolĒ therapists, including some of my own
professors, believed that not much could be done for a BPD,
but I disagree. Thinking of my client as a sensitive soul
with a sad past has made all the difference.
I changed how I work with BPDs when I discovered the book,
I Hate You, Donít Leave Me by Jerold Kreisman, M.D., and Hal Straus.
You might find it helpful. Ignore Kreismanís emphasis on BPD
as a mental illness, and focus on the abundant helpful
information in the book.
Often the first book I suggest to clients is
The Angry Heart by
Joseph Santoro and Ronald Jay Cohen. It contains a lot
of writing exercises that are very helpful for processing
your feelings and history. Through your writing, you can
come to understand yourself better.
In therapy, I start identifying to the BPD client what I
call ďborderline thinkingĒ and ďborderline behaviorsĒ so
they can become aware of how these interfere in their
functioning. Some of these come from the
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), and
others are from my own observations.
* Chronic feelings of emptiness and the need to use others
to try (usually unsuccessfully) to fill yourself up
* Abandonment issue
* Unstable relationships
* Inappropriate intense anger (and acting out of the anger)
often stemming from the fear of abandonment
* Extreme sensitivity
* Inability to see your own part in a situation, much less
take (much) responsibility for it
* Holding grudges (often for years) due to the intense
memories of being hurt by others
* Inability to recognize the emotional or personal
boundaries of others
* Unstable or poor self-image
* A vivid imagination that creates fear fantasies, thus
causing strong emotional responses, which are in turn acted
out (often dramatically)
* Inability to see your own part in drama, much less take
responsibility for it
By learning to be aware of these thoughts, feelings, and
impulses, the client gradually learns to control them. Itís
a long process. I have clients who have so effectively
conquered these symptoms that they no longer meet the
criteria for BPD.
I donít know of any book on the topic of sensitivity. In my
(as yet unpublished) book about setting boundaries with
difficult people, I have a chapter about sensitive souls. Go
to make sure youíre on my mailing list. When the book is
published, Iíll make sure you know about it.
So there is hope. Donít give up on yourself.
Feel free to
write me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist
who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please
where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or
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