I grew up in a large family full of loud, boisterous, and passionate personalities. Talented artists and musicians who didn`t hesitate to express themselves, not only through art and music, but vocally as well, each fighting to be heard until the symphonious chatter would inevitably culminate in one huge explosive voice. This was a natural and common occurence in our household and being the sole introvert of the bunch left me at a real disadvantage, to put it mildly. Certainly, I felt out of place most times, but more importantly, the chaos left me in a state of constant tension and aggravation. The only way I could manage to survive was to retreat to my room where, at least for a little while, I could find some level of quiet and solitude to ease my aching and agitated psyche.
Fast forward to the present and things haven`t changed much. A few months ago I attended a dinner party at my sister`s home. It was a happy occasion and a somewhat rare opportunity for us all to be together. As always, it didn`t take long for the chatter to meld into a solid wall of sound; everyone talking at once, each a little louder than the other. Voices straining, beseeching to be heard, with no one listening to the other and communications misfiring left and right. While the decibels rose, my adult brother decided it might be fun to drive my sister`s dog insane by producing the highest-pitched whistle he could muster. Fergus, not a dog to be defeated, responded in kind by issuing his own manic, high-pitched barking, topped off with long, drawn out howling to rival that of any self-respecting, moon-worshipping werewolf. In the meantime my father, eyes closed in earnest, no doubt imagining himself “sous les ponts de Paris“, played his french musettes on accordian, non-stop, happy to be amongst his children and utterly oblivious to the mounting chaos that surrounded him.
As I sat submerged in a kaleidoscopic migraine aura, I couldn`t help but be amazed at the sight and sounds around me. Except for mine – happy, happy faces abounded. But as the chatter continued to rise, and my brother whistled, and the dog howled, and my father played accordian, I reached the end of my rope. My efforts to blend in, go with the flow, chill out, and hang loose, came to an abrupt end. I ran out of the room covering my ears, taking refuge in the relative quiet of the kitchen. It took every ounce of control I possessed not to run out of the house and escape. My sister couldn`t hide her shock and dismay as I stood there, hands clamped over my ears, on the verge of…well, running away. Now normally I might have found some comfort in a glass or two, or three, of chilled Chardonnay to take the edge off, but as luck would have it, I had recently made the decision to abstain from wine for a while…
Notwithstanding my deep love and affection for my family (and we all know that love is not always enough..), the evening loomed ahead with no relief in sight for my frazzled nerve endings.
Neurotic you say? Apparently not. Kazimierz Dabrowski, a relevant but somewhat obscure Polish psychiatrist/pyschologist from the 60’s and 70’s, theorized that people like me are simply born with higher than usual sensitivity. He coined the term Over-Excitabilities to describe five different forms of super-sensitivity. Contrary to long-standing opinion in psychology, Dabrowski did not view psychoneurosis as an illness. In fact, according to his Theory of Positive Disintegration – which is basically a process of disintegration of the personality with reintegration at a higher level of development – individuals endowed with over-excitabilities are much more likely to reach a higher level of personality development. The belief is that high sensitivity results in stronger emotion, more intense feeling, and deeper cognition, which results in more tension and inner-conflict, all of which propel the individual towards growth, if for no other reason than to quell the discomfort within the internal environment. The flip side, and somewhat more pleasurable aspect of over-excitability, is that its presence promotes creativity and generally increases richness of one’s inner experiences.
Good to know.
Next post….Dabrowski’s Over-Excitabilites defined.