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									Dr. Samuel Pfeifer
Klinik Sonnenhalde, CH-4125 Riehen, Switzerland

turns into
The term „sensitivity“

Jane Austen (18th century)
Sense and Sensibility
Rationality vs. Sensitivity

The salt of the earth

„The exalted and
deplorable family of the
highly sensitive is the salt
of the earth“
                 Marcel Proust
Highly sensitive people

      Marilyn Monroe

                       Yves Saint Laurent

Highly sensitive people

Henry Nouwen
  – The Return of the
    Prodigal Son
  – Life of the Beloved
  – In the name of Jesus

Vincent van Gogh
„I am very sensitive“ - POS

 finely tuned to others, tender hearted
 understanding, susceptible
 intensive emotions
 deep perceptions and passions
 touched by the beauty of nature, music, art, poetry,
  film, relationships.
 not hardened against the suffering of other people
 sensitive for the transcendent.

I am overly sensitive – negative 1

   overreacting
   vulnerable – easily hurt
   reads between the lines
   thinks to much - ruminates
   introverted and shy
   anxious, fearful
   not robust / no power reserves
   at my limits
   everything is coming too close
   defenseless

I am overly sensitive – neg 2

   often so overwhelmed that I cannot speak
   negative perceptions of other people
   tendency to overreact
   touchy, irritable , moody
   easily exhausted
   feelings cause physical discomfort
   etc.

„The highly sensitive person“

        – German psychiatrist W. Klages 1978

 Existence between normal psychology and

 beyond the psychologically understandable,
  but do not reach the degree of psychiatric

Sensitive perceptions

          – causing intensive feelings and reactions
   smell
   taste
   auditory sense

                                                       according to Klages
    visual sense
   touch
   synaesthesia
   pathological startle reflex

Peculiarities of highly sensitive persons

   Intensive struggle with verbal expression
   increased exhaustion
   frequent mood swings, irritability
   sexuality and inhibition

                                                according to Klages
   paranormal sensitivity

When sensitivity turns into illness

  – negative impact on

 ability to enjoy
 relationships
 ability to work

The changing meaning of „neurosis“

 until 1979: Definition based on the possible
  causes (mother, early trauma, sexual
 DSM-III (1980): description of symptoms,
  the term „neurosis“ is dropped
 New term: „Disorder“: e.g. „anxiety
  disorder“, „obsessive-compulsive disorder“,
BUT: Problems have remained the same
Descriptive definition of „neurosis“

 psychological disorder with anxiety, obsessions,
    mood swings, increased sensitivity
   inhibition, insecurity, conflictuous
   reality testing is intact
   disorders of somatic functions
   reduced performance at work or social role
   „difficult“ relationships
   symptoms persist or recur
   not a transient reaction to stress

Common features


    contact                           Inhibitions

   Vegetative                         Emotional
   Complaints                          lability

                      ability to

New terms

   subclinical disorders
   atypical depressions
   “masked” depression
   subsyndromal disorders
   Spectrum Disorders
   Subthreshold Disorders

Spectrum Disorders


     Bulimia-                              OCD

     Panic-                               Social
     Agoraphobia                         Phobia

                       Migraine -

                                              evtl ADHD?
Criteria of Spectrum Disorders

 Criteria for the classic disorder are not fully
 Symptoms are either limited or isolated, however
  combined with depressive mood.
 Symptoms lead to impairment in social relations,
  work performance or other important areas of life.
 Symptoms lead to “emotionally loaded
  relationships” with dependence and social conflict.


      healthy aspects

      threshold                              suffering

      subthreshold                atypical   classic syndrome

    • Personality problem                         Core
    • isolated symptoms                      syndrome


     illness phase

           Vulnerable personality

         Stress, Trigger

           Personality                     Psychosocial
          Temperament                      environment



                   Sensitive Crisis

Sensitive Syndromes

Somatization                                                     Syndromes
Emotional                                                        Migraine
Instability                                                      Gastro-
            Depression                                Anorexia   intestinal
            Exhaustion                                           disorders
                         Ansiety                      Bulimia
                         Disorders       Compulsive
                         Phobias         Disorders

Sensitivity and faith

 Sensitivity for the spiritual world
 Over-sensitive conscience
 Anxious towards God and other persons.
 Living with tensions

Areas of tension
Inner               I want to do what is right
Experience          and good, pleasing to God.
                    *** other ideals ??

 Needs, desires                                  (Sub)cultural
 Drives, Impulses                                    rules und
 Emotions                                          limitations

                    “Why do I have to suffer?”   External
                    General life situation -
                    Social network – Physical    Framework
                    /emotional constitution
Highly sensitive people

Henry Nouwen
  – The Return of the
    Prodigal Son
  – Life of the Beloved
  – In the name of Jesus

Henri Nouwen

 Political sensitivity – Speaking out against
   injustice in the world.
 Restlessness – struggle for inner peace.
 Withdrawal into the world of handicapped
   persons (L„Arche community).
 Questioning identity in the middle of his life.

 Severe crisis and depression.
 New beginning.

The Wounded Healer

„Oh that I cannot control my feelings and my inner
passions! Often I have to let them run their course and
just hope that they would not dominate me for too long.“

„I love Jesus, but I would like to keep my independence,
although this independence does not grant me real
I love Jesus but I would not want to lose the respect of
my fellow professors, although I know that their respect
will not contribute to my spiritual growth.“

Henri Nouwen

“His words spoke with special sensitivity to
those who had emotionally suffered in their
lives. He discovered that he could reach out
from his own wounds to the hurts of other

 Coping with
high sensitivity
                                            Kapitel 15

Protecting yourself

1. Find a balance between overactivity and regression!
2. Learn to understand your body„s language!
3. Accept the limitations of your sensitivity!
4. Do not take everything too personal!
5. Take time to relax and to enjoy!
6. Do not take too much responsibility!
7. Explain your condition to others!
8. Recognize your shadow and work at improving your

A prayer for positive sensitivity
 Lord, open my mind and fill me with
    your wisdom and guidance.
   Lord, take out all my fussies and frownies
    and fill me with your love.
   Lord, open my eyes to see all the beautiful
    things you have made.
   Lord open my nose Lord, help me to be
    a sweet fragrance for you.
   Lord, help me always speak your
    words of love and kindness.
   Lord, let me be a light to others
    for you have filled me with your light.


   Aron E.N. (1996). The Highly
    Sensitive Person. How to thrive
    when the world overwhelms you.
    New York: Broadway.
   Aron E.N. (2000). The Highly
    Sensitive Person in Love. New
    York: Broadway.
   Aron E.N., & Aron A. (1997).
    Sensory-processing sensitivity and
    its relation to introversion and
    emotionality. Journal of Personality
    and Social Psychology 73:345–368.
   Pfeifer S. (2002). Der sensible
    Mensch. Leben zwischen Begabung
    und Verletzlichkeit. Haan:

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