If this question has your attention, I’m guessing you’re someone who already knows you prefer time and space to process deeply. I’ve always known I’m like that – it’s mostly what I call a super power, and admittedly, sometimes feels limiting (so I avoid interviews!) I’m glad to report something called “focusing” is enormously beneficial in this regard.
My light-bulb moment came listening to Dr Elaine Aron talk about Sensory Processing Sensitivity, also known as High Sensitivity (people with the trait known as HSP’s or Highly Sensitive Person). In describing one of the characteristics of HSP’s – depth of processing – I had the sparkling realisation that one of the reasons I don’t do well in social situations is that I need longer to process. The depth of my consideration and reflection simply takes more time. My witty response comes minutes later, sometimes hours, and certainly not conducive to conversational flow. In contrast, the focusing context naturally gives both permission and safe containment to plumb those depths without the pressure of performing quickly.
Before exploring the natural marriage between HSP’s and focusing, here’s the synonym Dr Aron uses to capture the experience of an HSP in the world:
D depth of processing
O tendency to overstimulation
E empathic attunement, emotional sensitivity
S noticing the subtleties of their environment
I wonder if some or all of these resonate for you as well? When I discovered Dr Aron’s body of work some years ago I felt enormously relieved. Not because I love labels and boxes – I don’t – but because I had the sense of not being alone, of belonging, of having found my tribe. Reaching out to other HSP’s and making sense of my experience alongside theirs was so affirming. I embraced the notion, read all I could, went on courses, attended meet-ups of these like-minded souls, connected with other professionals. I gradually began to write about my personal experience as an HSP, first through blog posts and later in my book Love & Imperfection: A Therapist’s Story. The story reveals the transformative nature of a relationship between two HSP’s, in this case, the therapeutic one between clinical and Bill, my client. (It also explores the role of trauma-shame-addiction in both our lives).
My work with Bill preceded my training as a focusing oriented therapist although the somatic approach we adopted certainly incorporated aspects of focusing, albeit not recognised as such. Current clients can expect focusing to be woven in to the fabric of our work – focusing language, sometimes deliberate sensing inward in a focusing way, other times I’m simply drawing on my experience of Gendlin’s “shaky being” to inform my embodied presence. I find it all remarkably beneficial and supportive. It’s no surprise to learn Dr Aron’s assessment that 20% of the population have HSP traits, and the majority of clients presenting for treatment are HSP’s (she estimates 80%).
When I ponder my focusing friends and colleagues, most seem blessed with HSP characteristics, some more, some less…..somehow, their ability to “sense into” themselves and the environment seems elevated. If I were a researcher, I’d be tempted to check this out more specifically, but for now I’m satisfied to simply broaden my experience. If you have comments or thoughts to share, please get in touch.
Before I go, a couple of good resources on HSP’s and focusing:
Ann Weiser Cornell: https://focusingresources.com/2016/03/09/focusing-gift-sensitive-people/
Emily Agnew https://sustainablysensitive.com/