Category Archives: fight or flight reaction
The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and The Body–An Awakening To the Importance of Listening To It and Core Strength
Hi everyone. I am back and writing again. Yay! I hope you are enjoying the beauty of this spring season and all the brilliantly colorful flowers. Thank you to those who commented or emailed me such wonderful wishes. It was quite a traumatic ordeal for me but I believe there are lessons in all things that happen to us–especially the painful things.
As a highly sensitive child, I have always been sensitive to pain and felt my pain more acutely than others–both physically and emotionally. I have childhood wounds related to how I was cared for during illnesses and also a hospitalization as a toddler. Being “laid up” as I have been the last few weeks has broken open many of those wounds so that I could remember, reframe them with the truth of who I was, and finally grieve, release and heal the repressed emotions.
I had always had a hard time when I was sick–I would beat myself up, blaming myself for causing it–always finding it difficult to rest in order to heal–sometimes even prolonging my illnesses because of the stress I added to the illness. I discovered this 2 years ago when I had 2 bad viruses back to back. I had to face up to the fact that I had to change how I pushed my body too far and was terrible at resting and relaxing. Things like this always have their foundations formed in childhood. My husband could see the patterns I couldn’t see as clearly. “Don’t be so hard on yourself, relax and let your body heal “, he would always say. “Take it easy, don’t do anything today but rest.” It helped but as soon as I recovered I’d go back to my bad habits of not listening to my body.
If you’ve read my post from June 15, 2010 on HSPs and allergies and stress-related illness you know that I am recovering nicely from adrenal fatigue. Developing stronger boundaries has definitely helped reduce the negative energy in my life and the “fight-or-flight” responses to stress that I had a pattern of. When your body reacts to stress with a fight-or-flight reaction you have increased cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body in the form of adrenaline. This is an “extreme fear” reaction that I believe many HSPs with childhood wounds do not even realize they are experiencing because it is combined with the numbing or anesthetic effect that goes along with the adrenaline rush. What I now have learned is that even positive events in life can trigger this fight-or-flight response if you had the daily trauma in your childhood.
It’s like post traumatic stress in a way–any event, positive or negative, can open the wound and the internalized belief “I am not good enough as I am, I must work extra hard to be perfect to be loved”. These are the roots of the compulsions of perfectionism, workaholism, burnout, and exhaustion etc. It is automatic and unconscious until we become aware of it, give voice to it, and then can reassure ourselves and calm and slow ourselves down. Sometimes it takes an accident, illness, or an injury for us to awaken to the knowledge of: “this pattern has to change–I am hurting myself by doing this!”
For me it was the event of both my children coming home. My 24-year-old son who lives 3 hours away and I hadn’t seen since Christmas was coming home for 4 days at Easter. And my 20-year-old daughter was coming home from her semester studying abroad in Australia 2 days after Easter. I overdid it! I was drained and exhausted but still so excited by the end of Easter evening–my low back/hip was aching but I ignored it. My son left after a wonderful visit but my daughter would be home in 2 days. I ignored my hip pain and exhaustion and just had to go to the grocery to get her favorite foods, just had to go to the party store to buy welcome home decorations and balloons, just had to clean up her room and get it ready for her, just had to hang up the banners and reach and stretch to hang lots of streamers in the main area of the house. All that stretching and twisting was way too much for my already injured sacroiliac joint! (I had moved boxes out of my son’s room to prepare for his visit). I thought I just needed a chiropractic adjustment and I’d be good as new–but I was continually injuring the ligaments to my sacroiliac joint! I didn’t listen to my body–it was begging me to stop, begging me to rest, “all this isn’t necessary, don’t do it” my intuition whispered to me. But “I have to” was a louder voice. I now realize my childhood fear of “not being good enough as I am” was playing out my trauma from the past into the present.
I did cut back on some things I had planned to do and rested with heat and ice packs for 3 hours before we picked up my daughter at the airport–but it was too late! The damage was done! And as the adrenaline wore off and my daughter settled into our home with “Mom, you shouldn’t have!”, she ended up being so right! I shouldn’t have! And I will never forget this painful lesson of ignoring pain in my body again. (I ended up in the ER with excruciating pain 1 and 1/2 days later–see my last post for more info.)
Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. Besides adrenal fatigue, I have never had anything chronic and this was chronic excruciating pain. I thought I had discovered a healthy alternative to exercise with my specific carbohydrate diet that was and is the perfect solution for my highly sensitive digestive system. Avoiding complex carbohydrates and sugar gave me more energy and kept my weight down. So I fooled myself into believing I didn’t need to exercise. (I tried exercising occasionally with fits and starts but the pain always made me quit–I now see there was emotional pain from my childhood tied into “getting stronger”. I learned that often childhood wounds related to our bodies can have complex origins. Hsps can feel shamed with looks of disgust or disapproval when expressing themselves joyfully through their bodies–dancing, running, and playing can be seen as threats to a N parent who need their hsp children to stay dependent and near and “take care of them forever”. This may be an unconscious act on the part of the N parent–The mixed message of “grow up”/”don’t grow up and leave me” leaves many HSPs to feel guilt about growing strong and competent and enjoying having strong bodies. HSPs can sense this message even though the parent may be completely unaware that they are projecting this onto their child.
Now I am told that if I’d had more core strength and the overall strength and stamina that only exercise can provide I could have avoided this injury. With weak core muscles I put strain on the ligaments related to my sacroilliac (SI) joint and injured the ligaments severely. Sprained ligaments like I have takes 4-6 weeks to heal. And you must be very careful not to reinjure them by doing too much too soon–I read that if you reinjure certain SI areas 4 or more times, you could end up with chronic pain there for the rest of your life!
And this week I did have a setback. 3 weeks in I was doing well and was finally able to pick things up off of the floor and drive etc. but I must have done too much and remember one sudden jolt that retriggered my pain and set my progress back a whole week! Ugh!…back on the couch just when the pain was beginning to lessen. But I learned from it and am now even more careful and even more grateful for the activities I took for granted before.
As bad as it sounds, this traumatic experience has changed my life for the better. I learned:
1. I avoided exercise because of the pain it caused me but that is nothing compared to the pain of being immobile and unable to function normally and perform the simplest of tasks like putting on ones own socks!
2. I must commit to regular exercise as soon as possible after I heal. My plan is to start walking and doing core strengthening daily and then I am going to do Pilates or yoga and join jazzercise again. I loved Jazzercise classes in my 20’s and 30’s–I had stopped in 1999 when it became too fatiguing and painful for me (I didn’t know then that I already had symptoms of adrenal fatigue). The adrenal fatigue is now better so I should be able to get back into it if I am very gradual and process the emotions as they come up.
3. I must get in shape and get core strength for the first time in my life and stay that way! I hope to get up to doing Jazzercise 3 times a week. Also I plan to do lots of hiking and biking with my husband which he loves to do but has always done without me because….well… honestly… I couldn’t keep up. My body has now taken a front seat in my life–I am sorry I didn’t listen to it sooner! Fear of this pain returning is a great motivator–muscle soreness is nothing compared to the intense chronic pain and the pain of being immobile and dependent on others for everything.
4. I am too young for this kind of injury–I am only 49. Now my body has caught up to the “new beginning journey” that my heart and mind were already on! And so for this wake up call I say, Thank you, Universe, for all that it taught me!!!
Wishing all of you love and kindness to your spirit, mind, and BODY!!