Highly Sensitive People and the Church

By Lorena Rodriguez

I believe that my years of christianity severely damaged me emotionally. The religion points to Jesus as a solution to each and every problem a person may have. When one expresses pain, disappointment, fear, or anger, the verses are thrown on one’s face: "Don’t let the sun go down on your anger," "Rejoice in the Lord always," "I will fear no evil for you are with me."

The idea is to suppress one's feelings and "take every thought captive to the Lord." What are the psychological consequences of suppressing one’s emotions year after year in "The name of the Lord?"

Are we all to experience the world in the same manner and apply the bible verses to our lives indistinctly?

Are we to erase our individuality to feel the way the bible says we should feel?

According to Dr. Elaine N. Aron, writer of The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), one of five humans (20%) experience the world in a unique way. HSPs, she maintains, have a brain that processes physical and emotional stimuli as much as 10 times more intensely than that of non-HSPs. And as a result of such sensitivity, HSPs feel overwhelmed by noises, work demands, hectic schedules, or just contact with other people. Situations that for others are completely normal make an HSP want to cry, run away, or hide in a dark room.

Being an HSP, writes Dr. Aron, is both a blessing and a course. Because HSP's experience the world more intensely, they are able to pick on details and circumstances that others can't perceive. Thus HSP's are usually talented individuals with much to offer. They, however, find themselves wanting to contribute their skills while, at the same time, being hindered by the emotional heaviness of a world that seems unbearable.

HSPs like herself, affirms Dr. Aron, can learn to manage their sensitivity and use it to their advantage in leading happy lives.

Her theories come from many clinical studies and from analyzing the writings of other psychologists such as Carl Jung, whom she cites speaking of the origins of neurosis:

"He believed that when highly sensitive patients had experienced a trauma, sexual or otherwise, they had been usually affected and so developed a neurosis. Note that Jung was saying that sensitive people not traumatized in childhood are not inherently neurotic" (p. 36).

She adds that HSPs can be damaged, not only in childhood, but later in life by being in long-term situations that deny them the right to manage their sensitivity.

Church, I maintain, is such a damaging place. HSP church goers, such as I was for far too many years, see themselves continually beaten over the head to adapt to a cookie-cutter model of behaving and feeling that overwhelms them.

HSPs, who due to their sensitivity are more likely to experience guilt than others, take the Bible teachings seriously, too seriously, demanding of themselves complete adherence to the rules, and fearing God 10 times more than non-HSPs.

The whole church experience for the HSP is a traumatic event likely to cause neurosis. And to me, that explains why some can go to church Sunday after Sunday and do not feel pressed to comply with every single commandment that is preached from the pulpit. Many, like my husband, have the ability to decide which teachings to adhere to and which to let go. Others, like me, feel compelled to obey everything that is said and follow it to the letter. During my last visits to church, I used to feel like covering my ears when holiness, money, or witnessing was demanded of me. Even though, by all accounts, I was as holy as they get.

By now, if you are a Christian, you are thinking that I am just mentally ill or demon possessed—I should be on medication, right? Dr. Elaine Aron and others who write on the issue don't think so. They think I am a brilliant individual who needs to create an environment in which I can thrive.

Fundamentalist christian churches are certainly not the place where I can thrive. And I believe that if God exists he is smiling at me in agreement—After all he created me, didn’t he?

Pageviews this week: