Monday, August 13, 2012

Could Your Diagnosis be a Misdiagnosis?

Many were so intrigued by Carol Brown's guest post on high sensitivity last week that I have asked her to do a mini-series during August. Every Monday she will discuss how being highly sensitive affects our health, emotions, and happiness.

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you: 
because he trusts in you.~Isaiah 26:3

What does high sensitivity look and feel like?

Did you go to Elaine Aron’s website ( to give yourself the “self-test” for high sensitivity? And did you come up “positive?” You may be wondering what high sensitivity looks like in real life, what it feels like and how it can affect your health. Whenever we make a big shift in thinking it often takes more than one line of evidence to convince us, so here are some real life examples of high sensitivity at work. It is a huge shift to go from thinking that “all feelings I feel originate with me” to asking the Lord if this feeling belongs to me or someone else.  

To people around you high sensitivity can look spooky when you “know” something that no one told you. It can also be comforting. An elderly woman came into the hotel lobby and sat down. The front desk manager watched her and after a moment went to the beverage counter, made a cup of tea and took to the woman. With that little bit of sensitive concern for her, the lady melted and shared her sad tale. The manager was able to make a few well placed calls and the situation was resolved. The lady felt seen and heard and cared about—what comfort when you are fearful. Without the calm the manager brought, her body would have continued to pump out excess stomach acid.

To observers high sensitivity can look like a psyco mood swing. After spending an hour on the phone with a bitter, lonely woman who was not only depressed, but oppressed—toxic to herself and anyone around, I was filled up with her depression and toxicity. I began to rehearse all of my husband’s deficiencies the same way she had been rehearsing the deficiencies of the Christian community around her…his neglect of me…how could he be so late and still say he loves me! My anger grew and grew; when he finally did arrive home, I blew. I tore strips off of him. My behavior was totally out of character for me! He stood back and watched me spew. When I finally wore down he quietly asked, “Who have you been talking to?” My turn to melt; for a bit all I could say was, “I am sorry, I am so, so sorry!” And then I shared my afternoon. We prayed and I was completely restored to myself. The danger with this one is that you may be called crazy. Another danger is that you feel crazy so you may agree with them! Some know in their “knower” that they are not crazy but it is difficult to substantiate, especially when you don’t know that you are capable of absorbing/soaking up other people’s feelings. If David had not understood what was happening it could have done serious damage to our emotional health and possibly our physical health as toxicity that I had downloaded released into our bodies and our marriage!

When feelings can come out of nowhere you can begin to believe you are crazy, as some say. A wife happily busy about her day suddenly becomes tense, anxious and fearful. She struggles to keep her responses grace filled. She eats Tums, fumbles with her work—she is “off” for the rest of the day. Over supper her husband shares that he had the worst day at work that he can remember. He feared for his job and worried about the ramifications for the family. The wife had become filled up with the excess of her husband’s emotion. She carried his overload so that he could function. Our God-given design is that we can carry the overload when it is essential that the other person function. The anxiety and tension she carried for her husband would exaggerate her normal body response to worry. It would attach itself to her favorite worry and make it worse and activate muscle tension, stomach acid and spend quantities of physical and emotional energy!

Picking up physical symptoms can be very confusing. I taught a woman who was a nurse about burden bearing—this phenomena of soaking up someone else’s “stuff.” I did not know that arthritis was in her family medical history. The next morning she awoke to hands on fire. With her family history she thought, “Oh, no! It’s my turn!” She spent about ½ hour searching for relief for her hands. Suddenly the thought occurred to her, “What if this is not my pain? What if it is someone else’s? She held her hands up toward heaven and prayed, “Lord, whose hands are these?” The face of a friend came to mind. She knew the lady had a raging case of arthritis. She now knew how to pray and pray she did—intelligently, specifically and passionately! Shortly the pain was gone from her hands. She was just fine! The Lord’s heart was to help with the arthritis but He waited to be invited. He tapped my friend on the shoulder and connected her with the pain so she could pray the prayer of invitation that the woman experiencing the condition did not or could not pray for some reason.

Later that day the woman called my friend who casually asked about her hands. “Oh, the funniest thing happened. I awoke to hands on fire but then suddenly the pain was gone!” My friend inquired “What time was that?” It was the exact time that my friend had prayed and her own pain was also gone! Talk about a faith builder! I have no way to prove it, but I believe that if she had not prayed, but accepted the arthritis as her own, it would have been hers from that day on.

When we do not know that we are highly sensitive or empathetic (burden bearers—Galatians 6:2 “bear one another’s burdens”) and that we can actually feel and soak up how another person experiences life, we will likely respond by acting out or acting on the emotions as if they were our own, for example¼

·         I absorb anger, but do not pass it on to Jesus, so I “rip strips” off the people around me. 
·         I absorb depression, so I become morose, curl up, and eat chocolates. 
·         I absorb and feel the adoration of someone I have helped.  Assuming the feelings are my own, I respond as if the intense adoration I feel is mine for the other.  (This is trouble if it becomes romantic!)
·         I absorb stress and distress and isolate myself, often blaming others for my feelings.
·         Absorbed emotional freight overwhelms me and I numb myself to make the pain go away.  Or, I behave in self-destructive ways to make the numbness go away— with alcohol, drugs, sex, cutting, or engage in high-risk sport to distract myself.
·         I absorb too much pain or too much shock and become so numb that I behave in self-destructive ways to feel high, to feel something, anything.
·         I try to “fix” the problem in my own strength and wisdom.
·         I pray, but because I think it is my own problem, I only ask the Lord to make it better, to “take this off me!” (List is an excerpt from The Mystery Of Spiritual Sensitivity p. 135, Destiny Image, 2008 ISBN:-13: 978-0-7684-2592-5.)

Acting without understanding is not yet the fullness of relationship the Lord wants for you. When emotions yank you hither and yon you may begin to agree with those who say you are crazy or neurotic. When you have vague pains that come and go that cannot be diagnosed, you can believe that you may be a hypochondriac. And when you pick up psychological symptoms of depression and spiritual oppression and are unable to explain what you feel and why you feel that way; you can begin to feel there is something drastically wrong with you. Many are the voices who will agree with you. Believing such things can have effects upon your self-image, your sense of self esteem and your sense of worth and belonging as well as your health. Actually, the truth is that there is something wonderfully right with you! You are specially designed to come alongside and lighten someone’s load and we will talk about that in the next blog.
I want to be clear—I am not anti-doctors. You should visit the good doctor and rule out physical causes. But when you have done that and still have unexplainable symptoms…that is when to consider that you may be carrying someone else’s pain. What relief to know you can turn to Jesus and give it to Him to deal with! In our next post I will offer you an optional response to “the crazies!”
Please drop a comment in the box below if something in this post rang true for you.

By Carol Brown, B.A., MA
Educator, administrator, foreign student advisor, mom, pastor’s wife and author of  The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive


  1. Carol, this is a fascinating series and I could totally relate to some of those situations. I was a clinical psychologist for more than 30 years and, toward the end, I was really "burned out." Looking back, I think I had probably "absorbed" others' pain much more than I thought I had at the time. Love this series!

    1. Thanks for the validation! I agree, you were probably fuller with other people's stuff than you realized and it took your body a while to clear all that stuff! This understanding made a world of difference for me and I love being able to share it. We serve an amazingly creative God!

    2. Thanks for stopping by Sandra and commenting! I can so relate to getting burned out as a health care provider. Carol series is a blessing!

  2. I can relate to this story. I trained as a Christian Counsellor and one of the first things I was taught was to be a sounding board, not a sponge. When I heard it I thought, "Oh that is easy", but I soon found out it was harder to not absorb that to let the issues bounce off. When I started having nightmares about some cases, I realised that I had ventured too far into the situation and begun to learn how to ease myself out. This makes interesting reading and I look forward to more.

    1. Yes Yvonne, I know that sponge thing all too well! And when we know we have that tendency, I learned that it is best to have Jesus be your best squeeze! Go immediately to Him and have Him give you a good squeeze and get all that stuff out of you. Let Him take responsibility for it! What would we do without Him?

  3. I love that Yvonne! Trying to not be a sponge can be hard when you hear and deal with other's problems. It certainly testifies to the need to have Christ as the center of our thoughts to keep it all in perspective.

  4. Isn't it wonderful that the Lord is an advocate of dealing with things, while the world's only answer is to live with them? Then (as if that weren't enough) he appoints others to help "lift the load" when it is too heavy to deal with, ourselves.

    What if, in these last days of so many difficulties people are faced with (in nature as well as ourselves), the Lord is raising up and training a special "army" of burden bearers who will go out among all those hurting souls and "undo the heavy burdens?" What an exciting calling that would be. And that He would specially train and equip us to do those things is marvelous beyond words.

    Such an "eye-opening" post, Carol. May God richly bless all those He is calling out to march in those ranks with wisdom, discernment, and heavenly protection to surround their spiritual sensitivities!