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Anger Management: Understanding Your Temperament

2. Sensitivity
How aware are you of sights, sounds, smells, textures, or tastes? Do slight noises irritate you? Do you notice subtle changes in temperature or lighting?

easily irritated by noises, lighting in a crowded store;
not easily irritated by smells, tastes, or noises, etc.;
enjoy amusement parks, fairs, etc.

can wear clothing of any texture; rarely notice changes in temperature

      a child crying or asking questions in a loud voice can drive you wild

very particular about how clothing "feels"

1 2 3 4 5
low sensitivity       high sensitivity

If you are a highly sensitive individual, any sensation – a child's shriek, glaring lights, a noxious smell, or a slight rattle – has the potential to trigger you. All five senses may not pose a challenge for you; for instance, you might be bothered by lights but not smells. But whatever offends you does so profoundly. It's nearly impossible to listen to your child or to soothe him when the tags in the back of your shirt are driving you wild, or the person next to you is cracking her gum. Add to all the potential sensorial assaults a mess like dirty dishes sitting on the counter, or toys, shoes, and clothes all over the floor, and your intensity rises very quickly. It's likely, however, that all your life you've been told you were too sensitive or picky. So now when you start to feel bombarded, too hot, or irritated by the noises around you, you get frustrated with yourself for being so sensitive. As a result you may be tempted to ignore or deny your feelings until they overwhelm you.

And if your child is also sensitive, you may feel as though your worst nightmare is occurring. You don't want her to suffer the ridicule you've experienced, so you do your best to stop her from being so sensitive.

If you're a highly sensitive adult, be kind to yourself. Try to remember that high stimulation levels make it very difficult for you to focus on your child. It takes all of your energy simply to manage your own strong reactions to the stimuli. In order to keep your cool and stay connected with your child, monitor stimulation levels and their effects on you closely. Shop during "quiet times" whenever possible. Know when to take a break; leave that family gathering, shopping center, or amusement park before you're at your limit. Don't let tags, harsh lighting, or weird noises send you over the edge and pull you into fights with your kids that would never happen if you weren't on stimulation overload.

Most important, appreciate your sensitivity and your child's. Celebrate it! You are who you are. Recognize that it is your sensitivity that allows you to monitor the emotions of others: Few things escape your notice. You sense a problem and can potentially take preventive actions before things get out of hand – if you'll respect and listen to your keen senses.

There's little that will trigger individuals on the low end of the sensitivity continuum. It's easy for you to stay calm and focused even in the most stimulating environments. You can breeze through a shopping mall for hours without feeling barraged.

But sometimes it's hard to be patient or to understand why the texture of meat makes your child gag, or why his shoes have to be tied just right. And you really do not appreciate it when your sensitive child keeps turning down your radio or television because for her it's too loud.

Your greatest challenge is to become aware of sensory stimuli that may trigger your child. Because you do not personally experience the sensations your highly sensitive child does, it may be easy for you to miss potential triggers. Even when you don't sense it, try to affirm you child's feeling. Believe her and be willing to leave when she tells you that she cannot eat in a restaurant because the smell of jalepenos is making her sick. Understand, too, that going to the movie theater, amusement park, or mall is an endurance test, not fun for highly sensitive people. Your sensitive child is not trying to control you when she asks to go home. Truly, the stimuli are driving her wild. And do cut the tags out of her clothing, find socks without seams, and buy jackets that feel right. She's not just trying to make you late in the morning; the sensations these articles of clothing create can be unbearable to her.

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From the book KIDS, PARENTS, AND POWER STRUGGLES: Winning for a Lifetime by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright 2000 by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. All rights reserved.

Buy the book at www.harpercollins.com.


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