Here’s More CASIGY™ Coping Tools
This continues Strategy #4 in the series, “7 Strategies to Cope With the Differences of Being a Creative, Highly Sensitive or Gifted Person”. We’ve been talking about CASIGY coping tools (CASIGY™ = Creative, Acutely Aware, Super-Sensitive and/or Gifted You-s). CASIGY coping tools are ones that are suited to your creativity, sensitivity, intensity and intelligence.
In my previous blog post of this series, I introduced the Personal Power Pyramid, a collection of CASIGY coping tools. They help CASIGYs develop Emotional Resilience and build Emotional Core Strength™. In that post, we then discussed the first 4 steps we encounter while metaphorically climbing the Personal Power Pyramid. (Click here to see or print a full size version)
As you may recall, Step #1 of the Personal Power Pyramid is to acknowledge the events that have been happening in our lives. Step #2 is to identify what is happening physically in our bodies and also emotionally inside us in relation to what is happening in our lives. Step #3 is to assess how big the impact of these events is on us. Step 4 is how to channel this energy in a conscious, constructive way, rather than letting it build up and explode out of us or implode into us.
In this post, we continue to metaphorically climb the Personal Power Pyramid, expanding our ability to cultivate Emotional Core Strength.
CASIGY Coping Tools Step 5 is to identify what we need in relation to what’s happening.
Seven year old Ethan (not his real name) and his mother were excited the day they came in for his counseling appointment and shared their Success Story from that week. Instead of the crying-screaming-yelling-type meltdowns which had been happening, Ethan had been able to recognize that something really distressing was happening in his life in that very moment; he felt, named, and released his emotion, and even more than that, he was able to identify what he needed in that moment: a hug. Such a simple thing. A hug was what he needed to help him to instantly feel better. But it took going through the other steps to enable that awareness to surface and to be able to verbalize it. Before he knew about these Creative Coping Skills, he would dissolve in a puddle of tears, and say things like “I hate myself” over and over. What a change this made for him, and what a change it often makes for other children as well as teens and adults as they continue to climb the pyramid and actively use step #5.
But creative, acutely aware, super-sensitive, intense and especially gifted people are supposed to have it all together, right? We’re not supposed to have any needs! Or so it seems. Having creativity, sensitivity or giftedness often brings in tow a higher self-expectation for CASIGYs. Hence, admitting that we have challenges or needs can be even tougher for CASIGYs than for Neurotypicals.
Owning our emotional reactions, and owning even the fact that we have needs may be especially challenging. Admitting to ourselves that we have needs can intensify a (often previously) hidden feeling of vulnerability. The intensity factor inherent in being a CASIGY may up the ante, making this a daunting task, as shown in this cartoon. This man is under the illusion that he can ‘outsource’ his emotional needs. He’s not alone, for there’s a subtle message often hidden deep within our culture that needs, especially emotional ones can be ignored, blown off, or ‘outsourced’ without there being any fallout.
But there is fallout when we ignore our needs of any kind. When we need to balance our checkbook and don’t, we may end up with overdrawn accounts or not enough money to pay for our basic necessities because the money went elsewhere. When we need physical exercise and don’t get it, our bodies break down and don’t support us in doing the things we want and need to do. When we need emotional support, we are usually more likely to get it when we know what it is that we need, and we ask directly for it, than when we depend on others to guess what it is that we need.
Nine year old highly sensitive, gifted Madison’s (not her real name) mother told me of their family get-togethers, which she loved and yet hated at the same time. She wanted to see her cousins, but before long, she would disappear. Her parents would search all over the house for her. Eventually one of them would find her, hiding behind a chair or a bed in an out of the way corner of the house. She would be curled up in a ball, sobbing in distress. And she would dissolve in tears at school also, at the oddest times. Odd to others, that is. And odd only until we unraveled the mystery.
Unraveling the mystery wasn’t rocket science, however. It was the art of CASIGY Science, which involved climbing the steps on the pyramid we have just described, with step #5, “What do I need and how can I get it?” being especially important for her. We discovered that almost all of Madison’s meltdowns came when there was a combination of overstimulation (especially with noise for her) hunger, and fatigue, often after playing hard physically in an interactive way. So we deduced that she needed a healthy, high-protein/low carb snack, a break from the play in a restful and quiet place. And she needed the help of her parents to plan things out, and to get her snacks before the physical activity, and to help her monitor how much noise and other sensory stimulation was too much and when she needed the quiet snack break, before she got overstimulated to the point of implosion. This involved a process of observation and experimentation to discover what were the triggers, what were the warning signs of trouble, and when to intervene vs. when to allow things to flow naturally.
The second half of Step #5 can be as tough as the first. How can I get help around the house when I need it if I don’t ask? How can you enlist volunteers for your Cub- or Girl-Scouts project if you don’t ask? But asking for what we need, and planning for what we need involves risk. Many CASIGYs are risk-adverse, due to our sensitivity and intensity, and especially if we have encountered people who react poorly to direct, assertive communication. We become like the turtle that is reluctant to stick its neck out to get what it needs. Yet that is often what it takes to get our needs met.
CASIGY Coping Tools Step 6 is to ask ourselves, “What is the meaning or significance of this situation?
In other words, how do I interpret this event or situation? This is important because how we interpret the meaning or significance of a situation or an event largely determines both its impact on us and our response to it. A good place to start when we are ready to discover this is to ask ourselves, “What’s my first take on what it means?” Most of us in modern society have learned to edit our interpretation and change it even before we allow it to come out into the light of day.
But unless we know what our genuine thoughts and feelings are, we can gloss over our true inner reality, the one that actually sets the tone for our lives. When we are not aware of our true feelings, they can have more power over us than if we are aware of them. Becoming aware of them allows us to work with them and redirect our lives when we feel the need to.
Many CASIGYs have told me that as soon as something goes awry, they instantly conclude that the meaning of the situation is, “See? Here’s (more) proof that I’m different; therefore something’s wrong with me. I’m defective, inferior; inadequate.” Such a conclusion only adds to our distress. It’s also inaccurate. Although this idea has been around since ancient times, modern industrial society with our ‘need’ for millions of identical widgets made by robots or robotic humans strongly reinforces this subliminal perspective that anything and anyone who is unusual is wrong, even inferior and defective.
When this is our default reaction to difficult or distressing events, what can we do? First of all, we can tune in and identify what we are thinking and feeling, just like we have been discussing. Then we can explore some other optional ways to approach our distress. Here’s some other possibilities:
Kazimierz Dabrowski developed a theory called Positive Disintegration. He was a psychiatrist who emigrated from Poland to Calgary, Canada in 1964. He believed that intelligence is not enough for human development. He taught that that psychological development is necessary, and that emotions influence this personality development. In fact, he believed that experiencing so-called negative emotions is essential for advanced psychological development. In this framework, our goal is not to eliminate “negative” emotions.
But we live in a modern culture that has trained us all to eliminate our emotions. How many times have you heard “Don’t be sad”. “Don’t be mad!” “Don’t feel bad”? How many times have you or your children received the message that what you were feeling was not ok, and that it was even worse to express it than to feel it?
Dabrowski found that when individuals are on a path of inner development, negative emotions become essential companions. Negative emotions may actually break apart “lower” levels of personal development so that “higher” levels of development may emerge. Therefore, having negative emotions may be a harbinger of further development.
Carl Jung’s analytical depth psychology takes this even further. He observed that most people can stay undeveloped psychologically with no particularly negative consequences to themselves. They are unconscious and are ‘perfectly content’ being unconscious. They may give many other people trouble and pain, but they are not particularly pained because of their unconsciousness. You may in fact have been around people like this.
Jung also observed that there are a few people who DO have a need to develop their inner life to a deeper, higher, broader level. What he found was that people with this need, develop symptoms that haunt them unless and until they become more and more conscious and more developed psychologically. Like those people who MUST explore new physical territory (i.e. “California or BUST”) they MUST individuate.
But tragically, they often misinterpret the meaning of their symptoms. They assume that the cultural interpretation of the meaning─ that they are inferior, inadequate or defective─ is accurate. Instead, it is important for them to understand that their symptoms are signs of a need to develop their inner life and an ENGRAVED INVITATION WITH AN IMPERIATIVE TO GROW AND DEVELOP FURTHER. Joseph Campbell describes this inner growth and development as the Hero’s Journey. In the 21st century, we understand this as both the Hero’s and the Heroine’s Journeys.
CASIGY Coping Tools Step 7 of the Personal Power Pyramid continues this line of thought and action.
Here, we ask ourselves, “Does the size of this wave (of emotion) match the significance of the actual situation?”
Often we will find that it does not. If it does, great. When the situation has a small significance, and the “flag” flying on our inner beach is green, indicating small waves of emotion, it’s a match, and all is well. But when the significance of the situation is a small and we’re flying a RED flag, appropriate to BIG waves on our inner beach, this usually causes us, and those around us, consternation and trouble.
When our emotional waves are out of proportion to the situation, it most often is driven by one of these causes:
- Having a more perceptive and more reactive Central Nervous System
- Misunderstandings with other people in our lives
- A pull from the past (depressive symptoms)
- A pull to the future (anxious symptoms)
So it’s important to discover what is driving the difference between the size and intensity of our inner waves, and the outer concrete situation. Then we can pull things apart and unravel the knots we find ourselves in. This may take us back to Step 5, identifying what we need. If we’re hungry, we need to feed ourselves healthy, nutritious food. If we’re anxious, angry, or have some other kind of angst, we may first need to go even lower on the Pyramid and start with step 1 and go up from there, step by step. If we’re physical tired, we may need to take a break and give ourselves a rest as soon as possible.
Misunderstandings may call for having conversations to unravel the knots between ourselves and others. If that’s not possible, feasible or advisable, depending on the circumstances, it often relieves some of our internal distress to recognize that this is what we are distressed about.
When we’re in the midst of a pull to the past or to the future that sends the waves of emotion on our inner beaches out of proportion to the current storm, it can be important to first identify that this is happening. Then we can begin to pull things apart and work with what’s happening. What part of our emotional response is about that is here-and-now? What aspect and what amount of our emotional response is about the past or future events?
It can also be helpful to understand that this is a normal and even a common phenomenon. This is just like when you have two musical instruments in the same room together. When you play a C on a violin or guitar that is near a piano, the C on the piano may also vibrate. When things happen in our lives that vibrate at the frequency of say, sadness, the current vibration can activate anything inside of us that’s on that same emotional ‘frequency’ of sadness. The more we have experienced in our lives at that same frequency, the more we are likely to feel and hence, higher the waves on our inner beach are likely to be. So the current situation may match up with small waves of emotion, and warrant a green flag on our inner beach while the cumulative waves of emotion that we’re feeling may be very large and warrant a red flag flying on our inner beach.
We’re now nearing the top of the Personal Power Pyramid. Each of these steps gives you more tools and more skills with which to develop emotional resilience and Emotional Core Strength. Following the metaphor of core strength, the tools are only as valuable as the experience we have with them. Leaving the dumbbells on my workout room floor does nothing for my physical core strength; leaving these tools also unused will do nothing for our Emotional Core Strength. I welcome your comments and your questions as you take the risks to change and begin to use them.
In our next post in this series, we’ll continue exploring CASIGY Coping Tools and complete our metaphorical climb up the Personal Power Pyramid.