The Infant/Body Self

I’ve finished reading The Highly Sensitive Person, and can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone–especially people who have felt overly sensitive at times.  I’m pasting in something of particular interest to me below, but for a more in-depth set of gleanings, go to The Highly Sensitive Person, or  read the book for yourself!

Pg 43:  Why the Infant/Body Self?

Think of what the infant and the body have in common.  First, both are wonderfully content and cooperative when they are not overstimulated, worn out, and hungry.  Second, when babies and sensitive bodies really are exhausted, both are largely helpless to correct things on their own.  The baby-you relied on a caretaker to set limits and satisfy your simple, basic needs, and your body relies on you to do it now.  Both also cannot use words to explain their troubles; they can only give louder and louder signals for help or develop a symptom so serious it cannot be ignored.  The wise caretaker knows that much woe is avoided by responding to the infant/body at the first sign of distress.  Finally, as we noted in the last chapter, caretakers who think newborn babies or bodies can be spoiled and should be “left to cry” are wrong.  Research demonstrates that if a small infant’s crying is responded to promptly (except at those times when responding just adds to the overstimulation), that infant will cry less, not more, when older.

Pg 45:  (those HSPs who grew up feeling securely attached…had good resources and could handle overstimulation fairly well)  Eventually, you learned to do for yourself what your good caretakers had been doing for you…You found that your body was a friend to trust.  At the same time, you were learning that you had a special body, a sensitive nervous system.  But you could handle things by learning when to push yourself a little, when to take your time, when to back off entirely, when to rest and try later….Those of you with an insecure childhood also need to face it so that you can be more patient with yourself.  Most important, you need to know what was not done so you can be a different sort of parent to your infant/body.

Pg 46:  When holding is not adequate, when the infant/body is intruded upon or neglected—or worse, abused—stimulation is too intense for the infant/body self.  Its only recourse is to stop being conscious and present, thereby developing a habit of “dissociating” as a defense.  Overstimulation at this age also interrupts self-development.  All energy must be directed toward keeping the world from intruding.  The whole world is dangerous.

Pg 47:  Perhaps you had an overprotective, needy caretaker who really wanted a child very dependent and never able to leave.

Pg 51:  It may help to consider your behavior from the viewpoint of your infant/body.  If it wants to try new things but is afraid, you need to help it, not reinforce the fear.  Otherwise, you are telling it that it really is all wrong about its desires, that it is not fit to survive out there.  That is a crippling message to give a child.  You’ll want to think long and hard about who gave you this feeling in childhood, and why, rather than helping you get out and learn to do things your way.

Pg 58:  When witnessing, imagine standing to one side, watching yourself, perhaps talking about yourself with a comforting imaginary figure.  “There’s Ann again, so overwhelmed she’s falling to pieces.  I really feel for her.  When she’s like this, of course, she can’t see beyond right now.  Tomorrow, when she’s rested, she’ll be all excited again about her work.  She just has to take some rest now no matter what seems to need to be done.  Once she’s rested, it will go smoothly.”

Pg 60:  The Containers in Your Life

Another way to understand all of this advice is to remember how we began this chapter, by appreciating that your infant/body’s earliest and still most basic need is to be held and protected from overstimulation.  On that strong basis, you can go out and explore, feeling secure about that safe harbor of the good caretaker’s arms.

Pg 62:  The Infant/Body’s Message

1)      Please don’t make me handle more than I can.  I am helpless when you do this, and I hurt all over.  Please, please, protect me.

2)      I was born this way and can’t change.  I know you sometimes think something awful must have made me this way, or at least made me “worse,” but that ought to give you even more sympathy for me.  Because either way I can’t help it.  Either way, don’t blame me for how I am.

3)      What I am is wonderful—I let you sense and feel so much more deeply.  I am really one of the best things about you.

4)      Check in on me often and take care of me right at that moment if you possibly can.  Then, when you can’t, I can trust that you are at least trying and I won’t have long to wait.

5)      If you must make me wait for my rest, please ask me nicely if it’s okay.  I’m only more miserable and troublesome if you get angry and try to force me.

6)      Don’t listen to all the people who say you spoil me.  You know me.  You decide.  Yes, sometimes I might do better left alone to cry myself to sleep.  But trust your intuition.  Sometimes you know I am too upset to be left alone.  I do need a pretty attentive, regular routine. But I’m not easily spoiled.

7)      When I’m exhausted, I need sleep.  Even when I seem totally wide awake.  A regular schedule and a calm routine before bed are important to me.  Otherwise, I will lie awake in bed all stirred up for hours.  I need a lot of time in bed, even if I’m lying awake.  I may need it in the middle of the day, too.  Please let me have it.

8)      Get to know me better.  For example, noisy restaurants seem silly to me—how can anybody eat in them?  I have a lot of feelings about such things.

9)      Keep my toys simple and my life uncomplicated.  Don’t take me to more than ne party in a week.

10)  I might get used to anything in time, but I don’t do well with a lot of sudden change.  Please plan for that, even if the others with you can take it and you don’t want to be a drag.  Let me go slow.

11)  But I don’t want you to coddle me.  I especially don’t want you to think of me as sick or weak.  I’m wonderfully clever and strong, in my way.  I certainly don’t want you hovering over me, worried about me all day.  Or making a lot of excuses for me.  I don’t want to be seen as a nuisance, to you or to others.  Above all, I count on you, the grown-up, to figure out how to do all of this.

12)  Please don’t ignore me.  Love me!

13)  And like me.  As I am.



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