“The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron
“The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron
The quickest way to stop the crying of a child who is upset for not getting what he or she wants is to just give in and hand over the desired object to him or her. Although this may be the quickest solution, it is by far one of the worst solutions in the long-run. Instant gratification robs your child of the opportunity to learn some very important lessons: (1) we will not always get everything that we want so immediately; (2) our imperfect world can never be set in a way that it perpetually provides whatever it is that we want; (3) the difficult feelings associated with not getting what we want are a normal part of the human experience and they will eventually go away with mindful acceptance and positivity.
Mindfulness and delayed gratification build patience.
Let’s start off by exploring a scenario that all parents are familiar with. You and your daughter are in a toy store. She wants a toy. You say no. She cries because she is overwhelmed by some unfamiliar feeling of discomfort in her heart. What do you do? You help her identify and express her thoughts and emotions by getting her to think about what she is thinking in her head and feeling in her heart. She may be feeling betrayal and rejection because her thoughts are saying, “All this time I thought you loved me. How could you betray me like this by denying me of what I understand to be love?” After she puts these thoughts and emotions into words to the best of her ability, you deliver comfort, not by handing over the toy, but by giving her comforting words of truth and physical affection. You assure her that you love her. You teach her your more mature definition of love. You explain to her that, although it is ok for her to communicate to others what she wants, she cannot expect to always get that from them. You also explain that, in the context of generosity and gift giving, she is not entitled to a reason when others do not give her what she wants. Therefore, in most cases, you too do not give her a reason. Help her then to accept and feel her difficult emotions. Assure her that they are only temporary and that good emotions are just around the corner. Help her practice delayed gratification by getting her to wait for some time before she gets that toy. Ideally, you do not want to choose birthdays or special occasions as that will just transfer the sense of entitlement to those specific days of the year (I am not sure if there is any way to avoid that). All of this will greatly reduce your child’s chances of developing a sense of entitlement in his or her later years.
The next scenario is one that is not as obviously connected with instant gratification and I see a lot of parents, especially in the past recent years, just “giving in.” You decide to take your family out for dinner at a restaurant. Your son gets bored. He cannot stand the waiting time for the food to arrive and the time after he finishes his own meal. He becomes restless and starts to make a scene as an attempt to create more stimulation for himself. What is the quickest way to calm him down? I see a lot of parents these days just hand over their iPhone or iPad (full of games) to their children. It works like a charm!
This quick fix, however, robs your son of the opportunity to learn how to recognize and cope with the difficult feeling of boredom and understimulation. So what do you do instead? Like the example above, you get your son to identify and express in words his feelings of discomfort. You validate his experience by showing empathy. You let him know that he will be ok and then challenge him to accept and feel his difficult emotions. Assure him that they are only temporary and that good emotions are just around the corner. Help him practice delayed gratification by getting him to wait for some time before he gets his chance to play. All of this will greatly reduce your child’s chances of developing problems with inattention, impulsivity, addiction, and escapism in his or her later years. Many gifted people struggle with these problems because, growing up, no one really stopped them from utilizing their instantly gratifying coping methods to their intense feelings of boredom and understimulation.
Finally, the last scenario is one that is least likely to be recognized by parents as instant gratification because it is often confused with something else that is very positive. Your child looks upon the condition of his own work or the work of somebody else. He sees the gap between how things are and how excellent they could be. This gap causes him intense frustration inside. In attempt to remove this difficult feeling, your child takes immediate action and tries to close that gap. From the outside, the closing of this gap just looks like your child has great work ethic. What parent would not feel even slightly proud about his or her child having this from such an early age? What you fail to notice, though, is that your child is removing his own opportunity to develop patience in this area. After years and years of taking immediate action whenever this difficult feeling of frustration arises, your child grows up to be an adult who is incapable of being OK with this gap. The most painful part of it is… this person sees this gap everywhere and all the time. This is one of the main challenges of people with OCPD. So how do you prevent this? You stay close while your child is at work. You examine his motives. Is he doing it out of pure love, joy, and curiosity or is he doing it out of frustration? If it is out of frustration, just like all the examples above, teach him how to recognize, express, accept, and feel this difficult emotion. All of this will reduce your child’s chances of developing problems with obsessive compulsivity, workaholism, and perfectionism in his or her later years.
As a result of all the instant gratification I grew up with, I am not the best at giving 100% of my attention to anything that I am not hyper-passionate about. It all began in elementary school when I experienced the frustration of having to sit still and listen to the teacher. I noticed that, out of all of the words that came out of the teacher’s mouth, only a fraction of them were relevant and interesting to me. I figured that it was pointless for me to give 100% of my attention when I could just get the meat of the lesson with only 30% of my attention. I would then allocate the remaining 70% of my attention on some other activity, usually finishing my homework (to maximize my playtime once school was over). This continued all the way into my later years. But in university, I had a laptop computer instead. During all my business classes, I could now simultaneously work on other exciting activities like video editing. Having always participated in some other stimulating activity in these times of frustration, I now cannot help but feel intensely irritated when I have no way out of others’ communication that is long-winded, uninteresting, and disorganized. One of the most excruciating settings for me is group sharing circles where it is considered very rude to do anything other than give full attention to whoever is speaking. When I share, I make the extra effort to deliver my message in a concise manner by prioritizing the juicy parts of my story and minimizing the irrelevant “filler” parts of my story. But why doesn’t everyone else do this? My frustration then turns into anger and my mind gets bombarded with extremely negative and judgemental thoughts. “Why is it that the least interesting member of this group, who ironically begins her exhausting monologue with ‘I don’t have much to say,’ takes up the most time sharing about her bland life!?” The agony gets so bad for me that my heart rate goes up, I start to sweat, my nervous ticks and compulsions (cracking my knuckles, scratching my neck, touching my face, digging my nails into my head, shaking my legs, blinking my eyes) go on hyperdrive, and I feel sick in my stomach. I feel like running full speed into a brick wall. There have been numerous times when my pain got so bad that I had to excuse myself out of the room to cool down by stepping on patterns on the floor (one of my obsessive-compulsive cooling down strategies). Although this looks very much like ADHD, it is not (ADHD is actually the most common misdiagnosis of gifted people). Nevertheless, it is an area that I really need to work on building my patience in.
Are you that child who grew up with too much instant gratification and now you have very little patience in one or more areas in your life? No problem. There is a solution! It certainly does not come in the form of a small pill that you just convenient pop into your mouth (come on now, that would just be another form of instant gratification!). The solution is to accept and experience the difficult feelings that arise every time you do not get what you want. This may be very painful at first but it will get easier with time.
FOR YOU: “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Henepola Gunaratana
FOR CHILDREN: “A Boy and a Bear: the Children’s Relaxation Book” by Lori Lite
It has been a while since I last wrote an update about my life. In fact, it has been a while since I last wrote anything on this blog. I have been mostly busy with going out and enjoying my city’s beautiful summer weather (Vancouver’s weather is pretty depressing all other times of the year). I have been spending so much time outside with others that I have found no time to read, research, study, write, work on music, or hit the gym. I don’t feel it as intensely as I did before when I used to be very OCPD, but I still do feel some guilt over not being super productive and not making the very best use of my time.
Gifted individuals and people with OCPD tend to feel extra guilty about not being productive.
So where does this guilt come from?
Well, first of all, emotionally sensitive people experience the emotion of guilt much more intensely than normal, average, boring people do (haha just kidding about the “boring” part). A stronger sense of responsibility comes with the territory of being highly emotionally sensitive. Because of their natural ability to see, imagine, envision, strategize, and produce excellence, gifted individuals and people with OCPD feel a very strong sense of responsibility to contribute excellence to the world. But excellence takes a lot of time and effort, no matter who you are, no matter how much talent you have. When this time and effort is not being invested, gifted individuals and people with OCPD feel guilty.
Read more about the obsessive-compulsive preoccupation with the efficient use of time here.
This guilt is a big-time joy killer. It removes you from your present moment that might be filled with so many amazing things that you can enjoy and wonderful people that you can laugh with. Many people attempt to eliminate this guilt by keeping themselves very busy. Being busy, however, does not always lead to excellence. Busy-ness that is driven by guilt can actually do a lot of damage to the joy that you derive from participating in your area of excellence. During my workaholic years living in Korea, I lost a lot of my joy in producing music because I had spent so much time dutifully working on musical projects that I had very little interest in. Although being productive controls this pervasive feeling of guilt, it never gets rid of it.
The way I now respond to this kind of guilt is much healthier. I now let myself feel the guilt and let the emotion take its course in and out of my system. I remind myself in my head that it is NOT my responsibility to bring excellence into this world – being born with all the right tools does not automatically sign me up for a life of duty. My faith also helps me deal with this difficult emotion. I trust that this world is in the good hands of an omnipotent God who loves to share His unrivaled excellence with the rest of the world. I think of all the imperfect people in the Bible that God partnered up with to do this. God didn’t need them to be constantly busy. It was the condition of their heart that mattered much more to Him. I then tell myself that everything will be just fine and turn my focus back onto the present moment.
Another step that really helps to lessen the intensity of this kind of guilt is putting an end to judging others negatively. Many people with OCPD fall into judging others for their “laziness.” After judging others in this way, people with OCPD grow to be very unforgiving toward themselves.
So yeah… I am going to continue to enjoy my summer! I hope all of you are enjoying whatever season it is in your part of the world 🙂
It can be very exciting for parents to discover that their child is “gifted.” Often what follows this excitement is a keen interest in creating a stimulating educational environment for the child. Parents, however, can easily get so wrapped up in trying to maximize the potentiality of their child that they neglect to develop the very thing that he or she needs most.
The most valuable lesson that parents can teach gifted children is that they have value and worth apart from how well they perform.
Sufficiently stimulating the minds of gifted children should be the least of parents’ worries. Even without their parents’ help, gifted children will find creative ways to keep themselves entertained and intellectually stimulated. Parents may try to implement incentives to help their children maximize their motivation to learn, but there really is nothing that can do a better job at that than the deep curiosity that is already within every gifted child.
Regardless of the kind of educational environment they grow up with, gifted children are born to excel. They will inevitably outperform their peers in one or more areas in their life and attract a lot of attention and praise from others. While this might sound quite promising, the constant highlighting of their performance is likely to cause gifted children to build their identity and self-worth on their outcomes, results, and achievements, all highly fallible external qualities. This is no good.
The self-esteem of models suffers in a very similar fashion. Model Cameron Russell shares in her TED talk that, despite having won a “genetic lottery” (2:50), she and many other models are some of the “most physically insecure women probably on the planet” (8:27).
Giftedness and insecurity is a dangerous combination. Gifted people (including models that are, in a way, “gifted” in their appearance) who do not know that they have value and worth apart from how well they perform will feel immense pressure to create their own value and worth in the area that they are gifted in. For those with extreme emotional sensitivity, which pretty much includes the whole gifted population, that pressure to create value and worth magnifies exponentially. So many insecure gifted people are consequently driven to workaholism and perfectionism. Success then becomes a dangerous reward that justifies their unbalanced lifestyle. Broken relationships, broken families and marriages, health complications, disease, insanity, and even early death are all consequences of this unbalanced lifestyle.
HOW TO BUILD STRONG IDENTITY IN GIFTED CHILDREN (PARENTS):
Whether you like it or not, the world will take notice of the greatness within your child. They will compliment your child for his or her performance. If your own compliments and positive words of affirmation do not outweigh and outnumber the compliments given by the world, the world will usurp your position as your child’s primary teacher in building his or her identity. You need to take that position because, unlike the rest of the world, you KNOW your child personally and you know that he or she is not just the sum of his or her talents. There will be a huge competition for your child’s attention as he or she attempts to figure out who he or she is. You as a caring parent need to win that competition. You must teach your child that he or she is amazing, regardless of what he or she does or does not do. When you are just taking a stroll in the park together, when your child is not performing, you need to tell your child that you are so proud of him or her, that you love him or her so much, that he or she fascinates you just for BEING the person that he or she is. If your gifted child performs poorly in some area, sure it is totally ok to admit and accept the reality and consequences of poor performance. But if he or she is thinking, “I am not good enough as a person” because of his or her poor performance, you need to intervene. You must teach your child that his or her performance does not define him or her. You must remind your child of who he or she is: an amazing person with incredible value. If you (parents) do not know your own value apart from how well you perform, it will be very difficult to raise your own children in this manner.
HOW I BUILT MY SELF-ESTEEM:
Despite my many achievements and talents, I was once an over-achieving workaholic who struggled with extremely low self-esteem. Despite being published in newspapers and magazines and broadcasted on TV and radio, I was once so afraid of ending up as a nobody, a worthless loser. It was when I finally decided to stop trusting my own thoughts and opinions about myself and the thoughts and opinions of all the people around me, including my very performance-oriented parents, that things began to change. Ever since mid-2011, I started to care for and listen to only what God thinks about me. Since my own idea of God was so distorted at the time, I depended on other people in my church to accurately share with me His thoughts about me. People I met for the first time that could not have known such personal details about me told me specific character traits in me that God is so pleased with. They continually told me that God loves me so much and is so proud of me, all during a time in my life when I had hit rock bottom and did absolutely nothing. As I began to more accurately understand how big God is and how small humankind is compared to Him, the significance of His opinion about me grew and the significance of humankind’s opinion about me shrank. My self-esteem now is so good! I have learned to love myself and be so proud of myself, not because of how well I perform, but simply because I am a beloved child of the Most High 🙂
This is one of my favourite Christian children’s books on performance and identity.
“You Are Special” by Max Lucado