Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Are You Too Sensitive?

Sometimes art is all that saves us

Not feeling so good yesterday, I browsed around some scientific studies, as if to assure myself that I have an excuse for being depressed. I found, or rediscovered, that bipolar brains have thirty percent more monoamines, which produce "dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. . . the altered brain chemistry due to the excess monoamine cells may directly impact the patients' cognitive and social function." These monoamines send signals between brain cells, or neurons and are involved in mood regulation, stress responses, pleasure, reward, and cognitive functions like concentration, attention, and executive functions. (link here)  Okay, so it's been really hard to get organized.

Then there was this:  "Bipolar disorder . . . is characterized by pathophysiological changes to the visceromotor network, disrupting the regulation of endocrine and autonomic responses to stress, and hence emotion and behavior." (link here)  Yes. So, a while back I got so irritated by a friend that I practically yelled at her. I'm sorry, and I apologized.  Even if I couldn't help it, I'm sorry when I'm rude and impatient.

But - here's something you already know - some people are never sorry for being rude.  I was raised by a couple of them, and I was trained to excuse anything the head alcoholic did or said to me, and he was constantly abusive.  He didn't mean it.  His back hurts.  He has a headache.  He had a hard day at work.  And my favorite, You're too sensitive.  You don't get to do things over, but if I could, I'd tell my mother, "No, I'm not.  He's too insensitive."  But when I was a kid, I didn't have the voice.

Sometimes I catch myself putting up with crap, to be frank, from the kind of friends who sometimes look like frenemies. I was trained, it was my habit, to find excuses for rude, thoughtless people. I was surrounded by them as the scapegoat in a very sick family.  And I want to say, when I had to work with people like that, I got along.  But in my social life, I don't have to. Putting up with their crap may in fact qualify as "idiot compassion," a term that refers, roughly, to enabling people in their stupid or dangerous behavior.

Thoughtless people often build a persona that helps other people excuse them.  (And many people like to have "an alcoholic" around, someone worse than them.)  I have known people who got away with murder because they had a stammer or chronic depression or a visible handicap. My dear, wise neighbor, Marge Endter, now deceased, once told me about such a person, "He trades on that."  Bingo.

I notice that I don't go through these things with people who are on a path, who have a spiritual practice.  Practice makes us more sensitive to the effect we may have on others, and the world.  And the religions I'm familiar with make a point of compassion, or giving, or love.  The Buddhists I know may have their issues, don't we all? but they believe in being kind.  They aspire or vow to be kind.  They write whole books about it. I have one.  And since I do, I will try to be kind in gently letting some people out of my life.  Because, actually, I'm too sensitive to be around them. 


  1. it's true that it doesn't help anyone to reinforce "unwholesome behaviour" and it can be kinder to meet it head on than pretend it isn't a problem. But I find it can be a fine line between knowing what to do or say. I have found that if I give it enough attention it comes to me what to do or say and sometimes it takes a while.

    And of course part of our compassion is for ourselves, if relationships tip over into the "not worth it" category or "see less of them" phase. I have relatives that just take more energy than I have and I choose not to see them or see them infrequently.

    And all this takes guts and thought and not acting out of anger. Thanks for the thoughtful and honest post.

  2. Yes. Thank you for the reminder to have compassion for myself. That seems roughly the opposite of neglect. I am really not neglecting myself when I do creative work and meditate. (And don't want to leave out the pleasure of some new spring clothes, feeling like Easter.

  3. As I get older, I realize more and more than I don't have the energy for what you so perfectly refer to as "frienemies." Sometimes it's good to have someone who knows you kick you in the butt and call you on your stuff--there are friends who do that for/to me and it helps. Then there are those who are time and energy suckers. As a Buddhist, I'm supposed to be feeling compassion for them, right? And I can feel compassion and still not particularly want them in my life, yes?

    Take good care, Dalai Grandma. I enjoy reading your blog!


  4. It's good to be reminded that I can reasonably choose who to be around, that I don't have to be angry. Thanks. Nice to meet you.