Friday, May 2, 2008

Are You Highly Productive or Highly Sensitive?

A few days ago, I introduced you to an amazing book I'm reading, called The Overload Syndrome by Richard A Swenson, M.D. Today I want to tell you about a section that gave me a real "a-ha" moment.

As I've mentioned, since becoming a member of a large writers' group featuring the multi-published, the talented, the successful, and the energetic, I've felt a lot more stress than usual over my writing. If anything, persevering has seemed harder because no matter how hard I work, I just can't seem to keep up.

Swenson addresses this phenomenon, first by saying there are two rules about people and overload: 1) Everyone is different. 2) Everyone is the same.

We're all the same, he says, because as human beings, we do all have limits. We are all susceptible to overloading those limits. As if reading my mind, he broached the question, what about those people who seem to be able to do it all--and on two hours' sleep? Who can run a business and have ten children and do volunteer work and never get tired?

I love his answer. "Indeed such stories are breathtaking. But this does not mean that I should feel guilty if God has not given me those same abilities. We should not be in the business of telling God how He should arrange the personalities in His Kingdom." (p. 30)

Which brings him to the discussion of point 2: Everyone is different. Swenson says that in the area of overload, people are somewhere on a spectrum from Highly Productive People (HPP) to Highly Sensitive People (HSP). Highly productive people are those we just discussed. The ones who can turn out ten novels in a year while working full-time and volunteering in a soup kitchen. Swenson enumerates their wonderful qualities, including their work ethic, great vision, ability to accomplish amazing things. But one downside? "The highly productive person often sets up unrealistic standards for others." (p. 32)

Can I get an "amen"? Swenson goes on to explain that, because such accomplishments come easily to these energetic folk, they expect the same from everyone else.

Then there's the other end of the spectrum, the Highly Sensitive People. I don't have to wonder where I am on this line. Right here at this end, as far down the spectrum as you can go. Here are some qualities of the HSP:
  • Have antennae up for social discord or discomfort;
  • Sometimes seem antisocial. Not truly reclusive, but their "batteries are discharged" by a lot of social interaction.
  • Often creative. "They live in a world in their heads. They are good company for themselves on long car trips, and they don't mind solitude. They dream a lot."
  • More susceptible to overload. "They pay a higher emotional price for almost everything...They wear down more quickly." (pp. 32-33)

Swenson then addresses one other category of people--Christians--because they often say they're exempt from overload. You know, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." So, then, saying you're worn down or tired becomes a lack of faith, not a physical or personality issue. Swenson equates the overload issue with other physical ailments that afflict humankind, like flu epidemics. Yes, God may heal supernaturally, but it does not mean that Christians are automatically exempted from catching the flu.

Swenson ends with a warning. "Beware of the presumption of overextending. What if we are out on a limb, doing one hundred and fifty percent of what we ought and then get into trouble?...[God says] 'Remember. You are the creature. I am God. Use my power, not your own.'" (p. 34)