Illness Beliefs and Highly Sensitive People

Image: Robert Pittman

Image: Robert Pittman

One of the most difficult hurdles for people experiencing chronic pain is recognising that the 'illness beliefs' we assume everyone shares may in fact be particular to just us or our own family.  Working with nurses recently, I became very aware of how difficult it is to come to terms with the fact that we don't all share the same beliefs about illness. It seems that our childhood family unit can play a big part in how we view illness when we are adults.

Our childhood family values about illness may also trigger a reaction in us as adults for another reason. We may be what the researcher Elaine Aron calls ''a highly sensitive person'' (HSP) and the more people I meet recovering from chronic conditions the more relevant Aron's work seems to be.

Highly Sensitive people notice the world in finer detail -  they notice faint smells, the feel of a fabric, the volume of voices, and pick up on other subtle nuances embedded in life that others may overlook. This is a good thing: every group can benefit from a HSP to notice subtle communication, or suggest adjustments to an environment that might make it more comfortable. HSP can think and act slightly differently to the majority in a group, which means they may sometimes feel uncomfortable or not sure if they belong. If the group has a strong identity that relies on conformity the HSP may feel out of place.

If the HSP is aware of their sensitivity then it may not be an issue, particularly if they value and take pleasure in having a slightly different perspective.

When it comes to beliefs about illness and other things, most of us,  including highly sensitive people, might assume that everyone shares the same beliefs. This is not the case, and now as adults our childhood illness beliefs may need a review, bearing in mind our sensitivity, as there can be a link between the attributes of a HSP and the personality trait of perfectionism.

A child with the perfectionist trait of wanting to 'get it right' would have paid close attention to the subtle nuances of family illness beliefs. These beliefs will be strongly held, often throughout adulthood as well. Hence, it might come as rather a shock when we discover different illness beliefs to the ones we grew up with, and face the challenge of re-evaluating  our convictions. 

What do you believe about health, happiness and self regulation?

Is it time to take a look at the beliefs that support you?

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