Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand on hypersensitivity

In an excellent article entitled "Christianity and the Mystery of Suffering," Alice Von Hildebrand (a woman of sheer genius who, like her husband Dietrich, is a tremendous gift to the Church) writes:

There are people who are highly sensitive. In dealing with them one must always be on the lookout for fear of offending them. They are likely to interpret negatively every word one says. A big problem can develop out of the most innocuous remark.

One cannot change the temperament with which one is born, but one can either freely choose to become the slave of one's temperament or learn to guide it in such a fashion that this sensitivity-which is a gift-is used for love and not put at the service of self-centeredness.

There are plenty of "feelings" (such as moods) that arise in us spontaneously that should not be taken seriously. There are "right" feelings (such as contrition, love, compassion), and these feelings should be sanctioned by our will; and there are wrong feelings (such as envy, anger, revenge), and these feelings should be "disavowed" and rejected by our will.

There is no doubt that hypersensitivity-a disproportionate response to daily events-is a great source of suffering. There are persons who groan from morning to night under the weight of imaginary offenses. But man has been given reason, and he ought to distinguish between real offenses (which should be forgiven) and imaginary ones, which should be "dashed to pieces on the Rock that is Christ".

Great sensitivity is a precious gift, but the meaning of this gift is to be other-centered; its caricature is to be self-centered. We all prefer sensitive persons to those who seem to have a bovine temperament. Nothing disturbs the latter because they are too thick-skinned to feel anything. But sensitivity is to be purified.

This is beautifu1ly exemplified in the life of St. Therese of Lisieux. From the time that she was four, when she lost her mother, until she was thirteen, Therese was so hypersensitive that she broke into tears for no reason at all. In her autobiography, she calls these nine years "the sorrowful years", even though she was leading a life that, to many of us, would seem ideal, surrounded by a saintly father, to whom she was bound by the most tender affection, by loving sisters, living in security and peace. Yet in her autobiography she refers to those years as being "sorrowful", whereas from the time she entered the Carmel, where she chose a life of suffering and crucifixion, she enjoyed a deep peace despite the constant trials a Carmelite confronts. Her sensitivity had not decreased; it had been purified. By eliminating illegitimate sufferings, she gained the strength for carrying her daily cross in peace and joy.

Therese had prayed for years that God might grant her the grace of putting her sensitivity at his service, and God granted her request after midnight Mass shortly before she turned thirteen.

Hypersensitivity becomes an illegitimate source of suffering when it is self-centered; as we saw, a sensitive heart is given to us to feel for others, and to love them more deeply and more tenderly. But since original sin, it tends to degenerate into a maudlin self-centeredness that not is only disastrous but also causes great pain for the sensitive person.

However, thanks to prayer and grace, the Christian is given the means of purifying his sensitivity, so that his heart will resemble more and more the Heart of the God-Man, the Sacred Heart, "fornax ardens caritatis". "

Amen Alice my friend. Amen.



Anonymous said...

I think many souls who are drawn to the contemplative life (like the Little Flower) can be prone to hypersensitivity. All too often they perceive every word, every action, to be a slight aimed against them.

This can impact on evangelization. Some Catholics are afraid to evangelize to others because their words are misinterpreted as "personal attacks" when no such attack is intended.

I have known some Catholics who were definitely hypersensitive. Even some co-workers. Such people are very dificult to be around and this is really ashame. They even take offense at your tone of voice and believe you to be angry when you are not.

Hypersensitivity can be crippling. It frustrates friendships and hinders the work of God.

Unknown said...

Could you possibly help me with a reference to this article by Dr. Von Hildebrand? I can't find it!! I would like to use a quote for an upcoming manuscript. Thank you!!

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