Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The dangers of hypersensitivity

Recently, I left a comment at a Blog authored by a very fine Catholic which was intended only as an observation. My comment was immediately perceived as a "criticism" even though there was absolutely nothing critical in the comment or its tone. This is unfortunate. For while it is good to be sensitive, hypersensitivity can damage our relationship with others. The following article from Alice von Hildebrand on hypersensitivity is excellent and, I believe, worth meditating on this Lent.

Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand on hypersensitivity

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 beautifully 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.

4 comments:

Ellen Wironken said...

I know of whom you are referring Paul. I was taken aback by is attitude. Even though you assured this person that your comment was not intended as criticism and issued an apology to appease him, he wouldn't let the matter drop. This stems from pride. Unable to accept that he was wrong, he took your comment as criticism and went into a rant.

St. Vincent de Paul said that, "The most powerful weapon to conquer the Devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it."

Let's pray that this person finds peace during the lenten season.

Anonymous said...

Hypersensitivity can also take the form of hypercriticism--from both within and outside the Church, as mentioned by the Pope in two recent talks:

Pope cautions against destructive polemics in the church
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
Feb-23-2009

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Following weeks of controversy involving two of his decisions, Pope Benedict XVI has twice cautioned against destructive polemics inside the church.

The pope, speaking in German at his noon blessing Feb. 22, asked for prayers to St. Peter so that "disturbances and storms do not shake the church" and that Catholics remain united in faith and love.

Two days earlier, addressing students at Rome's diocesan seminary, the pope recalled St. Paul's admonition to Galatian Christians not to "go on biting and devouring one another" but instead to be guided by the Spirit.

"St. Paul refers here to the polemics that emerge where faith degenerates into intellectualism and humility is replaced by the arrogance of being better than the other," the pope said.

"We see clearly that today, too, there are similar situations where, instead of joining in communion with Christ, in the body of Christ which is the church, each one wants to be superior to the other and with intellectual arrogance maintains that he is better," he said.

"And in this way arise polemics that are destructive, and there arises a caricature of the church, which should have a single soul and a single heart," he said.

The pope was not specific about the recent internal church disputes in either of his talks.

In January, the pope lifted the excommunications of four ultratraditionalist bishops, including Bishop Richard Williamson, who had publicly minimized the Holocaust and said no Jews died in Nazi gas chambers. The Vatican later said the pope had not known about the bishop's views on the Holocaust and certainly did not share them.

The resulting criticism came not only from Jewish groups, but also from some Catholic leaders, particularly in German-speaking countries, who said wider consultation should have occurred before the excommunications were lifted.

A similar reaction occurred when the pope named as an auxiliary bishop of Linz, Austria, Father Gerhard Wagner, who once linked the destruction of Hurricane Katrina to the "spiritual pollution" of New Orleans. After a no-confidence vote by senior clergy in the Linz Diocese, Bishop-designate Wagner asked the pope to withdraw his nomination.

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

Anonymous, I'm glad to see that you are opposed to "destructive polemics" within the Church and that you agree with Pope Benedict XVI.

Such destructive polemics are in evidence throughout the Church. For example, Douglas Bersaw, former "Prefect" of the Saint Benedict Center cult in Richmond, New Hampshire, has described Pope John Paul II as, "the worst pope we ever had." And Louis Villarrubia of the same Saint Benedict Center, known to his followers as "Brother" Andre Marie (many of whom insist he's an ordained Deacon in the Catholic Church - he's not), has said that today's Jews "belong to a religion which is, by its nature, deicidal." His mother, Eleonore Villarrubia, has been critical of the Second Vatican Council.

The Devil has infiltrated the Church. Please read the prophecy which Our Lady gave to Sister Agnes Sasagawa at Akita regarding such division within the Church.

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