Synopses & Reviews
Chapter One Senses on the Defense I do not much like being touched and I have always to make a slight effort not to draw away when someone links his arms in mine.
-- Somerset Maugham, English novelist
Sleeping in a bed makes Emir feel lost in space. So he sleeps on his living room couch, his back against the hard surface and his legs pushed up against the raised end. He thrives on heat and eschews air-conditioning for the breeze of the open window and a ceiling fan. Since most clothes make him squirm, he wears as few as possible. His car radio blasts with hard rock, but he cringes at the sound of someone chewing their food in a quiet room. When he's outside, the sun blinds him, and he must wear sunglasses or he gets a headache. Inside, lights must be dim. At night, he illuminates his house mostly with eucalyptus- or jasmine-scented candles, scents that relax him.
In the summer, Shannon sleeps with the air-conditioning set at 60 degrees and weighs herself down with three heavy blankets, which make her feel held; otherwise she wriggles about and can't sleep. Rock music puts her on edge, and she tunes to the classical station in her car. She likes dim or bright light; anything in between seems dull and annoying. She delights and indulges in musky perfumes and light flower scents, which permeate her apartment. In the morning and before going to bed, she saturates her skin with fruity body lotions, like strawberry or peach. If not, her skin feels too rough, and she dislikes touching her own flesh.
Each sensory-defensive person has a unique set of sensory foes and comforts. People can show symptoms of tactile, oral, movement, visual, and auditory defensiveness or unusualsensitivities to taste or smell. (For a detailed list of symptoms, see Appendix B.) One sense might be particularly involved, or hypersensitivity might reflect all the senses. In addition, a person may hyperreact to one sense, such as smell, but underreact to another, such as movement.
Touch: Too Close for Comfort
A wife, mother, and computer programmer, Madeline is a small woman with striking blue eyes, pale skin, and a nervousness that shows in rapid speech, tapping fingers, and a shaking leg. Introverted and intense, she keeps to herself but becomes friendly when others take the initiative. She seems perfectly normal -- until someone gets too close.
Madeline doesn't like to be touched. When her sister greets her with a light kiss on the cheek, a shiver goes through Madeline, and she wipes the spot, much to her sister's dismay. When people touch her, Madeline feels like wiping, scratching, or squeezing the spot. In fact, sometimes when she touches herself lightly, she has to rub the spot. She can't help it -- touch bothers her terribly.
Madeline is tactile-defensive, the hallmark of sensory defensiveness. Growing up, she often writhed when her father or mother hugged or kissed her, though both were caring and loving. Today when she hugs her 3-year-old daughter, it can feel like an obligation and she frequently draws back from her husband's unexpected love tap. When he crushes his powerful body into hers, she feels at once comforted and trapped. When she must hug friends or relatives, she squeezes hard enough so that she doesn't have to feel the other person touching her.
It pains her to be so touchy and makes her feel unable to satisfy her family's need forintimacy. She worries that her family might think that she doesn't love them, as her parents and sister used to feel when she denied their affection. Yet she loves them deeply and craves their hugs -- but on her own terms.
About 18 square feet and weighing in at about 8 pounds, the skin is our boundary between self and world, and a constant source of information about our environment. It is studded with about 5 million tiny nerve endings, or touch receptors, generally larger than those associated with other senses and exquisitely sensitive: our brain registers touch at the slightest pressure.
The top layer, the epidermis, is tough and horny and replaces itself every 28 days, as dead skin cells flake off. The next two levels, the dermis, contain the nerves that set off the defensive reaction, along with blood vessels, glands, and the fibroplastic connective tissue that gives the skin its ability to spring back and retain its shape after a touch.
Touch receptors convey information about pressure, vibration, texture, heat or cold, and pain. Most people process these sensations normally and feel comfortable within their skin, largely unaware of clothes or another person touching their body and other skin sensations. When touched lovingly, their body expands with pleasurable excitement, and they reach out to make contact with their world. They tolerate temperature changes and a normal amount of pain.
The brain of the tactile defensive registers some or all of these tactile sensations as unpleasant or threatening. Clothes feel coarse and pores start to itch; fashion choices are dictated by feel. "I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn't itch," the late comedian Gilda Radnerquipped. The touch of others can prickle and elicit alarm even from the person they love the most, and especially when uninvited. The body shrinks away.
Unable to set their internal thermometer at a comfort zone, some feel hot all the time even in cold weather or cold all the time even when it is warm. Heaven is a hot towel out of the dryer. Quick temperature changes -- for example, going from the warm bath into the cold air -- throw them. As their nervous system is on high alert and blood leaves the extremities to deliver oxygen to internal organs and muscles, many suffer poor circulation and their hands and feet are always cold. Cold hands and feet might be one reason why the defensive have problems falling asleep ...
In the publishing tradition of Driven to Distraction
or The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing
, this prescriptive book by a developmental psychologist and sufferer of Sensory Defensive Disorder (SD) sheds light on a little known but common affliction in which sufferers react to harmless stimuli as irritating, distracting or dangerous.
We all know what it feels like to be irritated by loud music, accosted by lights that are too bright, or overwhelmed by a world that moves too quickly. But millions of people suffer from Sensory Defensive Disorder (SD), a common affliction in which people react to harmless stimuli not just as a distracting hindrance, but a potentially dangerous threat.Sharon Heller, Ph.D. is not only a trained psychologist, she is sensory defensive herself. Bringing both personal and professional perspectives, Dr. Heller is the ideal person to tell the world about this problem that will only increase as technology and processed environments take over our lives. In addition to heightening public awareness of this prevalent issue, Dr. Heller provides tools and therapies for alleviating and, in some cases, even eliminating defensiveness altogether.
Until now, the treatment for sensory defensiveness has been successfully implemented in Learning Disabled children in whom defensiveness tends to be extreme. However, the disorder has generally been unidentified in adults who think they are either overstimulated, stressed, weird, or crazy. These sensory defensive sufferers live out their lives stressed and unhappy, never knowing why or what they can do about it. Now, with Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight, they have a compassionate spokesperson and a solution-oriented book of advice.
About the Author
Sharon Heller, Ph.D., is the author of The Vital Touch and teaches courses in psychology. She received her master's degree from the University of Chicago and her doctorate from Loyola University of Chicago. She lives in South Florida.