Sensitivity and hypersensitivity are common for people experiencing burnout.
In fact, these days, they're just common for people!
If you feel overly sensitive when you are under duress, anxious and living on adrenaline - that makes sense, doesn't it? But don't worry, this will change through burnout recovery, as you build greater energy and resilience, lose your current pessimism and calm your nervous system.
Effectively, what happens is you rediscover your sense of humour and ease, develop greater rapport with others and enjoy collaboration and mutual endeavours so much more. Life becomes a game instead of a pain.
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Dex (00:00:09) - Hi everyone. My name is Dex Randall and this is the Burnout to Leadership podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello, my friends, this is Dex, and let's investigate this time on the podcast hypersensitivity, because I've been thinking about this quite a lot lately myself, partly in the work that I'm doing internally in my business and also in the work that I'm doing with clients. And I think of hypersensitivity, it's a topic I've been thinking about covering for ages because I think it's a frequent contributor to stress, anxiety, irritation, procrastination, social withdrawal, exhaustion, and also the bodily dis-ease that comes with stresses of various kinds. And obviously, ultimately, it's a contributor to burnout. And also, I see it as an inhibitor to success, to companionship, to a life of ease and joy and a healthful state, the very things we'd secretly like to enjoy. So have you ever watched, for example, a colleague at work seemingly swim through the same shark infested waters as you, and as your system is flashing and screeching and panic, they just float serenely by?
Dex (00:01:45) - Do you ever wonder how they do that? Are they oblivious to the hazards? Do they have very thick skin? Don't they care about performance and success? Aren't they concerned about what people think? Why aren't they in a tailspin like you? And we might at such moments assume that the other person's simply not driven to overachieve, satisfied with simply getting by. And we could be right there. But the chances are they're also not digging themselves a deep pit of self-doubt, filling it with swirling torrents of murky water and diving right in to be engulfed in anxiety. They're possibly just under reacting to a stimulus. A feat that we as Type-A people can't often pull off, eh? And if you identify as type A, you might be a bull at a gate and seen as insensitive by others, but inside of you. Do you feel sensitive or oversensitive or even hypersensitive? And I think also of hypersensitive as being often paired with hypervigilance because a hypersensitive human organism is driven by fear. And hyper alert to warning signs, which we would then experience the result of as hypersensitivity.
Dex (00:03:14) - And I looked it up in the Google and it said "an exaggerated or inappropriate response", either to pathogens, obviously dangers to physical health or other stimuli representing mental or emotional safety. And I'm talking about hypersensitivity today to stimuli of all kinds, noise, light, smells, nervous energy, emotion, aggression, allergies, pathogens, the whole bucket load of it. So if you feel you have some sensitivity, as I myself do. How on earth did we get here? We, the big achievers previously known for mowing down all things in pursuit of greatness, with a distinct lack of sensitivity to other people's needs and energies. And as I've mentioned here before, we can think of people in burnout as having a common set of characteristics that have become somewhat inopportune at work with time, in that they don't give us this smooth ride that we'd like in achieving that greatness. Some of those deleterious characteristics masquerade as character strengths, but in practice, when taken too far as we usually do, they tend to impede progress, take up too much of our energy and bandwidth, and are the cause of much self-criticism, which of course, is no use at all.
Dex (00:04:50) - And also they don't endear us to the very people we're trying to support. And that's not to castigate anyone for their characteristic behaviors, particularly those driven to succeed, who typically bend over backwards to support others and get everything done. We simply are who we are. But along with our driven, tireless efforts to succeed, we are often highly sensitive beings, and probably we recoil internally at the smallest suggestion of judgment. Arguably the greatest pain of those people in burnout is not feeling good enough, not being able to fix everything, all the time, for all the people. So, in short, despite straining every sinew to be invincible, unimpeachable, we never arrive at that hallowed state. And if you look up unimpeachable as I did, you're going to see it means "not able to be doubted, questioned, or criticized. Entirely trustworthy." A state that would be absolute heaven for a person prone to burnout. The position of finally arriving at a place where, in our heads at least, we could stop worrying and simply relax.
Dex (00:06:13) - Cruising through everyday feeling on top of things. Invincible. Invulnerable. I look that up too. Invulnerable. "Impossible to harm or damage." Which I thought was pretty interesting because I would frame invulnerable as not subject to worry about being wrong or being judged or attacked, having no open weak spots, being fully protected. And if you suffer burnout to. Do you remember a time when you had that sense of invulnerability? Because I do, in my early 30s. I could really do no wrong, even when I did. So this was when I was working in corporate software development. My brain was pretty sharp. It was very fast, and people did rely on me to understand the problems and deliver on the answers, and they tended to be pretty surprised at my capacity. And I got promoted a lot without ever seeking it. Things just came easy to me back then. And although I did have some very tough problems to solve at work and a big load of responsibility I did secretly inside of me think I was brilliant, by which I really mean (extremely arrogantly) that I always came out on top.
Dex (00:07:30) - And inside me I had a split consciousness on this, so the inside of me remained scared and anxious all the time. But the other more external part of me thought I walked on water. As long as people believed that I did, and I understand that sounds terribly unattractive. Well, it does, doesn't it? You wouldn't want anyone to be like that. But I was and I remained a high achiever at work. And so nobody ever really challenged me on that. However, I do think that classified me as a card carrying type A human. I'd never heard of Type A back then, of course, and I blundered on, oblivious to the pitfalls to come. Because the thing about Type-A behaviors: In those qualities of excellence I mentioned earlier that later turned into liabilities. So this is including things like being hard driven, aggressive, competitive, status seeking, ambitious, demanding, arrogant, often ruthlessly overachieving, perfectionist, impatient, intolerant of lower performance, lacking empathy, and paradoxically, at the same time being a people pleaser.
Dex (00:08:47) - A lot of those attributes sound really useful, don't they? But they have a sharp edge that ultimately sees us suffering the torture of a thousand cuts at our own hands. We forget our humility and our humanity. We lose it in there. Having realized that to be continuously successful 100% of the time requires us to hide our fallibility, vulnerability, emotions, flaws, weakness. To protect ourselves, we develop very long antenna. And as I heard one person once describe it, our nerve endings stick out several inches from our bodies. That was a long time ago because whoever said that was working in inches. But you get what I mean. And really for me, that was a long and winding road to ongoing hypersensitivity that I experienced around my burnout time, and it becomes for us then, if we think we need to super achieve. It's a race of laying tracks in front of the train so no one can ever discover us, call us out, or get any leverage on us. And burnout is simply when we get tired out and found out. Our flaws and shortcomings essentially catch up with us, often in an excruciatingly public way, and we lose face.
Dex (00:10:09) - We lose status, and we sometimes we even lose our jobs. So if that's true, then if our actual humanity catches up with us. Uh, really? That wasn't supposed to happen. Hey, that wasn't part of the plan. And typically it hits us unexpectedly. We shatter. Right along with our public standing in our self-image our ego. We couldn't, in the end, handle everything. Despite being this human Christmas tree of early warning systems. Shit, eh? So then we go into shock, shut down, meltdown, we go into freefall. And that's when people tend to experience burnout. That's when people often get stood down for a break from work when they're nervous system is so maxed out that the slightest additional stress or blows them over the edge. And I can attest to a 100% lack of fun in this phase of my burnout, combined with terrible feelings of failure, humiliation, and defeat. Horror at letting people down and fear for the future. In my case, actually, because I had a heart attack.
Dex (00:11:22) - I had a long period of convalescence then, and plenty of time lying on my sofa thinking about what to do next. And it wasn't going to be to jump back into the cauldron at work and get freshly singed. I needed to recalibrate. I had to find a way of becoming less sensitive, less reactive, less hard on myself. And interestingly, by that period, I had gained some maturity over the years and I was already being a lot less hard on other people. I'd lost the arrogance of youth and become a mentor as much as I possibly could. Which is a trait I find in a lot of my burned out clients, by the way. To their credit, they want to do good in the world, and I guess so did I. But had I left my run to late? Because at that point in burnout, my hypersensitivity was peaking. My nerve endings were on fire. Constant shrieks of alarm in my head and in my body. And if you're lucky enough to have not had a heart attack.
Dex (00:12:28) - Good luck to you. You won't know that a person's heart and lungs are considerably distressed by it and flaky for a really long time afterwards, and I was quite weak and unable to care for myself. Not, of course, my favorite state. It was, if you like, a crash course in vulnerability. Hypersensitivity to threat at that time was somewhat practical, as I used to almost lose consciousness if I tried to go for a walk. I know. What in the world was a universe trying to tell me? Anyhow. So there I was on my sofa and with as much grace as I could muster, I rested, I figured out that I needed to see myself and my fundamental worth and worthiness with new eyes. If I was going to get through this intact and continue to lead a fruitful life. For context, I was 55 when I had a heart attack, and my professional decline up until that point had been really a slow and ignominious one, a soundless fall from grace eroding my career prospects, which at that point looked pretty bad.
Dex (00:13:46) - So I told myself a lot of stories about my barren future. And perhaps people hurt by my aggressive attitude earlier in my career might have looked on gleefully and thought I was getting what I deserved. Perhaps they were right. But I also think that with this hypersensitivity to stimuli of whatever kind, they're often shows up its partner hypervigilance. And the function of that is to detect threat early. And really, if we need to do that, what we're saying is. We've got an inherent feeling of unsafety. And so if we have that, I think what I realized is that mending that inherent unsafety inside of me was going to be an inside job. I'd have to do it myself. I needed to create a sense of safety within myself, much broader and deeper and more self forgiving than anything that had come before. I needed to be gentle on myself, value, and cherish myself. Hold myself to less impossible standards and be attentive to my own needs as if I actually mattered, right? Because I didn't want to die at that point, something had to change and it turned out to be me.
Dex (00:15:01) - So I began to pay attention to my sensory overload and exactly why I was hypersensitive. And as a result of that, hyper vigilant. So in my case, it was ancient history. And that appears to be true for most of my clients in burnout to. If we had an early life experience of not feeling entirely safe, not feeling loved, accepted and approved of unconditionally not receiving the open attention, protection and care we needed, then of course, we become highly sensitive. Of course we grow our antenna a metre long. Our systems default to high alert to make sure we're safe and looked after and have our needs met. However futile that quest and this is particularly if our early environment was unpredictable, violent, aggressive, neglectful, or otherwise externally unsafe. And this happens actually much more often than we think. 64% of US adults have at least one ACE - Adverse Childhood Experience sufficient to cause trauma. And that's within the family of origin, leaving out things like learning disabilities, academic performance pressure, gender roles, social and body standards, experiences at school, and so on.
Dex (00:16:31) - 64% of US adults have this childhood related traumatic experience. And reflecting on the prevalence of perfectionism, in particular in society at large, never mind those in burnout. I'm going to say again for you this, which I've said often in the past. We develop perfectionism as kids as a response to parental acceptance, approval, or attention being conditional on what we achieve or how well we behave or conform to their needs and expectations. We are held accountable and responsible for meeting the adults' needs. An impossible task as a child, and then we become perfectionist in order to try and meet all those expectations simply so we can get our childhood needs met. We become, as children, only as good as the last thing we did right. We are not loved simply for being who we are. That's the result of modern society, really, isn't it? And I say all of this because it's really vital not to expect the impossible of yourself. That needs to stop. If you're hypersensitive, please do not blame yourself or anyone else. It is neither your fault nor your parents fault.
Dex (00:17:53) - It would have gone through the generations of time. So really, how to pick the person who's to blame for all of this? There is no one. It's a fruitless quest. Because the result of it really is, never mind how it came to be that you have half a lifetime already without getting your basic needs met. And you're wounded by that. And now you're an adult capable of making adult choices and giving yourself the support you still need. It's up to you. You can choose that now. You're free to choose it. If you're hypersensitive to turn that hypersensitivity down and bring yourself peace and ease and a sense of safety, you're going to need to nurture and care for yourself skillfully in new, gentle ways that allow your nervous system, particularly to calm down and create some safety within your body and your heart and your mind. And of course, this is a skill, a really foundational skill that you're going to learn in Burnout Recovery. Not actually hard to learn. It's just unfamiliar to you, underutilized by you.
Dex (00:19:10) - In this ongoing culture of unsafety that you've been living in. But that unsafety, it's also important to recognize, has never had its origins in your workplace. No matter how bad things are there and how bad your experience is there. You felt shaky and unsafe on the inside because that's how you were trained to be in feel as a youngster. So opening your heart now is an act of courage and vulnerability. So you need to first make yourself safe. You need to offer yourself acceptance, care, and support. Learn to champion yourself. So that being vincible, being permeable is no longer a problem, but a doorway by which others can enter your world, bringing warmth and friendship. And of course, your heart is bursting with goodness that remains available to you and to others permanently. You can let it unfurl and extend your kindness out to yourself first. And that worried child inside of you. To the circle of those you care about, your families and friends. And also into your workplace as threat recedes and is replaced by a spontaneous desire to connect and support others.
Dex (00:20:35) - Hypersensitivity, after all, indicates a system out of balance, reactive, threatened and afraid. And that's not your natural state. Recovery from burnout is really about resolving those imbalances. Those deficits, pain and suffering endemic to burnout. In short, it's bringing your system back to homeostasis, where stress recedes and joy becomes more and more available to you. And that will herald in the biggest healing transformation you've ever experienced in your life. Recovery isn't the absence of pain. It's being alive to joy, connection, passion and purpose where incredible contentment can be realized at the same time as putting your heart and soul into new projects or new ventures in your career. So if you are hypersensitive and stressed, anxious, empty and upset. Think about it. It's how you feel, but it's not who you are. If you want to heal completely from burnout, please come and talk to me about how to recover quickly and sustainably and get back to your best performance, leadership, success, and most of all, enjoyment inside working out.
Dex (00:22:01) - You can book an appointment to talk with me at Dexrandall.com. If you enjoyed this episode, please help me reach more people in burnout by writing and reviewing the book. We really do appreciate your support. And if you know someone else is heading towards or in burnout, please send them the Podcast link.
Dex (00:22:22) - It's packed, as you also know, with practical tips for burnout recovery.
Dex (00:22:26) - And I recommend that new people listen to the first five episodes to get started. Thank you so much for bringing me your.
Dex (00:22:34) - Time and attention. Catch your next time.