Ep 176. Neurodiversity & Empathy: The Intersection of Sensitivity - theuncensoredempath.com

Ep 176. Neurodiversity & Empathy: The Intersection of Sensitivity

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In this episode, I discuss:

  • Breaking down different types of neurodivergent minds
  • Understanding the intersection of empathy and neurodiversity
  • The evaluation of labels and language
  • Ten powerful gifts of a neurodivergent mind

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Episode Transcript:

Hello friends. Have you noticed that you can get caught up in consuming content or maybe you notice you are hyper, hyper-focused on the doing? Empaths, we often consume and I know because that was me too. Soaking up information from all my favorite teachers and mentors, but it wasn’t until I started focusing more on the being and embodiment work that the door to massive clarity was finally unlocked and I no longer got confused about what was my energy versus everybody else’s. I was able to become a more clear channel for creation and as a result, transform my life, business and health. In fact, my meditation and embodiment practice is what helped me have a nearly $40,000 month this past January, see the highest downloaded month of the podcast, and finally release a lot of unnecessary stress and my clients felt it and saw it in their lives too. It wasn’t reading more articles. It wasn’t doing more busywork. So I’m inviting you to graduate from the spongy empath consumer into the self-activated sovereign healer. You can take your podcasts listening experience from Ooh, I feel seen, heard and inspired to holy shit, I actually feel different. My being has shifted. I am the embodiment of the woman I desire to be.

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Welcome to the Uncensored Empath, a place for us to discuss highly sensitives energy illness, healing, and transformation. My name is Sarah Small, and I’m a life and success coach for empaths who want to create a thriving body, business, and life. Think of this podcast as your no-BS guide to navigating life health and entrepreneurship. You’ll get straight to the point, totally holistic tips from me in real-time as I navigate this healing and growth journey right beside you. This is a Soul Fire production.

I am so excited for this episode. I recently had the pleasure and honor of teaching a workshop inside of one of my friends’ group for individuals who experience ADHD, and our conversation, the workshop was really about the intersection of empathy and neurodiversity. I posted about this on my Instagram story and a lot of you ended up reaching out and saying I want to learn about this as well. I’m super curious. Tell me more. Tell me more. And so I figured I would record an episode for you all today to be able to dissect this. A lot of what I’m going to be doing is just sharing information and you get to make your own conclusions and draw your own connections, but I have seen many overlaps in the work that I do, and also how I experience life as a person who not only identifies as an empath and highly sensitive, but also someone with a sensory processing disorder. So, I am admittedly not an expert in all of the areas and all the different types of neurodiversity and the way in which we can have neuro-divergent minds. However, I do feel like I can speak from my experience again – HSP, empath, SPD – and be able to also give you the information that you may need to have some really powerful a-ha moments, and also some permission slips to embrace your own neuro-divergent mind. For me, this is something that I was really resistant to and I thought it made me weird. I thought it made me different, and I really reframed that from all angles and in many different ways in my life.

So, let’s go back to the basics and think about how we define empath. That’s likely going to be the most familiar term that I’m going to share with you in this episode, because this is the Uncensored Empath podcast. But if you had to actually define what is an empath, who is the empath, how do you personally experience empathy and the life of an empath within your internal and external landscape, what would you tell people? Think about meeting a person randomly in a hotel elevator or something, and having to define in a succinct and clear way what does it mean for you to be an empath? How does that affect your inner and outer world?

The standard definition that we’re going to use is one that has been tweaked and modified, and sometimes I say it this way, and sometimes I say it slightly different ways, but ultimately, I do feel like this definition of the empath kind of encompasses most of our life experience. An empath has the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. That is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. And if I had to summarize this in a sentence that we might say, it’s I feel your feelings as if they were my own, or I feel your physical sensations as if they were my own, because we do have two kinds of subcategories of the empathic experience, where some people feel on a more emotional level and pick up the energy. I mean, it’s all energy, but they pick up the subtle energy from other people or spaces or objects. Others experienced this more on a physical level. So physically in their body, they experience a symptom or a sensation that is not theirs, that is somebody else’s. So, you may identify or experience both sides, or you may feel like one is stronger than the other, or one is simply present and the other, not so much.

There are many, many signs that you are an empath. We’ve got the empath quiz that we can always link in the show notes for you. That just goes back to the basics of feeling like you are extra sensitive to watching the news or to getting emotionally attached and invested into TV characters. That’s something that came up in this workshop I was hosting where some individuals were sharing that they feel like some of these characters on TV shows or movies are like their best friends. They’re just like very emotionally invested. Or have you ever had a show get canceled and you feel like there’s not an ending? It’s so hard because you want to know what happens to all these people, these characters obviously inside of the show, but the show got canceled. That can be really frustrating for an empath. There are many others and I’ll talk a little bit more about in a few minutes how I see this show up in my life specifically, but to start, I want to just get on the same page with what we mean by empath.

I often then expand my conversations around empathy to include intuition and within that umbrella, the Clair senses. So we all have these things called Clair senses or our clear senses, and these are ways in which we experience energy, receive messages, receive guidance, receive downloads, and are able to perceive our world intuitively. So our Clair senses include things like our clairsentience, which is the classic empath. This is the clear feeler, so it’s everything we were just talking about, where you’re picking up on and feeling other people’s feelings or emotions as if they were happening for you or to you or they were yours. Again, that may also extend to on a physical level as well. That falls under clairsentience. So classic empath right there, but there are other clairs. And these are other ways of experiencing intuition like clairvoyance which is clear seeing, clairaudience which is clear hearing, Clairtangency which is clear touch, claircognizance which is clear knowing and that’s another one of my strongest. Clairgustance which is clear taste and Clairalience which is clear smell. We tap into all of these ways of experiencing energy, ways of being an open channel, to receive, receive intuition and many layers and flavors and ways within our life.

So how we experience the energy of our surroundings differs from person to person. We’ve got this whole category of the empath that again summarizes I feel what you feel as my own. And then there’s this whole other category that empaths don’t necessarily, or at least are not classically defined as falling underneath this other area. But what I see in my work, and again, my life experience is that there’s major overlap. So this other area, this other category is the neuro-divergent mind. And there’s a book by Jenara Nerenberg called Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You that I highly recommend if first of all, you’ve been labeled by or in any of these categories that I am about to share. But also, if you’re just curious about how you may find that there are associations, that there are similarities, that this actually starts to name some of the life experiences that you’ve had on this planet. It was very validating when I read this book, I’ll share that.

Breaking down different types of neurodivergent minds

So within the neurodivergent mind, this term is an umbrella term and it is applied to several labels or identities, including ADHD, autism, bipolar, dyslexic, SPD which is Sensory-Processing Disorder, HSP – highly sensitive person – and Sonestia. There’s this whole category of labels and diagnoses that are often identified as processing issues, processing errors, even mental illness or developmental disorders that are considered a neurodivergent mind. A neurodivergent person possesses this neurodivergence, and it’s the behaviors, some of which we’ll talk about here in a moment that led to their label, to their diagnosis. And it’s oftentimes seen pathologically in this thing that we have to treat or fix or heal. The author of this book I’m referring to Jenara Nerenberg really opens up the doorway to start to talk about neurodiversity as a conversation that is empowering, and that makes us powerful. And there are actually many strengths that are often disregarded. So we defined empath on a basic level. Now I want to just define some of these five other categories that fall within the umbrella of their neurodivergent mind so again, we can on the same page.

The first is autism and this admittedly is not my expertise, and so I’m just actually going to read a little bit from this book for a moment. “A person with so-called classic autism is what many doctors and laypeople describe as “socially awkward” or “in their own world and lacking empathy” and “normal” or “appropriate social interaction”. This pathologizing language describes a person in terms of individual norms and expectations. We don’t often stop to think about what is happening in society on a larger scale that would generate such a description or make such a person sounds so “bad”. Only when we step back and examine the behaviors from a non-stigmatized perspective can we realize that people described this way aren’t “bad”. They are merely different when measured with an established and some might say arbitrary barometer. In fact, many people in the autistic community like to flip the script and point out how awful neuro-typical culture and expectations are. Think small talk, social niceties, herd mentality, compliance, and other unpleasant or taxing behaviors that are deemed “normal”.

So I love this because it’s already calling out the stigma and the current perspective of society from an overarching lens on this person’s life experience. And as many of you know, the range of the autistic experience is vast. So now there’s this spectrum and autistic advocates are speaking out and challenging a lot of the pervasive false notions. Some of the actual life experiences of the person who’s been diagnosed with autism include – and this is not an all-inclusive list – but again, just a way to help us wrap our heads around the definitions so that we can see again how there are actually overlap in a lot of the things I’m going to be talking about.

So trouble lying, often getting lost in their own thoughts, checking out continually analyzing existence, the meaning of life, everything, experiencing feelings of confusion, being overwhelmed, being unable to relax or rest without having many thoughts, imitating people on television or in movies, feeling isolated, feeling anxiety knowing they have to leave the house, feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the steps involved, exhausted by conversations, visualizing and practicing how to act around others, difficulty filtering out background noise when talking to others, requiring a large amount of downtime or alone time, disliking being in a crowded mall, gym or theater, not understanding jokes, imitating others without realizing it, feeling trapped between wanting to be themselves and wanting to fit in. There are many more. I’m sure you can probably think of some of the ones that are more pervasive as far as the way that autism is discussed within society as well.

So let’s talk a little bit about ADHD now and this stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and it’s seen as a chronic condition that includes attention, difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. And what I loved about being in my friend Jack’s community with all these individuals who do experience or identify as ADHD, is that a lot of the work that they’re doing is breaking down stigma around that and the idea or the common belief that ADHD is a deficit of attention, and instead it’s a challenge of regulating it at will or on demand. It’s often that they actually have too much attention, just not at the “socially acceptable times or situations found in our highly regimented and structured society”. I’m curious if you think about ADHD what image comes to mind because oftentimes the image is young prepubescent, little boys who are fidgeting and distracted and unable to stay still when in fact, women and girls have been very left out of this research, out of case studies. And like I just mentioned, ADHD is not a deficit of attention the way that I think many of us assume or have been told.

I just want to share another quote from this book, which is from a 2014 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry documents. “The emotional dysregulation that occurs for 30 to 70% of people with ADHD, making emotional sensitivity a higher level of concern than generally considered for this population”. So we can see that the emotional sensitivity, already we’re seeing overlap in empath, in autism, in ADHD with emotional sensitivity showing up in all three of these different categories.

Let’s talk next about SPD, which stands for Sensory Processing Disorder. This is one that again I self-identify with and have experienced in my life, and formal definition is a condition that affects how our brain processes sensory information or stimuli, and this can affect all of our senses or just one. So you may have a more challenging time processing digesting, integrating, let’s say a touch and certain fabrics on your skin. And it may be then exclusive to just the sense of touch. Others like myself, definitely experienced some things around touch, but may also experience sound, let’s say hearing and specific noises or loud noises or even soft noises. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but that specific stimuli can be hard to process. So there may be one sense affected or all senses affected with sensory processing disorder. I did a post a couple months ago, really just laying out all the ways in which I experienced life as a woman with sensory processing disorder, and I’m going to actually share that again in this conversation, because I can’t tell you how many messages I got after sharing that several months ago and people going, oh my gosh, you just poured my heart out onto your post. Or that is me too. Or, oh my gosh, I see myself in this or yes, yes, yes. I also experienced this, or yes, yes, yes except for that one thing I don’t experience, and it was just really interesting.

The next category I want to talk about briefly is HSP or Highly Sensitive Person. I’ve talked about this in my work more so than any of the other ones I’m discussing today, because oftentimes empath and highly sensitive person get grouped together, or people assume that they’re the same thing and they’re in fact not the same thing. However, there are many overlaps as I’m talking about. I see it as this Venn diagram where the empath is on one side that has not been again classically categorized underneath neurodivergent mind, but HSP has, and the HSP and the empath do overlap a lot. And so you can see, and we’ll discuss some of the specific things that I do see as similarities.

HSP was originally coined by psychologist Elaine Aron, and it’s is a subset of our entire population, who she believes to be 15% to 20% of the entire population to be HSPs. And the way she defines this is that the people who are high in a personality trait known as Sensory-Processing Sensitivity. I know that can get a little confusing cause there’s sensory processing disorder. She says people who are high in a personality trait known as Sensory-Processing Sensitivity and who display increased emotional sensitivity, stronger reactivity to both external and internal stimuli like pain, hunger, light, and noise, and have a complex inner life. And that is certainly part of the HSP that I also identify with is this complex inner world that often makes me want to shut off from the outer world because I have a lot going on inside my inner world and I love to be alone to be able to experience that.

For the HSP, it may mean that you experience life turned up, volume knob turned up more so than others. When somebody in this workshop asked me if I could give an example of how empath and HSP are different, I used the example of walking into a room with a specific song playing, and the empath is more likely at least to have an emotional response to that music. Let’s say it’s a very emotional tune and the empath may walk in and feel something. It may bring up a memory. It may spark a visual in their mind. The HSP is more likely to have a sensory reaction to that tune, that song. So if it’s one that doesn’t sit well with their nervous system, again, life is turned up or let’s say the volume is literally turned up. Then HSP may feel more like aggravated or irritated by the volume of the music or the specific notes and tune and melody and rhythm of the music may again be harder to process. So that’s just one example of how walking into a room the empath and HSP may have different experiences. That’s not to say that you can’t walk in, feel something within the music and be like, Ooh, it’s a little too loud. Can you turn it down? Those can coexist.

And then last category under the neurodivergent mind that we’ll discuss today is Sonestia, and this is defined as a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway, for example, hearing leads to an automatic involuntary experience in a second sensory or cognitive pathway such as vision. Oftentimes the example I have seen is that people with Sonestia see letters and or numbers as colors. So the letter D takes on the color red, the number seven takes on the color orange. That’s one way where one primary sense can lead to the automatic, involuntary experience of a secondary sense. It doesn’t have to be colors with letters or numbers. It can show up in many different ways and in all of our senses. Another category that sometimes I’ve seen fall underneath Sonestia is misophonia, and this is the negative reaction to sound. So I just thought that was interesting that sometimes I see that underneath or categorized within that, or at least related to that as well.

Understanding the intersection of empathy and neurodiversity

So let’s zoom out for a second here and just recap what we’ve discussed so far. We’ve got empath and talking about the very basic definition of empath in one circle of our Venn diagram, and then in the other, we have the neurodivergent mind or people with neurodivergence, and then within that umbrella word are many different labels, diagnoses, and life experiences than likely you’ve heard a few of them. Maybe some of them are new to you today. These then two circles overlapped, and we start to see some similarities or intersections between both. I want to talk a little bit about some of those things that I do see. For all categories here, you may see heightened sensitivity overall, and that’s where I think that the different labels can get overlapped or a little bit fuzzy, foggy, hazy is that a lot of them do include heightened sensitivity. I was talking to a friend about this the other day, the diagnosis of autism and how specifically with that diagnosis oftentimes comes along this perception of lack, lack of empathy, as in there’s no overlap and it’s a complete opposite circle, opposite side of the empath. And what we were discussing is that maybe not for all, but for some individuals that may seem like there’s a lack of empathy, but really the emotional sensitivity is so high that you feel like you have to numb the world. So it can be perceived as this numbness, emotionlessness when in fact underneath that numbness is a heightened, emotional experience.

Other things in the middle of these circles, this intersection is that people are often misdiagnosed. That tends to be an experience that many empaths have experienced specifically to mental illness and I have written some posts about this in the past as well and how many empaths are misdiagnosed with bipolar depression, panic disorder, anxiety, and then find later in life through their spiritual awakening, through their personal development journey, that those labels, those diagnoses may not – they may, but they may not – feel totally true for them anymore, once they have a different language and verbiage to be able to describe their life experience and again are often misdiagnosed. Same thing we can use the example of the woman who experiences ADHD because the stigma is so much more towards pre-pubescent boys who are fidgety and have a lack of attention where we just debunked that a moment ago that many women can go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed who have ADHD.

Another part of this intersection includes being told that you are “crazy”. I’m using that word because oftentimes we’ve been told that that defines us or that’s who we are. I’m not using that word because I believe it’s something that you should be called or that is even okay, but instead that is often something that both sides of the circle, the empath and the neurodivergent mind, have been told at some point in their life that oh, you’re just crazy or you’re just weird. You’re just different. You’re never going to fit in. And like Jenara Nerenberg writes about and I mentioned earlier part of her mission is to bring empowerment to neurodivergent minds and call out a little bit that some of the patterns and the behaviors of neuro-typical people should be questioned a little bit more so than we do.

Another part of the overlap is feeling like they have to fit in or socialize to fit in. And so I’m curious, depending on which of these categories you do feel like you relate to – somewhat, all the way, fall within, maybe have actually been diagnosed with – and within that experience, within your unique life experience, have you felt the pressure to fit in in some ways, in many ways potentially? I often talk to clients and community members who do feel like they’re not allowed to be truly themselves, or if they were, that would bring up a lot of fear or there would be a big risk or a perceived threat around truly owning that. You may also see within the middle of these circles a coexistence with anxiety and or depression. As I mentioned before, sometimes there’s misdiagnosis, but other times, these things simply co-exist. And again, my life experience has been – and let’s be really clear today – I’m speaking to a lot of information that I’ve gathered, but I only want to speak to that my actual life experience. I don’t want anyone to leave this conversation, this episode, feeling like I’m speaking for anyone else, except for my life experience. And then again, information that I’ve gathered.

My experience has been that empathy, SPD, HSP have co-existed with anxiety. And for me, obvious reasons that there’s sensory overload, that there is trouble processing stimuli in my external environment and my internal environment, and a lot of that leads my physical body to feel unsafe, which can lead to anxious thoughts, anxious feelings, and panicky reactions to different stimuli in my life.

Another part of the inner circle, the intersection is isolation, and this is sort of related to the feeling like I need to numb myself from the world, or I need to socialize. I need to fit in. I need to be socially acceptable. And if that feels like I don’t know how to, I don’t want to, or the world’s just too much or I’m too much for the world, then I think the natural behavior can be to isolate, to hide, to protect, to self-protect, to go into survival mode. And so again, I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of different individuals and found that this is something that at least I’ve heard in my experience and have also done personally, especially in the height of my experience with anxious feelings was okay, survival mode, self-protect. Let’s just isolate, isolate, isolate, isolate so I don’t have to deal with the world. At the time I didn’t have tools to know how to begin or how to deal with the world, so it almost felt like I didn’t have any other choice.

Another part of the intersection is often shame, blame, and guilt. So I’ll let you kind of take from those what you will, but shame, being shamed for who you are, blame like blaming you for the way you are, and then the sense of guilt in that I shouldn’t be who I am when you are so fucking beautiful. And I want you to be exactly who you are, but a lot of shame, blame, and guilt is often present, especially for the people who haven’t heard that permission slip yet. Not that they need the permission slip, but those who feel the numb or the isolated feeling may also feel a spiral of the shame/blame/guilt as well.

We sort of discussed this already, but another part of the intersection I see, I witness in my work is just being seen as different. So labeled a certain way. I think that there’s a personal opinion, but I think there’s some benefit. There’s some helpfulness in some of the labels that we do have in the world and there are others that are extremely, extremely harmful. I think of it as sort of related to the archetype work that I do, where when someone has been able to help me see aspects of my shadow or aspects of my different archetypes that live within me, it’s been really helpful, and it’s felt empowering to me to be able to have words and language and a name for something that I did think was weird or different or nobody else experienced. And in that way. It’s been helpful.

It’s been empowering. There are other labels that I think exist and that I’ve also put on myself or been called that I think are really harmful or that do more harm than good. And so it’s just important to think about the labels that we put on ourselves, at least in this conversation today, that’s kind of the capacity in which we have to think. What labels have I put on myself that are empowering and give language to my life experience and help things make sense, and which ones have I either graduated from or outdated, maybe once were helpful but are no longer? And then what other ones am I carrying or wearing as a hat or a mask or a cloak in a way that has never been empowering, that maybe were borrowed or given to us, or we put on ourselves and we actually do not benefit and would prefer to no longer carry that label or to re-imagine that label and create a different definition for it?

All right. So I want to talk a little bit more about some of the ways that I experience the world, again as a woman with Sensory-Processing Disorder and who identifies as an empath. I really opened this conversation up with my therapist last year and it was around the same time that I found this book, Divergent Mind. And I started to note things down literally in a note section on my phone and I would bring it to the conversations I was having with my therapist through Better Help, and these were all the things I thought were weird about me. Some of them I felt like this is weird. No one else must feel this way. Other ones I thought everybody felt, and maybe that’s not the case and I was even able to retrace chronic illness diagnoses back to my very first diagnosis of fibromyalgia when I was 16 years old and realized that it’s very well possible that that could have been for me misdiagnosed as a sensitivity and trouble processing external stimuli in a world that does not accommodate the neurodivergent mind, that was made for the neuro-typical mind.

And when I realized that, it was definitely like a light bulb a-ha moment for me to go, wow! What if I had just been embraced as somebody who experiences and processes stimuli in my life in a different way than the neuro-typical person? What other therapies, treatments, healing possibilities would have become available to me, other than just medication with fibromyalgia? So while our modern-day medical system in many ways is forced to pathologize these neuro-divergences like Sensory-Processing Disorder, like Sonestia, like ADHD and autism in order for people to get support, in order for doctors to be able to treat, in order for insurance to cover, what I’ve been able to realize is that neurodivergent people are actually more skilled in many ways, even though the system that we live in is created, has been created in a way that’s meant to make us feel broken.

So I’m going to share some of the ways, again SPD and being highly sensitive manifests for me on a day-to-day basis to hopefully just build awareness of a field that also I wasn’t necessarily super aware of this until I read Jenara Nerenberg’s book, but women have been extremely left out of this field and of this research. So, the volume of the TV can trigger me into panic. Not just, oops, that’s annoying. Can you turn it down? Or like, oh, it’s hurting my ears. The volume can trigger me into a nervous system response that is panic. I also often sleep naked – in the nude – because I am really sensitive to fabrics on my skin. I can get aching pains throughout my whole body. If my clothes are too tight, I remember this going way back to early high school, maybe even eighth grade when especially low rise, tight jeans were in style, and I started to become more aware of it at that time. Like, oh my gosh, if my clothes are too tight, I get aching pains throughout my whole body. Any artificial or intense smells can give me an instant headache, makes it challenging to ride in rideshare apps. If anything gets too close to my face or it’s coming at my face, it’s hard to process and it makes me feel very … just for lack of better word here … uncomfortable. The sudden sound of my dogs barking, which happens on pretty much a daily basis. But when they do suddenly bark really loud, it irritates my nervous system and I can feel my body tighten, tense up a bit. I’m also easily startled and it can throw off my whole day if I get really startled.

There’s an example I’m thinking of where my husband felt really bad afterward, but he yelled. I think he was trying to be funny. I don’t remember exactly what our conversation was, but he yelled and I was super startled. I got a headache and my whole day, I just felt almost sick. There are also several specific sounds that could just make me crawl out of my skin and/or get nauseous from that sound. One of them – oh my God, I don’t even want to talk about it. It’s like so, so …. for my nervous system, but the sound of someone squeaking their feet on sand at the beach. You may or may not know what I’m talking about. If you know, you know, but that is one of the sounds that makes me nauseous. If someone touches me too lightly, it actually physically hurts. So I know this about myself and my husband also knows this. So if he’s giving me a massage or if I’m booking a massage with a professional, I always get deep tissue, deep pressure because otherwise the light touch can be painful.

I also love/feel like I need to have a sheet between me and my comforter at night, and it’s very much a texture thing. I love the texture of a clean sheet, but I do not like the texture of the comforter touching my skin. It also feels dirty for some reason. If my lips are chapped or my hands are dry, I feel like I have to fix it immediately with Chapstick, with lip balm, with some sort of moisturizer or else I can’t stop thinking about or touching my lips because they’re chapped, they’re dry. And not to the point where they’re like peeling dry, just a little dry, but that I need to moisturize right away. I also really dislike eating in the dark. I always turn the lights on once it gets dark outside if we’re eating past dark. And that might seem like a very, again, neuro-typical normal thing to do to eat in the light, but I know a lot of people who do eat maybe while they’re watching TV, let’s say, and the room’s dark, the TV’s on so there’s a little bit of light. That doesn’t work for me. I will always want a light on while I’m eating.

The sound of snoring is almost unbearable, and I grew up with a father who snored very loud. Very, very loud! I remember as a little girl, his room was across the hall from me, and at the time I shared a room with my little sister, and I would go and open his door and I would throw a pillow at him so he would wake up, but I didn’t have to get too close to him so I could run back into my bed and get there as soon as possible. And once I got back into bed, I would try to fall asleep as fast as I could so that I didn’t have to hear the sound anymore. I also really dislike layering clothing. This is something that when we go snowboarding when I’m not nine and a half months pregnant like I am right now. When we go snowboarding, it makes sense to have a lot of layers, but I’ve had to figure out a way to stay warm while snowboarding without too many layers, because otherwise it’s painful. It’s actually very physically uncomfortable to have layered clothing.

One of my tricks is that I just don’t wear a bra. That easily gets rid of at least one layer of clothing. I also wear minimal jewelry. I love jewelry. I think jewelry is so beautiful, and I often see friends, people on social media family with these gorgeous pieces of jewelry and I always am in awe of them. But when I try to wear anything more than maybe a simple necklace or a light pair of hoop earrings, you’ll see me wearing those. I love hoop earrings. I love a really simple necklace, but if you want me to layer it or anything heavy, it doesn’t work for me. My sister has these gorgeous rings. She wears like – I don’t know – probably at least five or six rings every single day. Can’t do it. I actually don’t even wear my wedding ring all the time. I love my wedding ring and I wear it. But there are times where I just feel like I need a break from it. I don’t like competing sounds. So one prime example is if my husband and I are in the car and he wants to talk, I turn the volume down on the radio, or we don’t really listen to the radio, but whatever song is playing, if there’s music on, I turn that off or way down cause I don’t like the competing sounds.

Oftentimes other people’s moods really affect me. What I’ve been speaking on is Sensory-Processing Disorder, but this one can also show up in the empath where somebody walks in and just has like, I don’t know, a really rotten mood for that day, and it can be really hard for you then to find your little sparks of joy amidst the all-encompassing, rotten mood that’s present in front of you. I often feel I want to/need to withdraw from social situations just for a moment of relief. I love being around my people. I do. I really do. But oftentimes I feel like I need moments of relief throughout that social situation. I also do not tolerate caffeine. I think in a way, way back episode, I actually talked a little bit about giving up sugar, giving up alcohol, giving up caffeine. I did all three of those pretty close within the same year and gosh, probably three or four years ago now since I’ve given up all caffeine, except for a little bit of chocolate, all added sugar. I still have natural sugar inside of fruits and then alcohol. I went over a year without any alcohol and probably in the past two years, I’ve had maybe two or three drinks a year, but really, really, really minimal. I just simply don’t tolerate it.

So these are all things that I’ve just noticed about my own nervous system, and I didn’t share that list for you guys to get just an inside look at my life though you just did. I also share it because I want you to understand and to realize that some of these things you may also experience and it doesn’t have to mean anything, but again, the language of Sensory-Processing Disorder for me, and a lot of these conversations I was having with my therapist last year started to make so many things click in an empowering way. So again, all that might be like, whoa, Sarah, that’s a lot. Well, on the flip side, I’ve been able to take the gifts and the strengths of being highly sensitive, having Sensory-Processing Disorder, being a highly intuitive empath to create what I’ve created today, to have the life that I live today, and there’s so much freaking beauty in it. There were a lot of moments along that path on that journey to where I am today, where I questioned a lot of these things, or I felt like they were going to hold me back. This is not an all-inclusive list, so the potential ways this could manifest in your life is much more extensive and longer.

One of the things that has benefited me the most is being able to create boundaries so that my environment is really supportive and I can thrive in it. So again, there was a time when I felt like I need to isolate or I am easily startled and so my whole day has to get thrown off every time I get startled. And what I’ve been able to do is reprogram that and create those boundaries and create the environment where I’m less prone to being startled, or I can control the volume of my space or I carry Chapstick with me everywhere I go now, so that I don’t have to feel uncomfortable when my lips are chapped. It may seem silly to some people. It may arbitrary or unnecessary even, but I argue the opposite. These are things that have deeply affected my life. And now that I realize it, and even just writing that list down for myself was really helpful cause I even showed it to my husband and I was like, this, this, this is how I’m experiencing life, and this is probably different than the way you’re experiencing life so I want you to be able to understand me a little bit better. Now my office space is really conducive to thriving versus surviving.

I also want to touch on these immense gifts that do come with being the empath and being an individual with neurodiversity or a neurodivergent mind. The gifts of neurodiversity include having that rich, inner world and imagination. This is something that we go way back to the beginning of our conversation here. I talked about how I thought everyone just felt the way I did, especially as a kid, but still as an adult and turns out my imagination runs wild in a beautiful, beautiful way. I was talking about how I love being alone, at least part of the time because my inner world is complex and I can just be in it and I can have my own little storyline running inside of my own inner world in a really imaginative and beautiful way. And from that place of rich inner world and imagination, so many of my creations are discovered, are manifested, are dropped down, channeled into my being. So there are immense gifts, especially if you are any type of creator in the world of having this rich imagination in which you can brainstorm and you can problem solve.

Another gift of neurodiversity is being highly, highly intuitive. Highly, highly intuitive, and very in tune or attuned to the energy of the stimulus, the spaces that you enter, and being able to perceive that. So another gift is actually being perceptive. You pick up on, we pick up on a lot of the details, a lot of the subtle energy that is often missed by the neurotypical mind. Now think it’s helpful here to remember that the world though has been shaped or more tailored to the neurotypical mind. So as the owner of a neurodivergent mind, for me, it’s been helpful to remember that just because one space for one person works doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for me. Instead, I want a place to be able to create, to use my rich imagination, to be able to have the space to tap into and be guided by my strong intuition and to be able to make decisions or take actions based upon my perception, my empath feelers, little antennas that extend out to perceive the world beyond what the eye can see. And that’s another gift is being aware of subtle energy.

So neurodivergent minds are often more aware of subtle energy. Arguably we all have the ability to be aware of subtle energy. Love – the feeling of love in your heart – is subtle energy, but the neurodivergent mind can be extra aware of subtle energy and beyond what the eye can see. And that’s where I again, feel there’s an intersection of empathy and neurodivergent mind in that the empath can perceive through the different Clair senses and in many different ways of picking up on or channeling subtle energy. But the same goes for the neurodivergent mind who may be tapped into – we can use Sonestia as an example here as well – where one sense is then triggering a more, not unconscious automatic response in another sense of their perception and their way of perceiving energy or colors that are related to numbers.

Another gift of neurodiversity is great listening skills, like listening with your entire body. I’ve done a whole episode on this before and the types of listening and empathic or whole-body listening being the most intelligent and fullest, the greatest form of listening. And while every single one of these gifts may or may not align with what you feel is your personal strength, I would say these are overarching, zoomed out high level, absolutely skills of all of the categories within the neurodivergent mind as well as the empath, to be able to listen. Not that you always want to or have to, but that you are able to listen with your whole body and being. Another gift of the neurodivergent mind is being highly creative. Highly, highly creative! And that goes back up to point one, which is that rich imagination, rich inner world, complex inner world, and a lot of that can then spur into creativity, but that high creativity is also just innate within you and that the way you perceive the world is vibrant, is different, is unique, is beautiful, is wonderful.

Another gift is the ability to scan the room, s walking in and having whether you want to call them the empath antennas or the ability to experience, to perceive extra sensory information, or just having a different or less typical response to stimulus inside of an environment all allows us or you to scan a room and be able to pick up on information, which I think then links very much to the next gift, which is the ability to find unique solutions. Because as you’re tapped into more information, more subtle energy, more imagination, more creativity, more intuition, more perception, with all that knowledge and wisdom and information, you can be a freaking expert problem solver. And then also the ability to know how others can be best supported. So as you’re tapped in, and not only feeling and perceiving and gathering up all this information but also tuning to the energy of those around you, then we can use that information to potentially support other beings as well. This translates and transfers to the coaching industry really, really well, which is part of why I love my job and I love that I have a neurodivergent mind and that I do consider myself to be a highly intuitive empath because it helps boost my work in a way that’s hard to put into words. So all of this information simply invigorates my personal mission as a coach, as a leader, as a healer and it also deepens my level of embodiment as a leader/healer as well in that I have this very lived experience and it allows me to feel deeply within my own being so that I speak from a place of integrity and truth and alignment as well.

So where do we go from here? What’s next? So we have all these beautiful gifts and I’d love for this to be a crowdsourced, collaborative, ever-evolving list, because I’m sure you can probably think of other ways either being or having a neurodivergent mind, and/or being an empath has impacted your life in vast, diverse, beautiful ways. And I would love, love, love for you to share those with me, because this is just a start. This is around 10 ways that there are immense gifts and that’s not to say there haven’t been challenges. There have been moments where there have been panic attacks, there have been breakdowns, there have been days where I have felt like my nervous system was just completely disjointed and stuck in survival or stuck freeze mode, trying to self-protect. And there’s been years within my life experience where I’ve felt like I was under attack by all the external stimuli of the world, which every day, there’s just becoming more and more of it so we can start to see the gifts. We can start to embrace the gifts of neurodiversity, and we can also come back home and reunite with our nervous system in a healing way. And this has been one of the things that has been most beneficial for me.

Again, the language, the words of my experience, being able to find these words have been a huge component of it because I’ve been able to communicate than my needs, my boundaries, my experience better to the people closest in my life. Been able to change my working environment and my workflow to be able to accommodate that. But another huge component is that reclamation of your nervous system to reconnect to our sensory system in a way that is healing, that no longer feels out of control the way the external world can oftentimes, and instead in a controlled, intentional way for the purpose of pleasure.

So there’s a meditation/ embodiment experience that I guide myself through and I’ve guided some clients through different phases as well that activates their senses, but it’s different than activating from the loud TV or activating the slurping sound of my dog drinking water that’s annoying or activating the itchy sweater texture on my skin. That’s activating my sensory system in a way that does not feel healing or supportive or sometimes even safe. However, there are ways to activate your sensory system for the purpose of pleasure, for the purpose of instead of upregulating instead down-regulating, but we’re still interacting with and communicating with our sensory system versus what again, many of us maybe feel like we’ve had to do, which is numb and isolate. Turn that switch off.

I want to invite you to actually turn the switch back on, but not to the fluorescent light bulbs that hurt your eyes and give you a headache. Instead, turn the light back on to whatever feels pleasurable to your nervous system. So this is again guided meditation/embodiment experience that I have shared inside of the Third Eye Collective, our ongoing community that is your upgraded podcast experience. So you can take everything that we talked about today. Maybe the light bulbs that went off within your own mind, your own consciousness today, and you can also take action. You can also do the doing and be the being of the individual who is choosing to come back home to their body, and to reconnect to their senses in a way that is controlled, that is safe to downregulate and to then get into after their specific body movements and ways of touching your body and your skin, that then we get into meditation afterward, and it allows you to take an exhale. I don’t know about you, but I know I was unconsciously exhaling, you know, however many times a minute because our breath is an autonomic process. But when I really reflect back, it was like, why was I truly exhaling? Were there any intentional exhales during some of these phases of my life where everything felt so constricted, overstimulated, hold the breath, and there was never really this … I’m comfortable in my body. I’m at peace in my body. I feel at home in my body. That was missing for me personally for a long time. So if that resonates, I want you to be able to have your exhale and many, many more exhales to come.

So, if you want to take the next step after listening to today’s episode, come and join us inside of the Third Eye Collective. We’ve got two different options. First, there is $11. It’s called The Awakening. You get two meditation/ experiences like this every month. The other $22 a month is The Expansion. You get all that and more including an Ask Me Anything episode. You guys got a sneak peek of that recently in another podcast episode, where individuals could ask and get personalized coaching from me. I’d be so honored to see you inside. This community is amazing.

With that, I’m going to wrap up this conversation today. I’d love to know your thoughts, your personal experiences, if you’re willing to share, and let’s keep building, crowdsourcing this list of what it means to be a fricking powerful neurodivergent mind on this planet. I truly, truly believe that we have the ability to be powerful leaders, healers, entrepreneurs on this planet. So listen to the call, the purpose within your heart and allow the things that make you so freaking special, that do make you different and unique in the most beautiful way to be embraced by coming back home and reclaiming the power over your nervous system. Allowing yourself to be deeply embodied and seeing the gifts reside below the surface. Sending you all so, so much love. I’ll see you next time.

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May 13, 2021


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