Highly Sensitive Person, A Gift from Mirror Neurons

Have you ever had an experience? When the sky is dark and lightning is striking, you know it’s going to be rain. And You feel uneasy and pounding heart, you want to go home and wrap yourself in a blanket and shut down yourself.

Or when you wake up in the morning and you know it’s going to be a gloomy day, since you don’t really feel energy to deal with the world without any specific reason.

If you don’t, the following story I’m going to share might be boring. But if you do have those experiences, I confess that I have been suffering from it too because I didn’t know exactly why, and what is happening to me when I’m in the condition.

So, when I heard the idea of HSP(Highly Sensitive Person, described as having hypersensitivity to external stimuli, a greater depth of cognitive processing, and high emotional reactivity.), I felt relieved since I could understand my nature logically.

But even after that, I didn’t like being HSP. It was hard to be sad or depressed when I didn’t know how to handle the feeling.

And this is how I became interested in neuroscience.

I wanted to know what is going on in my brain when I’m sad or I’m happy, since I thought it might give me a better control of myself.

The other day, I was on my way to Tokyo to see Calvin Tan, one of the most famous figure painting artists in the world. He came to Japan from Singapore, to make figure painting instruction DVD. After the shooting we went for dinner, and I told him I recently started having an interest in neuroscience. He taught me about the concept of “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and relationship between art and science. “If you are interested in this kind of stuff, mirror neuron is the key.”, he told me.

“A mirror neuron is a neuron which fires both when an animal performs an action and when the animal observes the same action performed by another (especially conspecific) animal.” (Wikipedia)

On my way back home, I searched on the internet and tried to understand what mirror neurons are, and how it is working in our brain. Then I met a book called

The Tell-Tale Brain written byV. S. Ramachandran.

“ There is a special class of nerve cells called mirror neurons. These neurons fire not only when you perform an action, but also when you watch someone else perform the same action. This sounds so simple that its huge implications are easy to miss. What these cells do is effectively allow you to empathize with the other person and “read” her intentions — figure out what she is really up to. You do this by running a simulation of her actions using your own body image. ”

In the book he even said,

“ Your mirror neurons are reasonably accurate guessers of others’ intentions. As such, they are the closest thing to telepathy that nature was able to endow us with.”

I became obsessed with reading the book, and I was amazed by the fact that our brain, which is made up of about 100 billion nerve cells or neurons, works very complicatedly and effectively to empathize other people’s feelings. But what impressed me more is, there is a possibility that the mirror neurons could be foundation of learning language.

“ Mirror neurons may also enable you to mime the lip and tongue movements of others, which in turn could provide the evolutionary basis for verbal utterances. Once these two abilities are in place — the ability to read someone’s intentions and the ability to mimic their vocalizations — you have set in motion two of the many foundational events that shaped the evolution of language.”

Although people ask me all the time when I speak English, I have never studied abroad. What made me fluent is my curiosity for encountering foreign cultures, and for me it was like a very interesting journey. Now I’m studying Spanish for hobby, and learning language has never been emotionally hard work. According to my English teacher in collage I might be a rare “Super leaner”, but I didn’t really know how I do it until yesterday.

Yesterday I kept researching about mirror neurons, and surprisingly, I found an article about a relation between HPS(highly sensitive person) and mirror neurons!

“ We found sensitive people in almost all cases had more activity in their mirror neurons, which is a part of the brain that both allows us to imitate each other so easily but also allows us to empathize.”

I solved a puzzle, I thought. I’m good at learning language since I’m HSP. My brain has very active mirror neurons to empathize people, and also mime the lip and tongue of others. That’s made me a super learner of language.

Deep exciting feeling for solving the puzzle lingered for a while.

And I noticed, if I was not HSP, I wouldn’t have this ability.

That means, I could not have encountered awesome friends and people I met through different language. I can’t imagine what it my life would be without them!

Being HSP is sometimes tough. I can be easily influenced by strong feeling of others, or colors and weather. When it overwhelmed me in a bad way, I can’t remember how many times I wish “God, I want to be more insensitive!!”

But, I didn’t realize the great gift that my empathetic neurons gave me long long time ago. This awareness means a lot, and I think I can be more relaxed next time I feel gloomy because of weather, saying

“Oh, ok. My lovely mirror neurons are being active now”.

So if you are HSP, or have problem about your nature or personality, have a closer look at different angle. Our “three-pound mass of jelly” sitting in the head is more supportive than you think. Aren’t you creative than other people? Do you be able to “taste” feelings deeply because you are sensitive? Maybe it also gave you a little present already, and it is waiting to be opened.

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