Do you Have Thin Skin? What Does That Mean for Your Health, Relationships and Spirituality?

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highly sensitively person

 

 

 

Today we have Michael Jawer, a writer and researcher whose works explore emotion as the foundation for personality, health, and spirituality.

I knew of Mike’s work from the beginning of my career a decade ago. In his newest work, Sensitive Soul, he continues his exploration of why different people process their feelings differently. He talks about  how ‘thin boundary people’ differ from ‘thick boundary people, and what the upshot is for health and illness.

In today’s extremely thorough and fun episode, we will discuss:

— The concept of energetic boundaries; What it means to have thick/ thin skin

— What is Alexithymia— when people cant name their feelings

— How having thick/ thin skin affects your physical symptoms; e.g migraines, allergies

— The relationship between boundaries and MBTI Personality types

— Who are the Orchids and the dandelions

We shared our personal experiences and how we find our ways in the world. I have thoroughly enjoyed this chat and I hope you will too.

A short trailer:

 

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ABOUT MIKE JAWER

Michael Jawer is a Washington, DC-based writer, speaker and researcher. His expertise is the nexus of personality development, body/mind, emotion, and spirituality.

Jawer is the author (with Marc Micozzi, MD, PhD) of two previous books: The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion (Park Street Press, 2009) and Your Emotional Type (Healing Arts Press, 2011).

His papers have appeared in Frontiers in Psychology-Consciousness Research, Journal of Interpersonal Neurobiology Studies, Science & Consciousness Review, Explore, Seminars in Integrative Medicine, and the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, while his feature articles and interviews have run in Psychology Today, Spirituality & Health, Aeon, Nautilus, Minding Nature, Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, Edge Science, Noetic Now, Epoch Times, PsychCentral, and Scientific American.

Michael Jawer also blogs for Psychology Today (“Feeling Too Much”).

Welcome to MichaelJawer.com

TRANSCRIPT

Imi:

All right. Hi, Mike. Thank you so much for coming on to Eggshell Transformations. It’s such an honor to have you on. It actually feels a little surreal because a few years back, actually more than a few years back when I started doing my research, I came across your book, especially about thin boundaries and thick boundaries. And I think your book is called Emotional Anatomy?

Mike:

The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotions.

Imi:

Sorry, yes. Spiritual Anatomy, yes. And it was really useful. And since then I kept quoting your work in various places in my work, in my websites, and in my own book. So it’s such an honor to get to meet you.

Mike:

Well, vice versa. It’s a real pleasure. I know of your work, and what you do is very important to a lot of people who need their voices to be amplified, and to have an advocate.

MIKE’S STORY

Imi:

Thank you. And I’m sure we will talk about a lot of these concepts. And I also know that you’ve just got a new book that came out, I’m sure we’ll touch on that as well. But before we dive into all of that, I want to get to know a little bit about you as a person. So can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? And do you also identify as someone who is emotionally sensitive or intense?

Mike:

Oh, that’s a great opening question, because up until very recently, Imi, I have not identified myself as someone emotionally intense or particularly sensitive, which begs the question of why I’ve written what I have.

Imi:

You’ve written a lot for sensitive and about sensitive people.

Mike:

Yeah. And I think it’s because I grew up in an environment where my parents are very different personalities, and I saw a couple different ways of appreciating what one’s feeling and acting on it. And mostly, I guess, I concluded or I took away a style which is more thick boundary, we might say, where I have struggled over the years understanding what it is I’m feeling, especially the more deep seated feelings, the ones that are close to the surface, I probably pretty good at that. But stuff that’s a little deeper has been challenged for me to really identify and act appropriately on.

Mike:

And so by virtue of getting better with that over the years, I guess that’s informed my writing, and I have a fair amount of sympathy or identification with people on the thick side of boundary spectrum. But I also have sympathy and reasonable identification with people on the thin side of the spectrum, because there are certain things that I react to quite vigorously. For example, I startle very quickly, which is, I think, one characteristic of thin boundary people. So I think in some ways I am thin boundary. And in pursuing this line of inquiry, I’ve become thinner boundary. I have a greater awareness of my feelings, and that’s to the good.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE THICK/ THIN BOUNDARIES?

Imi:

Well, actually, since we are now already talking about thick and thin boundaries, just for our audience, can you expand on what that means? I know it comes from a concept from Dr. Hartmann from some years ago, but you have certainly expanded on that. Can you tell us in our audience, what does that mean? What does it mean to have thick boundaries or thin boundaries?

Mike:

Yeah. And I’ll just mention, Ernest Hartmann was a psychiatrist and dream researcher in Wellesley, Massachusetts, near Harvard and MIT, in those organizations. He worked for Tufts University, a very, very good school. And really, he is a pioneer in many ways, in understanding personality. And the theory he developed was called boundaries, thick and thin boundaries. He began by studying people that had nightmares. He’s really, first and foremost, a dream researcher, and he was doing research on nightmares and nightmare sufferers.

Mike:

And what he realized was that the folks who reported nightmares were very, very different than other people that he was studying, who had very pedestrian dreams, kind of black and white. They had trouble even remembering their dreams. They didn’t seem to be meaningful at all. And that was in stark contrast to the people whose dreams woke them up in the middle of the night, and they couldn’t shake the imagery that was intruding. And so he developed the concept of thick and thin boundaries. The idea is simply that, people with thin boundaries have greater access to memories, to dreams, to ruminations. They are faster to react to virtually all stimuli in everyday life.

Imi:

Does that mean they’re more sensitive?

Mike:

They are. They are sensitive, open, vulnerable. Those are the three key adjectives that he used. And he contrasted that with thick boundary people, who are slower to react, who are more, I think, stoic is a good word, who are sort of impassive or seemingly impassive, and may not really be able to even tell you what it is they’re feeling at a given moment.

Mike:

The extreme example of someone on thick boundaries side of things is alexithymia. Alexithymia is a term, I gather you know exactly what that means. It’s someone who doesn’t have the words to identify what they’re feeling. They can’t really tell you without prompting what it is that they’re feeling. It doesn’t mean that they’re not feeling anything, It’s just not that-

Imi:

Yeah, that was a question. So it’s not that people with thick boundaries or actually in common language, more thick skin, it’s not that they don’t feel, but they don’t have the language for it or they don’t have the access?

Mike:

Well, the original term for it, alexithymia, is really intended to explain, I think, the original researchers said, they don’t have the words to express it. They don’t have the vocabulary to express what they’re feeling. It’s become more of a question as to whether they don’t have the vocabulary or they don’t really have biologically, the quick access to feelings. But all the physiological indicators, skin conductance, and everything else, pulse rate, things like that, indicate that they are feeling things, it’s under the surface and they can’t quite put their finger on it. So it’s thick skin, in the sense of, how they come across to other people, but thick skin even internally.

Imi:

Yeah, yeah. I have a quote here from Dr. Hartmann directly. Perhaps I can read it out loud for our audience to get a better sense of what it means to have thick or thin boundaries. He said, “There are people who strike us as very solid and well-organized. They keep everything in its place. They are well-defended. They seem rigid, even armored. We sometimes speak of them as thick skin. Such people in my view have very thick boundaries.

Imi:

At the other extreme, are people who are especially sensitive, open, or vulnerable,” like you said, “In their minds, things are relatively fluid. Such people have particularly thin boundaries.”

Imi:

Since you have been at this and writing about this for some years now. Have you expanded your own definition on thick or thin … According to your own observations, what other interesting facts, observations, or trends, might you have spotted?

Mike:

Well, I’ve taken it in a couple of directions. And although Ernest Hartmann, sadly isn’t with us on this plane of existence any longer, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting him and talking with him on the phone-

Imi:

Oh, have you? I didn’t know that.

Mike:

… [crosstalk 00:08:01]. Yeah, he had a wonderful Austrian accent. He comes from … his father was a psychoanalyst, who was in Sigmund Freud circle, Franz Hartmann. So he comes by this interest, honestly as a psychiatrist, and just a lovely person, lovely man, who wrote poetry, as well as being, sort of, an investigative scientist into personality. So really cool guy. And his last book, he wrote a nice dedication to me. And he said, to Michael Jawer, who is expanding the boundaries of boundaries.

Imi:

That is absolutely wonderful.

Mike:

I like that. I like that, and I like to think that, that’s what I’ve been doing. So I’ve taken in a couple of directions. One is with my second book with Dr. Mark Micozzi, who’s been my writing partner, and he has an MD and PhD, which are credentials I don’t actually have, so we’ve complemented one another.

Mike:

My second book with him was called Your Emotional Type. And that really addresses the health conditions and illnesses that people of different boundary types are susceptible to. So our thesis-

Mike:

… certain people because of their emotional biology, because of their emotional style and predilection are more susceptible to certain kinds of illnesses, whereas thick boundary people are susceptible to others. And we believe that the data bear that out, and we explain why that is in the book. And then Mark’s unique contribution is to really identify the types of integrative treatments, complementary and alternative therapies, yoga, biofeedback, mindfulness meditation, and so forth, acupuncture, that are appropriate to different types of illnesses that relate to the boundary type. So that’s one direction that we’ve gone.

Mike:

The other direction, which I believe is mine entirely, is to relate boundaries to anomalous experiences, to people seeing or feeling energies around other people, auras, apparitions, a variety of those kinds of experiences that are really either chalked up to an overactive imagination, or to magical thinking, or variety of things mainstream scientists used to wave it all away, it seems that those kinds of experiences are much more common than mainstream science would have us believe, coincidences, really telepathic kinds of impressions that people get often around emergencies, family emergencies, and things like that.

Mike:

So I don’t know that they’re anomalous in the sense of being vastly uncommon, I think they’re relatively common. And I’ve brought the theory of boundaries to bear on who has those experiences and under what circumstances.

Imi:

There are so many things I want to ask you, but to just to keep everyone up to speed, if I recall correctly, people who are more sensitive to feelings are also more physically sensitive; so they have more conditions such as allergies, migraines, IBS, PTSD. Whereas people who have thick boundaries tend to express their feelings may have things like chronic fatigue, hypertension, ulcers, arthritis. As a chronic migraine sufferer myself, I find this very interesting. Does that surprise you?

Mike:

No. I mean, migraine is a perfect example of what a thin boundary person is going to be challenged with as a health condition that they have, same with allergies. Those are really the the poster children you might say for thin boundary illnesses.

Imi:

Oh, really?

Mike:

Yeah, yeah. Because thin boundary people as you said, over the years, they’re very highly reactive. They’re reactive to many, many different things in the environment, and within themselves feeling, and they react to other people’s feelings as well. So you know, with migraine, I don’t know what sets it off for you, but I’ve had friends over the years with migraine, and it can be an aroma, it can be the glare of sunlight, it can be noise, it can simply be overstimulation-

Imi:

Absolutely.

Mike:

… going on in the work environment. It can also be brought on or aggravated by submerged feelings.

Imi:

Absolutely, yes.

Mike:

There’s a terrific example in my first book, The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion, where I quote a guy named James Lance, who’s an Australian physiologist, I think. And he was talking about a guy who was in a movie theater with his girlfriend, and they were watching a particularly intense scene about a father and a son coming to terms with complex feelings, and that seemed to have brought on migraine for him in the movie theater because it was reminiscent of his own relationship with his father. So that’s a case in point.

Mike:

Yeah, Oliver Sacks, his first major book was entitled Migraine. He referred to it as something along the lines of a vehicle for an oblique expression of underlying feelings, not direct, but oblique. And it was a true pleasure, maybe 15 years ago, that I wrote to Dr. Sacks, and he answered me-

Imi:

Right.

Mike:

… and we had a little dialogue, not about migraine, but about something else, really wonderful person, with a tremendous impact on how we appreciate all different kinds of people who seem to be at the margins with the symptoms that they present, but really, they offer a tremendous opportunity to understand what it is about to be human.

UNCOMMON SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES

Imi:

But as far as what you have told me, that’s not your major, major interest, yours is in extraordinary, or uncommon, or spiritual experiences? What got you into that angle?

Mike:

Well, a couple of things I think. One is that they’re not unknown in my own family.

We’ve had instances over the years quite striking, where there was an emotional moment for people, generally, small groups of people, where something happened that was very strange, but seemed to keep to that moment. So I think that’s really what prompted me to move in this direction.

Mike:

And I think also, as I was reading about thin boundary people, highly empathic people, Which brings up the term empathy and empath.

Imi:

Yes, I was wondering what your thoughts are on the word empath since it’s extremely popular nowadays, you can see it everywhere.

Mike:

Yeah. And as I dove into that literature, it seems like to be an empath is almost to be receptive, open to these anomalous kinds of experiences people write about them quite a lot. So I ended up doing a survey in tandem or at least encouraged by a parapsychologist by the name of William Roll. This is back in the mid ’90s. And Bill Roll was a very noteworthy parapsychologist, a terrific guy who I got to know. And he investigated poltergeists and poltergeists personalities, the kind of people who would seem to attract poltergeist occurrences.

Mike:

And I sort of shared with him these musings at the time. And he said, “Well, why don’t you don’t you do a survey where you ask various questions of sensitive people,” because the term sensitive has often been associated with mediums and clairvoyance over the years.

Mike:

If you go back to the turn of the 20th century, they weren’t known as psychics, they were known as sensitives more so than mediums, sensitive. So they were known to be highly sensitive, physically, and emotionally. And so I developed a survey that asked, oh, my gosh, I don’t remember how many questions, quite a few questions of people that are highly sensitive. And then I came up with a control group of thicker boundary people you might say, to sort of contrast or compare the responses.

And what we found were a couple things. One is that sensitivity seemed to run in families. The people who were on the sensitive side responded to the questionnaire, said these kinds of conditions, migraine, allergy, chronic pain, irritable bowel, and so forth, synesthesia, overlapping senses, which I had no idea what that was at the time. It was the people who responded to the survey who opened my eyes to what synesthesia is, all of these things.

Imi:

Can you tell our audience what that is?

Mike:

Seen as these overlapping senses. It’s like hearing a color or tasting a shape. It’s conjoined senses. And some people they live a very interesting life this way. The most common is to see letters, and numbers, and words, and [crosstalk 00:17:54].

Imi:

I think a really famous musician, was it Mozart? There’s a famous musician who has it.

Mike:

There are many famous artists, and musicians, sculptors, painters, etc., that have it. So I didn’t know anything about that. And what I found is that synesthesia runs in families. It’s very much an inherited kind of condition.

Mike:

So that was one thing that I learned from the survey, is that even anomalous perception that seems to accompany these kinds of sensitivities could be an inherited trait.

Imi:

Interesting.

Mike:

So that was one takeaway.

Imi:

Actually, I have a quote here from you on this. If you don’t mind, I’m going to read it out. “Some people through their unique processing of feelings are able to perceive things much differently than the rest of us. They may instantly feel someone else’s pain, taste shapes, or hear colors. They have extraordinary artistic, musical, or mathematical talents. They see energies around people, they remember someone else’s life. And these individual possess a unique emotional heritage.” What an interesting word, emotional heritage. “And we can learn a great deal about human development. And they only imagine the contours of the world we live in by taking their perception seriously.”

Imi:

Do you think they have a special value in the world from an evolutionary perspective?

Mike:

Yes, I do. I’m not certain evolution is the right word to use, but it might be more gestation. I addressed this in the new book, Sensitive Soul, which by the way folks can learn about. I just branded a new website michaeljawer.com. Imi, I’ve had previous books websites, but I figured with three books I probably should put it under my own name.

Imi: 

I’ll put it in the show notes.

Mike:

So the website’s intended as an overview of the three books and the themes that run through them. And the one I explore most distinctively in Sensitive Soul is the idea that, although environment and upbringing undoubtedly play a role, it could well be that various kinds of highly sensitive thin boundary extraordinary people come into this world with the capacity to be this way, and to be highly empathic, and highly affected by what other people think, and feel, and world events, and what happens in nature, and things like that. Child prodigies, for example, are a very good example of at a very early age people who seem to have an awareness far beyond their years. And it’s always puzzled people.

The term prodigy if you look up the Latin, I think, derivation of it, I can’t recall exactly, but it’s almost like bolt out of the blue. It’s like something that just you can’t quite fathom, was the original meaning of it. And it’s a big question, why there are prodigies?

There’s a guy named David Henry Feldman, who’s a professor also at Tufts University, coincidentally with Ernest Hartmann, and he wrote a book maybe 20 years ago now about prodigies. it was a longitudinal study of six different prodigies in six different families. And he speculated about … It was called Nature’s Gambit, nature’s plan for certain people to introduce and to advance certain qualities in the world. It’s really interesting thesis.

And I’ve been in touch with Dr. Feldman. He’s one of the folks that endorsed the new book, which I’m thrilled. I delve into really gestation and what the heritage, the emotional heritage of prodigies and others might mean for, I call it, the foreground of life. What’s back there before we’re born or when we’re in the womb that sort of blesses certain people with this kind of capacity?

NATURE OR NURTURE?

Imi:

Do you think sensitivity is by and large innate? Because another thing I have been intrigued by is relationship to trauma and how it could be caused by experience early in life, rather than being innate. Do you have any thoughts about the question?

Mike:

Well, it’s really interesting you mentioned that, because, again, in Sensitive Soul I take a crack at that. And what I say is that, in many cases, there seems to be a trauma or some sort of accident that happens to pregnant mothers, or some sort of condition. It could be a virus, it could be a health condition that affected them, some sort of deprivation, some sort of stress that took place during gestation. It seems to lead to these kinds of extraordinary people.

So my working theory is that this is really not … how I should I say … it’s because of interruptions or sudden unintended influences during gestation that set the stage for these kinds of uncanny are extraordinary abilities. And in a sense, if the process of gestation went 100% smoothly, we wouldn’t have these people among us. It does seem to be reliant to a great degree on trauma or on unexpected things that happen to affect the mother, and you get these people that are highly connected to sensation and emotion in the world. So I think in a way, it’s almost an interruption or change in the normal course of things. That’s not to say that it’s wrong or it’s incorrect, it’s just when the formula is shaken up, you get a different kind of person.

Imi:

I hear you. And I suppose it’s no one’s fault or anything like that, it’s just what’s happened, and we don’t have to put a positive or negative slant on the sequence of events?

Mike:

No, I’ll give you one really interesting example. I was talking to a woman who studied prodigies for many years, and she said a couple of things. One is that she said prodigies are the most empathic-

Imi:

They are.

Mike:

… widely understanding people that just grasp the nature of our interconnectedness on this planet. She put it in a better way than I did, but that was the gist of it. And she went on to tell me .. Her name is Joanne Ruth Sachs. She was at Ohio State University when she was doing this work. And she went on to tell me about a family … I’m trying to remember the name of the prodigy … but at some point during the mom’s pregnancy, they came home one afternoon or one evening and found that there were people breaking into their house-

Imi:

Oh God.

Mike:

… which is pretty scary, threatening circumstance. And apparently, they fought these people off or they just waved away and off they went.

Imi:

Oh God.

Mike:

But that’s the kind of thing that has happened in more cases than you might imagine to the moms of prodigies, and highly gifted people, and people that have gone on to demonstrate psychical talents.

There’s a guy named Matthew Manning in the UK, who, in the 19 … I guess really starting in the 1960s through the ’80s was one of the most highly studied people with psychical talents. He did automatic writing, he spoke languages that he didn’t know, and other types of things that just baffled everybody. And there was something in his mom’s pregnancy that people thought might be germane, which is, I think she got an electrical shock. And it was so severe that she thought that the pregnancy might have to be terminated. It was a significant shock. And I don’t remember where it came from and the circumstances.

But they’re these kinds of things, and I tend to think they’re more than anecdotal, I tend to think that they really have a bearing on the type of person-

Imi:

Sure.

Mike:

… that then comes into the world.

THE LONELINESS OF BEING HIGHLY SENSITIVE AND GIFTED

Imi:

Yeah, yeah. Well, so far, we have been talking about prodigies and gifted people. And we have been framing this hyper-connectivity or hyper-emotional awareness as a gift. And I very much believe in this. However, most people who I know who are extraordinarily sensitive and that’s aware of the world also feel very, very lonely, and perhaps confused when they were younger, especially if they have the kinds of power cycle, what do you call it, an experience that you were you were studying. I would imagine it to be very lonely and confusing.

Mike:

Yes. And I’ve heard from a lot of people over the years, that they’ve been very isolated, and puzzled, and confused. And it was very gratifying for me as an author to hear from them after my first book was published. 

Imi:

That’s why your book is so meaningful.

Mike:

Yeah, and we both have blogs on psychology today. And you hear from folks all around the world, that say “your writing has really helped me to more come to terms with who I am, and realize I’m not alone, and that there are bonafide reasons for the perceptions that I have”, which are very strange, and they’ve thrown me for a loop, and people have shunned me, and it’s not been a happy circumstance. But they seem to be a little more satisfied with their situation, or at least grasp it a little bit better, and don’t write themselves off, which is job number one.

Imi:

What kind of advice or suggestion would you give them if they are just finding out that there are actually people like them, and really wants to emerge as their true self, and they’re just at the cusp of doing that?

Mike:

Well, hopefully, Imi, they find out about you and your work, and myself, and others. There’s a woman named Elaine Aaron, who wrote a little series of books on HSPs, Highly Sensitive People. And Judith Orloff, I think, is her name?

Imi:

Yeah, wrote about empath.

Mike:

Yeah. And a lot of, like you say, a lot of books about empaths in recent years. So I think my advice to the extent I have any is, just realize you’re not alone. And this is more and more a topic of conversation and interest among people generally and in even in the scientific community. You can argue that synesthetes by their very nature are empathic. They seem to really be highly thin boundary, and report some anomalous experiences.

I’m trying to get a handle on to what extent that’s prevalent among synesthetes. It’s, it’s an open question, but it certainly is an element of many synesthetes experience, and science seems to be very much taken with synesthesia right now. So I think people should realize that they have a unique set of abilities, or just ways of being in the world and not to have it criticized, or demeaned, or to feel 100% percent isolated, because it’s more and more coming into into the realm of conversation and appreciation.

THIN/ THICK SKIN

Imi:

Thank you. Well going back to the thick skin thin skin concept, which I imagine a lot of people would be able to resonate with and immediately understand, since you’ve dived so deeply into these concepts, can you tell nowadays, where someone sits on the thick/thin boundaries spectrum when you first meet them? Can you go to the restaurants, and look at the waitress and go, “I bet she has really thick boundaries?” Can you-

Mike:

Well, a thin boundary person would be better at that than me.

Imi:

That’s true.

Mike:

But I think sometimes, yes, sometimes, no. I mean, there are people that you meet, you get first impressions and they turn out to be correct. And then there are people you meet, and you get first impressions, and they turn out to be incorrect.

Imi:

That’s true, yes.

Mike:

I’m probably a good example of that. I’ve spoken about these things over the years, and I’ve guest lectured in classes. And just to have some fun, I ask people to take the short version of Hartmann’s boundary questionnaire, which is only 18 questions. And then we go around the room, if I’m doing a book talk, similar, we just kind of go around the room, and people indicate what their score is. And then I ask them, “Where do you think I am on the boundary spectrum?” And almost everybody says, “Oh, you’re thin, you’re thin.” And that’s not the case. I’m actually a little bit on the thick side of the spectrum.

Mike:

Now, I have to say, and it’s important for people to understand that it’s not one number that tells all about you. Hartmann’s full boundary questionnaire’s 144 questions.

Imi:

Wow.

Mike:

And he divides the concept of boundaries into 12 categories. So if you have the patience to go through the full boundary questionnaire, you will get 12 sub scores. And most people, even though they have an overall number, they’re going to be thicker in some of those sub scores and thinner in others. It’s also the case that the majority of people score somewhere in the middle. So you know, Hartmann and his colleagues as they’ve done further research on boundaries, thick and thin boundaries. And thousands of people have taken the boundary questionnaire, like most things, it’s a bell curve, the results, so most people are somewhere in the middle, and then you have fewer people to each side. But the fact is, with practically everybody, it’s not uniform, they’re not 100% thin in every respect, which makes life interesting.

Imi:

This is an interesting one. Does certain populations tend to have thicker or thinner skin depending on their gender, occupation, even culture? I think there were some research about occupations out there.

Mike:

Yeah, Hartmann and colleagues have done research on this. Well, first of all, I should say that women are the majority among thin boundary people. And also, demographically, as people get older, they tend to move to the thicker side of the spectrum, which is kind of what you imagined to be the case, the vicissitudes of life and people toughen up I might say.

Imi:

Yeah, they no longer remember their dreams.

Mike:

Sometimes. I mean, everybody’s different, but that seems to be a general trend. Not inevitable, but just generally speaking. And, yes, professions, this is one of the more interesting elements takeaways of the boundary research. They’re definitely professions in which thin boundary people predominate and thick boundary people predominate.

Imi:

What are they? Do you remember?

Mike:

You mentioned artists and musicians. And you mentioned Mozart. It wasn’t Mozart, but there’s definitely musicians over the years, just not coming-

Imi:

Yeah, poets, I think.

Mike:

Poets. I mean, people that have ready access to their feelings and work with images, because images are sort of manifestly emotional.

Imi:

Oh, that’s right.

Mike:

And they say a picture’s worth 1000 words. You can get an impression with an image and with contours of art and poetry. Music certainly has a flow to it and conveys a lot in musical language, you might say. So artists are very typical example of a thin boundary occupation. The counterpoint for thick boundary people would be attorneys and military officers.

Imi:

Why is that not surprising?

Mike:

That you’re trained to think more rigorously, and to go about decision making in a more rigorous, sort of, predetermined fashion. Or they come about it naturally, and they gravitate towards those professions?

Imi:

Salesperson too, I think I read somewhere.

Mike:

Salespeople.

Imi:

Yes. [crosstalk 00:35:38].

Mike:

Although I’m not 100% sure about that myself, because I think salespeople are very often [crosstalk 00:35:42].

Imi:

You need a lot of empathy for that.

Mike:

Yeah. They really have to understand the type of person ideally, the type of person that they want to sell to, and come up with some fairly creative approaches to to selling when path A won’t work, or path B is kind of a dead end, well, how do you still reach this person with path C? So I’m not entirely sold on that myself, but I think certain professions definitely attract more thick and thin boundary people.

Imi:

Sure.

Mike:

Just one kind of interesting anecdote. We have a family friend who is a very, very good accountant in financial services. She’s very skilled. And I would have thought that she was thick boundary because of, kind of, repetitive nature of dealing with facts, and figures, and going through numbers, and the calculations and equations that you use. Actually, she’s thin boundary.

Imi:

All right.

Mike:

And it’s interesting because it just shows that one size doesn’t fit all.

Imi:

Absolutely, absolutely.

Mike:

She is very thin boundary, and she finds a refuge in numbers. She’s not a people person, she’s easily overwhelmed, as I’m sure a lot of your followers and listeners are. She’s easily overwhelmed by stimuli, and for her accountancy is her sanctuary.

Imi:

It’s her refuge, yeah, yeah.

Mike:

It’s her refuge. So you can’t really say that 100% of people in this profession, or 100% of people in that profession are thick or thin boundary. It doesn’t work that way.

Imi:

Completely. No, I agree. I think we also have to acknowledge that these research are done some years ago, and they’re based on self-report. So it may be what people feel comfortable saying yes or no on the questionnaire rather than how they really, really feel. And also I suppose people can be in professions that are not ideally suited to them too.

Mike:

Absolutely [crosstalk 00:37:37].

Imi:

These are huge generalizations.

Mike:

Yeah, yeah. I mean, they’re helpful, these kind of benchmarks.

Imi:

Indeed, it’s interesting to [inaudible 00:37:45] there.

Mike:

Yeah. But everyone’s different. That’s kind of the major conclusion I’ve come to. And if you ask me for one takeaway, it would be that everyone’s different, everyone’s unique.

Imi:

Yeah, I-

Mike:

Yes, we’re all unique, we’re all individuals.

Imi:

Absolutely. I mean, if I get to expand on the research, I would be doing something around cultural differences. And some cultures may be more expressive, or more accepting thin or thick boundaries people. That would be interesting.

Mike:

Very much, that’s a great subject for a book. I think that might be your next book or the book after that.

Imi:

Maybe, maybe, or maybe yours.

Mike:

It’s interesting, what you’re mentioning raises a question for me. And my interest in anomalous perception, when I think of Japan, and China, and Korea, I think of family spirits, the ancestors’ family. And I haven’t delved into this, maybe some parapsychologists have as to paranormal or anomalous occurrences within different cultures. They take different forms.

Imi:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And it couldn’t be more accepted in certain cultures… I can just think of some villages in the East where that would be accepted and welcomed. That’s vastly interesting.

Do you think the concept of boundaries spectrum correlates with other personality types or concepts like The MBTI, extraversion or introversion? I don’t think there are research done around it.

Mike:

There is some. Elaine Aron, her part has shown that highly sensitive people, so thin boundary people, are not necessarily extroverted or introverted, it goes both both ways. So that’s an interesting distinction. A highly sensitive extroverted person is going to conduct themselves differently than a highly sensitive introverted person.

Mike:

In the case that I gave, the person that I mentioned in accountancy, she’s definitely introverted, and so that’s why accountancy is a good profession for her. But a highly sensitive extroverted person would thrive in a completely different field.

Mike:

I thought about Robin Williams in this way. I don’t know for sure, but Robin Williams seems to me as quick reactive as he was. I’ve never seen a person reacted more quickly to comedic prompts, things around the environment that he could make fun of, people shout things from the audience, tremendous improviser. So I don’t know if he reacted as strongly to environmental cues, to stress, to emotion, and so forth. But let’s say for a moment he did, so I think being in a very extroverted profession, where he could get up on stage and make 100% use of those talents was great, and he would have suffocated as an accountant.

Imi:

Yeah. I mean, Susan Cain talks about this, as to actually a lot of introverts are great public speakers because when they get on the stage it’s actually a bubble of their own world. They actually don’t feel they’re sharing a space with others having to do small talks. They’re actually in their own world. That’s fascinating.

Mike:

There correlations, to get back to your question about MBTI, The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, there are correlations. And I’m trying to remember at the moment what they are. There’s a bit of a correlation between thin boundaries and feeling, and then thick boundaries and thinking. 

Imi:

And I think they’re anecdotal or scientific. But INFP, they’re more prone to having visions or paranormal experiences, I think. They’re more able to attune to their dreams, and they’re more imaginative.

Mike:

Yeah, intuitive versus sensing. I think that was a stronger correlation, is the N was strongly associated with thin boundary.

Imi:

Yeah, no wonder.

Mike:

Whereas the S was strongly associated with thick boundary.

PAIRING AND RELATIONSHIPS

Imi:

I’m curious, and so you said you were rather relatively thick skin, what about your family members? I think what I’m really interested in is the pairing, say someone with thick skin with someone with thin skin? What kind of problems or conflicts are dynamic that you see? I know my family members find me a pain to live with. I’ll be constantly complaining about this noise, the smell of the laundry liquid, just things.

Mike:

I think everybody’s a pain if you get to know them well enough.

Imi:

Thank you.

Mike:

You know-

Imi:

I mean, I generally take care of myself with ear plugs, and nose plugs, and eye plugs, every plugs.

Mike:

Well, it’s interesting, because your questions to me to kind of get ready for this conversation prompted my wife and I when we were walking our dogs yesterday to talk about it.

Imi:

Right, interesting.

Mike:

And we realized we’re completely compatible in the sense that we’re opposites. That she is a thin boundary more introverted person, and I’m a thicker boundary more extroverted person. So in that sense, we complement each other perfectly. And in that sense, we kind of drive each other up the wall at times, which married people do, and opposites attract, and that just seems to be a fact of life I think.

Mike:

Going back to Plato, I think … Wasn’t Plato who talked about the male and female being, Yin and Yang, one half of nature. And one half requires its other half, and is drawn to each other half? And I think that’s true.

Imi:

Are there conflict points though? Are there times when you find it really difficult?

Mike:

Well, because I’m thicker boundary, I don’t have to touch-

Imi:

You don’t feel it, your wife feels all of that. Can you get her in the room?

Mike:

She gets more annoyed at me, I think, than I get with her. Probably good and valid reasons, but-

Imi:

But that’s why you could be together, because you both … Because one-

Mike:

Differences really make the world interesting, and they provide challenges for us in an interpersonal way. Their challenge is to really understand other people. And I wrote an article, a blog post for Scientific American-

Imi:

Right.

Mike:

… which people could get to if they come to michaeljawer.com, and they click on media. I did this article, I guess, one summer ago, and it was on the concept of boundaries. I really want people to become more aware of Hartmann’s concept and all the implications that it has.

Mike:

And it has political implications. The way you perceive the world, whether you’re thick or thin boundary or where you are on that spectrum, I think it correlates very much to openness to experience and ability to look at other people and other points of view, and give them credibility. And we’re at a point, certainly in the United States now, and probably in the UK, and elsewhere, where people are reacting very stridently to people on the perceived other side of an issue. And people react very strongly, “Well, you’re wrong. I’m right.” Well, that’s a very thick boundary way of viewing differences, a very stark way of saying, “Well, I’m right, you’re wrong.” Thin boundary people are the opposite end and they’re saying, “Well, it’s all relative, you could be right sometimes, I could be right sometimes.”

Mike:

But the commerce that people have, I think is hugely important, especially as our world becomes more interconnected. I would argue that people need to understand boundaries because it’s a precursor for how they view so much of what goes on, fashion, art, politics, how strongly they hold their opinions, how valid they feel that other people’s opinions are. And if we’re to get along as human beings in this evermore interconnected world, I think we need a stronger appreciation for boundary differences, not just interpersonal with our spouses, and our significant others, and other family members, but people around the globe.

Imi:

Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you so much. This has been a super interesting and enlightening talk. I want to be respectful of your time, and I’m aware, we have been speaking for quite a while now, and time just flies.

Imi:

What would be the one most important, or surprising, interesting … gosh, there are three things in there … take away about your new book that you could let our audience know, and lure them to come to you and read the book?

Mike:

I think it’s that term gestation that I alluded to earlier, why these extraordinary kinds of people are the way they are? There’s undoubtedly environmental prompts. There’s a whole theory of Orchid and Dandelion, where the idea is that if orchid is planted in conducive soil and is watered and taken care of, they’re going to bloom and blossom spectacularly. I think that’s really good. Versus dandelions, who are hardier and can can thrive in different kinds of soil and under different kinds of conditions. I believe that’s true.

Imi:

For those who don’t know there’s a book about that, mainly about children, but I think it’s also a really great concept.

Mike:

The author is Thomas Boyce. And that theory, I think, has been around for seven or eight or so years, but-

Imi:

I think he has a new book recently to just revitalize the concept, anyway, yeah.

Mike:

Yeah. And, for me, the interesting question to ponder is, what makes the orchid the orchid, the potential to bloom and to blossom that way. And that’s what I take a look at in Sensitive Soul. And I think there are precursors to extraordinary kinds of people that may shed light on how we all come into this world, and what might be in store for us after this life, what took place before this life. It’s interesting things to ponder.

RESILLIENCE

Imi:

Yeah, yeah. Great. Thank you. Well, final few questions. What is your definition of resilience?

Mike:

I think, Imi, it’s keeping things in perspective, and being able to bounce back, which I think they … that’s a pair, they go together.

Imi:

Sure. Can you share with us a book that has changed your life?

Mike:

Yeah. Well, the book that prompted me really more than any other to move in the directions I have came before Hartmann’s book on boundaries and before I read Elaine Aron, and so forth. There was a book that was published in 1979, possibly by your publisher in the UK. I’m not certain of that, but possibly. A guy named Lyall Watson.

Imi:

Right.

Mike:

He wrote a book called  Lifetide

Imi:

Lifetide, okay.

Mike:

Yeah. And previously he had done a very popular book called Supernature. And Lifetide was kind of the follow-on to that. And he was actually a zoologist. But what excited me about Lifetide is that he delved into 100 different areas, 100 different ologies, anthropology, biology, zoology. And he didn’t shy away from taking on anomalies. And he closes the book by looking at an autistic child named Nadia, and trying to explain her in light of the Lifetide concept that he comes up with.

Mike:

And it’s a very adventuresome book. And I just loved how he traverses all kinds of boundaries. He broadened his … His style of thinking really relied on a very broad, delving into different kinds of discrete subjects. And he wove them all together, which I really love. So I think it’s affected me more than any other book, and been a prompt for me to move in the direction I have.

Imi:

Amazing. I will look it up. Thank you. Thank you for sharing so openly …

Mike:

Oh, it’s my pleasure, Imi. It’s a delight to speak with you. You ask great questions, and you’re delving into all the same subjects that I’m vitally interested in.

Imi:

Absolutely, yeah. So finally, finally, can you tell us why to find you or bring us to the exciting new ideas and projects that you’re diving in?

Mike:

Sure. Well, that’s why I cooked up the new website, michaelJawer.com. It’s J-A-W-E-R, michaeljawer.com. And you can get to any of my three books. You can see there are four major subject areas or four major themes that run through my work. And, hopefully, it’s an easy way to jump off and explore those.

Mike:

I will say that the splash page is animated and it’s a way for people to hopefully grasp fairly quickly, and kind of in an exciting way, the way I view emotion. But some people aren’t thrilled with the splash page because they just want to go into the content. So for anybody who wants to skip the animation, it’ll be michaeljawer.com\home, and then you can go right to the content.

Imi:

Okay.   tips taken. Thank you so, so much. All right then. And hopefully we get to speak again at some point.

Mike:

I look forward to.

Imi:

Thank you so much.

Mike:

It’s a treat. Thanks.

Imi:

Absolutely.

 

 

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