Dr. Ted Zeff on The Power of Sensitivity

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Some of the topics we covered in this conversation…

  • Stories of successfully parenting a Highly Sensitive Child
  • What is differential susceptibility?
  • How to pivot the focus from what’s wrong about HSP’s, to what’s right about us
  • How to get back in touch with our intuition
  • How Highly Sensitive animals are usually leaders (story about horses)
  • Why it’s 100% crucial for parents of HSC (Highly Sensitive Children) to educate themselves
  • Suggestions on what do if Highly Sensitive kids are being bullied
  • About the study that found newly born infant boys were more emotionally reactive than newly born infant girls.
  • The importance of fathers to go inward to find how they created their definition of masculinity
  • Suggestions for the Highly Sensitive Person in a relationship with a Non-HSP
  • Why he feels HSP’s are vital to the survival of the planet

Here is the in-depth conversation…

Hello everyone. Ashley Stamatinos here. I have a very, very special treat for you today. I am here with Dr Ted Zeff. So excited. Welcome Dr Zeff!

Ashley:, 00:00:01
Thank you so much for having me, Ashley.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:00:16
This is such a treat. I’m so excited that you said yes when I reached out to you and for those of you who are tuning in right now, you might not know about Dr Ted Zeff, but you probably do because he, you know, he’s gotten around and he’s been a very prominent leader within this field for a very long time, so let me share a little bit more about Dr Zeff with you. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology in 1981 from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and has completed post-graduate studies in nutrition, Ayurveda and meditation. Dr. Zeff has taught classes in stress reduction and healing insomnia for Hill Physicians Medical Group and also has a private practice counseling sensitive people and parents of sensitive children, which fills up my heart. I just want to listen to everything he has to say on that topic. He’s the author of seven books. Is that right? Or are there more than seven?
Ashley:, 00:00:19

One book is about, um, help be boys who aren’t sensitive to become more sensitive to say we have five in that. Plus the dissertation became a book so, six. Some may say that I have other books and spirituality have written

Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:01:26
amazing, amazing. So I’m going to list a few for you just so that you have a sense of maybe you’ve read them already. The highly sensitive person’s survival guide, the highly sensitive person’s companion, amazing books, the strong sensitive boy, which I just, it fills my heart. I love that there is a book on this topic and raise an emotionally healthy boy. These are just to name a few like, like he just said he’s had even more published than this and today we are going to be talking specifically about his book called The Power of Sensitivity. So excited to share some of my questions with him and have him share with you some of the amazing things that he’s illustrated in that book Dr. Ted. That’s has given numerous interviews about highly sensitive people including on national public radio and TV. Such as good morning bay area and he’s lectured internationally about highly sensitive people in countries such as Denmark and Holland and he’s been featured as a guest speaker at the highly sensitive person’s annual gathering in the United States. Ted Zeff books have been translated into French, Dutch, Japanese, Danish and Polish. And again, welcome, welcome, welcome. I’m so grateful you’re.
Ashley:, 00:01:40
exciting is by the HSP survival guide was just translated into Russian and Spanish, but I’m really excited about the Russian HSP. Elaine Aron, who is the one who coined the term. She’s world famous. Um, for some reason the Russians didn’t even get her books, your books in like about 11, 12 languages, Chinese and different ones. But the Russian when I was really excited about and a Russian speaking person just did an interview with me subtitled in Russian. So if any country needs some sensitivity, I think, I’m really excited that the Russian speaking audience will have that. And I’m also excited. I just wrote a speech. I was going to go in person, but I couldn’t make it where there’s a big conference in Valencia, Spain. Yeah. On next month at the end of May, and, uh, instead of going to person I did, they did a video of me talking about, um, everything he needs to know about highly sensitive children. So I just did that last week. But anyway, I’m really excited about Spanish because it’s a huge audience and especially excited about Russian because it’s the first time there’s information now in the Russian speaking audience that’s wonder, it’s kind of grace that this happened, you know.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:03:00
I wonder if they will be really surprised by how many more people are actually highly sensitive within their culture than they realize because it’s not a nurtured aspect of their culture.
Ashley:, 00:04:19
Absolutely. And like many cultures that, we could talk about it more when we get into the, until your questions. But I could just say now that so much as culturally based. So when I did my research for the book, the strong sense boy, I interviewed 30 men from five different countries. The men who were raised in Thailand, India and mostly in Denmark also had a totally different experience growing up with, with the trade of high sensitivity. Um, then those in Canada and the United States, which were more tough macho countries where sensitivity isn’t hot regarded so highly.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:04:31
so in countries there was a study by the way where it showed as a long time ago, but it’s study that showed the children are the most sensitive in China with the most popular, the children who have the most sensitive in Canada with the least popular. So it’s very important to know that it’s so culturally based with the societal’s mores are in terms of their viewpoint on how they treat someone who has a finally to nervous system. And by the way, I’m a little over two weeks now. We had a conference with Elaine Aron, Dr Aron and the leaders from Europe and throughout the United States are about 12 of us there. And I, I told everybody that the term highly sensitive. I mean we have, we have it. This is no changing it. And I turned to Elaine and said, I really apologize, but for most men, that term does not work.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:05:15
So when I’m working with parents of boys and men of the trade of high sensitivity, I use the term having a “finally tuned nervous system, like, like an athlete is finely tune intuitive, can tune in to the subtleties so they could be a better athlete. Um, someone like I’m Sully who landed the plane in the Hudson River. They made a movie about it. He used his intuition too, to know how to land the plane, you know, how to land the plane. So I could finally, finally to nervous system would be like a pilot who’s very successful race car drivers. So I like using that instead of the more pejorative sounding term for men, especially because they can’t deal with the term highly sensitive. It pushes too many buttons. I even said when we’re discussing this at the conference, I said, we know if it was highly compassionate, highly kind, that wouldn’t even be as. It’s difficult as highly sensitive because it’s got such a negative connotation in many societies.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:06:09
I would assume that even, you know, um, I think you said Denmark was one of the places where sensitivity is a little bit more accepted. Is that what you’re saying? Calling highly sensitive is a completely different experience there than it is here in the United States or in Canada. That makes perfect sense, but I can just see as a parent as me, which I’ve had to do, you know, talk to the, the, my son’s teachers about him being a highly sensitive child. If I was to use, he has a finely tuned nervous system, it would be responded to completely differently. That phrase elicits such a different response.
Ashley:, 00:07:18
Yeah. Then you can also say where you highly insensitive. So it is, it’s a trigger term and then we have to use it now because it’s been around now since ’97 when Elaine came up with the term and um, but I prefer to use sensory processing sensitivity, which is the more medical term for it or finally to nervous system followed by, you know, the positive parts about being able to tune in deeply.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:08:00
I love that. Yes. OK, good. That’s really helpful. I’m already getting tools. Everyone who’s listening, I’m getting tools that I can implement into my life right away. So this is amazing. Thank you. So Ted, would you please, let’s back up just a little bit and you know, like I said, some of the people listening might not really know about you yet and I’m excited to introduce you. So would you tell everyone just a little bit more about you and your journey to becoming a leader in the world of highly sensitive people?
Ashley:, 00:08:36

A leader feels a little awkward.

Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:09:06
that’s me saying it. I, I think I feel comfortable saying that about you.
Ashley:, 00:09:08
Did you do see who I was like Whoa, who is this guy?
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:09:14
That happens to me too when people introduce me, like Whoa, that sounds, that sounds good. OK.
Ashley:, 00:09:18
Doesn’t have anything to do with me. Right? So what happened was back in I think 2002, I read Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person and I took the questionnaire and I answered yes on everything, a questionnaire and I realized that what I’ve been dealing with my whole life is dealing with the trait of high sensitivity. And I just remember talking to my nieces saying, no, I should write a book on this because I just finished my dissertation, not distant, just finished. It was 20 years, 15 years before on the physiological and psychological effects of meditation and the physical isolation tank on Type A behavior. So I had a group of people who went into the sensory deprivation tank called the sensory tank and they just floated in peace, another group meditating in a control group and then I check their blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety level before and after.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:09:24
So even my dissertation was geared toward ways to calm the nervous system down so it fit right in because that’s what I’ve been trying to do with my life and um, and manage my, my, my trade of high sensitivity. So I wrote the book and again, there was some kind of divine intervention that I, I met Elaine Aron and she wrote the introduction to the book and New Harbinger Publications. They’re very big publication for self-help books, psych psychologically oriented. The, when I called up the, the acquisitions editor to just as I was just thinking it would be good to have a follow up book to Elaine’s book. So at any rate, that was how it started. But what, uh, I’m going to say it probably more than once during the interview, but what happens is if you’re have the trade of high sensitivity and you’re growing up in the world where eighty percent of the people don’t have the tray, you are a small minority and frequently parents, peers, teachers say there’s something wrong with you.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:10:28
You know, you don’t. I mean, the people I’ve interviewed over the last 15 years, almost so many people say, felt like I never fit in and always felt that was something different wrong with me. And so because you’re different and people might say you’re wrong for being different. What happens to the sensitive person as they grow up, they internalize that false belief that there’s something wrong with them for having the trait that’s a normal trait and then they’re free to speak up there, feel a lot of shame around their trait and the way to really overcome it. I’ll talk about it more the more you immerse yourself in the teachings, and I’ll talk about towards the end in different groups you can attend to deal, to learn more about the trade, to get sensitive people as your friends support group. The more you immerse yourself in it, the more you can erase that negative thought.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:11:38
There’s something wrong with you and I will tell you the truth that when I mentioned to people back in 2003 I’m writing a book called the highly sensitive person’s survival guide. Some people that literally what a strange title for a book and I felt shame. I’m writing a book about highly sensitivity. I felt shame because I still had that feeling. There was something wrong with me after 15 years of giving lectures and writing books about it being, as you would say, a leader of the community. I could stand on a mountain top and yell. I am proud to be a highly sensitive man. And um, so it’s a transformation for myself and a lot of emotional issues I dealt with about not feeling good enough comparing myself to other people. They all fell away the more I started loving my sensitivity, loving who I am.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:12:35
OK. Do you know so many people that I encounter are at the heart of it. You mean you thought to make that the title of your book for so many other components you just touched on, but they’re looking to survive. I mean so many highly sensitive people. You don’t even have foundational tools to begin to get out of that survival, just trying to get through the day. So I think that’s so powerful that you wrote that book to help people. And it’s also really cool for me to hear that there was shame even at that point because it tells the listeners that you got through that beyond that and you conquered it, and those of you who are really struggling with the shame, it’s possible. It’s possible to get through it, beyond it, to healed from it. And, do you want to say anything about that? This is great.
Ashley:, 00:13:36
It’s not a question of possibility, it’s a definite! The more you immerse yourself into the trade sensitivity. I have, by the way, on my website, the highly sensitive person healing program where I have, besides a very calming meditation, centering meditation, I have a. toward the last section of the tape is affirmations where you. I’ll just re say it and then you repeat all the wonderful characteristics of being a sensitive person. So we’re taking what people taught you is negative. Oh, you’re too sensitive. Oh, you’re what I hear today on the podcast. Oh, you’re overly sensitive. You know you’re not. You’re just sensitive enough. And the more you focus on all the great aspects of it, the more you can love yourself and a lot of issues you thought about not feeling good enough, feeling wrong, feeling shame, you’re going to totally disappear.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:14:31
I completely agree. It’s rewiring your mindset, reframing the structure of what’s going on in your head. You can change anything. I love it. And I’m so glad that you brought that up. And you know, speaking of rewiring your mindset, the true, um, mission behind what I’m doing and bringing you here to help people understand is how all of you who are listening are not wrong for your sensitivity. But there’s truly something so beautiful so, right. Such a, a strength about what you’re experiencing as sensitivity. And I know you and I talked offline a little bit about how, you know, highly sensitive people. It’s a term that is really rapidly growing, which is really lovely. And at the same time there’s also some false information out there or people who are focusing on what’s wrong with highly sensitive people. And so I would love if you could talk about this just a little bit
Ashley:, 00:15:27
In the beginning, it was myself, Elaine Aron, Jaclyn Strickland who has been doing these HSP gatherings in Europe and the United States, my gosh since I think 2000, I mean many years, about 18 years. And there was one other book she hasn’t it involved so much now. It was called making work, worked with a highly sensitive person, very jiggered, but she’s sort of dropped out then I don’t know. So there’s just a few of us and it was one person who was just using the trade to make money off. It wasn’t highly sensitive in giving these lectures. I don’t even want to say where because it might identify the person in Elaine, Dr Elaine Aron, Jacqueline’s Strickland myself got together. So how are we going to deal with this person disseminating negative wrong information because. So I talked to the person in one of the other people and I don’t know if it changed anything, but the bottom line now is that it’s become so popular if you.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:16:30
If you go on YouTube and put highly sensitive person, every other person who sends to I think, which is 20 percent of the population is doing a video on it, they, they’re getting the facts wrong. I saw one video about highly sensitive boys and I could not believe this person. She literally, you literally took what I said in my book word for word as if it was hers. And so I sent her an email saying it’d be nice if you at least said you got that quote for me, you know, so anybody could do anything. So I just want to warn anyone who has the trait of high sensitivity be very, very careful who, whose advice to listen to. And um, there a lot of the YouTube videos are incorrect about the information. A lot of them, they’re just repeating what they heard. Dr Aron and myself or someone else who’s a leader in the field.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:17:30
Say I would stick with Dr Aron, myself and some of the other people. There’s some people that we had seven or eight leaders from different countries in Europe who came to the conference and some about four or five people in the United States that came. So I know the people who are, who are accurate or disseminating the information correctly, so you have to be very careful about, um, what you’re watching, you know, some people have not only incorrectly or they’ll say, oh, this person in history was highly sensitive. You don’t know, or this celebrity is highly sensitive. OK, Alanis Morissette is highly sensitive because she was in the movie sensitive, which by the way, I recommend every person watch not only for themselves, but watch it with any family, friends. It’s the easiest way for people who aren’t familiar with the trade to learn about it because it’s, it’s well done by a noted Hollywood director and the movie, interviewed all over the world, the top leaders in the research of high sensitivity.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:18:30
And it’s just a really easy way and it’s very well done. So it’s not like a boring documentary. They have all these different interviews and you’re going back and forth and even my grand daughter watched and loved it so because there’s a lot of kids in the movies doing different things. Anyway, so wonderful movie and that’s another way to start tuning into loving your trait of High sensitivity, but I got off the subject a little bit, so go red hat. A lot of smaller set, a famous singer who is in the movie and what it was like to be famous and highly sensitive, but people will sometimes I’ve seen YouTube interviews or people writing things, about HSP’s saying this person’s a HSP, this person isn’t. They don’t know, you know, necessarily. I don’t. I mean I can usually intuit who is an HSP, a lot of people, they’ll say it and it’s not necessarily true.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:19:43
Honestly, does it really matter? I mean I are looking so outside of themselves instead of, you know, nurturing and growing their own sensitivity.
Ashley:, 00:20:48
I think it’s good if you’re looking for role models. In my book The Strong Sensitive Boy, I have some wonderful role models. I don’t know if they were all HSP’s, but they were role models of people who were being kind and loving, sensitive, including athletes could look up to someone who’s not, um, a cheater and a, you know, bad mouth, you know, other players. And, and, you know, winning is the only thing. So I put that in my book because we need role models, especially of men who are sensitive and compassionate.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:20:56
Yeah, that makes sense. That absolutely makes sense. Especially because they probably aren’t always the ones with the most shining star. So it’s helpful to kind of have an idea of who they are. So awesome. When of the things I really wanted to do while I had you here on this interview is to dig into the book that you’ve written and again is the power of sensitivity is success stories of highly sensitive people thriving in a non-sensitive world. And this book is so cool. Everyone who’s, who’s listening right now, it contains 44 stories from highly sensitive people in 10 different countries and it’s all about how people have succeeded after being told that they weren’t good enough. And I’m sure a lot of you can really have a heartfelt relation to that statement that I just said because a lot of us have been told we’re not good enough.
Ashley:, 00:21:32
And so this is what I really love about this book and I love that Ted is paving the way of what’s possible and even how it says it’s probable that we can, we can change this and it’s a very hopeful message. So that’s what I really love. So specifically, the first question I have for you about this book is in Chapter Seven, there was the title of Chapter Seven for all of you is called highly sensitive children, which of course I went to first, you know, for my questions because I love this topic and there is a story included within this chapter about a mother and a child and they’re both highly sensitive and they were in a car accident and the child was deeply traumatized by the events and there were differing opinions about how to help the child overcome the fear of getting back into the car. And so I just really wanted to talk a little bit about this. So could you please talk a little bit about the highly sensitive moms approach versus the non highly sensitive person Dad’s approach to this situation?
Ashley:, 00:22:24
Yeah. I worked with this person to a while to wonderful person and she was kind of in a, in a rough situation because their husband was not into the trade sensitivity, which I get a lot where the dad doesn’t want to know about it and the mom does. Um, but anyway, and this was a more typical case where the father says, oh, just put her in the car. It’s fine. You know, she’ll get over it. The sensitive mom used her intuition to know that if she, her it would make it worse. So what you did, which luckily I think she found it in a story, a good doctor who said just introduced it slowly so that they would do is the mom and daughter would go to the car and have her just sit in and when it wasn’t moving and the toy she liked and play some games in the car.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:23:26
So she started reintroducing, being the car, being safe and not associating with the car accident. And the trauma, um, although it wasn’t a terrible accident, it was still scary for this little sensitive girl. So basically after doing this for a period of, I think it was a few weeks, I’m the girl felt safe enough to go in the car and drive with the mom and it was fine. So this is a perfect example of the difference between someone who’s highly sensitive in someone who’s not. Not that. It’s one thing I want to say right up front is that you could be a non, HSP. I’m always thinking my dad, who a siren would go by, I would jump in the air and I say, wow, wasn’t that loud? He goes, I didn’t hear anything, but yet he was the most compassionate person, most passionate people I’ve ever met.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:24:19
So you can not necessarily have. And I know many HSP just ps, I have several good friends who can go nonstop day and night and nothing lights and noise and crowds don’t bother them. And they’re very, very compassionate and loving all the time. So it’s important to realize that, you know, the HSP’s don’t have a, a, a hold on it. And in my book, the story of the, um, HSP survival guide, I say don’t become an insensitive, sensitive person demanding everybody change according to your whims. That’s important because it’s so since two people sometimes become victims and some months they become manipulators because while I have this trait in, everyone has to do what I want everyone to be quiet in the house. Everyone has to turn the lights off, you know? No, we’re not going out anywhere. So it’s always compromise in a family situation. So, um, but I was going to say also is that the mom is sort of what is traditionally called the shaman or the priestly advisor and old days the HSP, not all of them, but most of them have this intuitive ability where they can tune in deeply to the way.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:25:16
And so what you need to do is in HSP has that, most of them have that we have that special sense. The quieter you are, the more you can hear that little voice guiding. You just sit quietly, meditate. Oh, we were in this accident, and my daughter’s upset. What should I do? Just sit there quietly. The answer will come. Don’t force her. Even if you’re being told by someone for no, and so what’s the gentle, loving, easy way to do it? And you’ll get that answer if you sit quietly in a, in, in so many situations where you’re not sure what to do, you’ll hear that little voice and it develops. I didn’t have it that much many years ago. Now it’s amazing. Like whenever I’m going to do something, I hear this voice really cleared, don’t do that or yes, go for it. So we, we just have to develop it and we have an extra ability.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:26:34
That’s why we have these amazing dreams and the spiritual life where we could tune into just a whole vast world of divine spirituality and, and you know, a lot of HSP’s or have psychic ability. So I don’t say it to, you know, you don’t have to always be tuning into it, but in certain situations you have an ability to intuit what is the best way to handle it. Like the mom did not listening to the dad saying I just put her in the car now, would increase the PTSD if she had any from that little accident when you forced someone to do it. So it’s like a flower has to open up its own time. If you force the flower to open, it’ll be destroyed. Parents who have sensitive children can’t force them.
Dr. Ted Zeff:, 00:27:31
You can’t. And sometimes they learned the hard way by trying and watching how hard it is on the child and the reaction. And one of the things I’m curious about from what you’re sharing is our children with, um, the highly sensitive trait, I think more prone to being responsive with, with PTSD. Do they go into trauma faster or more readily than children who do not have the trait?

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