One of the many things about getting older is that you care less. I’ve become more true to my feelings as I’ve gotten older, owning emotions. If people think I am being too petty that is their issue.
As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Elizabeth Trattner.
Dr. Trattner is a graduate of the Acupuncture Institute in Miami, FL, the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Treatment Integrative Health & Lifestyle program, and is the only acupuncture physician in the country to have been invited and completed a prestigious medical rotation at the University of Arizona’s Center of Integrative Treatment.
Drawing on the principles of Traditional Chinese Treatment, a range of natural modalities, and over 25 years of training under Andrew Weil, MD, Director of the Center for Integrative Treatment of the College of Treatment, University of Arizona, Elizabeth helps patients improve and take control of their health and wellness. She specializes in women’s health, weight management, allergies, autoimmune diseases, environmental illnesses, green beauty, and cosmetic acupuncture. Dr. Trattner was one of the first to open an Integrative Medical practice in Miami and is a strong believer in personalized treatment. Today she practices integrative and Chinese treatment while providing acupuncture, herbs, supplements, and counseling on Chinese dietetics and western nutrition. As an ardent believer in combining Chinese treatment with western treatment, she actively triages patients to other physicians for comprehensive care. Her practice is further supplemented by her training and initiation from the Shamans of the Andes. Elizabeth is a member of the Global Wellness Initiative: Beauty Meets Wellness helping redefine beauty and wellness standards with other health and beauty leaders across the country where the standards of beauty are redefined and helped create aesthetic responsibility. Dr. Trattner’s nutritional counseling background stems from her chef’s training certificate earned at the Natural Gourmet Institute in 1991. Early in her career while working with the President of the Florida Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, Elizabeth pioneered integrative protocols for pre- and post plastic surgery to speed up healing times, reduce side effects and enhance outcomes. Dr. Trattner is the creator of the Gemstone Acupuncture Facial which has received national and international accolades.
Dr. Trattner was recognized by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Treatment in a feature article in their industry-wide publication. She has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show alongside her mentor Dr. Andrew Weil as well as local and national television.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
From an early age, I yearned to be a doctor, spending my childhood devouring and memorizing health and medical encyclopedia pages. While in college, my concern for women’s health led me to volunteer in women’s health centers and to advocate for women’s issues. My pursuit of a medical degree was sidelined as I faced my own health complications. A few months after graduating and experiencing tremendous personal loss, I became chronically ill and battled a rare life-threatening auto-immune disorder and severe asthma. Having faced several near-death episodes, my journey to overcome my debilitating health conditions began. Throughout my personal journey, I’ve accumulated personal experiences that have shaped my medical perspective, culminating in a career that spans twenty-two years practicing Integrative, Chinese and Energy Treatment, nutrition, and other modalities of healing.
Through years of managing a chronic illness, food allergies, and multiple chemical and environmental sensitivities, I continue to persevere, refusing to allow these challenges to define me; even having a healthy child after being told I’d never be able to. These health crises and the isolation they create have become all too common in our frenetic society. This certainty, along with my personal growth and healing, compels me to devote my life to helping others overcome their personal health challenges. Merging my integrative medical training, my skills as a former concierge, and my own medical odyssey, I have a unique capacity to help treat and coordinate care for my patients and ensure that they are properly guided through a team of caring practitioners. I am especially sensitive to the expertise of my patient’s physicians as I work closely with them to effectively integrate their treatment for optimal health outcomes.
Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I understand how hard this is. Can you help define for our readers what is meant by a Highly Sensitive Person? Does it simply mean that feelings are easily hurt or offended?
I recall being highly sensitive throughout my entire life. The world around me felt like I was under a huge looking glass. Everything I breathed, saw, ate and heard affected me profoundly. I remember once going into an old age home and leaving so upset. I couldn’t explain to my parents what I was feeling, but I was picking up on all the sadness and hurting from the elderly that lived there. I remember watching movies about the Holocaust growing up and being sick for days afterward. I acutely remember the smell of wallpaper in our new 70s home growing up and how I always felt “spaced out” being in the room where it was located afterward. I have many recollections of my childhood wondering “does everyone else feel this way?” Being an HSP is more than being sensitive to other people’s words, it’s feeling like you live under a huge microscope and everything is being amplified in all your senses.
Not until I was an adult did I come to a great understanding and appreciation of being sensitive. Being hypersensitive has shaped my career allowing me to possess the ability to read my patients in ways they wouldn’t expect, permitting me to understand and better treat my patients.
Being sensitive can come in many forms: are you sensitive to other people’s words, food, and the environment, what other people are feeling? Being an HSP is way more than having your feelings hurt often, it’s being highly aware of surroundings, feelings, energy, and details around you.
2. Being sensitive has nearly killed me and saved my life many times over. I wanted to address readers on this subject because I think in today’s world being sensitive has such a negative connotation. “Why are you so sensitive?” “Why can’t you eat this junk food?” “Why do you need to be so difficult” is what I hear from people around me and from my patients who complain that no one understands them or that they are continually asked by well-meaning friends and family why they can’t do, eat, live, or just be. My practice is full of these people. I call myself and these patients “canaries”.
Does a Highly Sensitive Person have a higher degree of empathy towards others? Is a Highly Sensitive Person offended by hurtful remarks made about other people?
Absolutely.Being an HSP makes you more sensitive about hurtful remarks and increases empathy. HSPs look at the world with a much stronger and amplified lens including empathy. HSP are highly intuitive, have great attention to detail, conscientious and altruistic.
Does a Highly Sensitive Person have greater difficulty with certain parts of popular culture, entertainment or news, that depict emotional or physical pain? Can you explain or give a story?
After the tragedy in Parkland, FL I couldn’t move for days. I was gutted like I never felt before. It was like the collective consciousness of the tragedy was stored up in my body. This event was close to where I live. I worked the day after the mass shooting and every single one of my patients that day talked of their children’s friends that were killed. My body shut down for a good week. It was the hardest day I have ever worked in almost 25 years.
Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?
I think with any HSP it can be a bit ostracizing as people will always say don’t be so sensitive, or HSPs will sometimes recluse to protect themselves from picking up too much, and from the bullying that goes on in their surroundings. It can be a bit overwhelming to feel the world around you, so people with HSP may not go out as much or socialize or have personal limits to avoid draining themselves. Many HSPs will be a target at work because they react to so much stimulus or people “just joking”. For me working by myself works well because I am able to channel my sensitivity to help patients.
When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?
I knew growing up that something wasn’t the same as other kids. Everything felt amplified and no one was responding to events the way I was or talking about what I was feeling. I had really great friends growing up, but this was something I kept to myself. I remember crying watching the Olympics watching people win gold medals, I would cry watching movies, I would feel off in certain homes or environments. I just knew something was different.
I knew something was going on when I could feel things around me that I couldn’t explain and had a deep sense of knowing not to discuss with my parents. One day I went to the grocery store with my beloved grandmother, a HSP as well, and a woman in front of us didn’t have enough money to pay for all her items. She was embarrassed and within a second of her not realizing she had enough money my grandmother stepped in and paid for the balance of her groceries. In this moment I was close to crying my eyes out when I felt the energy of this woman, my grandmother helping her and it took over my thoughts for days. My mom couldn’t understand why I kept thinking about it. I had a deep feeling of sadness for this woman who couldn’t afford her food. To this day I can remember the smell of the store and can see this all happening in my head as I write this and the deep feelings around this event swell up deep in my chest. The one person I always could connect with was my grandmother, the OG HSP. I felt completely tuned in and aligned with her, connected to the deepest part of her. When she died, a piece of myself died with her and I got very sick after her death resulting in an asthma attack and being in a coma for 5 days.
I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?
There are many advantages to being an HSP, especially with certain careers. I wouldn’t be the practitioner I am without the ability to feel what is going on with my patients in a deep way. It affords me the ability to tune into issues my patients are facing, without their disclosing them to me. Psychologists, artists, musicians, and almost every HSP can do well in their profession if they are tapping into the energy around them. This could even apply to law enforcement where you have to use your sixth sense. I am sure many readers have played the telephone game who is HSP, you know who is calling you when the phone rings or if you keep thinking of a person you should reach out because they will be calling you soon. HSPs are excellent at remembering details and subtleties.
Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?
I think about being a mother and a practitioner. As an HSP, I have turned my wounds into wisdom. I have a child who is an HSP, so her behavior was praised and we taught her that being hypersensitive was positive. She parlayed her HSP into creating a charity for other children with learning disabilities. As a practitioner, I always hear from patients that I am the only person that understands them. I also am able to intuitively feel what my patients are going through. Honestly, being an HSP is wonderful for being a parent and a practitioner!
There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?
Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to think about what someone else may be thinking or feeling. Being an HSP responds intensely to external or internal stimulus physically emotionally and mentally.
Social Media can often be casually callous. How does Social Media affect a Highly Sensitive Person? How can a Highly Sensitive Person utilize the benefits of social media without being pulled down by it?
I use social media to express my creativity and connect with people. Through writing, I am able to, in small little bites, help touch people or teach them about their health. The good news about social media is that for an HSP we can turn it off and seek refuge in our bodies and minds. The bad news about HSP and social media is that it can be very harsh. I have experienced cyberbullying and the only thing that has saved me is that I am a bit older so part of me doesn’t really care what some 16 year old thinks or that I looked like their piano teacher. The comments about how my hands look or comment about physical aspects are worse. That is why there are ways to block people. I think about people who make those comments. They have to be the opposite of an HSP. Who does that kind of thing that has an ounce of sensitivity? I feel sad for those people.
How would you respond if something you hear or see bothers or affects you, but others comment that you are being petty or that it is minor?
One of the many things about getting older is that you care less. I’ve become more true to my feelings as I’ve gotten older, owning emotions. If people think I am being too petty that is their issue. I do not tolerate hate speech or stealing. I also don’t watch the news for every reason listed above.
What strategies do you use to overcome the perception that others may have of you as overly sensitive without changing your caring and empathetic nature?
Positive self-talk is very important in this case. I am overly sensitive and people will love it or don’t understand it. I always refer to myself and my HSP patients as Canaries. “To act like the canary in the coal mine” is an idiomatic expression referring to the literal sense and situation of the canaries that were used in coal mines.
As I understand, canaries were used, in the 19th C and early 20th C, in coal mines, not as pets or to keep company to the miners, but as zoological early-warning systems for toxic gases or fumes. Canaries being tiny birds would choke and die earlier than a man would. In other words, when the canary was off-color, all hands knew that trouble was brewing and that they should take action (i.e. escape).
To survive to be a canary, imagine a physical and psychological suit of armor. Before you go into any situation, remember to envelope yourself with this armor. Take a breath before entering a room and protect yourself. You can do this with imagery, a prayer, a talisman in your pocket, devices that help protect your energy. After leaving, take a few moments in your car to shake off the energy. If it still sticks, use a salt bath, smudge, a crystal or an affirmation that you’re okay. Another trick I use to remove negative energy is to get my feet on the ground or go outside in nature. I like to touch a tree which immediately makes me feel better.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?
HSP is not all introverts and shy. I love to talk about. I also love quiet time. Both men and women are HSP. Being an HSP is not a burden. For me being an HSP is my superpower and for many others, it is as well. HSP children in a supportive household will outperform non-HSP children. HSP are not all alike. HSPs filter the world in different ways.
As you know, one of the challenges of being a Highly Sensitive Person is the harmful, and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just stop being so sensitive?” What do you think needs to be done to make it apparent that it just doesn’t work that way?
The gaslighting of HSPs has to stop and we need to raise awareness that being a highly sensitive person is like being born with red hair, or blue eyes, or the ability to be an athlete. Words like snowflake, pussy, overly sensitive can cut as deep as a knife to someone with an HSP. Being sensitive does not come with a switch you can turn on and off. Just like the movement to educate people with learning disabilities is mainstream now, I believe that the education of HSP will go the same way. Some of our biggest artists, musicians, thinkers are HSP and awareness and education are paramount.
Can you share with us your “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person? Please give a story or an example for each.
1. It is very important that canaries honor what they are feeling. If something doesn’t feel right, leave. Whether it is a friendship, a room, a job, if you feel bad or are picking up negativity leave.
2. Another method I teach my patients (and my daughter) is to “zip it up”. Imagine being in a Plexiglass peeled banana. Imagine the layers going up and the only opening is at the top of your head. You are protected, can see out but energy will deflect.
3. Washing your hands after being around negative energy can help as well remove negative energy you experienced. Any ritual like smudging or prayer works as well.
4. Make sure you get enough sleep in a room without a television in it. Turn off your cellular at night or put it in airplane mode away from your bed. Sleep and restoration is key to being a healthy and happy HSP.
5. Take time to recharge other than sleep. Meditation or being outside is revitalizing for HSPs. Think of it as rebooting your body and mind computer.
Find people who fuel your soul. You don’t need a million friends just a few good ones who get you. Being a HSP has many benefits, especially in my field of work but to succeed you need to be aware of it and protect yourself and make sure you are not absorbing negative energy. HSP can thrive they just need their toolbox for protection and to recharge.