Are you a Highly Sensitive “Animal” Person?

Do you tend to perceive and experience things more intensely than most? Are your senses exquisitely tuned to see, hear, smell, taste or feel stimuli in your environment that go unnoticed by those around you? Do you seem to know what others are feeling, sometimes even taking on those feelings without realizing it? Do you feel wonder and awe in the presence of Nature’s beauty, while feeling despair in response to the suffering of animals, other sentient beings or the environment? Are you strongly drawn to animals and Nature, often feeling more deeply connected with animals than other humans? If so, you are likely among a segment of highly sensitive individuals who are especially attuned to Nature and our animal kin.

Many people enjoy or even “love” animals, finding wonderful companionship in the family cat or dog. On the far end of this spectrum are those whose lives are so deeply interconnected with animals that they literally feel the pain of animals who are suffering. There is often a compelling sense of calling to help the animals, coupled with feelings of overwhelm at the magnitude of the suffering worldwide. This can feel like both a gift and a curse, which has the potential to cause considerable anxiety, grief, depression and despair in these highly sensitive souls.

In his book, “Living in the Borderland”, Jungian analyst Jerome Bernstein describes such individuals as having a “Borderland Personality”. He started exploring this concept while working with a client who claimed to feel the pain of the cows when in the presence of a cattle liner headed to the slaughterhouse. Her frustration at his attempts to view this as a projection of her own inner pain from childhood wounds, lead him open up to the idea that she actually felt the pain of these animals. 

“ Borderland people personally experience, and must live out, the split from nature on which the western ego, as we know it, has been built. They feel (not feel about) the extinction of species; they feel (not feel about) the plight of animals that are no longer permitted to live by their own instincts, and which survive only in domesticated states to be used as pets or food. Such people are highly intuitive…They are deeply feeling, sometimes to such a degree that they find themselves in profound feeling states that seem irrational to them. Virtually all of them are highly sensitive on a bodily level.”1

I was first introduced to Bernstein’s work several years ago while doing my Epona apprenticeship in Equine-Facilitated Therapy with Linda Kohanov in Arizona. I felt a window had finally opened in my understanding of the depths of connection I have always felt with animals. I particularly resonated with his observation that most “Borderlanders” seem to experience a “pervasive mournfulness”. My jaw literally dropped when he described this as a “Great Grief”. I had already been trying to explain to people that I carry a Great Grief within my heart for the animals and the Earth, that I actually feel as a physical pain in my chest.

I now believe that this “Great Grief” is central to my calling in this lifetime. I have often lamented the degree to which my basic character strongly leans toward introversion, believing I could make a bigger difference for the animals if I were more extroverted and thereby able to bring together a large community of supporters directly involved with Free Spirit Sanctuary. I have had visions of expanding FSS over time with more land, resources and volunteers enabling us to help even more animals. My ideas just never seemed to come to fruition over the years, leading to feelings of frustration and failure. As I have focused on connecting and aligning with my unique combination of gifts, values and passion, I started to realize that my calling involves creating the sacred space for reflective solitude and deepening connection with Nature and the animals I am blessed to have in my life, and helping empower those who are also called to heal the rift between humanity, our animal kin and Mother Earth. With this awareness I have been able to embrace my introverted nature as one of the essential gifts to walking my unique path in this lifetime.

1Bernstein, Jerome. Living in the Borderland: The Evolution of Consciousness and the Challenge of Healing Trauma. New York: Routledge, 2005, p 9.