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The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

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The Sensitivity Handbook: Training Materials for Developing Balanced Sensitivity

Alexander Berzin
July 1999
Revised February 2003

Part I: Dealing Constructively with Sensitivity Issues

Exercise 1: Identifying Sensitivity Imbalances


  • In the case of balanced sensitivity versus hypersensitivity, pause after each pair of alternatives and consider which of the cited examples is more typical of you
  • In the case of forms of insensitivity, look for traces of each example from your life
    • For practice in a workshop, choose one example from each category
    • When practicing at home, choose only personally relevant examples
    • For advanced or thorough practice, consider all the cited examples


1. Balanced sensitivity versus hypersensitivity
  • Paying attention to a situation
    • Asking your sick child how he or she feels – or pestering the child with this question every five minutes
    • Watching your health – or being a hypochondriac
  • Paying attention to the consequences of your actions
    • Considering others' opinion when deciding something – or being so frightened of disapproval that it disables you
    • Taking care to do well at school – or worrying obsessively about failure
  • Responding in general
    • Soberly shifting lanes when someone tries to pass you – or becoming heated and thinking obscenities
    • Calmly searching for your misplaced keys – or panicking
  • Responding emotionally
    • Feeling tender compassion when a loved one is upset – or becoming upset yourself
    • Feeling sad, but maintaining your dignity, when suffering a loss – or wallowing in self-pity and depression
2. Forms of insensitivity
  • Not noticing a situation
    • Not noticing that a relative is upset
    • Not paying attention to the fact that your relationship with your partner is unhealthy
  • Not noticing the consequences of your actions
    • Not noticing that you have hurt someone's feelings
    • Not noticing that overwork is causing you stress
  • Noticing, but not acting
    • Seeing an injured person lying alone in the street, but not stopping to help
    • Noticing fatigue while doing work that can wait, but not taking a break
  • Noticing and acting, but without feelings
    • Attentively caring for a sick person, but feeling nothing
    • Following a special regime while sick, but, unable to relate to your body or your illness, emotionally distancing yourself
  • Noticing and acting, but with unbalanced judgment of what to do
    • Giving others what you want, such as economic security, rather than what they need, such as more understanding and affection
    • Doing what others want you to do, such as spend a great deal of time with them, rather than what you need to do, namely take more time for yourself
[ Corresponding Chapter 1 in Developing Balanced Sensitivity]