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Home > eBooks > Unpublished Manuscripts > The Sensitivity Handbook: Training Materials for Developing Balanced Sensitivity > Exercise 19: Identifying the Syndromes of Grasping at Mind's Natural Functions for Security

The Sensitivity Handbook: Training Materials for Developing Balanced Sensitivity

Alexander Berzin
July 1999
Revised February 2003

Part V: Advanced Training

Exercise 19: Identifying the Syndromes of Grasping at Mind's Natural Functions for Security


  • Create a quiet, caring space
  • Recall incidents in which either you or others have experienced the following forms of behavior
    • For practice in a workshop, choose one example from each of the four syndromes associated with mind's seven natural functions, or choose just one illustration for each function
    • When practicing at home, do the same or work only with personally pertinent syndromes
    • For advanced or thorough practice, consider all the examples of each syndrome
  • Think about how such behavior may arise because of grasping at one of mind's natural functions for security or because of fearing it as a threat
  • Reflect on how this confusion causes insensitivity or hypersensitivity to yourself or to others
  • Recognize and acknowledge the problems that may result from this
  • For abbreviated practice, choose four or only one example for each of mind's natural functions, or work with only personally pertinent examples


1. Physical activity

  • Grasping at being the agent
    • Being a "workaholic," to justify your existence and worth by being productive
    • Trying to lose yourself in work, so that you do not have to think about personal problems
    • Feeling the need to keep your hands forever busy, because of nervous insecurity
    • Being unable to let others do anything for themselves, so that you can feel needed
    • Immersing yourself in helping others, as a way to avoid helping yourself
    • Being unable to pass an electronic gadget without pressing the buttons, so that you can prove you exist by producing effects
    • Bossing people around, to assert your existence by making them do something
    • Feeling that if only you could find the perfect job, you could cope with life
    • Feeling that if only you could be in control of everything in life, you would feel secure
    • Resting on the laurels of your achievements, in the hope of feeling more secure
    • Planning innumerable projects, to establish your worth
    • Feeling that if only you had accomplished something earlier in life, you would now be secure
    • Feeling that if only you had not committed certain mistakes in your youth, you would now be secure
    • Having to live at the center of activity in a bustling city, to feel alive
    • Becoming anonymous in a bustling city, to lose yourself
    • Going every day to the shopping mall to watch the people, in order to gain a feeling of life
    • Being hyperactive, because of fear of missing out on something
    • Pushing your children into a grueling schedule of sports and lessons after school, so that they will not miss out on anything
  • Grasping at being the recipient
    • Needing always to be waited on by others, to gain a sense of self-worth
    • Compulsively eating out, to lose yourself by not having to deal with a domestic scene
    • Compulsively asking others what you should do, because of feeling unsure of yourself
    • Feeling that if you could only find a partner to do everything for you, you would be better able to cope with life
  • Fear of being the agent
    • Feeling incompetent to handle the latest electronic equipment, because of low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence
    • Feeling that you are hopelessly clumsy, for the same reasons
  • Discomfort at being the recipient
    • Being unable to bear someone driving you, because of feeling insecure if you are not in control
    • Being unable to bear someone paying your bill, because you feel it robs you of your dignity
    • Being unable to bear someone telling you what to do or even asking you to do something, because you feel it threatens your independence

2. Verbal expression

  • Grasping at being the agent
    • Talking compulsively, even if you have nothing to say
    • Always having to voice your opinion, as if everyone were interested to know what you think
    • Feeling you must always get in the last word, because you feel you must always be right
  • Grasping at being the recipient
    • Insisting that someone talk to you, otherwise you feel ignored and nonexistent
    • Being addicted to listening to talk shows, as a form of escape
    • Having others speak for you on the telephone, to feel more secure
  • Fear of being the agent
    • Feeling nervous to tell someone what is on your mind, because of not wanting to jeopardize your security in the situation as it is
    • Feeling nervous to speak before an audience, because of fear of proving yourself an idiot
  • Discomfort at being the recipient
    • Being unable to accept criticism, throwing it back at the person who gave it, accusing him or her of the same fault
    • Feeling personally threatened when someone says something politically incorrect
    • Being unable to bear someone speaking for you on the telephone, because of feeling that it negates your existence

3. Sensory or mental experiences

  • Grasping at accumulating them
    • Feeling compelled to visit and photograph every site when you go abroad as a tourist, to prove that you were there
    • Trying to lose yourself in sightseeing, in order to forget your problems at home
    • Needing to have music or television playing from morning until night, otherwise you feel lost in a frightening vacuum of silence
    • Always having to smell fresh air, in order to feel alive
    • Compulsively needing to taste every dish at a buffet, otherwise you feel you were not really there
    • Touching every item of clothing in the store as you walk past the rack, to ground you to reality
    • Giving each person a hug when you enter or leave a room, to reassure your existence through body contact
    • Compulsively needing to keep informed about your family, your friends, or world affairs - having immediate information somehow makes you feel more real
    • Never knowing when to stop asking questions – not knowing what is happening, or where you are going when someone takes you out, makes you feel completely insecure
    • Playing music at ear-shattering volume, because of wanting to lose yourself in it
    • Enhancing your senses with recreational drugs, because of feeling that the more intense your sensory experiences are, the more real you become
    • Enduring the pain of body-piercing, for the same reason
  • Grasping at being the object of them
    • Feeling the need to be seen at the right parties and the right places, wearing the latest fashions, otherwise you feel insecure
    • Needing others to hear you singing at Karaoke bars, to affirm your existence
    • Indiscriminately telling your personal affairs to people sitting beside you on the plane, to make your experiences more real
    • Constantly complaining about your problems to others, to avoid dealing with them yourself
  • Fear of having them
    • Being frightened to make eye contact during a conversation, as a way to avoid someone seeing the real "me"
    • Feeling threatened by the unfamiliar odors of a foreign market, as if they challenged who you are
    • Being afraid to taste something new, for the same reason
    • Being frightened to feel your emotions, since feeling nothing seems more secure
    • Being uncomfortable even to be in the same room with someone who is terminally ill, because of unconsciously feeling your own existence threatened
  • Discomfort at being the object of them
    • Overreacting if anyone sees you undress, as if this exposed the real "me"
    • Feeling self-conscious if someone records your voice during a speech, because of feeling that now what you say actually counts
    • Feeling threatened if others' bodies touch yours on a crowded subway, as if physical contact with someone were a more real encounter than being one inch away
    • Being paranoid about giving information about yourself to anyone, because of being obsessed with your privacy

4. Expression of warm concern

  • Grasping at being the agent
    • Compulsively needing to be in an intimate relationship with someone, otherwise you feel that life is not worthwhile and that you are unreal
    • Longing for a baby so that you will feel needed, or so that you can lose yourself in taking care of it
    • Compulsively feeling the need to show your affection, by perpetually hugging, kissing, or doing things for someone, or by constantly verbalizing your love – as if your affection does not exist unless you express it
    • Compulsively having to see or touch your beloved or to look at his or her photo on your desk, to confirm the reality of your love
    • Incessantly calling your beloved on the telephone, for similar reasons
    • Insisting on sharing every aspect of your life with a partner, to make your relationship more real
  • Grasping at being the recipient
    • Feeling unsettled unless you hear "I love you" or receive a kiss whenever parting from your loved one, as if without it the person's love were unreal
    • Feeling insecure unless you know every detail about your beloved's day, as if without this your relationship were unreal
  • Fear or discomfort at being the agent
    • Being afraid of losing control if you fall in love
    • Feeling uncomfortable to show your love by giving someone a good morning kiss, by saying "I love you," or by calling him or her each day from work
  • Fear or discomfort at being the recipient
    • Fearing a loss of independence if someone falls in love with you
    • Feeling uncomfortable when someone hugs or kisses you, tells you he or she loves you, or calls you at work, as if it were an attack on your sovereignty

5. Expression of energy

  • Grasping at being the agent
    • Compulsively needing to assert your will, to prove your existence
    • Pushing yourself on others, for them to confirm your existence by their response
  • Grasping at being the recipient
    • Demanding that everyone focus their attention on you, to make you feel significant and real
    • Pretending to be sick or acting horribly, to force others to accept or reject your existence
  • Fear or discomfort at being the agent
    • Fearing that if you assert yourself, others will reject you
    • Fearing that exerting yourself will leave you with no energy or no time
    • Resenting demands that others make on your time or energy, feeling them as a threat to your existence
  • Fear or discomfort at being the recipient
    • Being self-conscious and uncomfortable, or feeling undeserving if others show you attention.
    • Being afraid of others' negative energy infecting you and so putting up emotional barriers when meeting them

6. Rest

  • Grasping at taking a rest
    • Constantly needing to take breaks at work, so as not to lose sight of being a person
    • Always requiring peace and quiet, to maintain your composure
    • Longing for sleep or even for death, to escape your problems
  • Grasping to receive a rest
    • Feeling that if others would give you a break and leave you alone, everything would be all right
    • Feeling that you cannot fall asleep unless your loved one is lying next to you, unless you make love, or unless you read a book
  • Fear of taking a rest
    • Feeling that you will no longer be a person if you stop being active
    • Being unable to relax or to fall asleep from fear of missing something or of not being in control
    • Feeling that no one can handle your job if you retire or go on vacation
  • Discomfort at receiving a rest
    • Feeling unloved, unneeded, and unwanted if people do not call or ask you to do something for them

7. Expression of pleasure

  • Grasping at being the agent, in conjunction with grasping or fearing another natural mental function
    • Compulsively roaming the shopping malls or playing computer games, because of feeling a need for constant entertainment to feel alive
    • Being unable to watch a television program and incessantly switching channels, for fear that you may be missing something better
    • Never being satisfied with your sexual life and endlessly seeking something more exciting, to make life feel worthwhile
    • Hoping to lose yourself in the pleasures of sex
    • Feeling that you cannot enjoy a meal, a movie, or making love without recreational drugs, alcohol, or a cigarette
    • Feeling that you have to do something in order to have "fun"
    • Being unable to enjoy someone's company without having to run with the person from one activity to the next
    • Feeling that your happiness with someone is not real unless you verbalize it
    • Feeling that only after coming home from work or after putting the children to bed can you relax and be your "real self"
    • Compulsively feeling that you have to please everyone or just someone special, to justify your existence
    • Feeling worthless as a lover unless you bring your partner and yourself to orgasm
    • Feeling you have to entertain someone when he or she comes to see you, otherwise the person will not enjoy the visit
    • Feeling that you always have to be the clown and make others laugh, otherwise they will not accept you as you are
  • Grasping at being the recipient
    • Being obsessed with winning others' approval and feeling that unless others approve, you either cannot or must not be happy
    • Compulsively doing "good deeds," to try to justify your existence and worth in people's eyes
    • Feeling that you need others to entertain you or simply to be with you, because of feeling incapable of being happy on your own
  • Fear of being the agent
    • Not "allowing yourself to be happy," because you feel that you do not deserve it
    • Finding it difficult to relax and have a good time, because of fear that others will disapprove
    • Feeling uncomfortable to give someone physical pleasure, because of fear of inadequacy or that you have nothing to offer
  • Fear or discomfort at being the recipient
    • Feeling discomfort at someone trying to give you physical pleasure, as if you were being invaded
    • Feeling frightened or threatened if someone tries to derive physical pleasure from you, as if this would deprive you of something
    • Being uncomfortable at others' being pleased with you and offering you praise, because of feeling you do not deserve it
 [ Corresponding Chapter 17 in Developing Balanced Sensitivity.]