I am often told that I should grow a thicker skin. I’m too sensitive. I let things get to me too much. Most people who struggle with depression are the same. We are more transparent and therefore absorb more into the gray matter of our brain than our thicker-skinned counterpoints.

In his book, Your Emotional Type, Michael A. Jawer and Marc S. Micozzi, Ph.D. examine the interplay of emotions, chronic illness and pain, and treatment success. They discuss how chronic conditions are intrinsically linked to certain emotional types.

I found the boundary concept they explain in the book — first developed by Ernest Hartmann, MD, of Tufts University — especially intriguing.

The authors define boundaries as more than a measure of introversion or extroversion, openness or close-mindedness, agreeableness or hostility, and other personality traits. According to them, boundaries are a way to assess the characteristic way a person views her/himself and the way he or she operates in the world. To what extent are stimuli “let in” or “kept out”?

How are a person’s feelings processed internally? Boundaries are a fresh and unique way of evaluating how we function.

For example, thin boundary people are highly sensitive in a variety of ways and from an early age:

  • They react more strongly than do other individuals to sensory stimuli and can become agitated due to bright lights, loud sounds, particular aromas, tastes or textures.
  • They respond more strongly to physical and emotional pain in themselves as well as in others.
  • They can become stressed or fatigued due to an overload of sensory or emotional input.
  • They are more allergic and their immune systems are seemingly more reactive.
  • And they were more deeply affected — or recall being more deeply affected – by events during childhood.

In a nutshell, highly thin boundary people are like walking antennae, whose entire bodies and brains seem primed to notice what’s going on in their environment and internalize it. The chronic illnesses (including depression) they develop will reflect this “hyper” style of feeling.

Thick boundary people, on the other hand, are fairly described as stolid, rigid, implacable or thick skinned:

  • They tend to brush aside emotional upset in favor of simply “handling” the situation and maintaining a calm demeanor.
  • In practice, they suppress or deny strong feelings. They may experience an ongoing sense of ennui, of emptiness and detachment.
  • Experiments show, however, that thick boundary people don’t actually feel their feelings any less. Bodily indicators (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow, hand temperature, muscle tension) betray their considerable agitation despite surface claims of being unruffled.

You can take the boundary quiz for yourself at the authors’ website: www.youremotionaltype.com.

Jawer and Micozzi then offer some alternative therapies that work best for your type. I would use these in addition to the traditional therapies already working for you. For example, I think it would be very irresponsible of me to go off Lithium and try acupuncture alone. However, some relaxation technique in addition to my medication treatment and other tools I already use (swimming, light therapy, fish oil) might do me some good.