Star­tling re­sponse bears scru­tiny

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - YOUR DAILY BREAK - Amy Dick­in­son — Fraidy Cat You can con­tact Amy Dick­in­son via email: [email protected]­dick­in­son. com and fol­low her on Twit­ter @ask­ingamy.

DEAR AMY » My part­ner and I have been liv­ing to­gether for five years. We are both in our 60s and each have grown chil­dren. We are to­gether al­most 24/7. We get along beau­ti­fully.

For as long as I can re­mem­ber, I get star­tled very eas­ily. If some­one walks qui­etly into a room, I jump and gasp in shock and fear.

I re­ally can’t help re­act­ing this way. I’ve never had a horrible trauma that might cause it. I do re­mem­ber many years ago my fa­ther qui­etly en­ter­ing a room and my mother jump­ing with fear when she saw him. My fa­ther seemed to find this funny (or en­ter­tain­ing), even know­ing how an­gry she got with him for star­tling her.

Now my part­ner does this same thing to me, and I hate it!

Amy, he claims it is my fault for not an­tic­i­pat­ing that he will walk into the same room, since it’s only the two of us at home.

But how can I?

We have had nu­mer­ous in­tense ar­gu­ments about this and it still hap­pens at least a few times a week. If I’m read­ing, cook­ing, or do­ing any­thing qui­etly by myself, I’ve asked him to make some kind of noise be­fore ap­proach­ing me. If he does, I’m not star­tled, but he says he for­gets to do this (most of the time).

I re­ally don’t know how to change my star­tled re­sponse, but — like my fa­ther — I think he se­cretly gets a kick out of watch­ing me re­act the way I do, and it re­ally cheeses me off!

Please, any sug­ges­tions?

DEAR FRAIDY » The star­tle re­sponse is an im­por­tant evo­lu­tion­ary re­ac­tion to alarm and risk. We all have it (or should have it) to vary­ing de­grees.

How­ever, in re­search­ing your ques­tion, I’ve learned about a ge­netic dis­or­der called “Hyper­ek­plexia,” which is, ba­si­cally, a re­sponse that goes be­yond merely flinch­ing when a per­son is star­tled. Some­one with this dis­or­der might “jump and gasp,” as you de­scribe — or, in its ex­treme form, col­lapse or seem to be hav­ing a seizure. (For in­for­ma­tion on this, you can check the Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Rare Dis­or­ders web­site at raredis­eases.org/).

I’m not say­ing you have Hyper­ek­plexia, but be­cause this is­sue is af­fect­ing you sev­eral times a week, you should do some re­search and get a pro­fes­sional as­sess­ment. Cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral ther­apy might help to sub­due your re­ac­tion.

In terms of your part­ner, I do think it’s pos­si­ble that he for­gets to ap­proach you war­ily. He also might not re­al­ize you are in a par­tic­u­lar room when he en­ters it. I don’t know how you can be cer­tain he is “se­cretly” en­ter­tained by this, but your fa­ther’s long-ago un­kind re­ac­tion might be in­flu­enc­ing you. You should con­tinue to talk about it, as you ex­plore the pos­si­ble cause and treat­ment, and yes, he should un­der­stand that this is se­ri­ous.

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