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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Looking Back: Life Always Seemed "Louder" Than Me

Do you ever stop and look backwards, trying to spot "early points" in your life at which it became obvious that you were an HSP?

Much of the early "evidence" from my own life is largely anecdotal: I was supposedly a quiet kid; I was supposedly not interested in "establishing territory" with other kids; my mother would tell other people that I was "very sensitive;" as a baby I'd evidently sit quietly in my playpen and "observe" quietly. But these are not my memories... they are "stories."

My own first memories that hint at my being a highly sensitive child arise from the sense I quickly developed that everything in the world; in my surroundings seemed "more" than me: People, activities, places... the WORLD... felt bigger, louder, rougher, more violent than I... just more "everything."

It felt so strange... and scary, at the same time.

Why did adults need to YELL so much? Maybe they weren't exactly yelling, but their voices were so often raised, even when they were communicating with someone (including me) who was right next to them. It didn't make sense.

Why were kids-- the kids in the neighborhood I was sent out to play with-- so LOUD? Sometimes it felt like they just wanted to "make noise, for noise's sake." Whether it was that obnoxious kid down the street who was forever blowing his English policeman's whistle, or "that dangerous boy" in first grade who would use almost any excuse to set off firecrackers... why all the NOISE? And some would just sit there and scream, like they just wanted to hear the sound of their own voice. It hurt my ears...

Why did the other boys always want to FIGHT? Simply "playing" seemed to be sustainable for only a few minutes before someone felt the need to "have a fight." I do remember soon getting labeled a "sissy" because I didn't want to fight with people. My lack of "fighting spirit" was immediately labeled as "being afraid." Nobody seemed able to grasp that I simply didn't want to.

I was probably somewhere in the range of six to eight years old when I first became aware that it seemed like people had a certain "energy" around them. At the time, I couldn't really associate anything "intelligent" with feeling the energies and moods of others... so I thought of them in terms of shapes and everyday objects.

Most kids... well, at least most boys... felt either like "chainsaws" or "jackhammers" to me: they were scarily LOUD, and "unpredictably dangerous and destructive." Girls were generally "softer" and not so scary (which is why I generally preferred their company)... they felt more like "bee hives;" typically a soft pleasant buzz, but they could become "screaming and deadly," sometimes at a moment's notice.

Adults were a little different. Most men were like tractors or heavy trucks: noisy, often to the point of drowning out all other sound; powerful... and occasionally stinky. Some (like my father) felt more like "thunderstorms;" much of the time they were impressive clouds drifting around... but they could "explode" into something truly scary and deafening, when I least expected it. Adult women were-- on the whole-- the least scary and overwhelming persons in my life... many seemed "soft" and fairly "quiet" so I felt less "on edge" in their company and less like I just wanted to go hide somewhere. The thing that mostly scared me a little was that there were some who seemed like... like they were trying to "pull the life out of me" so (I presume) they could make it their own. Of course, as a child had had no concept of such things as "energy vampires" or people trying to get unconditional love from others "by proxy."

As I felt all these "energies" around me... I gradually "learned" that my best strategy to avoid getting buffeted and hurt by them was to practice the fine art of Not Being Noticed. It's evidently something I became quite good at, because even as a 50-something, 6'4" adult male, I still seem able to move through space (the house, outdoors, whatever) in such a way that people don't even notice that I am there... and it actually scares the hell out them that I seem able to suddenly "appear" (or DIS-appear) next to them, without a sound.

As a kid, I learned how to intuit when something "bad" was about to happen, because the "energy" would be changing (building up), so I would either "leave the scene" or learn to change what I was doing in such a way that whatever seemed to be "boiling up" would simmer down again... and the impending "explosion of loudness" would be avoided.

When I look back on those days-- now with 45 years of hindsight-- I can see that it was here I started to lose my sense of self, because I put so much effort into "adapting myself" in whatever way I could, so as to avoid "loud explosions," that anything I personally wanted to do or say was pushed into the background.

As an adult HSP, noise sensitivity remains on of my primary sensitivities. I just don't do LOUD well. I am personally not loud, and I don't like loud things... from jet engines and chain saws to high volume stereos and night clubs. LOUD makes me feel like someone is actively beating the side of my head with a wooden board, taking particular "care" to hit my eardrums every time.

People sometimes ask me if my noise sensitivity has gotten less with age... and the answer is "no." What has gotten better is my ability to understand and manage my exposure to noise, and the overwhelming effect it has. What has also gotten better is my ability to accept "being in discomfort" for measured and finite periods of time.

Talk Back! What are some of YOUR early memories hinting at you being highly sensitive? What do YOU remember (as opposed to what you've "been told") about your early life as an HSP? It doesn't have to be "noise" of course-- I just happen to most strongly remember that the world was LOUD. Please leave a comment and share your experience!

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Friday, September 06, 2013

HSPs, Hurt Feelings and Imaginary Slights: Examining EMOTIONAL Sensitivity

Depending on who you ask, "getting your feelings hurt really easily" is-- or is not-- at the heart of what "Being A Highly Sensitive Person" is all about.

For some people, it feels like it is precisely what it means "to be an HSP."

I happen to be one of the HSPs who does not believe this is the core of our HSP-ness. Neither does Elaine Aron, and she's the one who did the original research on high sensitivity. In fact, if you take a deeper look at Elaine's writings and books you will find that she doesn't say much about this topic, at all. And if you look at Elaine's Sensitivity Self-Test there's not a single question there phrased like "I get my feelings hurt very easily Y/N."

Part of the "problem" is that "Sensitivity" is a difficult word to define. And a lot of folks latch onto some interpretation of the word that's meaningful to them, and then declare themselves a "Highly Sensitive Person" without ever looking at the science and research that gave rise to the term. Ironically, this is just a variation on the way we HSPs often feel marginalized by the way non-HSPs will "label" and judge us unfairly, based on an incorrect/incomplete interpretation of the word "sensitive."

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of people in the world who are emotionally sensitive. And a lot of these emotionally sensitive people are HSPs. But there are also a lot of HSPs who are not particularly emotionally sensitive. There's no doubt the two can be quite similar... but they are not the same thing!

The thing that sometimes baffles me is the way people can go take Elaine's sensitivity self-test, answer "yes" to almost ALL the questions... and yet the only thing they ever talk about is how they get their feelings hurt all the time.

Humor me, and take a moment to go look at the questionnaire (link above). Don't look at it from the perspective of "evaluating yourself," but from the perspective of actually reading each item in the list and then considering what it is actually asking or saying. What is the quiz designed to actually ascertain?

I'm often surprised by the sheer number of people who do this little exercise and then come back to me and say "Yeah, but that's not really HOW I see myself as being highly sensitive."


But you still answered "yes" to 25 of the 27 questions... and yet you're saying you don't actually "identify" with Elaine Aron's definition of an HSP. If you don't mind my asking, why are you embracing this "label" if it actually isn't that accurate for you?

In many ways, I'm a bit of what you might call a "cage rattler." I rattle people's "cages" because I believe-- based both on personal (and often uncomfortable) experience as well as 30-odd years rattling around the consciousness and self-development industry-- that most true healing that leads us towards living a balanced and happy life demands that we look at the "uncomfortable truths" in our lives. I definitely do not "rattle people's cages" because I like to hurt feelings... I rattle cages because sometimes we have to be "jolted" out of our natural tendencies to grow complacent about our self-growth process.

So if your "feelings are hurt" by what I have just written here, I'm sorry about that. But let's use it as an opportunity to take a deeper look at the HSP trait, as it really is.

What we HSPs have-- when we use Elaine Aron's original definition-- is "a finely tuned nervous system." And that manifests in many, many different ways.

Some of these ways are-- definitely-- "emotionally based" or "of the mind." We process deeply. We notice subtleties. We feel people's moods and energies. We experience "intensely." We're typically very empathic.

Naturally, we will also experience hurts-- like feeling slighted or insulted-- more intensely. And because of the "deep processing" we engage in, we're likely to "brood" more. When something it hurtful, it hurts us more than non-HSPs. On the other hand (and this tends to be overlooked, or forgotten!) when we experience something amazing, we also experience JOY more intensely.

In her workshops and books, one of the things Elaine Aron has repeatedly pointed out is that HSPs who grew up in "difficult" childhood situations are likely to be more "damaged" by their situation than their non-HSP peers, and more likely to experience pain from subsequent difficulties, hurts and setbacks... BUT, HSPs who grew up with a "supportive" childhood situation are actually LESS likely than their non-HSP peers to experience pain from slights and setbacks.

By extension, such a "well balanced" HSP is also less likely to dwell easily hurt feelings, because of a greater capacity to deal with such incidents. For them, "easily hurt feelings" isn't part of the HSP "equation."

In short, we HSPs tend to live towards the extreme ends of the spectrum... on both the positive and negative sides.

But let's get back to HSPs and easily hurt feelings.

Nobody-- least of all me-- is trying to take away or marginalize anyone's right to have easily hurt feelings! Truthfully, these both are, and are not, related to being an HSP.  The important thing is that we must understand what they actually "are." They may be "related," but are not part of the "definition" of the trait... they are part of how the trait leads us to process negative experiences. It's a bit like one of those "word problems" back in school:

When you're an HSP you may experience painful situations more deeply and you may experience hurt feelings more deeply, but simply getting your feelings hurt deeply and easily does not "make you an HSP."

Personally, I am "emotionally sensitive." But it was never that tendency to get my feelings hurt easily nor my tendency to perceive "general neutral statements" as "slights" directed specifically at ME that led me to "identify" with "Being a Highly Sensitive Person," back in 1997. It was relating to how all the world always felt overwhelming and overstimulating to me. Were my hurt feelings and hyper-awareness of "imaginary" slights authentic and real? Absolutely! But "real" as they were, they were not-- and ARE not-- what "makes" me an HSP.

If there's a "definition" that fits what it "means" to be an HSP, it is that we are easily overwhelmed and overstimulated by LIFE. "Hurt feelings" and "slights" are just a tiny, tiny corner of that bigger picture called "life." "Hurt feelings" are a consequence of something; a response; a reaction... but not a neurological state. Choosing to define our HSP-ness as revolving around "easily hurt feelings" is a bit like focusing on a red flower in a painting while being oblivious to the entire landscape the artist painted for us.

Now, some might say that I am "splitting hairs" over minor semantic details... but... not really. And I write quite a bit about the topic of emotional sensitivity, as well. If this is a topic of interest to you, you might wish to check out my article "HSP Living: Intense Feelings and Learning to Respond Instead of React"  which examines how we as "intense HSPs" can best handle our feelings.

In "scientific terms" what we're talking about is the difference between a "causal" and a "coincidental" relationship between "easily hurt feelings" and "being an HSP." And that's a big difference.

Talk Back: How do you "identify" your sensitivity? Have "easily hurt feelings" been central to how you perceive yourself as being "highly sensitive?" Is that still true? When you took Elaine Aron's HSP quiz, did you answer "yes" to almost all the questions? Did some of the HSP "definition" leave you with doubts, or does it fit perfectly? Please leave a comment! 

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting, thought provoking or useful, please share it with others! Use the buttons below to post to social media or send by email, and help be part of  the ongoing process of spreading general awareness of the HSP trait. Thank you!
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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

HSPs and Healing: How we tend to SEE what we KNOW... and why We Must Move On!

I belong to several dozen forums and groups online-- many often them related to being an HSP, some related to other interests.

As part of the “daily doings,” lots of people post pictures, articles, quotes, book recommendations and all the other bits and pieces that simply seem to be part of an online community. Most of the time, their posts will end with words along the lines of “what do you guys think of this (writer/article/idea/healing method)?” This, too, is part of the natural flow of online groups.

Reading the responses to a post—which often can number in the dozens—is an interesting and valuable reminder of just how much our perceptions are influenced by our experiences. This is especially true when we carry around “wounds” we haven’t fully addressed… and may not even be aware of.

The thing I keep seeing, over and over again, is that we “see” in something—a situation, an idea, a person-- what we know; what we’re familiar with… but not necessarily the actual “truth” or the “facts” right in front of our faces.

So somebody posts an article and asks “What do you think of this person’s viewpoint?”

Those who have been abused and have had abusers in their life, see an abuser.
Those who have been victims of narcissists, see a narcissist.
Those who have been manipulated by people, see a manipulator.
Those whose lives revolve around being a crazy alternative artist, see a crazy edgy artist.
And so on, and so forth.

Observing this pattern repeatedly makes me wonder just how “objective” we are able to be, when faced with essentially neutral situations. Especially if we have lived “difficult” lives, as many HSPs have.

Do we tend to see a metaphorical “snake under every rock” when faced with situations that might (or might NOT, even) remind us of something difficult from the past… or are we able to look at these situations and see them for what they usually are: A “rock” that might have the potential to hide a snake, but probably doesn’t?

Don't get me wrong-- I'm not suggesting that we ignore our intuition. After all we HSPs tend to be highly intuitive people. What I am looking at here is pervasive patterns, as opposed to intuiting things about people and situations on a "case by case" basis. Our intuition is often on the mark... but if we're at a point where even Mother Teresa looks "suspicious" in some way, the issue is probably with US, not with Mother Teresa.

I’m also not suggesting that our experiences shouldn’t be regarded as valuable “teaching moments” and that we should be able to magically step away from our lenses of perception. And I'm well aware that one of the fundamental attributes of the HSP trait is a tendency towards thinking before we act. However, that can go overboard when certain “attachments” to the past end up serving as obstacles we put in our own way. And sometimes it can end up feeling like we are subconsciously “building fences” between us and what we believe we are actually seeking.

This is why it is especially important to work on healing ourselves before we go forth in the world to help others, or become “involved” with others.

As an example, I keep thinking of one particular HSP woman whom I’ve known—in “that Internet way”—for over ten years. For as long as I’ve known her, she has had “dating troubles” and her life seems to be one endlessly long saga of rejecting men because they seem to be “not trustworthy.” In her past, she has had her trust broken… and so, now she doesn’t trust anyone. And every time she meets a new man, she “goes looking” for reasons why he “can’t be trusted.”

Of course, she finds exactly what she’s looking for: Evidence of non-trustworthiness. Her relentless pursuit of this “evidence” clearly clouds—or “unbalances”-- her objectivity about people because she will end up disregarding 99 positive qualities in the search for one specific negative quality… which may even have to be actively coaxed out of hiding, essentially through attempting to"trigger" that attribute in a person who was actually pretty emotionally stable. And so, the cycle continues.

Maybe we all do this to some degree… at least until someone makes us aware that it’s not “others” that are the problem… we are the “common denominator.” This was a challenging concept I had to face, a number of years ago. "They" were not the problem... "I" was. And maybe it’s not “dating.” Maybe it’s “never being able to find a decent job.” Maybe it’s “not being able to maintain friendships.” Maybe it’s “always ending up with a judgmental boss.

We tend to create our own reality. We will find exactly what we are “looking for” even when we don’t actually think we’re “looking.” In fact, we may believe—quite sincerely—that we’re being “sensibly cautious.” Yet we run the risk of not being able to “see the forest” because of our obsession with one particular tree.

As HSPs, we “process deeply” (which is usually a good thing) and we’re very perceptive (which is also a good thing) and we tend to be very insightful (one more good thing). But sometimes we also tend to learn “too well” from our pasts, and end up obsessing over “something that once happened,” to the point that it keeps us from moving forward and enjoying our lives.

We get in our own way.

Learning to become aware of our own patterns—and to “self check” and pause to examine what is really going on when we get "stuck"—is an important part of healing past wounds and moving on with life.

Now, most HSPs would argue that they are very good at examining and studying their “issues,” and I agree with that… and I'll even add myself to that category. But we must do more with our issues than “study” them; we must process, heal and move on.

Not saying it’s easy—just that it’s important.

I'd like to recommend the book below, which helped me a great deal on my own journey. It's called "Excess Baggage: Getting Out of Your Own Way." It's not "for" HSPs or about HSPs... but it does contain a lot of valuable and insightful information. Some may find it a little too simplistic, but sometimes you have to start with the basics!

Talk Back: Are there patterns you keep repeating, even though it feels like you're actively trying NOT to repeat them? Does it sometimes feel like you are putting hurdles in your own way, even though you don't want to? Leave a comment! 

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting or useful, please share it with others! Use the buttons below to post to social media or send by email, and help be part of  the ongoing process of spreading general awareness of the HSP trait. Thank you!
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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

HSPs, Sociability and Feeling Overstimulated

This past weekend (August 16th-18th) The White Light Express held its annual conference and retreat, here in Port Townsend, Washington.

I mention this because I am a central part of the organization, and thus have lots of attendant responsibilities. And this annual event find me-- as an introverted HSP-- being on the go and having to be very "public" with lots of people, for several days.

There's a common misconception that introverts-- HSP and non-HSP alike-- are "antisocial" and outright "don't like people." That's simply not not true. I actually like people very much but the act of "socializing" (especially with a large group of mostly strangers) is exhausting, for me.

To truly understand what's going on with an HSP when they declare "I really don't like crowds" is typically far less about "avoiding people" than about "avoiding overstimulation." Although the greater world has a fondness for labeling HSPs as being "shy" or "socially anxious" that characterization actually holds true in far fewer instances than most people would think.

At the end of three days of being "public" and "social," I found myself feeling quite worn out. And even though the 60-odd people in attendance at the conference's "main event" were mainly of like-kind beliefs and orientations, being in close proximity to so many "energies" for an extended period of time was draining. The only thing I really wanted to do with the Monday immediately following the conference was to sit and stare at the wall. Alas, that was not entirely possible, as there were "loose ends" to be chased and closed.

And these were nice people, many with similar interests.

Going into the event, I was already a bit "on edge" given that I was going to be teaching a 3-hour workshop on Sunday. It wasn't that I felt like I didn't know my material, or that I would have to "speak in front of people," it was again about a sense of energy drain... not simply as a result of being an introvert, but as a result of being an HSP and "aware" of other people's energies.

As HSPs, it important that we understand the underlying whys of how we get to feeling exhausted... and that we do not accept external perceptions of us to be "facts." So whenever someone is trying to offer you a "good reason" for your social interaction choices, take a step back and ask yourself whether it really "feels true." Most HSPs are really not shy, or socially anxious... they are just... HSPs.

Talk Back: Do groups of people overstimulate you? Have you ever attributed to "social anxiety" or "shyness" behaviors that might be only the result of being an HSP? Leave a comment! 

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting or useful, please share it with others! Use the buttons below to post to social media or send by email, and help be part of  the ongoing process of spreading general awareness of the HSP trait. Thank you!
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Thursday, August 15, 2013

HSP Learning: Elaine Aron's "The Undervalued Self:" An Undervalued Book?

At a recent presentation in Walnut Creek, California Elaine Aron shared that one of her recent books, "The Undervalued Self," has not been selling all that well... at least not in the US. Evidently it is doing quite well in other parts of the world... as an example, she mentioned that just 7,000 copies (as of this spring) have sold in the US, but 36,000 in South Korea.

I was very surprised to learn this because when I read it I concluded that it was possibly Elaine's most important and significant book, maybe aside from her "original" book The Highly Sensitive Person. Elaine, herself, also believes it's an extremely helpful tool for HSPs, and was surprised. Getting this piece of feedback from the workshop left me wondering whether her fans-- being HSPs-- had perhaps been "avoiding" the book because the words "HSP" or "Highly Sensitive Person" weren't in the title.

It just doesn't make sense to me-- this is a REALLY USEFUL book. Anyway, I wanted to take a few moments to talk about this book-- which is part of my personal list of "5 books I recommend to all HSPs."

This book was a very long time in the making. I first became "acquainted" with it when Elaine announced it as her "newest project" at the California HSP Gathering in June 2003. Back then, it had a working title of "At The Crossroads of Love and Power."

The basic premise of the book-- which is based on many years of research done by Elaine and her husband Art, who have spent decades studying how people relate, connect and love each other-- is that human beings have two fundamental "orientations" or strategies in life: "Ranking" (centered around power) and "Linking" (centered around Love and connecting).

Power is about "competing" and how we "rank" ourselves (and others) in social systems... be that at work, in families, in primary relationships. The focus of "power" tends to be hierarchical, i.e. "I'm smarter than Bob, but not as smart as Carol," or "Jenny has more social influence than I do, but I have more influence than Carl."

The other approach is "Love." Love of centered around "connecting" and "cooperating," and is also referred to as "linking." What Elaine discovered in her research is that there is actually a huge correlation between the "linking" strategy and being a Highly Sensitive Person.

"The Undervalued Self" may not be directly about HSPs (it can be relevant to anybody), but it does speak directly to HSPs. As a group-- or "demographic"-- uncommonly many of us face issues surrounding various ways in which we "diminish" ourselves in the world. We are generally uncomfortable in the domain of "ranking" and having to "compete" for our place-- many HSPs even outright reject having a "need" for it in their lives, citing a number of reasons... which Elaine also identifies and explains in the book. And when you combine a general dis-ease with the ranking strategy with a potential non-supportive or even abusive background... we tend to "rank ourselves too low" most of the time.

Now, this may sound like nothing more than "self-esteem, renamed," but there is far more to it than that. Most self-help books simply address the issue of self-esteem and go from there. In "the Undervalued Self" Elaine explores how our innate natures (especially as HSPs) influence the way we gain (or lose) self-esteem.

Being an HSP who "rejects" the need for ranking really does NOT serve us well! We may rationalize that we're "taking the high road" by avoiding hierarchical thinking, and that it "serves" the idealistic part of us that believes everyone has "equal rights"... but actually, we're just avoiding looking at the inevitable: ranking is a necessary part of a functional life. Denying it is a bit like declaring "I don't NEED sunshine!" just because our skin burns easily in the sun. What we need to do is learn to be in the "sun" appropriately, not avoid it altogether.

So what exactly does an "Undervalued" self imply?

Again, this is where the book really IS for-- and about-- HSPs-- and so important for may of us. We experience things very deeply. And because we tend to be soft spoken and "cooperative," we often feel overwhelmed by confrontations. We may feel doubtful that we can emerge from a confrontation (or competitive situation) positively. We have doubts, and perhaps back down, in the (alleged) interest of preserving a "connection." But we still feel "defeated" and may end up internalizing that negatively... and are more likely to simply accept a "low rank," rather than actively compete for the spot that reflects where we actually belong. This is something many HSPs have experienced in the workplace, for example, getting passed over for promotions and ending up "underemployed." We become truly "undervalued" when we engage in a pattern of actively "avoiding defeats." In other words, we don't even compete for that promotion, because we (believe) "know" we won't get it, anyway, so "why bother."

The book is an excellent exploration of how "ranking" and "linking" work, then on how to identify the ways in which we undervalue ourselves, the rationalization we use (Elaine calls them "the Six Self-protections"), how to silence our inevitable "inner critics" and finally on how to build stronger relationships that will lead to healing that "Undervalued Self."

We HSPs are marvelous people with many gifts to offer the world. Although it may be an uncomfortable-- and even scary-- journey, it's important that we learn how to let our lights shine... rather than "hide them in the closet" somewhere.

One of the questions... or "observations," if you will... that came into my head and led to this post was this: "Do we, as HSPs, question and avoid competition SO much that we will even go as far as to not support a book that brings that very avoidance into question, as a life strategy?" Perhaps that's a stretch, as far as reasoning goes... but it's also precisely one of the points Elaine brings up in the book. It doesn't always serve our best interests to actively avoid all things competitive; all things "ranking." Instead, we must seek a healthy balance.

"The Undervalued Self" is an excellent guidebook for that process... I highly recommend it! The link below is to Amazon... as you can see, copies of this book have become fairly inexpensive-- I think you'll get a lot out of it. I'd also like to invite you to visit the HSP Notes Bookstore, which has 100's of handpicked books chosen with HSPs in mind... many from my personal library, many more that were recommended by fellow HSPs.

Talk Back: Have you read "The Undervalued Self?" If yes, what did you think? If no, how come? Was it a book you thought about "getting later?" 

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful or useful, please share with others! Use the buttons below to help be part of spreading general awareness of the HSP trait. Thank you!
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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Teaching a Workshop About Highly Sensitive Men

In a bit of a departure from the normal "fare" here on HSP Notes, I'm pleased to announce that I have been invited to teach a workshop:

Understanding the Highly Sensitive Man: An introduction to the "hidden" HSPs

I am excited to be giving this workshop in conjunction with the 

In Port Townsend, Washington -- Sunday August 18th, 2013 -- 10:00am - 1:00pm

This marks a bit of a departure for me, putting me a little outside my normal comfort zone. I have previously taught workshops on various HSP topics within the relatively "safe" confines of the HSP Gathering Retreats and various HSP Meetup groups... this is the first time I will be giving a workshop "in public" at the general conference and gathering centered around healing. 

About the workshop: This is not so much for highly sensitive men, as about highly sensitive men. You don't need to be an HS man to attend; you don't even have to be an HSP, for that matter... just bring curiosity and a willingness to learn. 

View of Port Townsend Bay in late summer
The plight of highly sensitive men is near and dear to my heart. HS Men face a unique set of challenges, many of which are less about "being sensitive" than about "dealing with cultural biases and stereotypes." I think the world loses a great deal of creative potential by the way it often makes HS men feel like they need to "hide in the shadows." I am committed to being part of a small-- but growing-- movement to change that. I may be "just one person," but every time "just one person" stands up and makes himself heard, some tiny changes happen. 

An avalanche may look like a huge and powerful thing, but never forget that an avalanche starts because ONE snowflake moved, somewhere.

For more information about my workshop, please visit this page on my web site.

For more information about the White Light Express Conference, where you can also learn about the other workshop presenters and events and register for my workshop (and others!), please visit their main conference page.

It would be cool to see some familiar faces at the workshop, so if you're in the Seattle or greater Puget Sound area, I hope you'll come by! Or if you're further away and willing to make a trip here-- Port Townsend is a lovely seaside town and peaceful destination in the summer-- would love to see you here!

Monday, May 06, 2013

HSPs and the Fine Art of Building Up, not Tearing Down

You've probably had people in your life who seemed very negative... and whose primary purpose in the world seemed to be to "tear apart" pretty much any idea or suggestion that comes along. Of course, such a tendency isn't necessarily "an HSP thing."

That said, we HSPs-- possibly as a result of our tendencies to dwell deeply and endlessly on bad things that happened to us in the past-- seem to have a way of finding reasons "not to."

What do I mean by that?

We often seem to be a wellspring of reasons "not to" participate, "not to" share an opinion, "not to" get involved, "not to" join something and more. Perhaps you even recognize this in yourself... and-- most likely-- you have a "perfectly reasonable" explanation whenever you choose this path.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with retreating to your "comfort zone" if you genuinely feel like something is going to overstimulate and overwhelm you. However, when it's "just an excuse" and that comfort zone shrinks to no more than a tiny hole that excludes almost all of life... then we have a problem. And that may also be when it starts feeling like others are judging us negatively.

Think about this for a moment: Do you find yourself in situations where someone asks you to be part of something, or do something, and the first thing that comes into your mind is to try to find all the ways in which what's being offered is "wrong?" Do you sometimes apply this to people... people who are perhaps trying to befriend you, and yet you decide to "find fault" with some trivial aspect of who they are... so you can back away from the friendship?

Conversely, sometimes it's ourselves we "tear down," not others. Maybe we're asked to be part of some activity, but back away and beg off, citing that we're not "experienced enough" or "skilled enough." Underneath... we simply feel "not worthy."

It's not easy being an HSP in a not-so-sensitive world. I'll be the first to admit that...

Sometimes, though, we just have to say "yes" and start building something, rather than always finding fault and tearing things down.

It's a simple fact of life-- not just HSP life-- that it's easier to tear something down, than to build it up. And it's easier to try to force others to bend their reality to fit ours, than to step up and make compromises of our own.

Of course, you may be reading these words and thinking "But wait! It's usually ME who gets town down, not vice versa!"

Even if that is so, this is still an invitation to "start building." When we work on ourselves and have a solid "foundation," then it becomes not only easier to stand up to those who would tear us down, it becomes easier to go forth in the world and be participants who say yes-- from a place of awareness-- because we have a stronger sense of self to return to, even when we do make compromises.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

HSPs, Choices and the "Chaotic" People in Our Lives

I have been spending a few days among the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona-- one of my favorite places on the planet. Although it's really a "working" vacation-- Sarah was giving a workshop here, and we had some people to see-- being away from home and familiar surroundings is always a good time to pause and reflect... and to generally think about the deeper issues in our world.

In the course of being part of the HSP community for many years, it has often struck me how often HSPs seem to become "embroiled in drama," often involving abusive, needy, usary or outright crazy people.

Bell Rock in Sedona, up close and personal
Although most vehemently will defend their own "innocence" in these chaotic relationships, it has also struck me how often chaotic and hurtful situations arise not "because of other people," but as a result of our own choices, needs and the way we feel about ourselves.

What is really going on, when we have a "chaos monger" in our lives? Why do we choose them? And I'm sorry, but NO... we're not just "innocent bystanders," at least most of the time.

There are typically two really common dynamics at play... both of which are related to our senses of self... and, by extension, dubious self-esteem.

In one scenario, an almost compulsive "need to help" drives us to-- basically-- to surround ourselves with people who need "help." Many would argue that it's "compassionate" and "the right thing" to help those who are struggling... and that's a valid point. However... there is a price to pay (overstimulation, exhaustion, frustration) for being the perpetual "caretaker" for someone who doesn't attempt to solve their own issues and expects us to be eternally accountable for their issues.

Red rocks of Sedona, AZ
Many would say "But I didn't CHOOSE these people!" and maybe that's true, in an "active" sense... as in, we don't go out there and openly advertise "I want to look after life's hopeless needy nutballs," but what does happen is that we don't start saying "no" as their obvious-- as well as subtle and subconscious-- demands start to manifest and increasingly ramp up. In the longer term... we HSPs end up "holding the bag" where someone with healthier boundaries (and less "investment" in being perceived as compassionate) would long since have said "sorry, you're a drain on my life, get lost!"

But how is it that we are actually accountable, here? Usually the problem is that we feel like we have no "personal value," aside from how it's measured by our capacity to "take care of" others... and "help them when they are troubled." In other word, we don't perceive ourselves being valuable as human beings, if we're not "caretaking." Think about it, for a moment... not on the "surface," but at its deepest level... who would you be, if you were not always taking care of your needy friend's latest crisis? Who would you be, if you were not lamenting that all your time and bandwidth was being used up, by someone else?

These are not intended as "blaming" questions... merely as a deeper line of self-inquiry.

The above, of course, is a fear based response... often learned in childhood and youth, from our families of origin who perhaps marginalized and diminished us unless we were "useful."

Closely related is a second scenario, also fear based: It is a general fear of "strong" people who have their lives together. We fear we are "small and inadequate" in their company, and that they couldn't possibly be interested in spending time with us, because their lives seem so much more successful and "together" than our own... and so we fear they would "abandon" us, once they discover the "truth" about how small and seemingly insignificant and boring our lives are. In short, we lack a sense of "worthiness," in their company.

So, when we put the two together (as sometimes happens), not only to we choose to "hang onto" people who are using us and causing us grief, but we also end up feeling afraid to choose the company of those who would actually be good for us, because we fell like we are "less than" they are.

There is not an "easy fix" here... but the road to healing and moving to a better place with ourselves starts with simple awareness of our own patterns; of the choices that are causing us grief.

What do YOU think? Do you often feel like you're surrounded by people who need to be "taken care of?" Does their presence exhaust you? Does it feel like they just have "insinuated themselves" there? Have you ever considered that you-- by your direct or indirect actions-- INVITED them to be there? Does it sometimes feel like you wish you had "more together" friends... yet you feel intimidated by people who seem to "have it all together?" Please leave a comment and share your experiences!