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Sunday, December 28, 2014

HSPs and Finding Meaning in Life

It is a common refrain in the growing global HSP community that we desire to live life "authentically" and that we want our lives to "have meaning."

Regardless of whether these are HSP-specific desires or something all humans wrestle with, it's certainly true that we HSPs spend more time thinking about-- and discussing-- this topic. That only makes sense, given that "processing deeply" and the ability to introspect and live in our inner worlds are core attributes of being highly sensitive.

But what exactly is this "meaning" we seek?

And are these really questions we can ask collectively, and hope to find an answer to?  Or is "meaning" such an independent and individual thing that each person's "meaning" is unique to them, only? Well, one common thread among HSPs seems to be that many of the "societal" values and ambitions of our world do not offer meaning in the lives of a Highly Sensitive Person.

Over a decade ago, I wrote here on this blog about Giftedness, Existential Depression and Being an HSP. I am not sure that I have personally progressed all that much, but at least I have a somewhat better understanding of my own processes... including answering the question "What is the MEANING of meaning?"

Perhaps one of the more important things I have learned is that "meaning" doesn't have to be Big. I think many people-- myself included, previously-- frequently labor under the weight of believing that our lives don't "matter" and are not "meaningful" unless we're-- figuratively speaking-- "inventing the cure for cancer" or "ending world hunger."

In fact, I have started calling such thinking "The Cure for Cancer Syndrome" because people seem to literally feel immobilized-- and doubly depressed-- as a result of feeling like their contributions are "too small" to matter.

But meaning can be quite Small. And the issue isn't the "size" of the meaning, but embracing that meaning comes in many forms and sizes, and recognizing that the small ways in which we find-- and give-- meaning are all important. We don't have to "invent a cure for cancer."

In an ideal world, we would find meaning in everything we do, from our work to what occupies our free time. Alas, we don't often live in an ideal world, so we have to find our meaning where we can, while striving to make our overall lives feel more meaningful.

For a Highly Sensitive Person, meaning is often found through some form of creative expression-- art, performing, writing, teaching, helping, volunteering. Some argue that most of these endeavors don't make a real difference in the world... which I usually counter with the statement "SOMEone had to be Einstein's teacher..."

An example of how we can change the world in small ways can be illustrated by my recent experience with writing this blog: I started up again-- after a 16-month hiatus-- as a result of reading someone else's words; a fellow blogger. By simply sharing her enthusiasm, I recognized how much meaning came to my life as a result of writing these pages... and that the meaning was "there," regardless of whether the writing actually touched others.

Even though that is a tiny thing, who is to say it didn't have meaning? And that it didn't "matter?"

In addition, I recognized that I had thrown away the metaphorical "meaningfulness score sheet" by which I had been judging my own efforts in terms of external feedback, instead of my own inner direction. In most cases, the sense of meaning comes from within, not from the outside.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with wanting to change the external world, and to find meaning in doing so... but if we can only derive "value" and "meaning" as a result of others' opinions, we put ourselves in a perilous place where our happiness stands and falls based on others' words, rather than our own endeavors.

So here's the question of the moment: Do YOU have deeper meaning in your life? Where do you get your meaning from? Is it an inner process, or an outer process? Objectively, have you sometimes fallen into the trap of feeling like life has "no meaning," as a result of the "Cure for Cancer Syndrome?" Leave a comment!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

HSPs and Resuming Abandoned Projects: HSP Notes Lives Again!

As human beings-- whether we're Highly Sensitive, or not-- we remain constant "works in progress."

Long term readers have probably noticed that "not much has been happening" on these pages, for quite a while. It's true. There's a long song-and-dance routine I could share with you to explain that, but the short version has two very simple parts:

Part one, I simply got "tired and bored with myself," when it came to writing, and so I stopped. In a sense, I followed my own advice to not keep doing things simply because "we're in the habit" and "other people expect us to."

Part two, I found myself mired down in a longer period in my existence where I seemed to feel perpetually overstimulated by the basic "demands of life."

Writing is basically a "diversion" for me, and one that has never paid for the light bill, rent or groceries. As such, it's a "luxury" in my life. When things are financially "tight" (as they have been for a couple of years, now) such diversions get cut from my personal "HSP energy budget." If it doesn't "pay the rent," it pretty much gets the ax.

That said, it isn't that I haven't had anything to "say," when it comes to "life as an HSP," but here's the fundamental shizzy: Just jotting down some quick ideas and insights in a "flow-of-consciousness" manner takes me less than 30 minutes. I type pretty fast, so the bones of a 1000-1500-word article easily flows out within a reasonable time frame. So what's the problem?

Taking that 1500-word article, fine tuning it, polishing it up, carefully considering it, adding pretty pictures and ruminating on (aka "processing deeply") whether or not it truly is "fit for public consumption" takes me hours, if not days to complete. And so, the underlying story is not that I have felt too exhausted "to write," but I have felt too exhausted "to publish." Because there's a huge difference between simply "writing" and actually "publishing," even when it comes to a simple blog like this.

Now, maybe that sounds mystifying, so I'll expand a bit. One of the fairly common attributes of being an HSP is a sort of "elevated sense of conscientiousness." On the whole, that's a good thing. The "problem" with it can be that it's also the breeding ground for a sort of perfectionism that can keep us stuck-- in my case, not wanting to just "throw things out there" when I didn't feel were "good enough." Maybe that's just a personal philosophy for living: If something is worth doing, it's worth doing well.

Short version: I've been writing, just not publishing.

Anyway, this morning I found myself trying to answer the 427th email asking me if "I had stopped blogging" and if I "no longer wrote about HSPs."

As I said, the truth of the matter is that I never stopped writing, I just stopped publishing. As I write these words, I have 50-some half-baked posts/articles sitting in my "drafts" folder, waiting to be "set free." Actually, most of them are about 90% written. As I looked at them-- before answering the email-- I came face to face with one of my "demons" that has always plagued me, especially in work contexts: The eternal "inner conflict" between "hating busy-work" (which includes prepping, editing and fine-tuning writing for publication) and "being intolerant of imperfection" (And "imperfection" is what happens when I don't take time to do the busy work.)

This tendency has haunted me across many aspects of life... I'm OK with doing the "creative work" and can be extremely prolific, but my "drive" to "bring it to market" (so to speak) is almost non-existent.

All this "churning of thoughts" came about because I have been working on an article (I also write for the "Consciousness and Metaphysics" press) about "not having enough time" to do the things we want to. My own lament is that I "don't have time to write." Well, that's actually a lie. I have plenty of "time to write." I just lack the inclination (and time) to "create finished work." And because of my perfectionistic tendencies, I refuse to let anyone (clients, editors, customers) have "half-assed garbage," even if they would be perfectly content with it. I have to be content with it.

But that's not even the whole truth. As HSPs one dilemma we often face is that the things we most want to do are not income producing, and we end up in a struggle to find balance between our "idealism" and "functional reality." Sure, I want to write, but I can't afford to write.

Anyway, the holidays are almost here, and the days have gotten very short, and I am spending less time outside... meaning that I (technically speaking) have more time to be in front of the computer-- aside from just purely working. Hereunder, taking on the somewhat daunting prospect of finishing and "releasing" the 40-something "mostly written" posts and articles currently sitting in the "drafts" folder here at HSP Notes.

I did have to ask myself the question "why bother?"

Why not just delete them all and "start from here?"

Consideration number one: I never set forth to try to write "self-help" or "advice" or general insight articles for HSPs. When I started this blog, it was just a place for me to keep my own musings about what life was like, when you are an HS male living in Texas-- as I was, back in 2002. Frankly I was both surprised-- and slightly amused-- when I started to get "readers." Almost 13 years later, I'm now surprised by how many of these "random musings" have been read by 10,000 or more people. That's both startling... and a little scary.

Getting back to "why bother," I feel that part of my Calling has always been to "share information." Not in a "connect 'A' to 'B'" sort of sense, but in simply sharing something that made my walk through life easier... and maybe someone else's life could become easier as a result of reading and thinking "I could do that!" That's really my only ulterior motive, here... and that's as true now as it has ever been.

Consideration number two: I have never liked "unfinished business." It hangs over me like a dark "psychic cloud." Hence the idea of just deleting everything from the "drafts" folder seems just "wrong." After all, those insights and thoughts did happen, right? And they might be useful. Besides, deleting them feels like an even greater "loss" of time than taking/making the time to finish them. On top of which I'll be the first to admit that I am a bit lazy, and odds are I'd start writing some of the same things I've already written... and that's just a waste of effort!

"So why so many ruminations on this?" you might be thinking.

In part, getting back to the roots of this blog: It was here for me to explore my thought processes and "think out loud" about life as a Highly Sensitive Person. And that's precisely what you're witnessing me do... share my thought process. We all have our way of learning... some learn best by have something that looks mostly like an "instruction manual." Others-- I count myself among them-- learn best through "experiencing through someone else's experience."

And truth be known? "Ruminating" and "processing deeply" (and sometimes "overthinking things!") is part of what we HSPs DO, in life. And I'm no different.

So, "stay tuned" for a series of "the lost articles" to come to light, in the course of the next few weeks!

In the meantime, here's the "question(s) of the week:" Do you tend to deliberately STOP projects when they become "too much" for you, or are you more likely to quietly "let them slide?" And when you decide to resume them, do you just "start where you left off" or do you tend to put a lot of effort into "getting organized" and trying to resume from a place where things are as smooth and "complete" feeling as when you stopped? Leave a comment! Start a discussion!

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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Sunday, October 13, 2013

HSPs and Healing: What we Support and Believe in

Recently, I've been reading about HSPs and values... and what it means to walk our talk, even though it may be a difficult path to stay true to ourselves, in the face of a world that often wants to diminish or invalidate anyone who calls themselves "sensitive."

In this case, I am not just referring to personal values like "do not steal" or "do not hurt someone," but staying true to ourselves in the sense of honestly pursuing our interests and passions (and not hiding them!) even though it seems like almost nobody else seems even remotely aware of-- or interested in-- those interests.

It seems to me that one of the things that often cause us to abandon our truth is the tendency to compare our choices with things and people outside ourselves. We compare ourselves to others, or to ideals, or even to societal stereotypes and our genuine preferences suddenly seem so far away from the norm that we start to question ourselves.

Metaphorically speaking, it's like everyone else's favorite foods are things like "steak" or "ice cream" or "garlic bread" and our favorite food is the slivered dried root of some plant nobody has ever heard of. And whereas that is our genuine and authentic preference, we might start saying that our favorite food is "ice cream" just so we won't feel quite so alienated from those around us, and to perhaps avoid awkward blank stares and potential eyerolls.

As a writer, I tend to write for fairly esoteric specialty fields. Suffice it to say that writing articles about HSPs and life as a highly sensitive person is the most mainstream writing I do. Most of my other writing goes to niche hobby fields where the entire potential global audience might number fewer than 10,000 people. For example, I write about collecting sea glass. I also write about labyrinths and I write about stamp collecting. One topic/interest I write about has a potential global audience of perhaps no more than 200-300 people.

At times, I have felt pressured-- and this is pressure I largely have put on myself-- to write more mainstream things, in service of feeling more like I fit in. But writing reviews of smartphones, or travel guides to Cancun is not my truth and I would be abandoning my essential values if I were to choose to choose that path. But it's tempting-- in a not very healthy way-- because people seem excited when I tell them I am a writer, but then seem disappointed when I share what I write about.

The "staying true" dilemma can have other wrinkles, as well. From time to time, I have considered writing more mainstream articles because I wrestle with the issue of money: Do I write something "normal" and get paid for it, or do I write "my truth" and remain uncompensated because such writing may have spiritual value or practical value, but no commercial value? Which path must I take?

It is a common issue among HSPs that we struggle to feel good about ourselves if we don't live authentic lives yet-- for many of us-- true authenticity involves a substantial element of "being different." As such, authenticity can be a double-edged sword because we feel good for being authentic, but less good because that authenticity is sometimes-- or often-- met with skepticism and resistance.

Even if the words are not spoken directly, the feedback we get from the world sometimes contains a hidden subtext of "Oh, I'd sort of hoped you were doing something more normal."


Many HSPs-- whether we openly acknowledge it, or not-- carry around an assortment of "wounds" we're trying to heal. These wounds often are some variation on the theme of feeling marginalized because of who we are.

My experience has been that standing up for our true selves, our true beliefs and the ideas and projects we truly believe in can offer tremendous healing when it comes to past hurts, even if our choices are-- perhaps-- not always welcomed in the greater sense of the term. Stated simply, the healing benefits of true authenticity outweigh the negatives of occasionally feeling like we're terribly misunderstood.

Some folks bring up the issue of self-esteem in this context... and it took me many years to understand that the core of self-esteem is the word "self." Certainly, we can't help by be influenced by the world around us... but it is SELF-esteem, not "what others think of me esteem" we're needing to develop. That was a difficult lesson for me, and I believe it is difficult for most HSPs.

In the end, though, we must stay true to what we support and believe in, if we truly wish to heal. That much needed self-esteem comes when we embrace the Inner Knowing that WE are doing "the right thing," regardless of what everyone else thinks.

So the Question of the Week becomes this: Do you stay true to what you believe in? Do you openly support the "causes" that matter to you, or do you hide them, in service of "not sticking out?" For starters, are you open about being an HSP? If "no," why are you hiding?

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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!

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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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! 

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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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