Sunday, October 27, 2002

When Inner Wisdom meets Busy-ness

A large part of what tends to define HSPs is a deep level of empathy and intuition. But it often seems like we may have these "natural" abilities and talents-- yet they seem to be of very little use. Of course, one of the other "issues" many HSPs seem to face is that of constant overstimulation from a chaotic world. And when I am feeling frazzled, and like I am one of those little hamsters running around on the spinning wheel of life, my intuitive voice gets drowned out.

Until a very few years ago, I found that I couldn't listen to the inner wisdom because I was simply too busy running on the "treadmill of life." Much of my world was "filtered" through a high level of "practical necessity"-- whereas I do recall hearing the inner voices, I did not heed them. On top of that, there were also the the "lies(?)" I was telling myself "Yes, nice idea.... but does that have ANYthing to do with being able to pay the rent this month? Can I buy FOOD with that idea? NO, I don't THINK so! Get back to work and stop wasting time with these ridiculous flights of fancy."

I guess some of this might be related to our individual "stages" in life-- I found it particularly difficult to pay attention to the "Inner Sage" when my main concern was feeding and sheltering myself. I have also found it difficult to listen to my inner wisdom when I was in the company of people I think of as "competitive accomplishers." I felt drowned by their psychic energy. I found it much easier to be in touch with the "spiritual" once I had "reduced" certain aspects of my lifestyle to a level where my every conscious thought didn't have to revolve around the frenzy of "how do I support this?"

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Highly Sensitive Men: The Hidden HSPs

Although Dr. Elaine Aron-- who did most of the original research on HSPs-- states that there are equal numbers of male and female HSPs in the world, it would often seem like HS men are a tiny minority.

I have been to a workshop for HSPs, and I have been a participant in numerous online discussion groups for HSPs, and the women typically outnumber the men by a factor of about 6-to-1. From just looking at the superficial information, it would seem that Dr. Aron perhaps is mistaken.

However, if you scratch beneath the surface, you'll discover that what's at work here is "Social Norms." It is true-- especially in US society-- that men are "supposed to be" strong and stoic, and showing a softer and more sensitive side is generally regarded as weakness. Thus, I believe Dr. Aron is right, but fails to explain that it appears there are fewer HS men simply because it is less safe for men to be "out" about being HSPs.

I was born and raised in Denmark, and I have lived in a number of other countries, as well. Danish society has a very different attitude towards such concepts as sensitivity than I have found in the US-- which has been my "adopted home" since 1981. As a simple example, to have a woman in Denmark describe her boyfriend as "sweet" and "sensitive" would be an extremely high compliment. My experience while living in Texas is that a similar comment here borders on being a put-down; with a subtext that a "sweet" man is not a "real" man. Indeed, Dr. Aron's books have pointed out that sensitivity stands in higher regard in certain cultures, especially in Asia.

My 20-odd years in the US have taught me that HS men in this country could be considered the "hidden" HSPs of the world.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Sometimes you just need to get help....

In the course of trying to understand what it means to be an HSP, I have met a lot of other HSPs-- through discussion groups, message boards, mailing lists, and so forth. I have made some wonderful friends in the process and maybe-- just maybe-- I've been able to help a few people "find their way."

However, I have also found it distressing that a large number of people choose to "pathologize" the fact that they are HSP. I understand the great flow of emotions that come with discovering that this odd feeling you've had for so many years actually "has a name." And I think that's great! But.... being HSP is not a "condition" or a "disorder." What's more, it's not "treatable." And because it's not a condition, there is also little purpose in "hiding" behind being an HSP, and using it as the "reason" why everything in your life isn't the way you want it to be.

Please understand that I am not trying to "blame the victim," here-- actually, I'm just trying to draw your attention to the fact that being an HSP does not make you a "victim," at all! If you're feeling depressed, or you find it impossible to go out and be among people-- don't blame it on being an HSP. Understand how your sensitivity might affect the way your body reacts to given situations-- but then go out and get treatment for your Depression, or your Social Anxiety. You sensitivity is not a "blanket exemption" that excuses you from having to do the same self-improvement work as the rest of the world. A mental health issue is a mental health issue-- and sometimes you just have to get help!

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Thoughts on finding your true self....

I am always stunned (and a little distressed) by the vast numbers of HSPs who feel utterly lost, drifting aimlessly, lonely, friendless, depressed, living marginal half-lives they are well aware lack depth and meaning.

I regularly see buzzwords and sound bite phrases from culture:

"I need to get more friends"
"If only I had lots of friends and were popular"
"I need better drugs"
"I need to see a counselor"
"I need to contribute, somehow"
"I need a REAL job"
"If only I weren't broke"
"I wish I had a boyfriend/girlfriend"

These, of course, are not "HSP-specific phrases"-- everybody has these thoughts, at one time or another. We HSPs, however, tend to dwell very deeply on them and then take them to heart with great conviction.

I find myself wondering "How much of this is real?"

Now, before anyone in the peanut gallery gets their underwear in an uproar, I am NOT questioning the sincerity of anyone's feelings and/or anguish. Sometimes life is just plain hard. But I AM wondering how much we are responding to the cultural images of "how we're supposed to live life," vs. what we actually want in our lives. And I have to question the somewhat contradictory wisdom of embracing that, as HSPs, we're a "breed apart" while also lamenting that we don't fit seamlessly into the mainstream of life. "Uniqueness" and "group-think" do not readily fit in the same space.

Some years ago, I came to the realization that much of my anguish about "not being like others" and "not being successful" was thoroughly based on comparing myself to someone else's "script" for life. By "script," I mean the set of actions, ambitions, aspirations and activities that add up to a "whole" life, for a given person.

It is surely central to the process of finding our niche that we must learn how to filter what is "our script" from what is "someone else's script." I think it is also important that we distinguish between our desire to be "helpers" and "people pleasers" and our apparent (in)ability to find happiness when trying to live up to someone else's sense of "What We Should Be." I firmly believe that you can "serve" AND still maintain your own identity.

Many Psychologists talk about the need to "re-frame" statements and concepts from our lives. Elaine Aron, author of "The Highly Sensitive Person," even touches on this in her books. Re-framing is, perhaps, the "filter" we need to separate the wheat from the chaff, to get rid of the "noise" that keeps us from finding our true selves.

Somewhere along the way, I went through my own process of Finding Out What Really Matters; examining my sources of discontent:

"If only I weren't broke" Actually, I had enough to live (my script) on, on my terms. I was broke because I bought into (society's script) that I "should" have a large house and new cars.

"I need to get more friends" + "If only I had lots of friends and were popular." Well, actually, I like deep and meaningful friendships (my script) and I'm an introvert and enjoy a fair amount of solitude (my script) so lots of friends (society's script) would require more bandwidth than I have to give, and essentially cause me stress, rather than happiness. Besides, I am "popular," with a few select people I choose to call "friends."

"I need to contribute, somehow." Honestly, I agree 100% with that statement. The problem with it is that we often feel trapped by the "idea" that contributions have to be "BIG" in order to matter. Feed 1000s of starving children in Africa. Find a cure for AIDS. Invent the next Windows operating system. Buying into society's script ends up "devaluing" the many contributions we already make; taking care of an elderly person; feeding homeless animals; taking ours and our neighbor's cans to the recycling center, etc. A "contribution" doesn't have to make the national news in order to have "value."

And so on, and so forth.

Examining perceived "shortcomings" and putting them in "sincere context" (at least for me) went a hell of a long way towards feeling more content with where I was in life. I continue to fine-tune it.

I am not claiming this to be "the answer" to anything, merely a "puzzle-piece." A perspective. I'm no "guru," no therapist, no sage-- just a regular person, trying to muddle my way through this thing we call "life."

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Some days.... Musings on the HSP trait

I sometimes wish it were as simple as saying "Some days are worse than others." But it really isn't. I have up and down periods, and they follow no particular pattern. So I'm often caught off guard by the bad ones, and since I have no advance warning, I can't plan "Big Doings" around the good ones.

I continue to struggle with the way I view this whole concept of being a "Highly Sensitive Person." I mean, I know that I have always been one, and I have had the concept-- sensitivity-- in my mind for several years. My trouble has to do with trying to separate "pathology" from "genetic trait." According to Dr. Aron, being an HSP is not a "condition," not a "personality disorder." Yet....

...so many traits that are identified with High Sensitivity, are also identified with a whole range of Psychological Pathologies. People who are NOT sensitive and NOT introverted (as most HSPs are) say "Oh, come on, this is just psychological bullshit created to make a group of social misfits feel better about themselves." And well they might-- since form their perspective, so many of the outward reflections of High Sensitivity overlap with well-documented psych issues. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Social Anxiety Disorder. Depression. ADHD. Avoidant Personality Disorder. I, too, find myself wondering if Dr. Aron is right. Her saving grace (for lack of a better expression) I suppose is that she considers "dysfunctionality" to be "dysfunctionality." Don't blame your depression on being HSP. Use your knowledge of being an HSP to make your life better, but don't use it as "the reason" why you can't cope with life. HSPs cope just as well with life as the rest of the world-- they just need a different set of coping skills.

But it's mighty easy to fall back on the "blame game."

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