Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Pitfalls of Expectations

Although "getting one's feelings hurt" is only a part of high sensitivity, HSPs do tend to get their feelings hurt rather more often than most people.

This is perhaps not the news you want to hear, but sometimes it really seems like we “set ourselves up” for suffering by having all sorts of expectations about others, or events, or activities… which then fail to live up to what we'd hoped for. And if you tend to be idealistic by nature, then these disappointments can hit quite hard.

In an HSP web group I belong to, someone was recently lamenting how people “never write back” in response to emails, or fail to write a long detailed letter in response to a long original letter. Of course, “never” is a rather strong term… but many of us are probably familiar with the situation where we spend a couple of hours pouring ourselves into some long exploration of a topic close to our hearts, click the "send" button, it goes to a friend… and two days later, we get back a “two-liner,” nine words in total:

"Wow. Cool idea. Pretty deep. See you next Thursday."

And our feelings are hurt, because we didn't get a response “in kind.” Nine words, not a two thousand word essay.

I know many who'd think "I poured myself into sharing EVERYthing with you, and you HURT me by not sharing everything with ME!".


But where is the problem, REALLY? I'll be the first to admit that “one-way communication” is no fun… but at the same time, sending a three page letter with the expectation of getting the same thing back? That's a recipe for disaster, disappointment and hurt feelings.

Some might not like to hear this, but when you expect someone to respond a certain way when you do something, you're essentially “giving to get.” When we send the long letter we wrote and invest ourselves in getting a long reply, we're no longer “just sharing,” we are making a subtle “demand” that someone reciprocate in kind. In my experience, such “solicited reciprocity” just never seems to work. It has the same “insincere” feeling as the dreaded “demanded apology.” You know, that situation where someone declares ”I DEMAND that you apologize to me!” and the result is a snide and insincere ”I'm soooorry.

Reciprocity is a beautiful thing, and perhaps something we all would like to experience in our interactions-- but (like Love) reciprocity "works" when it is freely given, but not when it becomes a demand, or expectation.

Letting go of expectations is not an easy thing. It has taken me many years to learn to “simply do,” and let things be. Sometimes I have to "pause and check," and ask myself WHY I am doing something-- and not just when I am emailing. I ask myself "Am I doing this because it is the RIGHT thing to do, or because I am trying to GET something?" If the latter is present, I step back and examine my motivations... and consider what I can do for myself, rather than putting the onus on someone else to fill what seems like a "space" inside me, in need of filling.

Of course, not all situations are the same. Sometimes we're simply exuberant about something, and the person we share with simply isn't interested. Or they are busy. Or in crisis. Or depressed. And what we experience (as hurt feelings, ultimately) is the distress of "disconnect," and it didn't have much to do with "giving to get;" merely with a lack of common ground.

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TALK BACK: Do you find yourself getting hurt feelings, because people don't “give back” as you expected? Are you guilty of doing things in order to "get something" back? Do you become deeply "invested" in how someone else responds-- to a letter, to something you do? Can you “back away” and recognize that it's sometimes YOUR expectations, rather than THEIR lack of response that might be the issue? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

HSPs and "Changing the World"

When I find myself with a group of HSPs, one of the common topics seems to be about how we can "change the world."

Perhaps it is true of everyone that they want to change the world (in SOME way), but it seems like HSPs ponder these issues more, and more often are anchored in the sense of idealism also common to "NF" Myers-Briggs types. For many, "changing the world" is more of a compulsion, than just an interest.

I've previously written about the issue of changing the world as being an issue so large it overwhelms us, and we get stuck. But there's more to changing the world than merely directing our energies at "bite sizes" we're capable of handling. I'm talking about "the how."

Not all HSPs (in fact, relatively few) are what I'd characterize as "aggressive activists." In fact, even those who very much want to change the world have certain hesitations, and even (sometimes secretly) confess to me that they are "slightly offended" by way "out there" activism like picketing, staging protests, spray painting fur coats, chaining themselves to bulldozers and so on. We'd really like the end result, but getting there through (almost) "violent" means is often unappealing. So we get a bit stuck there... perhaps saying "I don't have the aggressive nature to do that," yet concerned that "nothing will change" unless we make some kind of major statement to the world.

Another issue that comes up occasionally is that of "principles." Sometimes people get "stuck" behind their principles. Maybe they are dedicated vegans who won't even TALK to meat eaters ("on principle")-- yet, unless they talk to said meat eaters, they cannot hope to change their ways. Maybe they consider such things as Facebook and twitter "selling out" to large corporate entities... but find it hard going to work AGAINST the system for change, rather than WITH the system for change.

Personally, I've never been much of an "activist." In fact I'm one of the ones of the mindset that many ostensible activists annoy the hell out of me because they take this very strident approach... which inadvertently portrays them negatively... and so they may have a super important message, but their presentation gets them dismissed as "freaks" and "fringe dwellers." In short, their methodology overshadows their message.

I believe one of the core necessities for greater long-term change in the world is "balance." From where I am sitting-- I believe we must be "opportunistic" as well as "idealistic;" that is, we must be willing to "use the system" and "their tools" to spread the word about our message and our values. Hence, I work with "mainstream" venues like Blogger (which is part of google), Facebook and twitter to inform people about sensitivity as a biological trait.

Of course, everyone has their own approach. My experience has been (regardless of whether you're talking to other HSPs, or the world at large) that connecting across similarities and "infiltrating from within" typically results in more lasting change than causing a ruckus with a few loud noises.

For example-- on a more personal level-- I don't carry an "I'm an HSP!" banner around, trying to "beat" the trait into people's heads. Truthfully, I have connected with and "informed" more unaware HSPs by simply leaving "The Highly Sensitive Person" out in a visible place... if a dialogue ensues (Them: "What's that you're reading?" Me: "Oh, it's a very interesting book about sensitivity as an innate biological trait. Turns out that a lot of people are simply wired to be sensitive." And then we're sometimes "off to the races." And sometimes not.), then maybe there's something there to explore further. Most people (HSP, or otherwise) respond better to invitations to subtle self-discovery, than to being beaten over the head.

Of course, that's just my opinion! Your mileage may vary....

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Talk Back: Do you find yourself wanting to help change the world, but get stuck? Are you more inclined towards "aggressive activism," or "subtle influence from within?" Do you have strong principles that sometimes "get in the way" of your desire to change things? Share your experiences-- leave a comment!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tribe Magazine and Community for HSPs

In 1996, Elaine Aron published her book "The Highly Sensitive Person" and since then hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people have learned that there is a "name" for these odd feelings we've always had, and that that this "thing" we feel isn't some "illness," or "mental disorder," but a natural and innate biological trait.

Our journeys to understanding and healing (as HSPs and human beings) may have taken many different forms-- for most of us there has been much learning, along with a sense of relief at knowing that "we are not alone," and nothing has to be "fixed."

In 1996, there was not much information available about High Sensitivity... slowly, a few web sites and forums sprung up; eventually the trait got better known, mostly by word-of-mouth. In 2001, the first HSP Gathering took place... and for many who attended, it was like meeting their "tribe" for the first time. Now it is October 2009, and we stand at the threshold of the NEXT stage of HSP awareness-- if you don't already know this, the inaugural issue of "Tribe" magazine has just been issued.

What is "Tribe?"

"Tribe" is a quarterly magazine for HSPs, about HSPs (and HSP issues), created and HSPs. But it is not only a magazine, it's also a global online community-- a community that not only connects online, but also creates the written bycontent of the magazine: Articles, personal essays, short fiction, poetry, photography, art and more. In other words, it offers HSPs everywhere a "voice;" a space in which to share their creativity.

No, I don't work for "Tribe" (even if this sounds a bit like a promotional announcement), I just think it's a brilliant idea whose time has come-- as one of the "oldies" who has been part on the global online HSP community since 1997... there was nothing like this, when I first tried to learn about sensitivity as a trait. We've come a long way. We still have a long way to go. "Tribe" is a REALLY IMPORTANT next step, in getting Sensitives everywhere "seen" in the world-- not as "a bunch of flakes," but as creative, beautiful individuals with something valuable to contribute to the world.

SO... here's what I encourage all you folks out in HSP Blog Land to DO (Yes, I'm asking you to DO something, and be "Active Agents" in the HSP Community!) :

Go check out the site; read the magazine (online version, OR you can buy a paper copy), then join the their forum... this is the place where you get to add your articles, stories, photography, poetry and other creative endeavors.

If you have a StumbleUpon account, add the sites linked to below to your SU favorites; write a brief review, even.

If you have a web site and/or blog with "HSP content," why not add a link, and a brief blurb?

If you twitter, tweet it. If you're on Facebook, add a link as a status update. If you're a member of one of the numerous HSP forums around the www, tell people about it.

Don't just SIT there! SPREAD THE WORD!

Consider this: Your support helps THEM give YOU a voice, as an HSP... so by taking action, you're really helping YOURSELF, in the long run.

Here are the links (all open in a new tab):

"Tribe" home page

"Tribe" Community forum

"Tribe" magazine (online version/to order a printed copy)

Just DO it! It's only a few minutes of your life....

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Yes, it's still the same blog!

HSP Notes got a facelift today.

I've had a few comments over the years that the blog was getting a bit "cluttered" with all the information here. I tried to tweak the template to "unclutter" it's appearance, but found that too much of the old format was stored as images on someone else's server and thus not tweakable.

So, now we have a new appearance, rather simpler and hopefully easier on the eye. I've tried to keep the general colors and layout about the same as it was before.

What do you think? Leave feedback in comments!

This little bit of updating made me pause to ponder the difficulties many HSPs have with "change." We often find "change" unsettling, and we take a while to get used to new things. Sometimes this is even true of "cosmetic changes" to
existing things. The house on the corner-- which has always been white-- is painted sunflower yellow, and even though it has nothing directly to do with our lives, the change jars our sensitivities.

Of course, big changes-- like a move, the death of a loved one, or the end of a relationship-- tend to be jarring to ALL people, although especially so for HSPs.

Sometimes our hesitance about changes can result in stuckness. We avoid making a change for fear of dealing with the upsetting feelings the change will cause... whether it is our own overstimulation, OR our concerns that others will become upset with us, because we're choosing to be "different" from how we used to be.


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Talk Back: How well do you handle change? Do you find yourself AVOIDING changes, to avoid getting overstimulated? EVEN if those changes are necessary and overdue? Share your experiences-- leave a comment!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Growing: It Starts with Ourselves

I recently returned from a week in Europe, dealing with my late mother's estate, and settling her affairs. Although it was a busy and often emotionally challenging week, being there allowed me some time to reflect on life, and our choices... how we choose to live, and what the consequences of those choices are.

I don't remember exactly when-- maybe it was 2003?-- I was at an HSP Gathering, listening to Elaine Aron give a presentation.

One of the little snippets I took away, and which has stuck with me ever since, is the idea that we must "heal OURSELVES, before we can heal others."

Of course, that's a two way street.

Ultimately, just like we can't "make it OK" for anyone else, nobody else can "make it OK," for US.

As HSPs, we're very aware of other people's feelings, and we're also very aware of subtleties in people's energies. Many HSPs are "givers" and "healers" by nature (even if they are not aware of it) and I think we often busy ourselves trying to "make it OK" for others... in some hope (which is actually a bit passive-aggressive, if you think about it) that the other person(s) will magically turn around and "heal" us, as a reciprocal "thank you" for our "efforts."

Usually, such expectations will lead to disappointment.

If the above sounds a bit "accusatory" to you... pause, for a moment, and ponder whether you feel that way because I'm touching on an uncomfortable truth, in your life.

Long before I was aware there was such a thing as "being an HSP," one of my Teachers pointed out that it is not anyone else's job to "heal us," or "fix us."

AT BEST, the only thing "another" can do, is provide a "sacred space" in which we can sit and "tell stories." However, "The Other" (be it a therapist, God, the Beloved, a friend, spouse) can really only hold the hole of "listener;" they can never be the "fixer."

Expectations will "bite you" every single time. Expectations that the "fix" (and hence healing) is going to come from someplace "outside" ourselves... will come back to haunt us, every time. It has bitten me, every time I've noticed myself slide into that pattern. I watch it bite friends, and acquaintances. AND... below that... I watch people insist that "someone" made it OK for them... and a few months down the road, they come back and admit that it was just a "magic bandaid" whose effect wore off a few months/years down the road... because the underlying pain was never actually dealt with... just temporarily glossed over.

Maybe this sounds a bit "fatalistic," but actually I don't believe it IS. It's just about being ACCOUNTABLE, and about becoming "active agents" in our own lives, rather than trying to farm out accountability to external events.

I don't remember who said this, but it's a quote I often keep in mind: "Life isn't about what HAPPENS to you, it's about how you RESPOND to what happens."

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Talk Back: Do you find yourself sliding into a pattern of "blaming externals" for where you are in life? Do you recognize that you rely on the idea that "IF ONLY someone/something did this and that" your life would be better? Or are you more self-directed? Leave a comment!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Choices: Starting from HERE

I am getting back into writing-- here, and in other places.

"Starting" is a process, and it seems different for different people. Elaine Aron writes that HSPs tend to be uncommonly conscientious. I know this holds true for me, and I'll also be the first to admit that I have often had a tendency towards perfectionism.

This morning, I was contemplating this process of getting the HSP Notes blog going again. And I soon realized that I was starting down an old path of "spinning my wheels," which (to go by past history) could eventually lead to feeling overwhelmed... and then getting nothing done.

Perhaps you're familiar with this scenario (or something similar) when it comes to "starting" something:

I log into my account.
I'm immediately aware that I have neglected my blog for a year.
I feel some guilt over this-- this blog has a large readership, and IS (after all) the longest running HSP blog on the www.
I tell myself I must write "something important" to get started again.
I start thinking about the entries from my personal journal, from this past year, I want to write up and transfer here.
I start thinking about all the "peripheral" things I need to update, as I re-start here.
I think about new features I want to add.

No more than TEN MINUTES passed, since I "arrived" here to write an update... and I was at the edge of "feeling stuck," because the simple original intent of "writing a new entry" had turned into "a huge project." And the edges of overwhelm were creeping up on me.

In times past, I would have launched myself into hours of work to make sure "I did it properly."

Today... I stepped back, and reminded myself that sometimes we simply have to "start from HERE," even if what we're doing is part of some greater picture. If you're moving, step back from the HUGE project called "I'm moving," and just "pack ONE box." If you're getting back into exercising after a 5-year break, step back from the knowledge that you once ran marathons, and focus on "working out 10 minutes today."

Sometimes "the past" (and our history) is not only "not helpful" to our current situation... it can actually become "clutter" that impedes our progress.

Sometimes we simply have to Start From Here, and trust that the rest will get taken care of, as needed.

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Talk Back: How often do you find yourself "stuck" because you allow something small and simple to grow into a huge project? Are you able to avoid the temptation to "clean your desk" before you can start a simple task? Leave a comment!

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