Thursday, November 14, 2013

I used to enjoy the holidays... a reflection

As we roll on towards Thanksgiving, Christmas and other end-of-the-year holidays here in the USA, I am always reminded of how this is not a "happy" time for many HSPs.

"On paper," this is supposedly the season of lights, cheer and good will towards all... for HSPs, it can be something very different.

If you'd asked me twenty years ago about my general dislike and dread of holiday festivities, I would probably have looked at you cross-eyed if you'd tried to explain to me that it wasn't me being anti-social, but part of a personality trait.

Of course, I'm not trying to argue that being a Highly Sensitive Person makes you dislike the holidays, simply that there certain aspects of the season that can feel very overwhelming for HSPs.

For some it's an actual "values issue," related to feeling repulsed by the cornucopia of commercialism that has come to represent this time of the year. The Holidays sometimes feel like they have become a game, and "the person who spends the most money wins." For HSPs concerned with social justice and creating an egalitarian world, it's just outright offensive and a reminder that our species-- at least here in the West-- are on a very misguided track.

More likely, though, the issue is that this time of the year brings a higher stress level. Many HSPs like to keep fairly quiet lifestyles, and the holidays are a very "out" time of the year... with everything from office parties to family gatherings... some of which "force" people together for "forced cheer" in groups that would just as well have nothing to do with each other. HSPs are not good at pretending to be happy with something they are not. Add to that travel during an extremely busy time, shopping during an extremely busy time... and you have a recipe for something we'd rather avoid.

That said, I'm not going to dwell on the underlying reasons why HSPs struggle with the Holidays, nor offer solutions. However, if you're interested I'll suggest reading an article a wrote a few years ago entitled HSP Living: Tips for Dealing with the Noise and Stress of the Holiday Season which has more practical tips for HSPs.

What mostly made me sit down and write today was the realization that I used to enjoy the holidays, and I was trying to pinpoint why. And when.

Upon reflection I realized that the common thread of holiday seasons I have enjoyed was "simplicity." That is, those holiday seasons were marked by very little planning and preparation... or they happened so long ago (in childhood) that I was not yet aware that it took a lot of "work" to make the holidays wonderful. Even so, the Christmases I remember most were the ones where it was "just us" as opposed to something large and "fancy."

I also spent a couple of Christmases practically by myself, and in spite of the "social myth" that this is the time of the year for togetherness... I was actually very happy during those couple of years... even with some people giving off the vibe that they were "feeling sorry" for me.

And maybe therein lies a functional holiday lesson for those of us who are Highly Sensitive: Keep it simple! When you do, you're also more likely to return to the original "reasons" for the season-- love and light-- than the commercial ones.

It's not the actual season what makes us feel overstimulated, it's the "expectations" and wealth of things that seem to be "required" of us that's the issue. When we step away from those and allow the holidays to unfold in a way that feels meaningful to us, things get a lot better.

Here's wishing you a "simple" Holiday Season!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Too Many Worthy Causes-- Not Enough Money!

The holidays are coming up.

What that means-- at least some of what that means-- is that there will soon be an increasing stream of "worthy causes" coming our way.

So many of them really are "worthy." I often wish I could give to all of them... it almost makes me feel guilty that I have to "choose," and the very process of having to make a choice in this context can make me feel quite overwhelmed.

Part of me also feels "judgmental." After all, who am I to say that an organization that rescues kittens is more "worthy" than an organization that sends food to people in Sudan?

And yet, I have a hard enough time being able to afford my own groceries, so I can't just give away everything to every appeal that comes my way.

Of course, that's just part of the issue.

Because people out there perceive that I "know people," I am often approached and asked if I will help promote (or endorse) a worthy cause.

Again, the choices can be difficult. What do we put our energy behind? I tend to be extremely discerning about what I "put my name on." It's not that I don't like what I am presented with, it's more a case of not wanting to overwhelm people with every worthy cause under the sun.

I suppose that's part of consideration for others... empathy, perhaps? I know I get overwhelmed by the many choices, so I don't feel like it would be right to overwhelm other people with a ton of choices.

I am also hesitant to come across too much as "begging for money," no matter how worthy a cause may be. Perhaps that makes me a lousy marketer-- so be it. But it makes me uncomfortable. I'm already part of a couple of non-profit organizations that are "in the family" and it's hard enough to ask for donations on their behalf!

So what's the purpose of this whole post?

Well, I do have a "hidden motive" for bringing up money and giving.

I get quite a bit of email from the global HSP "community," asking if I'll write about various subjects as they relate to living as an HSP. One that often comes up-- and which I have studiously avoided taking on-- is money, finances and HSP's relationships with these.

Of course-- traditionally speaking-- "money" is one of "those subjects" we are taught to avoid, as part of good manners (along with religion, sex, politics and child rearing). And yet, it seems like an important topic for HSPs... perhaps because a lot of conventional financial wisdom doesn't apply to the Highly Sensitive Person. How so?

Well, after almost 17 years of studying this trait of ours, it's quite clear that HSPs don't measure "success" as other people do. For one, we are more concerned with being Human BE-ings than Human HAVE-ings or Human DO-ings... and yet, we still have to function within a world where the grocery expects money when we check out. We also face the issue (which Elaine Aron also alludes to in her books) of "underemployment," meaning that we are often in professions where we don't make a lot of money... so saving is difficult.

For the moment, though, I am going to just keep the ideas percolating while I try to figure out where to allocate my limited charitable giving budget.

If you DO have specific questions about HSPs and finances, do write in... or leave a comment... and I'll certainly enter your feedback into the mix.

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."

Ouch.

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!

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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."

OK...?

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! 

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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 in the little box below is to Amazon... as you can see, copies of this book have become fairly inexpensive-- and I think you'd get a lot out of it. And don't worry, just because it says "buy now" you will NOT have to buy something-- the link is just to Amazon's descriptive page with more information, reader reviews and more.

As an aside, I would like to invite you to visit the HSP Notes Bookstore, which has 100's of handpicked books chosen with HSPs in mind... most are in my personal library, in addition to numerous others 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?" 

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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!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

If You're an HSP-- It's Time to Stand up and be Counted!

There are a great many traits, characteristics, interests, behaviors, conditions and preferences that influence our lives.

Maybe we are HSP's-- Highly Sensitive Persons. Maybe we are "introverts." Maybe we have "allergies." Maybe we identify with a Myers-Briggs type preference like "INFJ" or we prefer an enneagram type like "Type Nine." Maybe we're "ADHD" or have "CFS" or are prone to "anxiety." Maybe we are "gifted" or "empaths." Whatever the identifiers might be, it all adds up to some kind of "acronym soup."

Don't misunderstand-- I have nothing against "acronym soup;" I actually believe all these different labels can offer us very useful insights that help us navigate life. They only become an "issue" if we reach a point where we substitute "the label" for "who we truly ARE."

Which bring me to a particular statistic I like to send through my twitter account on a regular basis:

HSP factoid: If HSPs are truly 15% of the population, there are over ONE BILLION of us on the planet!

Pretty stunning piece of information, don't you think?

The above is based on Elaine Aron's original research which shows that 15-20% of the population are HSPs. I'm using the "conservative" lower number, here. As I write these words, the "population clock" on the U.S. Census web site estimates the world population to be 7,078,772,000 people. It estimates the population of the United States to be 315,673,000 people. If you use the 15% figure, that means:

There are an estimated 1,061,815,800 Highly Sensitive Persons on planet Earth.
There are an estimated 47,350,950 Highly Sensitive Persons in the United States.

Let that sink in, for a moment.

Pretty amazing, isn't it?

Now consider this: If there truly are so many HSPs... where on earth are they?

The other day, I was on a busy commuter time ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. As I wandered around to pass the time on the 30-minute crossing, it occurred to me that since I was in close proximity to 2500-odd people, it also meant there were probably 400 HSPs within a few hundred feet of me.

It made me pause to consider a simple question: How many of them KNOW they are HSPs? Then the follow-up question: How would their lives be different, if they did know?

I spent the next 20 minutes sitting in the car, in my version of "deep thought." It occurred to me that there are lots and lots of "attributes" found in a significant percentage of the population, as well as some found in maybe only 1-2% and they all get lots more attention than "being an HSP." More people are aware of them, more people talk about them, and each of them have more to say about it.

I went looking for HSPs on the web, and considering how many of us there are and that the idea has been "in the public arena" for over 15 years, I was amazed at just how invisible we are. And in the few places where we are visible, how little we participate.

So I went on a longer "journey," trying to figure out where "we" are.

First I looked at HSPs as compared to other interests or attributes. I visited some INFJ Myers-Briggs/Jungian typology forums which were among my old haunts. It seemed relevant since the majority of INFJs are also HSPs. An INFJ forum I used to belong to currently has about 7400 members with hundreds of discussions every day.

This, for an "interest" that's present in less than 1.5% of the general population. By comparison, the largest and most active HSP group online is on Facebook and has about 2500 members.

To compare something different, I looked at introverts online. 70-75% of HSPs are introverts, and HSPs account for something on the order of half the world's introverts... so there's a lot of overlap, as well as some similarities and negative biases-- introverts are often seen as "too quiet" and "shy," by the world.

I found the introvert communities online to be thriving and active. I found it ironic that author Susan Cain's (she wrote the book "Quiet" and is also an HSP) forum just for her book is almost twice the size of the largest HSP forum.

So I decided to take a different approach-- looking at high sensitivity from the angle of being more of a "problem" than an "interest." Back in days long gone, I was part of an online community offering support for those suffering from social anxiety-- an issue more than a few HSPs report to be part of their lives.

Social Anxiety affects an estimated 5% of the population, compared to 15-20% HSPs. My reasoning for going this route was that maybe HSPs are quiet about the trait because of hesitance that it's seen negatively. Similarly, Social Anxiety carries a bit of a negative connotation and stigma.

I was surprised to find that the old SA community online now has 115,000 members who have contributed millions of discussions. And that's just one of many such forums. In a related sense, I looked at an ADHD forum I'm vaguely acquainted with. Again a condition affecting maybe 6-8% of the population... here the forum (one of numerous) had some 71,000 members and lots of active dialogue. So, clearly, "fears of being perceived negatively" does not prevent people from participating in online communities.

By now, this was getting increasingly puzzling to me. Being a Highly Sensitive Person is something that clearly affects people's lives, clearly suggests the need to educate oneself and develop good life management skills, and clearly is a trait whose members benefit greatly from "peer connections" to share ideas and information.

Not happy with what I was finding, I did a little further digging, this time using my experience as a webmaster, researcher and e-commerce marketer.

Here's what I found: On one hand, more people are looking for information about high sensitivity and HSPs than ever before-- a trend that has been in place for at least eight years. During the same period, search queries for both Social Anxiety and ADHD have actually declined somewhat, while search volume for INFJs and Introverts have both increased.

After finally examining the "raw numbers" of search queries for different terms, some of the issue became clearer: In spite of being in the public awareness since 1996, there just aren't that many of the world's billion+ HSPs who know the trait even exists. And those who do know? They generally avoid talking about it... like it's a "secret" attribute.

That also gave me pause for thought. People seem more willing to be open about having a sexually transmitted disease than about being highly sensitive??? That just does not make sense, when you back away and consider it in a "big picture" sense....

Getting a little more "personal" with what I discovered, a very rough estimate would suggest that maybe two percent of the 47 million HSPs in the US are even aware they are "HSPs." Of those two percent, I expect a majority are very hesitant about letting anyone "know" about it.

But that's not all the explanation. More can be found in the phrase "non-participation." As keeper of several dozen web sites, blogs and forums I get to look at a lot of site visitor logs. Ironically, my HSP related properties (as opposed to "business" or "writing" or "stamp collecting") are some of the most visited, while at the same time being the least interactive.

I recently experimented a bit with this by installing a couple of totally anonymous interactive polls on a couple of HSP-related articles I have online. Sure enough, as long as anonymity was assured, participation shot up... with something like one-in-three visitors answering a couple of questions where before one-in-about-500 had chosen to make even a short comment, or click the Facebook "like" button.

What does this all mean to us, as highly sensitive people; as a growing global "community?"

From 15-odd years of following the dialogue and trends of HSP forums around the world, one of our overriding core concerns is having those around us recognize that we're "not crazy," and that our sensitivity is "not all in our heads." Ideally we'd like to be able to say "I'm an HSP" and not have the ensuing explanation turn into someone rolling their eyes at us.

Basically, we want to "be seen" as highly sensitive individuals, without negative judgments or cultural biases. We want our medical and mental health professionals to be aware of-- and acknowledge-- the trait, so we can get care that fits our sensitive nervous systems, rather than ignores them. We don't ask for "special treatment," just validation.

These are reasonable and honorable aspirations.

But... to be perfectly blunt... how the HELL do we expect that to happen if we're constantly "hiding" the fact that we're highly sensitive? How can things possibly change if we're not telling anyone, and not becoming members of-- and active participants in-- virtual and real life groups and communities??? How are the 46 million HSPs in the US who don't know about the trait ever going to escape from being misdiagnosed and drugged into oblivion for an ever-increasing basket of "disorders" and "syndromes" when we're not willing to be "visible examples" to them? How are they going to get off the "pathologization treadmill" and live fulfilling lives that are true representations of their essential selves... if we're going to persist in hiding our sensitive "lights" under a bushel?

Yes, the world is sometimes a harsh and scary place for the highly sensitive among us. And yes, it hurts when people judge us and marginalize us. But how can we expect things to "change" as long as we approach sensitivity with more secrecy and reluctance than social anxiety and even warts on our privates? How will things ever change, if we're not willing to STAND UP AND BE COUNTED??



Talk Back! Do you feel free to share (if asked) that you're highly sensitive, or do you have fears about others knowing you are an HSP? If you step back and take an objective look, are there "personal" things you share that are probably "worse" than being highly sensitive, yet seem easier to talk about? If you don't share the trait (especially if asked something like "what's wrong?"), what is your primary concern about sharing? Please share your experience and leave a comment!

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Nuts and Bolts of being a Highly Sensitive Person

I haven't been writing much, as of late.

Well, that's not entirely true. I've actually been writing quite a lot... I just haven't been writing a lot of blog posts. Instead, I have been writing some "guest gigs" elsewhere, and I have been working on free-standing articles for various publications and web sites... things that are generally a little too deep and "involved" to fit into a blog post.

It's funny how our choices and actions in life sometimes are among our best "teachers" of what is important to us. I always knew that I wanted to write... but "just writing" was an obstacle for many years in the sense that I wasn't always very good about coming up with "something" to write about. I had no particular expertise or "niche focus," and my skills at writing fiction were a bit dodgy because I fairly broadly sucked in the area of character development. I could write dialogue, I could write descriptive prose, and I could "get from point A, to point B" with some skill. However, the people in my stories were rarely "interesting." In fact, they were mostly mousy, flat and two-dimensional... perhaps a reflection of the fact that I generally steered a wide course around "risky," "dangerous" and "psychotic" people.

Anyway, I never imagined that "being a Highly Sensitive Person" would find a place as the cornerstone that inspires much of my writing.

Most recently, what I have been working on is a fairly thorough article/web page to serve as a broad-based information resource for HSPs. My challenge was to create something that would not only offer a lot of information-- in ONE place-- to someone who had just discovered that they are highly sensitive, but also be useful to those who have been "on the path" for a while and want to learn more. Last-- but certainly not least-- I wanted to come up with something that might be "a useful link" people could send NON-HSP friends and acquaintances to, to tell them a little more about being an HSP.

So, I have created a page called "The Highly Sensitive Person or HSP: What Exactly IS that?" which I'd like to invite you to have a look at... let me know what you think-- either in comments here, or in comments at the end of the article. Don't worry, you won't be asked to pay anything, or become a "member" of something!

Someone on one of the HSP forums recently asked me if I ever write about things that are NOT about HSPs. And the answer to that is "yes," I definitely do. Sometimes I write about writing; sometimes I write about things I feel passionate about, or have expertise with. Sometimes I write about topics related to my various forms of work... and sometimes I write about running a business from home. It all depends.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Love of Silence

I'm not sure whether it's entirely "an HSP Thing" but I love silence. I mean that not only in the sense that we HSPs all need our regular "quiet time" in order to function well in life... I meant that I just like silence.

There are few things I find more soothing than sitting someplace where the only thing I hear is the breeze, or the sound of raindrops, or one of my cats purring.

We live in a super noisy world. Not only is it eternally noisy with the sound of commerce and "busy-ness," it's noisy with the "sound" of people's chattering psychic energies. It may be perfectly "silent" somewhere, but many of us can still "hear" the sound of people's anxious and nervous energy.

It's surprisingly different to find true silence, in today's world. We live in a small town, over an hour from the nearest metropolitan area. I can usually find a semblance of silence on one of our local beaches. And even then, it's only because I walk several miles down a beach that has no land access... so very few people bother to go there. But I can find silence, looking out across the water, across the straits towards the islands, with Canada in the distance. Sure, ships pass by, but they are so far out in the ship channel that I am barely aware of them.

When I was a kid, being "home alone" was actually one of my favorite things. Because the house would be quiet... and I could lie on the floor and listen to the sound of... almost nothing. We lived far enough down a quiet neighborhood street-- and at the end of a cul-de-sac-- so there was almost no sound of passing cars.

Somehow, I felt comforted by being alone with little more than my breathing. Silence afforded me a sense of... privacy. A sense that the world was-- at least for the moment-- not going to come and "make demands" of me.

Even when I was a teenager, I was never "one of those" who would use my parents not being home as an excuse to blast the stereo. In fact, I can say that I never went through a "blast the stereo phase," in my life. Not saying that's a "good" or "bad" thing... just that it's my thing.



Talk Back! What's YOUR relationship with silence? Do you love silence, or does complete stillness make you antsy?

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

HSPs & Overstimulation: Do your choices support a balanced life?

From time to time I like to check in with the online bookstores (Amazon, etc.) to see if there are any new books on the market about high sensitivity, Sensory Processing Sensitivity or other closely related subjects.

As I perused a few titles I hadn't come across before, I started noticing how many new books are made for Kindle (or other tablet readers), and how an increasing number are "Kindle ONLY."

Personally, I like books. Books made of paper, that is. It's not that I am a Luddite, or "technology phobic"-- I'm actually surrounded by a sea of recent technological innovation-- it's just the old fashioned books are "low tech," which also means they are "low stimulation," at least for me.

A book is... just a book. It can't "access the Internet," it can't suddenly "update itself" and it doesn't have a built-in dictionary or 47 different display options. A book isn't suddenly going to let me know (as some readers and tablets can) that I have an incoming phone call, or new email. A book doesn't come with any concerns that its battery is running low. With a book, I don't have to think about anything but "words on a page," and there are no "tempting sidetracks" to distract me... which, for someone with ADD-ish tendencies and a general propensity for simply being interested in lots of things, are features I'd just as well keep to a minimum.

As I said, I'm not a Luddite and I really like new technology... but I am also someone who remains constantly conscious of the "small trickles of stuff" in life that contribute-- when all added together-- to that this we HSPs know as "overstimulation" of basically getting overwhelmed by our environment.

Which got me to thinking about whether-- and to what degree-- HSPs really do make choices in support of "slowing down" and managing stimulation... or are (like most people) doing the many things that surround us, all of which are designed to "speed life up."

Normally we think of events that cause overstimulation as "big" things like traveling to a family gathering, planning someone's birthday party or spending an entire day at the mall. But are you aware of all the little things in your daily life? These are things we don't so often think about because they really don't cause overstimulation... they merely make a "small contribution" towards it, when added to a bunch of other "small contributions." Many are so subtle we don't even think about them...

Like reading books on an electronic device with "other feaures" than just the book. Or trying to catch up with the TV news while on a treadmill or exercise machine. There are lots of others... rather than list them, I ask you to consider taking a few minutes to sit down and think about where they are, in your life. You might be surprised.
Anyway, since this post is partly about books, I'd like to give a shout-out to Dr. Ted Zeff who has a new book out entitled "Raise an Emotionally Healthy Boy: Save Your Son From the Violent Boy Culture."

There has been a recent increase in the general "visibility" of highly sensitive men, as more and more are stepping forward and talking about their experiences with being male and highly sensitive-- a combination that's often "frowned upon" in our "tough guy" culture.

Although this book isn't specifically about HSPs, it is highly relevant for HSPs... and is basically an extension of Zeff recent research and focus on highly sensitive males. If you have a son who is-- or whom you suspect might be-- an HSP, do consider getting your hands on this book!
Anyway, I hope this might inspire you to take a moment to consider your daily choices, and whether or not they support keeping your energies well balanced.


Talk Back! Do you make an active effort to consider whether or not your daily choices help "manage" the stimulation level in your life... or do you just allow things to "unfold as they will" and hope for the best? Are there things you know you ought to change, because you'll feel calmer if you do? Please share your experience and leave a comment!

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Saturday, February 02, 2013

Childhood Memory: A Highly Sensitive Boy's Relationship with "Excitement"

From time to time I get asked if I ever write "anything personal" on these pages.

"You know, like a memoir, or something that happened to you," they then add... perhaps since pretty much everything I write here is "personal." I did actually start in on some more "personal" stories a couple of years ago... and, in all fairness, my post "Perceptions and Reality: Childhood, Part I" was about my early life. I intended to write a series of such articles, but got bogged down after thinking it was a little too self-indulgent.

The other day I was reading an article about having the right amount of "excitement" in my life, which led me to another article about the issues of "boredom" which got me to thinking about my own life and reminiscing about myself as a boy and youth... and who this highly sensitive youth really was.

One of the things I realized was that one of the ways I always seemed like an oddball among my peers was that I really was never interested in doing "exciting" things. And that was true of me, from a very young age. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that "exciting things" simply didn't feel "exciting" to me; I didn't want to be any part of them, I wanted to do "safe and comforting" things. Or maybe it was more a case of the feeling we call "exciting" not actually feeling good/positive the way it does for many people.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that I didn't want to "do" things-- I just found almost all forms of (what I perceived to be) "risky" behavior to be stupid. I don't have all that many memories from being six or younger, but I do remember that I would almost always engage in "critical analysis" of things, back then. If someone said "let go do 'something'," I would  not only want to feel assured that this "something" have a high likelihood of a pleasant outcome, but I wanted to feel confident that any "collateral damage" resulting from the possibility of failure was minimal.

That's "fancy speak" for not engaging in risky things, and not being impulsive.

So when some of the other neighborhood kids would come along and say "let's jump over the fence, steal some apples and beat on the window so the neighbor's dog starts barking, and then run away really fast!" I was never onboard with it. And even if I hesitantly agreed to go along, I'd be so beset by anxiety that I had no possibility of enjoying the experience. All I could "see" was the potential trouble at the other end... there would be the neighbor's anger at us, then the phone call to my parents, followed by a lecture from my mom, then a different kind of lecture from my dad.

My mother's primary form of punishment was that she would sit me down and spend about an hour (at least that's what it felt like!) lecturing me about what it meant to be "good" and "obedient," and what shame I was bringing on the family with my actions, and how I must be ashamed of my ways... and she had a manner of forcing me to sit through an age of droning on about the same thing said 30 different ways. There were no beatings, no "time out," no grounding... just my mother talking, and asking sharp questions about once a minute-- which I'd better have the answer to-- or the lecture would just be prolonged because I "hadn't been paying attention."

Once my mom was done with me, odds were I'd be handed off to my father. His lecturing style was a bit more direct and threatening. His favorite thing to point out was that "parents of boys who disobey them end up with little choice but to call the police and have said disobedient little boys put in jail where they belong and can only have bread and water until they come to realize that they should behave properly." It was a fairly effective punishment tool-- the idea of going to prison scared me, and it really didn't occur to me that it was "a story" he told... till I was almost in my teens.

Yes, I was extremely gullible, as a child. In many ways, I still am.

Anyway, I literally did think like this, as a small boy and teenager, and my "risk-reward analyses" never came out in favor of "excitement." It's a way of thinking that has never left me. Some thirty years later, I learned about High Sensitivity... and deeply related to something Elaine Aron once said about HSPs being like the "cautious deer" observed among wild deer populations.

Of course, I didn't just think this way about "illicit" excitement-- I also thought this way about "endorsed" excitement, from riding rollercoasters to jumping in the water from a high springboard. If it looked like it could "go wrong" or "be painful" I wanted no part of it. I was never a candidate for "Stupid Human Tricks."

I have often been told that my reticence is fear-based. Whereas there might be a slight truth to that, there's more at play here. So-called exciting activities don't feel good. I feel "jangled" for an extremely long time, afterwards. Shaky, out of sorts. Like the shot of adrenaline we get in response to an "exciting event" stays with me for many hours, where it dissipates in minutes for most people. It's not a "good feeling" when I'm still "jittery" from the "thrill" of riding the rollercoaster... six hours "after the fact." Giving rise to the question of whether my avoidance of "excitement" is genuinely fear, or merely reasonable life management....

But here's an odd thing, as I wind this up: At the same time as being excitement avoidant, I was always very open to doing things that most others-- including my childhood peers-- rejected because they were "extremely/too difficult." From an early age, I excelled at accomplishing things many wouldn't even attempt, let alone succeed at. Need a giant tree cut down, and all you have is a steak knife? Give it to me, I'll get it done. Car has broken down at the summer cabin and someone needs to ride twenty miles on their bicycle to the store for milk and bread, and then twenty miles back? No problem, I'll go.

This strange marriage of extreme caution and extreme stick-to-it-iveness defined me until I became an adult... and remains with me, although in a milder form than 30+ years ago.

A past therapist once psychoanalyzed this as being a reflection of my self-perceived shortcomings at "outwitting" people made up for by "outlasting" them, instead.

Not sure I buy that. But it sounded plausible, at the time...

In retrospect, I feel increasingly sure that my pervasive childhood and teenage nickname "grandpa" was more earned as a result of my retiring nature and careful approach to life than from my mother's penchant for dressing her young son in clothes befitting a 60-year old. I used to blame being treated as a "weirdo" and "misfit" on my "grandpa pants" but I'm not so sure, anymore...

Caution and risk aversion is-- of course-- not in the nature of all HSPs, nor is a tightly controlled impulsivity. However, my years of introspection and self-inquiry tell me that in my case, it's more a reflection of my HSP nature, as opposed to "learned fears." Even when I was an infant in my crib, I had little interest in bright shiny objects, "noisemakers" and general interaction. From the anecdotal evidence I've gathered over the years, it wasn't that I was afraid, just that I seemed not interested.

That's my story, and I am sticking to it!


Talk Back! What was your relationship with "excitement," as a kid and youngster? How is it, today? Have you-- and do you-- generally have a different perception than other people as to what "excitement" feels like? Do you consider yourself risk-averse? Share your experience-- leave a comment!

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