Saturday, December 28, 2002

Time Flies

It seems that I have "done it again."

I started a blog, but found myself unable to keep up with it. It's not really that I lost interest, because I am still participating in the HSP groups and other activities. But I just lost focus. And all of a sudden, the calendar changed from "before Thanksgiving" to "after Christmas."

And now it will soon be 2003.

I had intended to write at least one entry about HSPs and the Holidays-- since Holiday stress seems to be something many of us deal with. And not that successfully, when tense family dynamics come into play. But it has become too late for that.

I am not going to make any New Year's resolutions, because I don't need to build artificial reasons to beat myself up for failing to live up to my own expectations. In fact, I am not even going to resolve that I will "write regularly" on these pages. Instead, I am just going to acknowledge this as my last entry of the old year, and then wish the world a Happy New Year. Into the void. As if anyone besides myself ever reads this...

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Coping and Direction of energy

As much as I have studied people and personality.... there is one thing that often seems to hold true-- people fall into one of two "categories:" People who "move towards" and people who "move away from."

Often these are off-setting variants of seemingly identical behavior. For example, it's the difference between "moving away from pain" and "moving towards pleasure." The end result ("goal") appears the same (or very similar), but the underlying philosophy to reach the end goal differs. Some of it, I believe, has to do with whether we are driven by our fears, or by our desires. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, by any means-- but it seems we have a dominant function.

Thus people also have different approaches to coping with the challenges that go with being an HSP. The ultimate goal is "coping with being an HSP"-- but to "get there" might mean some kind of "fix" for one person, and simple "self-acceptance" for another. Nothing wrong with either method, as far as I can see.....

In my own case, the approach has changed over time. And much of it seems related to my sense of self-esteem, or self-worth. The lower my self-esteem, the more I tend to "move away from" things I don't want, while when my self-esteem is high, I move directly towards those things I do want.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

HSPs, Relocation, and the Power of Place

An HSP "Virtual Friend" recently asked me if I had much experience with major relocations, and with choosing a place by "intuitive feel," just because it seemed right. The discussion was interesting, so I'd like to share some of it here.

I have more experience in this area than I care to think about-- I don't know precisely how many times I have moved, but I have lived in 10+ countries on three continents; as well as several places in Texas; AZ, OR and WA. My guess is that I have moved (from locally to internationally) 30-40 times in my 42 years. My "overall" account name here on Blogger was established under the moniker "GlobalNomad," which should tell you a thing or two.

If there is any "wisdom" I have gathered from this nomadic lifestyle, it is that there is a huge difference between going to a place because you want to, purely for the sake of the place itself, and going to a place for the sake of another person, or because you "have to" (i.e. job move, family emergency move). Personally, I see the chance to freely sit down and choose "the perfect place" as a great-- and quite rare-- opportunity, rather than something to be feared. That's not to imply that a cross country move might not overwhelm, by the way.

If you have no major commitments-- job, family, dating, marriage, business-- you are actually at an ideal crossroads to decide "Where would I really LIKE to live?" Very few people ever have this chance. It is still scary (especially for an HSP) to consider a major move across the country-- but if you're "unencumbered" (so to speak) you have eliminated a great deal of the inner turmoil and stress that often goes with leaving a place behind.

The task, then, becomes the challenge of taking "inventory" of yourself in terms of what makes you like (and DISlike) any specific geographic location. You have to figure out what makes you happy. Is it nature? Is it city culture? Is it a certain climate? The quality of education (obviously relevant, if you're a parent)? Cost of living? The arts? Do you like being near mountains, or the ocean? A certain lifestyle? Do you need public transit? Access to continuing education? Can you readily "replace" your current stress free job? Is your work experience specialized, requiring the presence of certain employers? There are any number of "if only I had this!" criteria that we build up in our minds, over the years-- and those would be what I would look at first.

Once you have a very clear idea of what is important to you-- then I'd suggest you start trying to match your desires to a place. Allow yourself plenty of time to figure out the pluses and minuses of different locations.... alas, I have heard too many sad stories on people who moved to a new city on a whim... because they had seen a cool program on the Travel Channel, or had visited once for a 5-day vacation... and used that as the only thing to go on. Also, be open to the idea that your current "home" may actually be the best location for you. However, if you're feeling restless and rootless, that's somewhat unlikely.

Ultimately, you have to go visit the place you're contemplating. Take your vacation there, but don't be a tourist. Go be a "local." Book yourself into an "extended stay hotel" with a kitchen. Make yourself go to the grocery, the bank and other stuff you do on a daily basis. Drive through neighborhoods to get a feel for them. Listen to your intuition. Does the place "feel" right, to you?

Listening to your inner wisdom is also important when it comes to your overall decision for moving-- at least in terms of trying to figure out the true nature of your "restlessness." If the desire to move is inspired by a feeling of wanting to "run away from being by myself," you may want to examine that, as well. And I'm not saying that it IS, by any means-- just understand your own motivations for wanting to move.

A change of location affords us a "clean slate" in some ways-- it's an opportunity to start again, in a place where nobody has any preconceived notions about who we are, and what we do. As such-- scary moments aside-- it can be very cathartic. Although I am "deeply HSP" in many respects, the idea of packing my stuff and moving cross country does not scare me... except as a concern about choosing the wrong place.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Work, Money and HSPs

There seems to be a trend (in terms of work) that plagues many HSP-- that of being "chronically underemployed." In the HSP Workbook, Elaine Aron mentions the fact that HSPs often gravitate towards fields/careers that are uncommonly poorly compensated-- such as art, writing, music, library science, etc. I know that I certainly fit into one of those categories (or several). Whenever I haven't labored in retail (well-compensated, I grant you, when I was a business owner), I have always "known" that I wanted to be a writer. Yet, I have never been able to earn much of a living wage from writing-- except when "selling out" to be a technical writer for hire.

At the same time, there is much "wisdom" out there, to the effect of "Do what you love, the money will follow." I am just wondering if we-- as HSPs-- have greater difficulty getting "the money to follow" than the rest of the world, given the particular kinds of things we "love?" And because we so often gravitate towards work that doesn't pay a whole lot-- we have very little to "fall back on" while trying to build up whatever vocation is our dream; our calling.

As an example, I used to run the aforementioned business-- which fit my personality very poorly. Lots of stress and anxiety, felt like a misfit, but I was very well paid. Now I am a writer, which I love. However, I have traded the stress of constant cacophony and "go! go! GO!" for the stress of not knowing how I'll pay for next month's rent. It is still stress.

My answer is increasingly becoming one that I notice other HSPs follow: Simplification. A smaller, less expensive lifestyle that is sustainable at the income level generated by whatever professions allow us to follow our bliss.

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Friends, Chaos and Detachment

The new telephone directory arrived a few days ago. Whenever it arrives, I have this old habit of going through and finding friends and acquaintances; looking for people I've lost touch with, and so forth. I noticed this year that everyone has "gone." Almost everyone, anyway.

And then I got to thinking about who these people were, and what kinds of relationships we had. And why they ended, so easily, just sliding away into a state of neglect. As a result of this little exercise in analysis, I also came to the very difficult (or uncomfortable) conclusion that-- in many cases-- I "owned" part of the problem.

I deluded myself that these people were "friends," but really... they were there because they could "get" something from me, a "feed" of sorts, and when that "feed" stopped, so did their interest. I realize that I tend to come across as someone who has "the answers" and others often operate under the perception that I have my life together. Which is simply not true-- but perceptions are often more important than facts.

I don't want this to sound harsh, and it certainly doesn't make it EASIER to cope with losing someone.... but it really isn't "friendship" when people are just interested in me because I am "useful" to them. In my case, that "use" has often been my ability to act as a "guide" or "ship's counselor." Sometimes the use has been more practical-- often in a monetary sense. I can't deny that friendship certainly involves the process of "helping" a friend, but when the friendship is defined by my giving help-- it quickly becomes usuary. And in looking at this stuff, I have also come to realize that I have personally grown in a direction that makes the original "connection" with those people less relevant than it used to be.

A "real" friend recently sent me this web page link:

and I found it to be interestingly timely, mostly in the way it served as a reminder of many of the co-dependency issues I visited in therapy, many years ago. My travels through the online HSP Communities suggest that this is an issue that's relevent to many HSPs.

As an aside, is an enormous site with almost endless linked pages that allow you to meander and evaluate some of your own issues and struggles in life, and it also offers many (often "tough love" oriented, I grant you) solutions. Every underlined word is a link to yet another issue and level of "granularity." Many HSPs might find something useful there-- I know I certainly have.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

When Inner Wisdom meets Busy-ness

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Highly Sensitive Men: The Hidden HSPs

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Sometimes you just need to get help....

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Thoughts on finding your true self....

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

I regularly see buzzwords and sound bite phrases from culture:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so on, and so forth.

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

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

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Some days.... Musings on the HSP trait

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

I continue to struggle with the way I view this whole concept of being a "Highly Sensitive Person." I mean, I know that I have always been one, and I have had the concept-- sensitivity-- in my mind for several years. My trouble has to do with trying to separate "pathology" from "genetic trait." According to Dr. Aron, being an HSP is not a "condition," not a "personality disorder." Yet.... many traits that are identified with High Sensitivity, are also identified with a whole range of Psychological Pathologies. People who are NOT sensitive and NOT introverted (as most HSPs are) say "Oh, come on, this is just psychological bullshit created to make a group of social misfits feel better about themselves." And well they might-- since form their perspective, so many of the outward reflections of High Sensitivity overlap with well-documented psych issues. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Social Anxiety Disorder. Depression. ADHD. Avoidant Personality Disorder. I, too, find myself wondering if Dr. Aron is right. Her saving grace (for lack of a better expression) I suppose is that she considers "dysfunctionality" to be "dysfunctionality." Don't blame your depression on being HSP. Use your knowledge of being an HSP to make your life better, but don't use it as "the reason" why you can't cope with life. HSPs cope just as well with life as the rest of the world-- they just need a different set of coping skills.

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

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Starting down a new road

I have been part of the growing HSP "community" for several years now. Although I have little doubt that I "belong" to this community, I continue to think of myself as "The Accidental HSP." Of course, I'm not saying that there's anything "accidental" about my sensitivity, however, I did stumble into the concept of "HSPs" while in the process of studying and researching one of my long-time "pet projects:" Adult Giftedness. Although this site will often have sprinkles of information about giftedness, the main focus here will be on High Sensitivity.

So why this blog? Well, I already keep multiple web sites (a result of a syndrome known as "too many interests") and since this is mostly a writing exercise, I really have little interest in starting and maintaining yet another commercial website, just to post thoughts and musings. The good people at Blogger have made the process of keeping this type of "online journal" incredibly easy (commercial "plug" for which I receive no compensation) so I've chosen to use their templates, rather than code a whole new web site.

So what am I planning to do with this? Apart from being a personal writing exercise and informal "newsletter/journal," it's my intention to provide a "voice from real life" as an HSP. There's already a fair amount of information online, concerning the more "scientific" and "psychological" aspects of being a Highly Sensitive Person, but not nearly so much help, if you just want to read about some of the day-to-day trials and tribulations of an HSP. Also, much of the information available is pretty specific, and not drawn together with perspectives from other NON-HSP sources. Unfortunately, any group that spends a lot of time looking "inwards," tends to eventually isolate itself inside its self-definition. On this site, I will attempt to limit the "Us vs. Them" discourse, in favor of a more "globally inclusive" tone, and generally included content intended to help the HSP live an easier life in a world not designed for HSPs.

I am not sure how often I will write here, nor for how long I will do this. I spent some time considering whether or not my feelings would be hurt if nobody ever read this journal, but concluded that since I am writing it mostly for myself, having others read is a "bonus" rather than an "expectation." 

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