Wednesday, February 08, 2006

HSP Topics: Love, dating and finding "The One"

In my near-decade of knowing about the HSP trait, and HSPs, the issue of "love and mating" appears to be one that causes an especially large number of headaches and heartaches for Highly Sensitive People.

On the surface, this is perhaps not so surprising. Looking at it logically, HSPs tend to struggle immensely with feeling "accepted" in the world, and they often struggle with self-acceptance, as well. Hence it doesn't take a degree in rocket science to figure out that these difficulties would readily transfer to the process of "finding love," as well.

Elaine Aron and other "experts" on the HSP trait speculate that many HSPs tend to "fall into" relationships. There can be a variety of reasons for this, ranging from simply accepting a connection that feels "somewhat good" (because it feels so much "better" than what we're used to), to getting "pushed" into a relationship with someone who moves "quickly," while we HSPs like to take time to process and deliberate, before making a decision.

In one of the online HSP discussion groups, the issue of dating and mating recently seemed to approach "boiling point" when someone posted an article about a woman who was previously very selective, but made a conscious decision to say "yes" to every single man who asked her on a date. In the final outcome, she dated some 150 people, but did end up finding "The One," as a result of her change in approach.

Now, whether you subscribe to such a notion as a love relationship with a person who's "The One," or not, is an individual matter that's not for me to decide. I happen to be a hopeless idealist who does believe in such a thing, but that's neither here nor there. I think the general ideas here can be applied to pretty much any situation.

As I read the many opinions offered by dozens of HSPs, I started to think about some issues I have observed as "obstacles," both for myself and for others. I'd thought about these before, but only in a "separate" sort of way. Now I suddenly realized how interrelated they all were.

Many HSPs tend to fall into a (frequently unhealthy) pattern of "waiting for life to come TO them." For whatever reasons-- but often the desire to avoid pain-- we gravitate towards taking a rather "passive" role; in life, and in love as well. Hence the "falling into" relationships. After all, if you're going to "take" whatever life brings you, you'd better be prepared to accept "whatever" life throws your way. Even if it turns out to be rather less than we had hoped for.

Some years ago, a friend told me something she'd learned during a discussion at a self-growth workshop. Over lunch, they were talking about self-actualization, and finding peace, and finding Self. Somehow, the discussion turned to "partnering," and one of the Teachers pointed out something I found to be particularly insightful and relevant:

The more "aware" and self-actualized a person becomes, the fewer truly compatible potential partners exist-- that is, people who can "meet you" at the same level of awareness and mental health. Beyond that, the more "special" your set of "life traits" (for example, being an HSP, or being 6'9" tall, or in the top 1% of being "gifted") the more "specialized" your desired partner's traits becomes. And the more specialized the partner who finds your particular basket of traits attractive. In other words, your potential "pool" of mates goes from maybe 1-in-25 to 1-in-1000, or worse. Those are just arbitrary numbers, by the way, used for example's sake. But my point is, "extraordinary" people more often seem like they have "settled" in their relationships.

"Extraordinary" may seem like an uncommonly arrogant and self-important term for an HSP to use. But I don't mean it in a self-congratulatory or inflated way. After all, who benefits when someone with "uncommon" traits pretends to be "common?"

At a completely different workshop I went to, some years back, a different conversation about "mating" took place. Again it related to the process of healthy self-love, and "finding self," with the eventual point made that the "brighter your light," the more (generally unhealthy) people will be attracted to it, in order to feel illuminated by it. The less "healthy" a person is, the more likely they are to gravitate towards someone who has the characteristics they perceive to be lacking in themselves.

The "consequence," of course, being that self-aware people tend to get far greater exposure to others who want to be "with" them, and those others often have dubious qualities and questionable mental health. So now you may be asking "What does this have to do with being an HSP?" HSPs, being generally introspective and interested in self-development tend to be fairly self-aware people. This can set up an interesting (and very challenging) dynamic in which we are often "attractors" for those who have a load of "psychic baggage," but our kind natures and discomfort around rejection "pushes" us into situations that are not healthy for us.

Getting back to the woman who dated 150 men, I am not suggesting that this is necessarily an appropriate strategy for HSPs. What I am suggesting is that HSPs may have a more difficult time finding someone they "click" and, as such, we really need to be more willing to give ourselves "lots of exposure." Which may feel scary to most, since we tend to be rather private and reclusive people. I suppose the "bottom line" here, is that if you're looking for someone who's "one-in-a-million," you also have to be willing to take the steps and action to (potentially) expose yourself to a million people.

Then I realized that for any of this to "make sense," we have to start with self-love and self-acceptance. Several years ago, Elaine Aron gave a talk entitled "Healing ourselves so we can heal the world." The phrase has stuck with me, in the sense of how important it is that we look to ourselves first, to come to terms with what we want in life. Nobody is going to "ride in on a fine white charger" to rescue us from ourselves and solve our problems for us, especially our love problems.

Which brings me up to the present time, and to this morning, as I was reading a huge backlog of HSP group emails.

In reading the many words, I suddenly "touched" self-love. What I mean is, I felt it, rather than just being able to intellectually describe it. Self-love in its purest form, I realized, is what happens when you openly allow yourself to be "100% yourself," with yourself, and with another. It's not about looking in the mirror and repeating the mantra "I love myself," 100 times every morning. It's about simply accepting What Is; and if you find something you don't like, simply accepting it, saying "this doesn't feel right," and then taking a step towards something you do like.

And those "amazing" relationships we sometimes see, and wish we had.... I think they tend to be the product of two people-- in a state of self-love-- occupying the same space, while their states of being "100% themselves" happen to be exactly what "feels right" to the other.

Now, I can already hear the "Peanut Gallery" going; the words of "Yeah, like that's gonna happen!" raining down from the balcony. To which I reply "Certainly not if you're leaving your life up to random chance! And certainly not if you don't believe it is possible!"

I suppose it's not merely an issue for HSPs, but I believe we have to truly "know ourselves" before we can hope to know what it is we want in another. And the self-love I mentioned before, is largely a product of knowing ourselves, because until we truly know what "ourselves" means, we can't be ourselves. Alas, it's a step we often "conveniently" overlook, as we set forth in the world with great hopes that "the right person" will make our lives whole and perfect. Whereas I believe there may be a half-truth there, I also don't believe that perfection with another can exist till we have created it (to whatever degree possible) in ourselves.

Here's something I personally believe to be true. Regardless of whether you're looking for romance, work or happiness, everything you put out in the world is a "beacon" containing information about you. What you say, what you write, where you write it, what you wear, where you go. They work like a "universal energy signature," and others in the world "interact" with them, much as we might "interact" with the produce at the grocery store. Some we like, some we don't some we feel indifferent towards. In "combination" some might be horrible, and some might be nigh onto perfect. If you have few beacons, few people will find you. If you "edit" your beacons, you will send a false image, and draw people to something that isn't true. If you put your beacons in the "wrong" places, you will draw the wrong people. If your beacons are "non-specific," you will draw "no-one in particular."

Hence the importance of putting out the energy that we truly want to "represent" us. Which is only possible through knowing who we truly are, and accepting that "100% me."

One final observation concerns the issue of "adaptability." HSPs tend to be extremely "pliable," and almost "chameleon-like," often to our detriment. Because we often have histories of being thought of as "oddballs" and "a bit strange," many of us grow "adept at adapting," and becoming whatever it is that's needed in a given moment, in order for us to fit in. Maybe that's allright in small doses and to accomplish specific short-term objectives in the world. However, in partnering it has serious consequences, when we choose to "make ourselves compatible" with people with whom we are definitely not compatible. I know broader pop-psychology teaches that compromise is an important part of relationships. But, in my opinion, that can only be "healthily" applied to such things as "which movie we're watching," or "where we'll vacation this summer." It was never meant to mean compromising our core values and basic sense of self.

I once heard someone describe the "measure" of love this way: "Ask yourself, do I love myself more, when I am around this person?" Genuinely, on a deep core level. If you cannot authentically answer "yes," move along to the next person.

Of course, these are just my opinions. That doesn't mean they are "right" for anyone else....

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