Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Pervasiveness of Abuse: Denial of Voice

In one of the HSP groups on Yahoo, one conversation has recently been going on the topic of abuse-- most specifically, verbal and emotional abuse.

Based on talking to 100's (maybe 1000's?) of HSPs via email over the past decade, and from message boards and listservs and online communities, as well as from Gatherings and workshops... it seems to be a sad fact that an alarming number of HSPs end up being part of an emotionally/verbally abusive dynamic I can best describe as "denial of voice."

It may be that everyone who has something "a little different" about them (HSP or not) is subject to having their reality questioned by the mainstream, but with the typical HSPs' soft spoken and accommodating demeanor, they seem more likely to have their voice "walked on" by dominant (but usually insecure) personalities. In isolated incidents it might not really constitute "abuse," but as a pattern in primary relationships/friendships it quickly does cross over into abuse. Invalidating someone because you feel threatened by their not thinking like you is-- at the very LEAST-- a form of bullying. Bullying as a long term pattern is abusive.

I was raised with this pattern, and have become rather "intimately familiar" with it, as I worked through my large "valise" of old baggage. My typical memory of childhood would be making statements like "Mom, the label in my shirt is scratchy," and getting responses like "Oh, what absolute nonsense! You can't feel a thing;" or if I expressed sadness over some roadkilled animal at the side of the road my dad might say "Rubbish! People don't feel sad over such things." Quite literally, your voice is "denied." And in the process, you gain a feeling of being "defective." For me, it became my "truth" (false, rather than my Authentic Truth) as I reached adulthood that my feelings had "no value." Thus, I "learned" to not HAVE feelings.

Most people don't recognize this type of dynamic as "something" because it doesn't look abusive... there's no yelling, and to most people it just looks like "friendly bantering" between spouses/family members. In fact, most mental health professionals (except emotional abuse specialists) will semi-brush it aside and say stuff like "You just need some assertiveness training." Useful as that may be (and I certainly don't deny that it has its place), fighting fire with fire doesn't actually remove the fire. The situation is generally self-perpetuating, because the abuser paints themselves the "victim" of someone's hypersensitivity.

Abuse is wrong, no matter what form it takes.


  1. oooh this is all so true! if you grow up with someone constantly negating your feelings you end up as an adult thinking you aren't entitled to any and/or you constantly seek validation for what you do feel. very good post my friend!

  2. Nicely put, as usual.

    I, thankfully, did NOT have to put up with this much in my family (both parents were HSPs--without being aware of it as a concept)--and I think they intuitively knew how painful that kind of 'denial' would have been.


  3. This is my biggest struggle. I can recognize it now, but it is difficult to overcome. My children are also HSPs and, although they still deal with the challenges of being 'different', it is startling to me to see the ways in which they *don't* struggle - solely because they've not been continually invalidated for who they are and how they experience the world.

  4. This is a great article.

    I would also love to find out more about how different cultures are more intolerant of HSP's. I grew up and unfortunately still live in northern England. I have found it a real struggle to just survive in my everyday life . It is a predominantly aggressive working class culture and many seem to be almost repulsed by the traits that HSP'S have. In particular male hsp's like myself. I often find myself being the target of bullying and singled out because I’m 'too sensitive', 'too gentle', etc. I also grew up with a British Pakistani culture and that is also very intolerant of male hsp traits, In addition hsps growing up in deprived areas usually have more obstacles than affluent hsps.I would also love to find more material on the affects of physical and mental abuse on hsps .
    My only criticism of Elaine Aaron would be that she writes from a very affluent person’s perspective and doesn’t seem to include variants that hsps in different environments might go through. I read one of her articles on a seminar she did in northern Europe and Spain. Elaine mentioned allot of things she was experiencing e.g. expensive hotels, expensive food, etc. I can't remember the rest, but it was like something out of Harpers bazaar magazine. Anyway, would love to see more research done on the areas i mentioned.


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