Monday, June 25, 2007

Lifelessons: A Whack Upside the Head

"Teachers" and "learning" take many different shapes. We're quite used to school settings and universities; some of us also see learning on a more personal level-- we attend workshops, read self-help books, and "study ourselves" in an effort to find meaning in our lives.

As adults-- especially when we embark on a journey that's fairly spiritual in nature-- we like to think of learning as "pleasant" and "insightful." Similarly, we like to think of our teachers as "kind" and "supportive." And yet...

... often the most meaningful lessons come in the form of our coming face-to-face with something we'd really rather not know about ourselves, or something we've been "pretending doesn't exist."

HSPs, for example, are often very attached to the idea of being "nice people." I believe many of us are, and there's nothing wrong with being nice, as long as it comes from an authentic and compassionate place. However, "cultivating" niceness, and subsequently burying authentic expression in its service tends to do more harm than good. In many years of observing myself, as well as other HSPs, there seems to be no place with more pitfalls than our often "dubious" relationship with anger.

Anger is a legitimate emotion, and often a very productive one, if understood and espressed in a healthy manner. Anger (usually) tells us that a boundary (whether we're actively aware of it, or not) has been broken... and serves as a "warning system" that something isn't how we want it to be. And yet-- for many of us-- the warning bells are ignored, because we want to remain "a nice person, and nice people don't get angry."

It took me a great many years to first recognize, and subsequently heal, my "relationship" with anger. I used to (with some pride, I might add!) declare that I didn't get angry. And to the casual observer, it probably looked like I was speaking the truth. But fellow empaths could always sense "the poison within," and would call me on it. Which-- ironically-- was one of the very few things that would make me feel anger... someone telling me I felt anger, when I was deeply attached to non-anger.

Dealing with my anger-avoidance took years of personal work. Central to "breaking through" was the understanding that my anger-avoidance stemmed from growing up with a rage-aholic father... and (mis)interpreting his random rages, thrown objects, screaming, cursing and resultant inability to make and keep friendships as a "global" definition of "what anger looks like." I categorically rejected his model... but had no model for "alternative" expression.

Coming face-to-face with many years of repressed anger was definitely NOT something I wanted to experience. It was an unwanted whack upside the head. And the therapist who "got through" to me, was a Teacher who told me something I didn't want to hear.

Another "Swampy" area for many HSPs on the learning path is selfishness and manipulation. Rarely do more hackles go up than when someone suggests an HSP is "selfish and manipulative." Again, this tends to play directly to our attachment to being "nice people," and "nice people" are NOT selfish and manipulative.

Unlike anger (which tends to be openly visible), this area is often fuzzy and ill-defined. But because we tend to be deeply empathic and "feel" the energy and emotions of others, it is often just a short step to "using" this information to get what we want. And it tends to be a sub- or unconscious process. We think we are being "selfless" and "helpful" to someone, and yet we end up raining on their parade through subtly insisting on the "how" and "when" of being helpful to others. Because-- by gum-- "we know better" than they do. Similarly, we often subtly manipulate groups through a process of publically attaching "non-importance" to our needs. A reluctant "I can go in spite of my sensitivities" is really an indirect invitation to others to put our needs before theirs. Not a popular view, of course. But when someone gently points out to us that we're "using" sensitivity to manipulate situations... a good "whack upside the head."

Which brings me full circle on the whole idea of Teachers, learning, and being an HSP. As HSPs we often have certain learning challenges that feel like they are compounded by lifetimes of feeling "unseen" and "unheard." Because of this "invisibility" we sometimes get trapped in patterns where we expect our teachers to "validate" us more than is really reasonable. When that happens, we're not really learning, we're asking someone to validate our dysfunctions, when we ask for support.

True support isn't having "emotional yes-men/women" around us... it is having someone who supports our efforts at growth, while remaining willing to share what they see.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

In review: 2007 California HSP Gathering

It felt like a bit of a homecoming to return to Walker Creek Ranch in Marin County for the 2007 West Coast HSP Gathering. WCR is one of my favorite spots in the world, and it was also the venue of the very first HSP Gathering, as well as the location for the first Gathering I personally attended.
View of Turtle Pond at Walker Creek Ranch
This was the 12th Gathering; the 5th at Walker Creek Ranch. 26 HSPs from as far away as New Zealand attended, spending four days together. As always, it was a beautiful experience to see people from around the world come together, and realize that they had "found their tribe" after many years of feeling like "the odd one."

Every Gathering appears to have a particular "spirit;" the spirit of this event seemed to be "camraderie." More than any other Gathering I have been to, "socializing" took center stage, as normally retiring and private HSPs stayed up till 1:00-1:30 in the morning, talking in the common room, or around an impromptu campfire.

In addition to social time, there were a variety of workshops to choose from, culminating with Elaine Aron's "keynote presentation" on Saturday morning, followed by a book signing. Although not attending to give a workshop, Dr. Barrie Jaeger (author of "Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person") was also at the Gathering, and met informally with many gatherers to discuss HSPs and work.

As often is the case, the "closing circle" was the most emotionally charged time we had, as each person contemplated and shared what they hoped to take with them. Overwhelmingly, the answers tended towards the idea of "community," and "belonging" and a deep desire to stay connected with the beautiful people we had so quickly managed to connect so deeply with.


The idea of going to an HSP Gathering may seem unusual to many who read this. After all, it seems "unlikely" that an HSP would voluntarily travel across the country (stress) to be with a group (stress) of strangers (stress). All I can tell you-- as a result of experiencing many HSP Gatherings and workshops-- is that a group of HSPs is not like "a group" as you might be familiar with it. The energy is gentle and accepting; all the things you may have thought made you "odd" are suddenly OK, and probably shared by most present. I highly recommend going to gatherings, because they are-- quite simply-- life-changing events.

The next HSP Gathering will take place in Estes Park, CO on October 4-7th, 2007. For more information, and to register, please visit organizer Jacquelyn Strickland's web site.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

2007 California HSP Gathering

There are few things more healing and validating than spending time with other members of "Our Tribe."

"Tribes" typically form around a common interest, activity, or cause. It doesn't really matter what we might consider our tribe to be-- the common point is being among people who seem to "get it" in ways we don't experience in our daily lives.

In a few days, I am heading to Northern California for the 2007 West Coast HSP Gathering. Yes, HSPs have "Gatherings." This will be the 12th such event since 2001; the 4th I will have gone to. Past venues have included New England, B.C. Canada, Washington and the UK, in addition to multiple locations in California. A "Gathering" is basically four days of HSPs spending time together in workshops, meditation and general socializing with their peers.

The thought of voluntarily going and spending time with a group of relative strangers is daunting-- even scary-- to most people. However, I am really looking forward to the Gathering, because experience has shown me that the type of event I am going to-- even with 30 other people present-- will most likely represent the four most peaceful days of my year. I am also looking forward to meeting with HSP Authors Elaine Aron and Barrie Jaeger.

If you have ever thought about attending an HSP Gathering, I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

HSPs and Avoidance

I wonder sometimes, why so many HSPs-- and Sensitive-type people, in general-- so frequently become "avoidant." I don't speculate on this idly, because it has been true of my own past, as well.

Yes, on some intellectual level, I understand that HSPs are "hurt more deeply" when life gets rough, but in this particular case I am more referring to a different pattern I often observe.

Metaphorically speaking, the inner reasoning seems to go something like "I was badly hurt by event type A, therefore I will never attempt (completely different) event types B and C." Call it "non-parallel reasoning," if you will.

Being an HSP is an inborn trait. We can't make it "go away," so the only way to thrive in life is to understand the trait, and then-- armed with knowledge-- to strike out on a path that stays true to our essence and values. Hiding in a hole doesn't really use our potential. And we are not "owed" special treatment and concessions by others; the only "debt" we are owed is to treat ourselves with kindness that honors the trait.

Avoidance takes many shapes; wears many faces. On the simplest level, we may "wish" for something but say "I'll wait and let someone else do that, rather than take the initiative." It could be something as incredibly simple as avoiding posting an idea to a web discussion group, choosing to "wait for someone else" to do so, instead. More recently, I have had HSP acquaintances comment about my upcoming trip to the annual HSP Gathering in California with words like "I just couldn't do something like that, with a group-- but do let me know how it goes." The underlying fallacy is that the experience of being with a "group" of HSPs "must be" the same as a past negative experience with with a "group" of non-HSPs on a corporate team-building retreat.... because "that's how groups work."

The two, of course, bear little-- if any-- resemblance.

Whereas there may be exceptions, not much change comes out of waiting for someone else to "bring" us the life we want.

If we want change, we must be our own catalysts.

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