Saturday, July 28, 2007

HSP Gathering in Estes Park, Colorado, October 4-8, 2007

I am writing this post to share information about the next HSP Gathering, which will take place in Estes Park, Colorado, from October 4th-8th, 2007... and to encourage all who read this to seriously consider attending a Gathering.

This is the first Gathering (13th overall, since 2001) to be held in a location not on the west or east coast, offering more ready access for people all over the country. Also, with Denver being the "central hub" of most US air travel, this is an attractive location from the perspective of inexpensive air fare. And if you need a different sort of "excuse," Colorado is REALLY beautiful in the fall, when the leaves are turning.

Registration for the Colorado Gathering is now open, and the sooner you sign up the lower the conference fee will be. I know it's in the nature of HSPs to "pause and reflect," but please do register as soon as you can, as it will keep your cost lower... eventually, registration may reach an "as available" stage, if you wait too long.

I cannot overstate the "value" of going to a Gathering. I say this from the perspective of what I have personally gained from going to many Gatherings... as well as from the perspective of watching 100s of HSPs undergo major life transformations as a result of going. We may be able to intellectually grasp the idea that we're "OK," but there is no substitute fot actually feeling that, through direct experience.

Gatherings are about learning, about going on a retreat, and about fellowship with other HSPs. We spend Thursday through Monday together, engaged in a mixture of workshops, social time, and just "quiet time" to reflect on the ongoing experience. The atmosphere is casual, never stressful.

You might say "yeah, but it's just too expensive!" I'll save the long-winded explanation that it's actually a lot LESS than your typical 5-day self-growth workshop-- in fact, you'd spend twice the amount it costs to go to a Gathering, to go to a weekend workshop with Elaine Aron at a retreat center like Esalen, Omega or Kripalu. Instead, I'll just say that I feel fairly confident in stating that it will probably be the best money you'll ever spend in helping yourself understand the HSP trait, and in feeling validated as an HSP. There's a good reason why people keep returning to these events, year after year.

You might say "yeah, but it's a GROUP!" True. It is. But I can also assure you that a group of HSPs is like NO other group you'll ever be part of. The level of emotional safety and inclusion is-- literally-- "mind altering" for people... I have watched even the most retiring and introverted of HSPs virtually "become extraverts," in a matter of 48 hours.

You might say "yeah, but I am too much of a misfit, even for a group of HSPs!" If you are skeptical, or want to get a better sense of how a Gathering really works, I encourage you to read Gathering attendee Marcia Norris' words on "Why HSPs Need To Gather" from 2002 or read my own photojournal from the first Gathering I went to, in California. Again, I can only say that I have personally watched people's perspective change from a sense of "I am a misfit" to having made a dozen genuine friendships, in a matter of days. To loosely paraphrase one attendee of several Gatherings: "It is amazing to come here and feel more welcome and included by a bunch of strangers than I feel with people who have been my family for over 50 years."

I couldn't agree more.

Gathering registration forms are now available (as a pdf download) on organizer Jacquelyn Strickland's web site. You're also welcome to email me with questions about Gatherings, or leave a comment!

Monday, July 16, 2007

HSPs and the struggle with Friendships

I have generally stuggled with relationship/friendship dynamics for most of my life. Of course, until I learned about the HSP trait, I pretty much believed that I "should" be able to make friend with almost anyone... and it was a puzzle to me why it always seemed so difficult, and why so many friendships I formed seemed to quickly go away.

On a very general level, it seems to me that HSPs and non-HSPs often "interpret" the same situation quite differently... and there are communication issues, even when both people have only the best of intentions. And given that there are few HSPs in the world, it generally holds true that most people we meet with will not be HSPs.

Whereas I used to have trouble even making friends (but that was on account of social anxiety, not because I'm an HSP), I now make friends rather easily. However, keeping them is rather a challenge, at least when it comes to mon-HSPs.

One observation I have-- which I have explored in some depth with an HSP "internet pen pal"-- is that I believe a lot of people are initially attracted to the depth and intensity of HSPs; but while we (well, at least I speak for myself) want that intensity to continue, for other people it's like "the novelty wears off" and they want to return to the more superficial way of living they consider their "normal." Actually, it feels like they just get tired of the intensity, and want me to "lighten up." It sort of reminds me of a saying my former therapist liked to trot out: "Opposites attract, but they don't necessarily make good bed-fellows."

Most HSPs I meet seem to be very good listeners, combined with a natural tendency towards compassion and empathy. How often have you-- as an HSP-- been told you are "really easy to talk to?" HSPs also seem to have "soft" personal boundaries.... which (at least for me) seems to combine to create this dynamic in which I feel like I gradually become someone's "therapist" rather than their friend. I grant you, I am naturally predisposed to helping those with "broken wings," so I am sure that has influenced my choices. And I know that part of friendship is about sharing "troubles," but it ends up feeling like "one-way traffic," and I find myself pondering "does everyone have this much chaos and drama in their life?" And I am sure the fact that I don't tend to say things like "take your crap and drama to someone else" (which I understand "normal" people do quite readily) also plays into the picture.

I recently realized that during the past 10 years-- about as long as I have known about the HSP trait-- virtually all the new friends I have made have been fellow HSPs. Now, that may sound a bit "exclusive," but the truth of the matter is that friends are like our chosen family. Whereas it may sound all nicely egalitarian and politically correct to choose "diversified" friends, the basic truth remains that we choose people to be with because we enjoy their company. And I happen to like the company of HSPs... and I highly recommend finding and making some HSP friends.

Maybe that sounds hard... but it needn't be. Most of my HSP friends started as friends in cyberspace that eventually turned into "real life" friends. Remember, you always have the right to make friends at a pace that "feels right" to you, and the relative slowness of the Internet often works well for HSPs.

Monday, July 09, 2007

HSPs, a Sense of Rightness and Fanaticism

I don't typically write "op-ed" pieces here, but this is a bit of an exception.

As keen observers and deep processors, it often strikes me that many HSPs have a deep sense of what is "right" in the context of social justice, and what seems "right" in the world. We don't like to see people wronged, and it affects us very strongly when we see (or experience) something unjust. It is likely that a lot of HSPs can be found in non-profit organizations that focus on the protection of rights-- of individuals, victims, animals, and so forth.

In most cases, when a belief (even with good intent) is taken to the extreme, a line is crossed from rightenousness to fanaticism. In the case of HSPs, this can take on an interesting character, because most HSPs operate under a profound attachment to the idea that they are "nice people." Being a "nice person," then, ends up running head first into the contrary view that someone has become a raging fanatic.

What prompted this post was my reflecting, this morning, on a few HSPs I have known who vanished from my life at various times. Most, I knew through an online forum for HSPs, and I was reminded of them by a recent discussion on the topic "Whatever happened to?"

I considered these people friends to various degrees... and yet, they also had an unhealthy fanaticism about them; an obsession with their beliefs that precluded the ablity to empathize with anyone who did not see their point of view as "the only way things should be." And they disappeared because they felt like my failing to agree with their point of view was a "betrayal." Metaphorically speaking, they might have been crusading for something like the freedom for people to randomly yell "FIRE!" in a crowded movie theater, because it represents "freedom of speech." And then... condemn anyone who didn't agree that such a motivation was "wonderful." Or stand in the middle of a busy street and scream in outrage because cars honk their horns as they swerve to miss them.

In my opinion, a person does not become exempt from being responsible for sociopathic and antisocial behavior, just because they happen to be "Highly Sensitive." And whereas it is noble to crusade for the rights of a victimized minority... gaining those rights for a handful, to the detriment of a large majority, is ultimately indistinguishable from the atmosphere that created the victims, in the first place... the focus is on "winners" and "losers," rather than "solutions."

In a sense, it reminds me of insurgents in so-called "Banana Republics." The rebellion leaders are brilliant at overthrowing the "evil government," but have NO idea about how to run a country once the old regime has been unseated. In a sense, they are "professional complainers," but not "world changers."

The true "Social Justice HSP" is about a lot more than merely stirring the pot... that person is creating a viable alternative, and rallying support around it, making the old paradigm obsolete. And shouting "fire" in a crowded movie theater isn't going to cut it.

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