Monday, September 22, 2008

The Pacific Northwest HSP Network

Part of the process of "connecting," as HSPs involves local involvement.

It's one thing to read a book, or read a blog like this one, or even join a worldwide web group for HSPs-- but to really get connected requires us to take steps on a local level; to discover and meet the other HSPs who live in our back yard.

Although general awareness of the HSP trait has grown tremendously over the past decade, there are still relatively few resources at the local/regional level.

The Pacific Northwest HSP Network is ONE attempt at bringing together HSPs in a geographical area. It was created as an online group for HSPs in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Idaho and Alaska, with the goal of being a regional "social network" for HSPs, as well as a "jump off point" for members to form local face-to-face groups.

Membership is "by approval," to maintain an "HSP safe" enviroment. Check out their web site and join, if you live in that part of the world!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

HSPs and the danger of Mind Reading

One of my teachers once said: "Our thoughts about a thing are usually far worse than the thing, itself."

HSPs tend to be deeply empathic people, and one of the aspects of the trait is that we are often able to sense the moods of others. For some, this empathy borders on what observers might call "psychic" abilities.

However, HSPs often get in trouble because we not only sense someone's general mood, we start "interpreting" what the mood "means," often using our intuition to try to build a "scenario" of what's going on. I call this "mind reading," and it can be a slippery slope to miscommunication and anxiety.

Let's say we're in a room with someone-- let's call him "Bob"-- participating in some kind of work project. And we pick up (quite accurately) that Bob is irritated or angry. So far, no problem. However, with our tendency to be aware of environmental subtleties and then to introspect and process deeply, we start fixating on that anger. Soon a little "chorus" starts up, inside our heads: "Bob is angry. I wonder why Bob is angry. What if Bob is angry because of something I did? Bob doesn't like the way I work! I'm working too slowly for his liking. I have to speed up. But then I'll get flustered, and Bob will get annoyed with me for making mistakes. Bob is angry because he HATES the way I work, and he HATES me!" At which point, we start responding to Bob's anger by becoming defensive... and we start to feel bad about ourselves.

Every found yourself "building" such a scenario, and working yourself into a state of overstimulated anxiety?

In actual fact, Bob is angry because he was in the manager's office 10 minutes before starting work with us, and was told he would have to cancel the long getaway weekend he'd planned to take with his wife because an unexpected project came up. Bob's anger-- which we sensed correctly-- actually had nothing to do with us.

As HSPs, we must be careful to not "mind read" and assign "meaning" to situations without having the relevant information on hand. A better approach to Bob's situation might have been to simply say that he seemed upset, and ask if he wanted to take a break, or if there was anything we could do to help. Often the answer will turn out to be much much simpler-- and far less dramatic-- than the scenarios we create inside our minds!


Talk Back: Have you ever worked youself into a state of anxiety as a result "mind reading?" Did the situation turn out to be far less severe than you'd originally thought? Leave a comment!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

HSPs and Choosing Positive Energy

Many Highly Sensitive Persons-- or so it seems-- struggle with their friendships and relationships, often feeling like there's an "imbalance of energy" going on. In many cases, our natural inclination is to be somewhat passive and compliant, and so we attribute the fact that certain (or many) people leave us exhausted to "being highly sensitive."

This isn't always the healthiest approach to the challenges being an HSP and interacting with people. Truth is, a lot of the time the "exhaustion" we feel after an interaction is less about us, than it is about the other person. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to be cognizant of the fact that we shouldn't automatically "assume responsibility" for the difficulties we experience with other people.

Whereas it may be true that disproportionately many HSPs have had "difficult" or abusive childhoods and/or relationships, and may have certain issues with codependency, I'm not really going to get into that. This post is more about self-awareness NOW, and how we need to look more closely at the people in our lives and recognize the relationships that give us energy, and those to take energy.

This "sorting" can be fairly simply done, merely by looking at how we feel about the prospect of spending time with someone we know. If we genuinely look forward to a contact with someone, odds are they are a "positive energy source." Of course, it's not always that obvious.

Maybe we know someone we always really look forward to seeing, and have a good time with, but end up exhausted at the end. But what is that particular exhaustion about? If' we're merely overstimulated because we always "do so much" with that person, they are not necessarily a "negative energy source." In such a case, it may truly be just a matter of our sensitive nature getting "too much of a good thing."

However, when we think about contact with a person, and are filled with resignation, hesitance, dread, discomfort, anxiety, nervousness or fear... odds are we've got someone who's a "negative energy sink" in our lives. In those cases, it usually pays to heed our intuition, because it's easy to rationalize our dis-ease as "just being too sensitive." And sometimes we can make very "reasonable" arguments with ourselves.

Maybe we rationalize that this person who always leaves us feeling drained is "going through hard times," and that he/she is justified in complaining about every single thing in their life. But if we dig a little deeper, we may be able to realize that this person has been "going through hard times" for 15 years, and we're just "in the habit" of putting up with their negative energy. Remember, someone who is constantly complaining about how bad they feel, or how hard their life is is... indirectly... "demanding" our empathy, and thereby tends to drain our energies.

When looking at our friendships and relationships, it also bears mentioning that even though we may have this idea that "HSPs are nice people," many HSPs can be "energy drainers" as well.

It's one thing to be "highly sensitive," but there are also people out there-- HSPs-- who could more appropriately be described as "highly touchy people." We tend to "cut them a lot of slack" because they are HSPs like ourselves, yet we also find ourselves feeling drained after being around them. Typically, we spend our time with them feeling like we're having to "walk on eggshells," and nothing we ever say seems to be "exactly right." Often, they seem to have very specific agendas for the "right" and "wrong" in their lives... right down to often "scripting" they howwant and need us to respond to their situations. The way we feel almost "forced" to respond in a particular way-- and NOT our "natural" way-- actually comes close to being a subtle form of bullying or emotional abuse.

Be very wary of language like "If you really cared, you'd find a way to change your schedule to have lunch with me."

People who engage in such behavior-- in spite of their possible insistences that they "want things to get better-- are often actually getting their needs served by remaining stuck; able to bully and manipulate others into validating their stuckness, and thereby avoiding the painful issues they need to address before they have any hope of moving on.

As HSPs, we sometimes need to pause and "take inventory" of the people in our lives. Sometimes this can be difficult, challenging and unpleasant, because we occasionally find ourselves face-to-face with the reality that the biggest drains of negative energy is someone very close to us, like a spouse or immediate family member. However, what ultimately helps us feel more alive and capable with our sensitivities is to direct our attention and energy onlt towards those things and people who GIVE us positive energy, while minimizing and/or avoiding those people or things that DRAIN us, with their negative energies.


Talk Back! When is the last time you took "inventory" of the people in your life? Are you aware of who is a "positive energy giver" and who is a "negative energy taker?" Are you aware of how each kind of person makes you feel? Are there people in your life you know are "energy sinks," but you have been avoiding facing the challenge of ending the relationship? How do you think you would feel, withOUT that person in your life? What, in particular, is holding you back, from addressing the situation? Leave a comment!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

New article on the importance of spreading HSP awareness

I have added another article to my online "library" of thoughts and observations about life and being an HSP.

This article focuses on the importance of "HSP awareness" and why it IS important that the world in general be made aware of the HSP trait.

You can read the article here:

HSP Topics: So WHAT if you're Sensitive? Why should it matter to you?

If you liked the article and/or got something useful from it, please help spread HSP awareness by clicking on the green "share it" link (immediately below the ad) and adding it to Digg or StumbleUpon!

Monday, August 18, 2008

East Coast HSP Gathering Registration Update

Just a very brief "news update" today, concerning the upcoming 2008 East Coast HSP Gathering in New York:

The "early bird registration discount" (which originally ended on August 2nd) has been extended until September 2nd, because a finalized agenda was not posted in time for people to look at, prior to registering.

So, if you've been "thinking about it" (as we HSPs are prone to do) you can still pay the lower registration fee-- but don't wait too long!

To see the agenda for the Gathering, and to register, visit Jacquelyn Strickland's web site.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

East Coast HSP Gathering, October 2-6, 2008

The next HSP Gathering will take place in Phoenicia, New York, from October 2-6, 2008... and I'd like to encourage all who read this to consider going and being a participant!

This is the first Gathering to be held on the East Coast since since the Pennsylvania event in 2005-- offering a opportunity for those HSPs who don't live in California an easier venue to meet and spend time with peers.

Registration for the East Coast 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 register as soon as you can, as it will keep your cost lower... eventually, registration may reach an "as available" stage, if the maximum number of slots are filled. To register for the event, please visit Jacquelyn Strickland's web site.

I cannot overstate the "value" of going to an HSP Gathering. I say this from the perspective of what I have personally gained from going to six previous Gatherings... as well as from the perspective of watching 100s of HSPs experience major life transformations as a result of attending. 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.

Workshops at the New York Gathering will be presented by Jacquelyn Strickland, Sarah O'Doherty, Jessica Thayer and Elaine Aron will present to the group on Sunday afternoon via teleconference. Non-workshop activities will include Creativity Night, Music and Dance Night and Art Night, as well as plenty of time to simply socialize and get to know fellow HSPs. The venue for this Gathering is the Menla Mountain Retreat Center in Phoenicia, NY, about 2 hours north of New York City, set in the natural splendor of Catskill Park.

You might say "yeah, but it's just too expensive!" Well... actually, you'd spend TWICE the amount it costs to go to a Gathering, to go to a weekend workshop with Elaine Aron at Esalen, Omega Rhinebeck or Kripalu. I feel fairly confident in saying that it
will probably be one of the best ways of 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. This will be the 15th Gathering since they began in 2001.

You might say "yeah, but it's a GROUP!" True. It is. But I can also tell you that a group of HSPs is like NO other group you'll ever be part of. The level of emotional safety, validation 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 just 48

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 work, I encourage you to read Gathering attendee Marcia Norris' words on "Why HSPs Need To Gather" or read my own photojournals from a couple of Gatherings I have been to.

Again, I can only say that I have personally watched fellow HSPs' perspective change from a sense of "I am doomed to be a misfit" to having made a dozen new friends, in a matter of days.

To loosely paraphrase one of my good friends and fellow HSPs, who has attended many 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."

Information about the upcoming Gathering, as well as registration forms-- is now available on organizer Jacquelyn Strickland's web site:

Registration form:

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Connecting HSPs

I've been reflecting some more on the previous post, and on the whole idea of "connecting HSPs."

I've been part of the global HSP "community" for over a decade, and there are certain patterns I have noticed, during that time.

A lot of HSPs claim they are "not into socializing," but at the same time tell me they wish they knew just a few HSPs in their lives-- someone to talk to who "gets it." At the same time, I have also personally witnessed the benefits of HSPs spending time together.

So, the "want" is there, and the "desired effect" has also been shown. The "challenge" seems to be how to get from "wanting" to actually being with others.

The HSP Gatherings are great, in this respect, but they only reach a few people. The various HSP groups on the Internet are nice, too-- but they also just reach a relatively small number of people. In 2003, I started a number of local and regional HSP groups on Yahoo, hoping to help people find local connections. Although most of these groups are still going, they never gained a big following. The people who DO find them are delighted, but "finding" them seems to be the problem.

And therein lies an interesting paradox I've been considering. HSPs-- as a group-- feel extremely reluctant to "promote" and "market themselves." At the same time, HSPs-- as a group-- often will not participate in something unless it is waved repeatedly under their noses, a long with lots of encouragement to participate. Thus... being an HSP, providing a service for HSPs, can be a lot like trying to swim upstream against a very strong current.

I have come to the conclusion that one of my "callings" in life is to help HSPs find connection with their peers. My initial attempt (above) has clearly not been "enough." So I am now looking into new ways to help my previously "invisible" groups become more visible.

Because, after all, there is tremendous value in hsp-peer connections... and someone has to be the first person who stands up and says "OK, let's get this party started!"


Talk back: If there were a local or regional HSP group in your area, and someone else took care of organizing it, and making sure only HSPs were part of the group, and the group met (online, or offline) in an "HSP-safe" environment-- and all you had to do was show up... would you participate? Would you participate in a web group, only?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Reflections on the California HSP Gathering

I've been reflecting a bit on the HSP Gathering that just took place at Walker Creek Ranch in northern California. It seems like every one of the Gatherings I have been to has had its own "atmosphere."

And perhaps that speaks loudly to the fact that you CAN'T really go to a Gathering and then come home and dismiss the idea of going again sometime with a simple "been there, done that." Sure, you can form a very general idea of what to expect, but with each event comes new people and a new "vibe."

Being at a Gathering always triggers my "idealist heart." In the course of a few days, I watch people (who sometimes haven't made a "true friend" in a decade or more) forge deeper connections than they have with people they have known for years, or even all their lives. And that is a brand of "magic," all of its own. So my idealist heart experiences this, and then I recognize how incredibly important it is for HSPs to have other HSPs in their lives... and I find myself wondering...

If, as Elaine Aron estimates, there are truly 15% HSPs in the greater world, why do I so seldom find more than a handful, here and there. Millions and millions of people use the Internet, yet most online HSP groups have only a few hundred members. Think about this: At 15%, there would be over 40 million HSPs in the US, alone! I think about that, and then I ponder why it is so difficult to find even a few dozen, to form local support and social groups. And I wonder-- what could I do, to help connect some of all these people?

As I said, I'm an idealist. Hopelessly so, at times.

I also have an "inner skeptic" who argues with the idealist, and says things like "Get over yourself! You're just wearing 'workshop goggles' and seeing things that aren't there" (Workshop goggles being the equivalent of "beer goggles," aka things just look unrealistically better, when you're "under the influence").

Truth is, though, I've been to dozens of self-growth/spiritual workshops over the past couple of decades... and do not have the same "feelings" for them I have after HSP Gatherings... nor the long-term deep connections with people. Sure, they were fun, enlightening, educational, mind altering and assorted other adjectives. But in the end... just another "It has been real-- have a nice life!" event.

"Workshop goggles" or not, I never stop wondering at the degree to which it is the "social aspects" of Gatherings that linger with me, LONG after any memory of "workshops" have left my mind. And the Idealist in me looks for ways to take that "lightning in a bottle" and share it with a much broader circle of HSPs... a bit little ripples spreading across a pond.

Why would I care?

HSPs-- in groups-- are very "organic." What I mean by that, is that you can put 20 HSPs together, and they will have much more in common than merely being sensitive. In contrast, put 20 vintage car enthusiasts, or 20 people affiliated with a political party together, and odds are they'll only have marginally more commonalities than any random group of people. It's this organic nature of HSPs as peers that makes it so important for them to connect.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Notes from the 2008 California HSP Gathering

The 2008 California HSP Gathering was held in Marin Co, north of San Francisco, on June 19-23, 2008. The venue-- Walker Creek Ranch-- has been used for gatherings since 2001, and is a popular spot with HSPs, thanks to its natural surroundings and peaceful facilities.

I almost didn't go to this Gathering-- in large part because it has been a difficult year, both financially and emotionally. However, it seemed to be the right thing to do, at the end of a stressful six months. I'm glad I went-- this was my 6th HSP Gathering.

It was a relatively small Gathering, with a little over 20 people there for the entire five days; the group growing to 26-28 when some "day commuters" came in to hear Elaine Aron's presentation on "HSPs and Self-Esteem." In addition, we had workshops on Myers-Briggs and The Enneagram.

Gatherings provide a wonderful blend of "learning" and "fellowship." In the evenings we had "Creativity Night" (always a favorite, in which members of the group share their creative passions) and we even had a music and dance night, proving that HSPs are NOT always "quietly sitting in the corner." As a returning "Gatherer," my favorite part of these events is always the chance to be with other HSPs-- to renew old connections, and to form new ones.

Monday, June 16, 2008

California HSP Gathering

I am about to head to the 2008 California HSP Gathering, which will take place at Walker Creek Ranch, north of San Francisco, on June 19-23.

Normally you would have seen some advance announcements on this site about the Gathering, but I have not been very involved in the HSP community, these past six months.

I am looking forward to some healing days of relaxation with other members of my "tribe." I'll try to write something about the Gathering, when I get home.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

HSPs and Initiative

I've noticed, over the years, that HSPs sometimes struggle with initiative.

On the whole, highly sensitive individuals also tend to be highly creative individuals. The "juices" are often flowing... yet a great many things never get beyond being "an idea."

This seems to apply, across a broad spectrum of life. Over the past decade, I have met a great many HSPs who really "wanted to" something-- could be follow a dream, attend an event, find friendships, start a relationship-- yet when the time comes to "do," a million reasons "not to" suddenly bubble to the surface.

Now, I'm not talking about choosing to "not do" something you really want to do, on account of a very real problem like Social Anxiety. I am talking about those many cases when we choose "not to," because we're immobilized by the belief that we'll get overstimulated and that will be unpleasant.

However, there is such a thing as becoming a slave to your "comfort zone" to such a degree that you miss out on a large part of what life has to offer. It's easy to justify NOT participating in a whole lot of things, with the reasoning that we are merely "honoring our sensitivity."

My experience tells me that many HSPs would really "like to" participate in many different things. My experience also tells me that many HSPs really enjoy "participating," once they are actually present and involved. The big "bugaboo" lies in getting from "want to" to "doing."

Some years ago, one of my teachers said: "Our THOUGHTS about a thing are usually much worse than the THING, itself." Although she was referring to "bad things" we fear doing, I think it also is very true for HSPs, even with "good things." We spend so much time thinking about "what could happen" that we almost completely lose sight of the enjoyment we'll have, once we're involved.

Sometimes you just have to take the initiative, even when it feels rather overwhelming.


Talk Back: As an HSP, do you find there are a lot of things you "want" to do, but you manage to talk yourself out of actually "doing" them? Is taking the initiative an issue for you?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Duty, Taxes and Being a Responsible Adult

(originally written and saved as a draft on 4/17/08, but never posted)

I finished my tax return, and mailed it in to the IRS, a couple of days ago.

Maybe this doesn't sound like a particularly momentous event, as millions of Americans get their personal income tax returns in by April 15th, every year. However, for me, the occasion marked a major change in my life. Not only did I finish the return (instead of mailing in an extension), I also completed an accurate accounting for my business, I paid the taxes owed, and it is all done.

The reason this "means something" is that it marks the first time in at least 15 years that I haven't dilly-dallied around till the last moment, and eventually gotten around to take care of the tax return after a couple of extensions and procrastinating the paperwork till the last possible moment. It's important that I note, in all this, that "being late with my taxes" was never about not being able to afford them... it was about simply being too poorly organized to figure them out quickly, and and general "avoidance" because I knew the whole process-- especially the business part of it-- would feel extremely overwhelming. And because I have never had very much money, I have never been able to afford to just "farm out the process" to someone else, like an accountant.

This isn't about "taxes," but about being a "Responsible Adult."

From my meetings with many HSPs, I believe it's fairly common among HSPs to be seen as "the responsible one" and the "dutiful one" in family and friend circles. One of my epiphanies this winter and spring revolved around the fact that I have often been "the responsible one," and yet I never really was. My actual "skill" wasn't in being "reponsible," but in being superb at "disaster management." Something awful would come up, and I would be extremely good at rising to the occasion and dealing with it. But it was never a reflection that I was actually "well prepared," merely a case of being highly adept at "putting out fires." Of course, being an HSP, once I'd put out aforesaid fires I'd end up crashing, exhausted and incapable of dealing with the world.

I came to realize, not long ago, that "Being A Responsible Adult" isn't about being skilled at dealing with the "curve balls" life throws our ways-- it's about being aware of, and having a plan in place, when life does (and it WILL) throw us a curve ball.

And as an HSP, I have further come to realize that "being prepared" isn't just about being able to foresee what might be coming-- it's also about reducing the "scale" of my life to a point where I'm not already stretched to the limit, dealing with "what's already there." That part is important. And central to accepting that part is the willingness to "fly in the face of society" and say that we do NOT (as HSPs, or minimalists, or the easily overwhelmed) accept other people's definitions of what we "should" want, and what "success" is, and so forth.

Maybe my life-- as I am "reconstructing it" looks like "detachment" and "boredom" to many... but I am the one living my life.

And that's worth remembering, as we plan our lives.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


(saved as a draft on 4/10/2008, but not published at the time)

I have been away from this blog, for a long time.

I have been away from "life out there," for a long time.

I promise to come back and write about some of my insights, at some later time. Right now, I simply don't have the energy. I also can't think of anything to write about, that wouldn't just be a long list of complaints about everything that's wrong with life.

When I look at my life, I have noticed that the periods during which I go away-- and tend to become both angry and reclusive-- are directly linked to periods during which it feels like my "idealism" is clashing with the "reality" of my life.

During such times, my life feels less enjoyable, and more like "a long hard slog," and moving through life merely to "do my duty."

Sunday, March 23, 2008


(This post was originally written on 3/23/08, but only saved as a draft-- I had second thoughts about publishing this, but decided to, anyway... as some HSPs might recognize their own process, here.)

I am in one of my "in" periods.

Elaine Aron wrote about HSPs being "in" and "out," depending on how much they need to be recharging their batteries. I have been "in" a lot, recently-- because life and some personal issues have forced me to be very "out" and dealing with them. I won't go into details about that. However, I have felt "stretched thin" for quite some time, now.

During times like these, I find myself annoyed that I am highly sensitive-- at least to the degree that I recognize that if I were not so easily overstimulated, I would not be having nearly as much of a "personal crisis" at this time. I would just be like other people-- throw up my hands, go "shit happens," and get on with my life.

I observe myself growing annoyed that I am so easily "derailed" when the unfortunate things of life come up. And that annoyance actually adds to my sense of overwhelm.

And then I also get annoyed at small things. I put a lot of effort into revitalizing this blog-- for example-- and now "other circumstances" have come up... and I feel like a bunch of my previous efforts have just been a waste of time.

And often, I feel annoyed that what I want to do seems incapable of supporting me financially, so I end up making a living from things that just feel like I have to do them. Because I have no other choices. Realistically speaking.

I observe myself, and notice something interesting: Even though a central part of the HSP trait involves taking quiet time, and recharging the batteries, I find that "in" periods annoy me, make me feel angry... usually because "something came up" and forced me to be extensively "out," and not because I wanted to be.

This sounds like too much of a whiny post to publish...

Monday, February 04, 2008

HSPs and "Family duty:" when you DON'T have a choice

Sometimes there are just things you "have to" do.

For some time, I have been putting off going to Europe, to visit my mother. My mother just turned 86, and is not in the best of health. However, the mere thought of the trip overseas has repeatedly pushed me to postpone, and postpone, and postpone.

Family, for me, has always been somewhat of a "duty thing." Some people grow up in close-knit loving and supportive environments, some do not. My family not only fits in the latter category, family members are also spread out thinly, all around the world.

The prospect of the visit-- which continues to cause me stress-- is rather overwhelming.

There is the trip to get there-- a three-hour bus ride to the SeaTac airport, a 9-hour flight to London, an overnight stay at an airport hotel, followed by a "milk run" (5:30 am) flight to Gibraltar the following morning, followed by a taxi ride to where she lives... while hoping my luggage hasn't accidentally been sent to Kinshasa or Tierra del Fuego.

There is the cost of the trip-- it's not just airfare and hotels, it's also the "cost" of having to close down my business (I'm self-employed), and the "cost" of not having an income, while I am gone.

Then there's the visit, itself-- going and staying with my mother for two weeks isn't something I'd readily do, even if she lived a couple of miles down the road. Whereas we certainly "get along" on a superficial level, I am always reminded that sometimes "the acorn" DOES fall a very long way from "the tree." The fact that our basic values, and how we view life, are so radically different, another layer of stress exists. Frankly, I don't enjoy "regressing" to a point where I feel like "myself, at age 8."

Anyway, this trip is going to happen fairly soon.

Which is also my way of saying that I may not be updating these pages on a regular basis, for a while.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Recognizing oncoming overstimulation

Elaine Aron has written much about the phenomenon of HSPs getting "overstimulated" because our central nervous systems are so finely attuned.

Overstimulation, however, can take radically different forms, depending on the person involved. A friend of mine-- who is a very extraverted HSP-- actually gets terribly overstimulated and all out of sorts when she finds that she has 4-5 unanswered emails begging for her attention. And yet, she thinks nothing of going to a fair, with lots of people and carnival rides-- even riding rollercoasters. By contrast, I get dozens of emails every day, and think little of writing and sending 20 personal responses to people in the course of an afternoon. On the other hand, you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming to an amusement park... and I'd want to just find the quietest corner where I could watch from a distance.

We know that being Highly Sensitive is an inborn hard-wired trait-- not something that can be "fixed." However, what we can do is learn to manage our sensitivity, in large part by recognizing exactly what it is-- situations, people, activities, noise-- that most likely will lead us to become overstimulated. If we don't learn this, we run the risk of missing out on many things life has to offer, simply because we use the "I can't do this, because I'm an HSP" blanket excuse.

A good place to start-- an "exercise" of sorts-- is to sit down and identify the common threads of the last 10, 20 (or however many you can remember) times you felt terribly overwhelmed by something. The benefit of very specifically understanding your "triggers" is that it ALSO allows you to identify the fairly "out there" things you're perfectly happy doing.


Talk back: Do you recognize the specific patterns that cause you to get overstimulated?

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Future of Love

Every now and then, I come across books I experience as significant enough to be "life changing," because they offer perspectives that change or expand my thinking. Dr. Elaine Aron's "The Highly Sensitive Person" was such a book.

"The Future of Love" by Daphne Rose Kingma, is also such a book. Whereas it is not about the HSP trait, the ideas presented are highly relevant to HSPs. Why? Because Kingma has the courage to examine relationships in a non-standard fashion, inviting the reader to find deep meaningful relationships in a format that works for us, rather than limiting us to what societal conventions dictate we "should" want.

For example, HSPs are easily overstimulated, and this includes in their love relationships. At HSP Gatherings, I have occasionally met couples who'd been "together" for a long time, in a completely committed relationship-- and yet, their choice was to maintain separate residences, to address their needs for privacy and quiet time. Now, many might say something like "But relationships aren't supposed to work like that!" But if it works for the people IN the relationship, isn't that really what matters most?

Whereas some readers of Kingma's book might feel offended by the way she criticizes the limitations of "conventional" marriage, the real value is in the way the second half of the book examines the many many different ways deep soul-based love relationships can be formed. What I particularly liked about the book-- and which I find is an excellent "match" for most HSPs' desire to form "deep" relationships-- is Kingma's focus on the "content and nature" of relationships, rather than on the "wrapping" we put them in.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

HSPs and the push-pull dilemma

I've been told that-- as HSPs go-- I am very "out there" and "visible."

Considering that I see myself as very much of an introvert (and the "I" in my Myers-Briggs INFJ is without question), it always surprises me a bit when people tell me this. When I dig around for an explanation, they point to my blogs and web sites, and the way I participate in events like the HSP Gatherings, and local HSP groups, and so forth.

It made me pause and reflect on the "push-pull" dilemma a lot of sensitives face. Most HSPs-- in their souls and essences-- are idealists with a strong drive to change the world and make life a better place, for all. The idea of "changing things," as well as the idea of connecting with their peers, appeals to them.

At the same time, most HSPs are introverts (70-75%) and many have issues with overstimulation from a lot of activity and interaction, if not with outright Social Anxiety. As such, being in the world can feel very daunting.

The above certainly the potential to set up some inner conflicts and paradoxes: We want to change the world, but to change the world we must get "out there" and "be seen," and "being seen" causes us to become overstimulated or anxious, so we instead end up "staying in," keeping all our grand ideas to ourselves, and gradually grow all depressed over not having changed the world.

Elaine Aron describes the plight of the HSS (High Sensation Seeker) HSP as being akin to driving with one foot on the brake and one foot on the gas-- there's a pull in opposite directions. An inner "I want to go, but I'm anxious about going" dynamic. The more I have learned about the trait, the more I believe there are elements of this dynamic that can be applied to all HSPs.

Of course, the whole idea of "Changing the World" can be a stumbling block, in and of itself. We can easily get stuck in what I call the "Cure-for-Cancer Syndrome." That is, we believe we must do something "important" in order for the world to benefit. Perhaps it's true that we tend to hear about "big" accomplishments-- however, the vast majority of change in the world occurs as a result of lots of people making lots of tiny changes that cumulatively have a huge effect on the greater good.

Getting back to the push-pull issue, the one thing we do have to do, in order to effectuate change in the world, is find ways in which we are willing to "be seen."

Now, my "being seen" may be quite different from your "being seen," but they have in common that we must find a way to get our ideas moved from "merely a concept inside our minds" to being "shared with others." This can be a considerable challenge for HSPs. Over the years I have met so many who have had wonderful things to contribute, but for whatever reasons (mostly relating to the fear of overstimulation and not wanting to be noticed by others) say "no, I can't do that" when asked to share with the world. Similarly, there are times when we have to "take our heart in our hands" and take that step required to get involved, in a local group, or going to self-improvement workshops, or attending an HSP Gathering.

If we don't, we run the risk of spending our lives eternally sitting on the fence, watching others live while we miss out.

TALK BACK: Are there things you "wish" you'd do, but feel held back because it would mean you were "seen?" Even small things, like contributing to an online forum, or starting a blog? Or larger things, like a social group you know you'd like, but can't bring yourself to go to? Or are you willingly and openly "out" there? If so, does this come naturally to you, or have you had to "train" yourself?

Please leave a comment!

Monday, January 07, 2008

HSP Topics: Filling in Dangerous "Blanks"

For me-- as well as for many of the HSPs I have met-- one of the more rewarding parts of the trait is the deep empathy we seem capable of. I have heard many describe this as literally "feeling others." This can range from a simple "picking up someone else's mood," to a few very highly attuned empaths who literally can "see someone's story" in an almost psychic manner.

Of course, this can also be rather overstimulating-- many HSPs have trouble with crowds, simply because the "psychic clutter" of so many people assaults their senses, on top of which they often have to explain themselves to friends who insist that they are just "imagining things." Even when they choose to not talk about their empathic gifts, HSPs often get their reluctance around crowds mislabeled as "social anxiety" or "shyness."

Regardless of whether you see your tendency to pick up moods and feelings as a "gift" or a "curse," it is often wise to not become overconfident. Because there are times when the "message" we think we have picked up is just plain wrong. And we can get into a heap of trouble by either insisting to our friend (who's actually quite OK) that they share whatever (we thought) is "wrong," or we attribute one of our own moods to something outside ourselves. Sometimes we simply "fill in blanks" that we had no business filling in.

Most people think of empathy and intuition as something we either "have" or "don't have," and whereas that may be true in a simplistic sense, they can also be trained and directed. For example, at the 2004 HSP Gathering in Three Rivers, CA, one of the workshops offered was on "Developing your Intuition." A large part of the focus was on learning to actually "tune in" to our intuition, rather than just "shoot from the hip." Similarly, in her book "Empowered by Empathy," author and empath Rose Rosetree suggests that we can learn to "manage" our empathic gifts. Her book is in the recommended reading list in the right hand column.

As is true of the HSP trait in general, learning about your empathy and intuition is important. The more you know, the more it can help your life, and the life of others.

TALK BACK: Do you sometimes catch yourself relying excessively on your abilities as an empath? Have you sometimes "filled in blanks" about people you would have been better off leaving alone? Do you experience your ability to sense others' moods as a benefit, or a drawback? Leave a comment!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Cleaning my Desk: HSPs, Perfectionism and Procrastination

A few days ago, someone sent me the link to a YouTube video about procrastination. It was mostly rather funny, but I also realized the basic truth of much of it.

Whereas I am well aware that procrastination can be a problem for people from all walks of life, it seems to be an issue that affects HSPs more than most. This morning, I found myself speculating on why that is, and what we can do, as HSPs, to deal with "procrastination-worthy" situations more readily.

Elaine Aron writes, in "The Highly Sensitive Person," that HSPs tend to be both deeply conscientious, and often loyal "to a fault." Conscientiousness-- at least in my opinion-- can very easily slide over into "perfectionism," when you take it to extremes. Now, whereas the HSP trait is not a pathology or illness, it is also true that a great many HSPs come from somewhat abusive-- or at least "misunderstood"-- backgrounds. Such personal histories tend to also result in a person becoming rather more cautious in taking on new things. Besides, yet another HSP characteristic is a certain hesitance in taking on things that might cause changes or upheaval in our lives.

I know all of the above issues have been present in my life, and I also realize that they "play together" to leave me in situations where I tend to procrastinate. Most often, I let "little things" get in the way: The classic "I need to clean my desk before I can start working on my stuff" syndrome. And before I know it, I am also tidying up the files I need to put the stuff on my desk into. And on, and on, and on... gradually abandoning what I was really there to do.

As I said before, perhaps this affects everyone. But I recognize how my underlying motivations can be pulled directly from the HSP trait:

I want to make sure I do a good job (conscientiousness)
I want to start slowly (difficulty adapting to changes)
I want to make sure I know where everything is (worried about doing poorly, in front of others)

A wise person-- whose opinion I value-- once told me that there will never be a "right time" to do something, and if we wait for the right time, life may just pass us by while we are waiting. One of the things I have learned-- both as an HSP and as a human-- is that sometimes we just have to jump in, and accept that all we can hope for is a "90% solution," as opposed to a "perfect" solution."

In a very small way, I have seen this in the process of giving this old blog a face lift. A little voice inside me has been saying "You can't put up new posts that will attract people to come and read before you're done with all the changes, and adding all the links, and... and.... and... because people will think you don't care and just keep a messy blog not worth visiting, and... and... and." In a slightly larger way, I have seen it with the rest of my writing-- I tell myself I "can't" start writing articles till I have a "perfect" web site on which to present them. And I "can't" submit my book manuscripts until I have a glowing public reputation and readership for my articles.

Of course, the above holds little water in a practical sense, and is basically procrastination. The true answer is "There is no better time than right NOW."

TALK BACK: If you're an HSP (or not!), do you procrastinate? How has procrastination affected your life? Do you recognize that the HSP trait has had an influence?

Please leave a comment!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

HSP Notes gets a Facelift

First, I'd like to wish a Happy New Year to everyone!

Some of the regular visitors to the site may notice that "things look a little different." That's because I'm in the middle of giving "HSP Notes" a major face lift, changing the site from being "just a blog" to more of an "HSP web site and information portal." It is my hope that the end result will be a web site that is much more useful to all HSPs, whether you've just learned about the trait, or consider yourself an "old timer."

The blog, itself, is not by any means going away-- I just want to add "content" that extends beyond my own musings.

Of course, "Rome" wasn't built in a day, so the process of adding (and double-checking) many links and resources for HSPs will be ongoing, during most of the month of January.

I have been meaning work on this "upgrade" this for some time. No, it's not a "New Year's Resolution." I don't really believe in those, mostly because I don't feel inclined to (as so often happens) stand around in March, beating myself up over things I failed to do. I prefer to just make "gentle suggestions" (thanks to Sarah, for that term!) as I go along, visualizing what I want to happen and moving towards that objective with intent, but without "expectations" attached.

As HSPs we often tend to be perfectionistic, and when you combine that with the "conscientiousness" that goes hand-in-hand with being highly sensitive, it's easy to end up in a place where we become too hard on ourselves, and engage in negative self-talk over what we "didn't do."

Learning to set goals, but to not become too attached to the final outcome is a great way to reduce stress.

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