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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