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!


  1. I hope to learn how to "train" myself to be more out there! Maybe you can write an article about how you've been able to take risks and grow through the years.

  2. Hey, I have been trying to leave a comment for a while now, but it won't show up! Grrr...

    Anyway, I wrote a whole post about this on my blog...

    What this question brings up for me is I wonder how many HSPs had a negative environment when their mothers found out they were pregnant?

    In my work, there is a strong correlation between "being seen" and when Mom discovered she was pregnant. If there was any negative emotion or situation at the time it can translate to a new Spirit as "Uh oh, something bad happens when I am noticed/seen/discovered." and that can imprint in the system.

    It is reinforced during birth if there was difficulty with, "See? I knew it! When I show up/get noticed/be here, I get hurt!" it becomes a filter that we perceive life through, a belief system.

    Resolution of these early wounds opens up more space around it and lesses or eliminates the anxiety around being seen.

    According to the self test on Aron's site, I am an HSP too, but from the questions, I can tell that many of the issues have been resolved for me, so now I'm wondering about others!

  3. I can really identify with everything you have written here about this push-pull syndrome. When I was raising my children, I was able to hide out in them and feel that I was contributing to the world. The real struggle began when they didn't need me as much anymore. It was time to come out of hiding; while there was an equal demand from within to stay in hiding.

    Mostly the headway I made was in baby steps forward followed by a giant step backward. Now I am nearing sixty and am comfortable with my headway.

    It started with me allowing myself to hibernate last winter. By March I felt called to do some public speaking on my dreamwork. I have done this five times now (in ten months) - mind you I have to retreat for a little while after each speaking engagement - but hey, if that is what it takes.

    What has helped me the most in that time is me being supportive of myself in starting a blog on my dreamwork. A short time later, I felt called to share poetry that I had hidden away twenty-seven years ago, so I started another blog.

    I was initially terrified by what I was doing - but it just felt so important to MY development.

    After I had posted everything I had previously written, I started a third blog where I check in with myself every day and post what is on my heart.

    I have grown by leaps and bounds through this process.

  4. Peter, I find that my soul is much bigger than my body. :) I will want to do everything and then I overload because I forget that I am in a sensitive system. It can be very frustrating. What does help is doing things that are more comfortable or feel safer to me--teach in smaller groups, not big lectures; blog and write versus do in person readings.

  5. I am a HSP, HSS but I also get overwhelmed. For example. whenever I go shopping, such as the mall, I am so very tired by the end of it. I do like to be with others and socialize, to a point. And I do a lot of retreating as well. I have always been ambitious, pushed myself hard and always acted like time was running out. Now I am a stay at home mom, I enjoy my time and I am the least ambitious I have ever been and I have never been more contented!!

  6. I had the same feelings about raising my kids. I felt like I was contributing to the world as a whole by raising 3 kind, compassionate, respectful boys. Now they are in their late teens and I am shrinking back into the introvert I was years ago.
    I look forward to ideas posted here about moving forward and being "out there". I really don't want to regress but I get overstimulated sooo easily.

  7. OMG! I AM Sooooo glad I found your site today. I love it, it's so helpful and pretty to look at! Thanks for all your hard work! I will have to bookmark this page!


  8. I am a 18 year old HSP who in everyday life thinks too much about all the little things I could do but don't because it would mean being seen. Lately, I have been thinking about writing to a college in my town and telling them to get more online classes available because of gas prices and global warming and a blog I read about how everyone should work from home. I have a blog now but was afraid to post my thoughts online because I thought I think way too much and no one would read it because of my intense thoughts on things. Now I have learned to respect myself and love my thoughts because in a way it keeps me going really. I have found out that if I have a CD playing in the car while I'm driving I zone out and focus on the music, but if I turn off the music and have complete silence in the car I start to think about things way too much. Good thing our brains still work after this overload of thoughts. Love your blog keep it up!

  9. Hi I'm new to this blog. In fact, I'm new to blogging. I first read Dr. Aron's books about a decade ago, I'm rereading them now. What a relief to finally read about me and why I have felt so different all my life! As far as the discussion re: negative feelings while in the womb, it's an interesting idea, but I can imagine all kinds of "reasons" for being an HSP...but I think it's more likely some kind of genetic variation on our neuro-physiology which someday some scientist will figure out. I understand (and sometimes share) the impulse to try to "get to the bottom of" the reasons for my being an HSP, but I think it actually may be more constructive to focus on how we manage to exist in this non-HSP world, and how we can make ourselves more comfortable.

    Some of the comments have been about the suffering caused by "thinking too much" or worrying about details, and the like. I do this, and have a history of panic disorder. I have found that activities which are known to turn off (or at least turn down the volume) of our left side of the brain while enhancing the right side can be helpful in quieting the chatter. I'm thinking of meditation, creating art, music, physical exercise, stuff like that.

  10. Thank you for your post!

    I am a 17-year old HSP/HSS who can very much relate to the push-pull dilemma. On the HSP self test I scored 27/27, the HSS test 19/20. Pretty extreme..

    Reflecting on my life I'd say that yes, I've had to train myself to be the vocal, extroverted, leader HSP that I am today. What it took for me was:

    1) Forgiving past pains, and appreciating who I am now

    2) Connecting with God's beautiful, relaxed love more frequently. Appreciating it and valuing who He made me to be. <3

    3) Living by my purpose- using my mission statement for clarity in making decisions. I had to realize gifts that I bring to the world. I prayed to God for my life's purpose, received it through the Holy Spirit's inspiration, and have been living by it for immense clarity. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT, FELLOW HSPS. I know how horrible it feels to be bogged down with the problems of the world, unsure of where to go next, feeling scared of failing. Well, I realized that living by my purpose is the one thing that I was created for, and all God wants or expects me to do here on earth. It was an incredibly empowering discovery.
    for example:

    My purpose is to encourage, inspire, achieve, liberate, and lead.

    Living by my purpose has given me such direction and peace. Also it has exponentially improved the quality of my life: like Peter wrote, "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." Living by my mission has taught me this lesson. I've witnessed the results of me sharing my strengths with the world, here are a few:
    shaping a more heart-centered, effective choir; overcoming childhood abuse; growing quickly as a guitarist, singer, artist, and writer; dropping toxic friends and finding great ones; attracting wonderful relationships into my life; feeling the most self-controlled in my entire life; loving and accepting myself and my world around me; seeing problems as opportunities to grow; releasing the outcome and enjoying the ride.... and many more! Get in touch with your true purpose HSPs, I promise it will be infinitely worth your while!

    3) Realizing that I am an eternal soul in Christ, and at my essence I am so much more than the events or mistakes in my life.

    4) Valuing myself and my creativity in a whole new way. It took a lot of criticism-dropping and courage for me to let my creative voice speak, and still does. I've tried lately to do things purely because I love them, not because I'm seen as "good at them" or gain others approval.

    Lately, I've just been laughing at all of the paradoxes in my life: I want to achieve, but want to experience, I need a set plan, but I want to be as creative and spontaneous as possible... However, I'm learning that paradox is not necessarily just a contradiction. Paradox is the best sort of BALANCE. I'm going to try and just rock with it :)

    I really hope that this is helpful to all of you. I warmly extend my love and support to the greater HSP and HSP/HSS community. I would also love to hear ideas and advice of any sort.

    God bless,

  11. Hi All,

    I am a 37-year-old professional HSP/HSS/INFJ on the far end of the scale, and learning to be proud of it. Nature and travel are my favorite things on Earth and, like Jim, I am also an armchair psychologist! I love and appreciate your witticisms!

    I am envious of those younger than 20 who are finding out about HSS/HSP! Oh how I've struggled. As inquisitive and curious as "we" tend to be, we don't stop until we have answers. And that includes, "Why am I the way I am? What's wrong with me? Why can't I be more like (fill in the blank)?"

    I used to suffer from agoraphobia, panic attacks and terrible depression. Now, I thirst for exploration and travel to new places.

    Analyzing is my forte; unfortunately it's to the point where I feel stuck (especially with finding my life's purpose and/or career). I, too, feel the need to lead, to create beauty, to inspire, to take the world by the horns and leave my creative footprint. However, I get bored with my visions quickly. I suppose I have a thirst for so much at once, so I delve into a subject ever so deeply, absorb it like a sponge and say to myself, "That was cool. I'm done with that. What else?" …And it's off to the next thing. So now, I suppose it’s in my DNA to figure out how to get unstuck. That's where I'm at now. It's great to read about scientific progress being made on us unusual creatures.


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