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:

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