Thursday, December 24, 2009

HSPs and the Season of Giving: Reprise

This month, many of my thoughts have been dedicated to the concepts of giving and making a difference. You've seen several posts here, related to giving and charity.

I've forsaken my annual "advice column" on dealing with the stress of the holidays in favor of looking at core values, and what this time of the year really means... or could mean.

Part of my focus here, has been a bit of an examination of apathy. A deeper look at our tendency to readily "be concerned" (and even "horrified") by events and needs around us, and yet we sit passively as spectators and observers... heartily agreeing that something that's going on in the moment is "horrible," yet we do not even the simplest thing to make a difference.

I have written-- in the past-- about our tendency to get trapped by "all-or-nothing" thinking, when it comes to making a difference in the world. We don't take the time to make "little differences" because we perceive them as being insignificant, and not making a difference. Yet, when we look at the history of social change and general life improvement for all, it is extremely evident that far more "massive changes" are the result of "millions, each doing a little" than "a few, each doing a lot."

There are some interesting dichotomies associated with this HSP trait of ours. The one I find most noteworthy, is the strange and conflicted intersection of a deep sense of idealism and wanting to better the world and right wrongs... crossed with a hesitancy of being "in the world" that leaves many choosing the sidelines, from where they observe, rather than participate.

Well, it is Christmas Eve. I wish a Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, and Happy Holidays, to all others.

As for the charity that was part of recent entries here... in spite of much publicity, and concerted effort by those who did get involved, we did not come up with enough votes to reach the final stage of the grant process. But... we gave it a good try!

Talk Back! When you are honest with yourself, do you find that you often chose to "observe" rather than "participate?" Is your idealism more of an "idea" than a "reality?" What do you feel would have to change, in order for you to be more actively involved?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

If this were Porn, we'd have 100,000 votes....

At the end of my last post about "Giving and Apathy," I promised I'd come back and update on the cause I'd gotten involved with.

A week has passed, and I'm sad to report that the apathy of the world continues to reign supreme.

Perhaps the most poignant comment I received came from a friend (who DID participate, and thank you for that!) who observed the following:

"If this were porn, we'd have 100,000 votes already!"

Sad, but probably true.

His observation-- along with some of the feedback I received directly-- made me feel sad and disturbed about the broader state of the Human Condition, regardless of whether we're HSPs, or not.

What matters?
What do we MAKE matter?
Where do we place our priorities?

Perhaps what made me feel MOST sad was the sheer number of responses (by email, or direct message) I got, offering me reasons, rationalizations and excuses to NOT participate. My point being that these people had anywhere from five to thirty minutes of "spare" time to write me an explanation (about feeling overwhelmed, about it not being "their" charity, about not supporting anything "corporate" you name it), but NOT one minute of time to just harmlessly participate, at no expense or exposure to them.

I suddenly became aware that "excuses" actually outnumbered "votes."

It reminded me of something I recently witnessed.

Back in October, I was standing in my local Safeway grocery store, waiting for the Customer Service Counter staff to figure something out with the Grocery Manager, as to whether or not a particular product could be ordered. As a result, I stood outside the busy checkstands for about 15 minutes.

At that time, the local high school was having a fundraising drive. They evidently had found a sponsor who'd donate the equivalent of 5% of the "value" of all grocery receipts they could collect and turn in to the sponsor, to get cash to build a "haunted house" for Halloween, or something like that. The short of it was, that if you (the grocery shopper) gave the kid your $100 grocery receipt, they'd be able to turn it over for a $5 cash donation.

ALL they had to do was collect grocery receipts from patrons who'd finished shopping. Grocery receipts that most likely would be thrown away, 15 minutes later.

I watched in amazement as these high school kids would approach departing customers (and this was WITH Safeway's blessing, I should add), explain what they were doing, and politely ask if they could have that person's grocery receipt. What stunned me was that probably 80% (or more) of the patrons asked to give up their receipt said "no," or looked the other way and hurried out of the store.

I share this, because it was another example of people being broadly unwilling (in my opinion, "apathetic") to make a free contribution that would take five seconds of their time. So often-- it seems-- we just automatically get defensive and bark "no!" without even hearing what something is actually about; just assuming that it will "cost" us.

Allow me to bring some more "global" threads into this-- let's back off and take the "50,000-foot view."

This morning Sarah (my honey) commented on a Rolling Stone article she'd read about global warming, and just how hosed we're getting. Global warming-- a MUCH bigger issue than a community charity-- is yet another example (in the "meta pattern" sense) of apathy, and not caring.

Her words, in turn, reminded me of a TED talk I watched yesterday, about a man who spent 17 years in silence, in support of environmental change. You can watch the video here-- it ALSO won't cost you anything, aside from twenty minutes of your time. Or I can just share that MY primary "takeaway" was that ultimately WE are "the environment." And our surroundings are largely a reflection of how we treat each other, and what we make important, in our lives.

Do we care?
Do we help?
Do we act from a place of being aware and mindful?

Then, in that lovely way of synchronicities, an HSP friend wrote a powerful piece on the importance of stepping up and being seen, as HSPs. Again, a highly recommended read-- won't cost you a dime, just a little time. If you don't subscribe to her blog, you should.

Anyway, to bring this full circle, we have two days left to go in adding votes for the cause I mentioned in my last post. If you want to participate, we appreciate it-- just click on the banner, which will open a Facebook page (you may have to register) where you follow simple instructions to vote. No cost. No salesman will call. If you get lost (I can't imagine you would) you can come back here and try again. The deal ends December 11th.

If you don't vote, I forgive you. What I DO ask of you is that you pause and consider "what matters" to you, and whether or not you're actively engaged in what matters to you... in your community, in your life. Because the problem (and solutions) begins with YOU, and "intending to" is not enough.

To quote Yoda: "Do. Do not. There is no TRY."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

HSPs, the Season of Giving, Doing Good and Apathy

One of the things I like most about HSPs is that we tend to have a more giving and compassionate nature than most people out there. One of the things I don't like about HSPs is our tendency to be tentative and even apathetic, when it comes to making a difference.

I've been told-- by more than a few readers of this blog-- that part of the reason they read is that I don't tend to sugar coat life as a sensitive person, and I don't feel compelled to characterize HSPs as pink fluffy bunnies dancing through the meadows. Not that pink fluffy bunnies don't have a place in the world, mind you. Sometimes, I even rattle a few people's cages... so let me rattle yours, for a moment.

We're entering the holiday season, and I have been pausing to ponder the true meaning of this time of the year, apart from the general explosion of overconsumption that otherwise dominates the landscape and airwaves.

This is the season of giving.

Not "giving" in the sense of fancy baubles purchased from the store, but giving of ourselves; giving from the heart. Doing things to make the world a better place.

What have you GIVEN, lately?

Sometimes I am stunned by the apathy of the world. Someone near and dear to me (who happens to be an HSP) is trying to rally support for a cause she really believes in. She was sharing with me how she'd contacted all manners of people she knew and had gotten what-- at least in my opinion-- is a very apathetic response.

Now I can appreciate the fact that we all get bombarded with requests for donations to charity during the holidays-- and times a tight. However, that completely misses the point of my friend's story.

You see, she wasn't asking for money. She wasn't asking for people to do work. She wasn't asking for hours of time. She wasn't contacting strangers, she was contacting people she already knew. All she did was ask people to use a few moments of their online time to visit a web site and VOTE for her cause in a contest, so that they might have a chance at winning $25,000 someone ELSE is already committed to donate.

100's of emails, yet hardly anyone could find two minutes of their time to make a few clicks to cast a vote online. My cynical side says "and these are the same people who have 30 minutes handy to play solitaire on their computer, or spend hours cultivating the cornucopia of apps on Facebook, or tweeting the content of their last sandwich to the twitterverse."

The story was interesting enough to me that I decided to pick it up for this blog, and for my other web presences... and to write a sort of "challenge" to people. How apathetic ARE we, really? We like to SAY that we "care," but do our actions match those words?

Someone you know asks you (during the "season of giving," remember?) for two minutes of your time, no cost involved, so that a greater good can be served. Do you just sit on your hands? Or do you say "yes, I CAN do that for you" and help out?

Perhaps I should add that the cause in question wasn't "weird" or "controversial." It's a community theatre in Carmel, CA, which helps 1000s of kids every year. As much as HSPs tend to enjoy the arts, it's a natural "fit" as something HSPs would be supportive of... hence my additional surprise at the very "modest" response my friend received.

So, what's wrong with this picture?

Maybe people were put off by the fact that the host site where the voting takes place works through the Facebook social network.

"I don't want to be part of that. I don't trust them. I don't want a Facebook account. It's just for kids. They'll steal my identity."

I've heard those excuses for years, especially from the HSP community. Fact is that Facebook wouldn't have gotten to have 350 MILLION members by being untrustworthy and being "just for kids." Ever see a facebook ad on TV? Or in a magazine? Or in a newspaper? Neither have I.. because it's completely "viral," as a result of friends telling friends... and when you recommend something to friend, it's usually because it's GOOD, right?

"An HSP would never be part of a social network!"


Many of the HSPs I have met personally, or know through web groups are on Facebook. Guess what? I actually got ON Facebook to stay in touch with HSPs I'd met at HSP Gatherings! Guess what else? There are two HSP groups on Facebook, and both are among the five largest online HSP Communities in the world.

Anyway, what's the point of this article?

I was asked if I would do something simple-- go to a web site, register, and vote for someone's charity to receive someone ELSE's money. And so I did... a few minutes of my time, a worthy cause; no cost to me.

Then I heard the feedback from my friend, and became ashamed at how apathetic the world is. So, I decided to make this MY cause, as well-- as a bit of a "social experiment." I took the next step: help spread the word.

Now I'm asking YOU.

Would you give a few minutes of your web time to help a good cause, at no cost to you?

If the answer is yes, click the small blue banner below. And follow the instructions. If you get lost, I've made it so the link opens a new tab in your browser. You can just come back here and click on the banner again, to get back to where you were.

And yes, I'll come back and update. And I'd appreciate it if YOU came back and commented on what YOU did, too.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

HSPs and the Power of Saying "No"

Over the years, I have written a number of posts here, about various aspects of "boundary setting," as it relates specifically to HSPs.

As a group of people, HSPs probably have more issues with poorly defined (or completely lacking) personal boundaries than the population at large. One of the great challenges for the HSP is using the word "no." Of course, many non-HSPs also struggle with saying no, and with a sense of "guilt" when they do say no.

"No" is a simple little word, and yet it's extremely powerful in terms of helping us establish personal boundaries, keep our sanity, and prevent us from becoming horribly overwhelmed by the "stuff of life."

So why are we so afraid to use it?

Based on talking to hundreds of HSPs over the past decade, the underlying reasons and rationalizations are many and varied. Perhaps you know some of them.

Top of the list is the basic fear that people won't like us (or won't love us) if we tell them no. Someone comes to us with some kind of request or problem... and some small (and sometimes LARGE) demon on our shoulder tells us we can't say no, even though we already have 372 things to accomplish during the coming week. Ultimately, this is a self-esteem issue-- the core fear being that we (falsely) perceive that we're only lovable as human DOINGS not as human BEINGS, and that our friends, family and other acquaintances will reject us, unless we do their bidding.

The irony of the above scenario is that it often contains an element of truth: Those who are overly accommodating often draw to themselves people who are looking for a free ride... people who will, indeed, "reject us," should we sudenly not serve their needs, at all times. And so, part of the challenge becomes to step back and ask ourselves if we really want these people in our lives.

This "fear of rejection" can be especially strong in family situations where the choice "to end the relationship" is off the table. Perhaps we are taught to "obey our parents" and so we perceive it unthinkable to say "no" when they "tell" us we should become a lawyer, when we really want to be an artist. Conversely, parents may fear their children will "reject" them for saying "no," in any number of scenarios. And yet... unless the child learns to say no, they will grow up to question nothing in life; if the parent never says no, the child remains "a child" and eternally dependent.

Another common reason HSPs don't say "no" has to do with the fact that we are often highly capable, conscientious and responsible individuals. Because we tend to introspect and have an interest in self-development and learning, we're often more educated and better informed than many. In the simplest terms, we often are "the best person for the job" when something comes up.

A few years ago, I led a small workgroup on "HSPs and work" at an HSP retreat. As I recall, there were nine people in our group... and an interesting commonality we uncovered was that every single one of us had repeatedly found ourselves in the position of being "manager, by default." That is, some project came along, and even though we had NO interest in leading it and were basically minding our own business, we somehow ended up as "the person in charge." Someone said (for example) "You know, Peter knows more about this stuff than ANYone else here-- HE should really lead the project."

Sometimes these situations unfold subtly and indirectly... nobody actually forces us. We look at something and decide/realize that it will "never get done" unless we take it on... and next thing we know, a simple desire to "help out a bit" has resulted in our becoming "in charge of everything." Either way, we forget to back away and consider the possibility that it is simply not our job to be in charge of something, simply because we happen to be "the best" at it. And if someone pushes the leadership baton towards us, we are within our rights to say "no thank you."

Loosely tied to the above is a general fear or avoidance of confrontation, common in HSPs. Many of us don't like to "cause waves" or "stir the pot," and we are generally extremely sensitive to causing others discomfort and annoyance. And so, rather than standing our ground and saying no, we go along with the flow... often to our detriment.

Something else I've frequently come across, in talking to HSPs, is that we have a tendency to obsess a bit, about "what others are thinking of us." Although we may not like to look at this less-than-pretty aspect of our HSP-ness, we often have an ego attachment to what others think of us. Specifically, we develop a self-image as "helpful" and/or "nice people." And then we project onto this reality that "nice people don't say no, when asked to help."

Of course, being able to set boundaries and say "no" has little to do with being nice, and a lot to do with unhealthy co-dependency.

"No" is a standalone word. It doesn't need to be extensively "window dressed" with rationalizations, explanations, excuses and justifications. This was a very hard lesson for me to learn... and from the people I've spoken to about this topic, I am not alone. Even when we DO use the word "no," our tendency is to provide all this excess "wrapping" in order to feel less guilty about turning someone down.

Some person we don't really like says "I'm having a party next week, can you come?" and we go off on a really long song and dance about all the things we need to get done, and visiting our parents out-of-town the day before, and getting in late, and... and... maybe we end up at a non-committal "Well, I'll TRY to come," even though we know perfectly well that we have no intention of going.

Seriously? There is no such thing as "trying" to go to a party. What is going to happen? "Well, I was driving down the street to your house, but every time I got the the four-way stop, my car mysteriously kept turning left all by itself, and just couldn't get all the way down the street. I tried fourteen times, before I gave up and went home. Sorry."

All that's needed is a neutral "No, I won't be able to come."

Some might tell me "but they'll ask WHY!"

The follow-up would be "I'm really not comfortably discussing that."

Some person asks you to help them with computer troubles, and you already don't know how you're going to make it through the week. Maybe they are a good friend... but you must prioritize. Again, the song and dance of the 100 reasons why you're busy is not necessary.

A simple "No, I'm really busy this week" will suffice.

"But then my project will be late!"

Whereas that may be true, it's not your responsibility, because it is not your project. If it's an extreme priority for them, they CAN call "Nerds to Go," or someone else who fixes computers for a living.

In these cases, the "boundary issue" is also about assuming responsibility for the outcome of someone else's life. That may be appropriate if we have children, or the person in question is working for us and their outcome does affect our life. But otherwise? Not so much.

As a business consultant, writer and newsletter creator/editor some years back, one of the issues I had to deal with was no longer doing the extensive "pro bono" work I was doing for friends, and "barely friends." I'd get asked (constantly!) if I could create a newsletter for someone's business or organization, or give them advice on starting their own business. Asking your friends for a free consult is akin to asking the doctor you befriend at the dinner party if she'll examine the wart in your ear, over cocktails.

Now, I'm not someone who's just going to coldly "blow off" my friends. So I had to develop a compromise. What I eventually settled on was recognizing my friends who asked for advice as "special," by inviting them to set up an appointment, and giving them 50% off my normal rates for an initial consult... and then offered a "sliding scale" rate (but NEVER less than 50% off) if they wanted to have follow-up advice/work done. It made THEM feel like I cared, and ME feel like I was still getting paid... and it mostly allowed me to skirt the "outright no" issue.

Whereas "no" tends to be a very definitive and clear-cut word, it doesn't have to be "absolute." We can always choose to create a situation based around "mostly no, but with conditions."

"No" is a very important word, especially for HSPs. It helps us establish boundaries, and it also helps us "map" our priorities. As long as we never say no, everything ends up having equal priority, no matter what we think.

As I close this out, it occurs to me that I ought to address the fact that learning to say "no" (and standing by our no's) is not easy. It may feel wrong to you, for a while. You may feel like your self-image is being challenged. You may feel shaky and anxious, the first few times you tell that pushy co-worker that no, you will NOT file their report, as well as their own, because they want to leave early for happy hour. You may get your feelings hurt when certain people decide they no longer want to be your friend. Then you may get your feelings hurt a second time, when you realize that those same "friends" only were hanging around to "get your free stuff."

As a final side note, I'd like to add that it often holds true that the most rewarding relationships we have, with emotionally healthy people tend to be the result of having healthy boundaries, not the result of indiscriminately agreeing to what everyone else wants us to be, do, or say.


Talk Back: Do you have a difficult time saying no? Do you often find that you are carrying other people's workload, because you set inadequate boundaries? DO you often feel like your "good nature" is being taken advantage of? Are you afraid that "people won't love you" if you say no? Or they'll think you're a "bad person?" Alternately, have you successfully learned to set healthy boundaries? Please share your experiences and leave a comment!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Moments and Insights That Change Us

I've been away for a couple of weeks, and have been pondering long and hard where to resume my writing. It's not "writer's block" that's the issue, it's "too many ideas syndrome."

Being on holiday allows for an interesting break of state. We "step out of the loop" of our daily grind, and stop running for long enough to stand back and observe ourselves. And we can see things we don't see, while we're trapped in our busy-ness. Sometimes, we can see the "current me;" sometimes we gain insights into specific moments and insights that allow us to realize "Oh! That's how I got here...."

Change-- that is, the kind of
real change that shifts the course of our lives-- often happens in a moment. Someone says something that changes our course, and even though we may go through years of what feels like "gradual" changes, we suddenly realize that we can point back to a moment, an event, a conversation, and recognize "Yeah. That's when everything changed course."

HSPs are "deep processors." That can be both a blessing and curse. It's a blessing in the sense that we tend to examine our lives and pursue personal development, rather than glide through our days on oblivious cruise control. The "curse" aspect lies in our knack for inadvertently getting stuck in analysis paralysis... or, worse, getting stuck in "specific events," without moving on from them.

Some 15+ years ago, I found myself in therapy, trying to parse and process what I'd call an "unfortunate" marriage. Although I was ostensibly in therapy for the purpose of processing the relationship, I was
really there to process my life... which had been a rather unfortunate assemblage of attempts to fit into the mainstream of life.

I was brought up to "be a certain way," which largely had to do with being "normal." I won't get into a long analysis of what "normal" means; suffice it to say that I am
not normal, for many reasons not relating to sensitivity. Point being, my life felt a bit like I was 5'4" tall and trying to play professional basketball.

Anyway, one day I was going about my usual lamentations about how this, that and the other felt "off," and how this person and that (and not even my soon-to-be-ex) seemed to be making life difficult and miserable for me, and how tired I was of carrying everyone else's burdens and wiping everyone else's metaphorical rear ends whenever they mess up something.
Kathleen-- who was an excellent therapist, and probably an HSP herself (this was before Elaine Aron's first book)-- held up her hand and said "Can I stop you for a moment...."

So I stopped.

Then she said "
Let me ask you something. Who would you BE, if you didn't have all this chaos and turmoil around you? Who would you BE, if you didn't feel compelled to take care of all these dysfunctional people's problems? Who would you BE, if you could just be YOURSELF?"

At the time, I didn't have an answer. As I recall, I said something non-committal... perhaps "
That's complicated, I'll have to think about it," or "Can I answer that as homework?" And then we continued with the session.

However, a seed was planted.

Sometimes we get stuck in our paradigms. We end up repeatedly and relentlessly choosing the very things we claim we want to
not have in our lives-- chaos, poverty, unhappiness, abandonment, disconnection, even abuse. Even if we feel vaguely aware that something "isn't quite right," we often feel powerless to change things... and we'll even make active excuses like "But I have no CHOICE!"

It was some years before the deeper implications of Kathleen's questions hit home for me. During the years leading to that particular therapy session (and for some years after) it was my core (albeit false) belief that my only "value" in life came from what I could DO to keep (pardon the bluntness) "deeply messed up people" from completely falling apart. In other words, I felt that I had no value, simply being myself.

And so... I kept making choices that made me feel like I had "value," even though those choices were misguided,
and made me feel bad about myself. It wasn't that I didn't recognize "healthy" people-- but somehow they seemed either "less interesting," OR I simply didn't think they'd be interested in me, since they didn't need me to be "of value" (as I perceived "value") to them.

"Blind spots" can be very hard to discover. However, unless we find them, we can end up in a painful pattern... and not even understand why, no matter how much self-analysis we may engage in.


Talk Back: Do you have moments in your life that changed your direction? Did you realize it at the time, or was it years later, when you realized that something said/happened changed your path completely? Did you escape from a painful pattern, as a result? OR... do you find yourself stuck in a pattern that just doesn't make sense? Share your experiences-- leave a comment!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Pitfalls of Expectations

Although "getting one's feelings hurt" is only a part of high sensitivity, HSPs do tend to get their feelings hurt rather more often than most people.

This is perhaps not the news you want to hear, but sometimes it really seems like we “set ourselves up” for suffering by having all sorts of expectations about others, or events, or activities… which then fail to live up to what we'd hoped for. And if you tend to be idealistic by nature, then these disappointments can hit quite hard.

In an HSP web group I belong to, someone was recently lamenting how people “never write back” in response to emails, or fail to write a long detailed letter in response to a long original letter. Of course, “never” is a rather strong term… but many of us are probably familiar with the situation where we spend a couple of hours pouring ourselves into some long exploration of a topic close to our hearts, click the "send" button, it goes to a friend… and two days later, we get back a “two-liner,” nine words in total:

"Wow. Cool idea. Pretty deep. See you next Thursday."

And our feelings are hurt, because we didn't get a response “in kind.” Nine words, not a two thousand word essay.

I know many who'd think "I poured myself into sharing EVERYthing with you, and you HURT me by not sharing everything with ME!".

But where is the problem, REALLY? I'll be the first to admit that “one-way communication” is no fun… but at the same time, sending a three page letter with the expectation of getting the same thing back? That's a recipe for disaster, disappointment and hurt feelings.

Some might not like to hear this, but when you expect someone to respond a certain way when you do something, you're essentially “giving to get.” When we send the long letter we wrote and invest ourselves in getting a long reply, we're no longer “just sharing,” we are making a subtle “demand” that someone reciprocate in kind. In my experience, such “solicited reciprocity” just never seems to work. It has the same “insincere” feeling as the dreaded “demanded apology.” You know, that situation where someone declares ”I DEMAND that you apologize to me!” and the result is a snide and insincere ”I'm soooorry.

Reciprocity is a beautiful thing, and perhaps something we all would like to experience in our interactions-- but (like Love) reciprocity "works" when it is freely given, but not when it becomes a demand, or expectation.

Letting go of expectations is not an easy thing. It has taken me many years to learn to “simply do,” and let things be. Sometimes I have to "pause and check," and ask myself WHY I am doing something-- and not just when I am emailing. I ask myself "Am I doing this because it is the RIGHT thing to do, or because I am trying to GET something?" If the latter is present, I step back and examine my motivations... and consider what I can do for myself, rather than putting the onus on someone else to fill what seems like a "space" inside me, in need of filling.

Of course, not all situations are the same. Sometimes we're simply exuberant about something, and the person we share with simply isn't interested. Or they are busy. Or in crisis. Or depressed. And what we experience (as hurt feelings, ultimately) is the distress of "disconnect," and it didn't have much to do with "giving to get;" merely with a lack of common ground.


TALK BACK: Do you find yourself getting hurt feelings, because people don't “give back” as you expected? Are you guilty of doing things in order to "get something" back? Do you become deeply "invested" in how someone else responds-- to a letter, to something you do? Can you “back away” and recognize that it's sometimes YOUR expectations, rather than THEIR lack of response that might be the issue? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

HSPs and "Changing the World"

When I find myself with a group of HSPs, one of the common topics seems to be about how we can "change the world."

Perhaps it is true of everyone that they want to change the world (in SOME way), but it seems like HSPs ponder these issues more, and more often are anchored in the sense of idealism also common to "NF" Myers-Briggs types. For many, "changing the world" is more of a compulsion, than just an interest.

I've previously written about the issue of changing the world as being an issue so large it overwhelms us, and we get stuck. But there's more to changing the world than merely directing our energies at "bite sizes" we're capable of handling. I'm talking about "the how."

Not all HSPs (in fact, relatively few) are what I'd characterize as "aggressive activists." In fact, even those who very much want to change the world have certain hesitations, and even (sometimes secretly) confess to me that they are "slightly offended" by way "out there" activism like picketing, staging protests, spray painting fur coats, chaining themselves to bulldozers and so on. We'd really like the end result, but getting there through (almost) "violent" means is often unappealing. So we get a bit stuck there... perhaps saying "I don't have the aggressive nature to do that," yet concerned that "nothing will change" unless we make some kind of major statement to the world.

Another issue that comes up occasionally is that of "principles." Sometimes people get "stuck" behind their principles. Maybe they are dedicated vegans who won't even TALK to meat eaters ("on principle")-- yet, unless they talk to said meat eaters, they cannot hope to change their ways. Maybe they consider such things as Facebook and twitter "selling out" to large corporate entities... but find it hard going to work AGAINST the system for change, rather than WITH the system for change.

Personally, I've never been much of an "activist." In fact I'm one of the ones of the mindset that many ostensible activists annoy the hell out of me because they take this very strident approach... which inadvertently portrays them negatively... and so they may have a super important message, but their presentation gets them dismissed as "freaks" and "fringe dwellers." In short, their methodology overshadows their message.

I believe one of the core necessities for greater long-term change in the world is "balance." From where I am sitting-- I believe we must be "opportunistic" as well as "idealistic;" that is, we must be willing to "use the system" and "their tools" to spread the word about our message and our values. Hence, I work with "mainstream" venues like Blogger (which is part of google), Facebook and twitter to inform people about sensitivity as a biological trait.

Of course, everyone has their own approach. My experience has been (regardless of whether you're talking to other HSPs, or the world at large) that connecting across similarities and "infiltrating from within" typically results in more lasting change than causing a ruckus with a few loud noises.

For example-- on a more personal level-- I don't carry an "I'm an HSP!" banner around, trying to "beat" the trait into people's heads. Truthfully, I have connected with and "informed" more unaware HSPs by simply leaving "The Highly Sensitive Person" out in a visible place... if a dialogue ensues (Them: "What's that you're reading?" Me: "Oh, it's a very interesting book about sensitivity as an innate biological trait. Turns out that a lot of people are simply wired to be sensitive." And then we're sometimes "off to the races." And sometimes not.), then maybe there's something there to explore further. Most people (HSP, or otherwise) respond better to invitations to subtle self-discovery, than to being beaten over the head.

Of course, that's just my opinion! Your mileage may vary....


Talk Back: Do you find yourself wanting to help change the world, but get stuck? Are you more inclined towards "aggressive activism," or "subtle influence from within?" Do you have strong principles that sometimes "get in the way" of your desire to change things? Share your experiences-- leave a comment!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tribe Magazine and Community for HSPs

In 1996, Elaine Aron published her book "The Highly Sensitive Person" and since then hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people have learned that there is a "name" for these odd feelings we've always had, and that that this "thing" we feel isn't some "illness," or "mental disorder," but a natural and innate biological trait.

Our journeys to understanding and healing (as HSPs and human beings) may have taken many different forms-- for most of us there has been much learning, along with a sense of relief at knowing that "we are not alone," and nothing has to be "fixed."

In 1996, there was not much information available about High Sensitivity... slowly, a few web sites and forums sprung up; eventually the trait got better known, mostly by word-of-mouth. In 2001, the first HSP Gathering took place... and for many who attended, it was like meeting their "tribe" for the first time. Now it is October 2009, and we stand at the threshold of the NEXT stage of HSP awareness-- if you don't already know this, the inaugural issue of "Tribe" magazine has just been issued.

What is "Tribe?"

"Tribe" is a quarterly magazine for HSPs, about HSPs (and HSP issues), created and HSPs. But it is not only a magazine, it's also a global online community-- a community that not only connects online, but also creates the written bycontent of the magazine: Articles, personal essays, short fiction, poetry, photography, art and more. In other words, it offers HSPs everywhere a "voice;" a space in which to share their creativity.

No, I don't work for "Tribe" (even if this sounds a bit like a promotional announcement), I just think it's a brilliant idea whose time has come-- as one of the "oldies" who has been part on the global online HSP community since 1997... there was nothing like this, when I first tried to learn about sensitivity as a trait. We've come a long way. We still have a long way to go. "Tribe" is a REALLY IMPORTANT next step, in getting Sensitives everywhere "seen" in the world-- not as "a bunch of flakes," but as creative, beautiful individuals with something valuable to contribute to the world.

SO... here's what I encourage all you folks out in HSP Blog Land to DO (Yes, I'm asking you to DO something, and be "Active Agents" in the HSP Community!) :

Go check out the site; read the magazine (online version, OR you can buy a paper copy), then join the their forum... this is the place where you get to add your articles, stories, photography, poetry and other creative endeavors.

If you have a StumbleUpon account, add the sites linked to below to your SU favorites; write a brief review, even.

If you have a web site and/or blog with "HSP content," why not add a link, and a brief blurb?

If you twitter, tweet it. If you're on Facebook, add a link as a status update. If you're a member of one of the numerous HSP forums around the www, tell people about it.

Don't just SIT there! SPREAD THE WORD!

Consider this: Your support helps THEM give YOU a voice, as an HSP... so by taking action, you're really helping YOURSELF, in the long run.

Here are the links (all open in a new tab):

"Tribe" home page

"Tribe" Community forum

"Tribe" magazine (online version/to order a printed copy)

Just DO it! It's only a few minutes of your life....

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Yes, it's still the same blog!

HSP Notes got a facelift today.

I've had a few comments over the years that the blog was getting a bit "cluttered" with all the information here. I tried to tweak the template to "unclutter" it's appearance, but found that too much of the old format was stored as images on someone else's server and thus not tweakable.

So, now we have a new appearance, rather simpler and hopefully easier on the eye. I've tried to keep the general colors and layout about the same as it was before.

What do you think? Leave feedback in comments!

This little bit of updating made me pause to ponder the difficulties many HSPs have with "change." We often find "change" unsettling, and we take a while to get used to new things. Sometimes this is even true of "cosmetic changes" to
existing things. The house on the corner-- which has always been white-- is painted sunflower yellow, and even though it has nothing directly to do with our lives, the change jars our sensitivities.

Of course, big changes-- like a move, the death of a loved one, or the end of a relationship-- tend to be jarring to ALL people, although especially so for HSPs.

Sometimes our hesitance about changes can result in stuckness. We avoid making a change for fear of dealing with the upsetting feelings the change will cause... whether it is our own overstimulation, OR our concerns that others will become upset with us, because we're choosing to be "different" from how we used to be.


Talk Back: How well do you handle change? Do you find yourself AVOIDING changes, to avoid getting overstimulated? EVEN if those changes are necessary and overdue? Share your experiences-- leave a comment!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Growing: It Starts with Ourselves

I recently returned from a week in Europe, dealing with my late mother's estate, and settling her affairs. Although it was a busy and often emotionally challenging week, being there allowed me some time to reflect on life, and our choices... how we choose to live, and what the consequences of those choices are.

I don't remember exactly when-- maybe it was 2003?-- I was at an HSP Gathering, listening to Elaine Aron give a presentation.

One of the little snippets I took away, and which has stuck with me ever since, is the idea that we must "heal OURSELVES, before we can heal others."

Of course, that's a two way street.

Ultimately, just like we can't "make it OK" for anyone else, nobody else can "make it OK," for US.

As HSPs, we're very aware of other people's feelings, and we're also very aware of subtleties in people's energies. Many HSPs are "givers" and "healers" by nature (even if they are not aware of it) and I think we often busy ourselves trying to "make it OK" for others... in some hope (which is actually a bit passive-aggressive, if you think about it) that the other person(s) will magically turn around and "heal" us, as a reciprocal "thank you" for our "efforts."

Usually, such expectations will lead to disappointment.

If the above sounds a bit "accusatory" to you... pause, for a moment, and ponder whether you feel that way because I'm touching on an uncomfortable truth, in your life.

Long before I was aware there was such a thing as "being an HSP," one of my Teachers pointed out that it is not anyone else's job to "heal us," or "fix us."

AT BEST, the only thing "another" can do, is provide a "sacred space" in which we can sit and "tell stories." However, "The Other" (be it a therapist, God, the Beloved, a friend, spouse) can really only hold the hole of "listener;" they can never be the "fixer."

Expectations will "bite you" every single time. Expectations that the "fix" (and hence healing) is going to come from someplace "outside" ourselves... will come back to haunt us, every time. It has bitten me, every time I've noticed myself slide into that pattern. I watch it bite friends, and acquaintances. AND... below that... I watch people insist that "someone" made it OK for them... and a few months down the road, they come back and admit that it was just a "magic bandaid" whose effect wore off a few months/years down the road... because the underlying pain was never actually dealt with... just temporarily glossed over.

Maybe this sounds a bit "fatalistic," but actually I don't believe it IS. It's just about being ACCOUNTABLE, and about becoming "active agents" in our own lives, rather than trying to farm out accountability to external events.

I don't remember who said this, but it's a quote I often keep in mind: "Life isn't about what HAPPENS to you, it's about how you RESPOND to what happens."


Talk Back: Do you find yourself sliding into a pattern of "blaming externals" for where you are in life? Do you recognize that you rely on the idea that "IF ONLY someone/something did this and that" your life would be better? Or are you more self-directed? Leave a comment!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Choices: Starting from HERE

I am getting back into writing-- here, and in other places.

"Starting" is a process, and it seems different for different people. Elaine Aron writes that HSPs tend to be uncommonly conscientious. I know this holds true for me, and I'll also be the first to admit that I have often had a tendency towards perfectionism.

This morning, I was contemplating this process of getting the HSP Notes blog going again. And I soon realized that I was starting down an old path of "spinning my wheels," which (to go by past history) could eventually lead to feeling overwhelmed... and then getting nothing done.

Perhaps you're familiar with this scenario (or something similar) when it comes to "starting" something:

I log into my account.
I'm immediately aware that I have neglected my blog for a year.
I feel some guilt over this-- this blog has a large readership, and IS (after all) the longest running HSP blog on the www.
I tell myself I must write "something important" to get started again.
I start thinking about the entries from my personal journal, from this past year, I want to write up and transfer here.
I start thinking about all the "peripheral" things I need to update, as I re-start here.
I think about new features I want to add.

No more than TEN MINUTES passed, since I "arrived" here to write an update... and I was at the edge of "feeling stuck," because the simple original intent of "writing a new entry" had turned into "a huge project." And the edges of overwhelm were creeping up on me.

In times past, I would have launched myself into hours of work to make sure "I did it properly."

Today... I stepped back, and reminded myself that sometimes we simply have to "start from HERE," even if what we're doing is part of some greater picture. If you're moving, step back from the HUGE project called "I'm moving," and just "pack ONE box." If you're getting back into exercising after a 5-year break, step back from the knowledge that you once ran marathons, and focus on "working out 10 minutes today."

Sometimes "the past" (and our history) is not only "not helpful" to our current situation... it can actually become "clutter" that impedes our progress.

Sometimes we simply have to Start From Here, and trust that the rest will get taken care of, as needed.


Talk Back: How often do you find yourself "stuck" because you allow something small and simple to grow into a huge project? Are you able to avoid the temptation to "clean your desk" before you can start a simple task? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Update from Management

I have been away, for a long time.

The past year has been one of many challenges. And there has been "a challenge, within the challenges," in discovering ways to practically and authentically apply what I have learned about being an HSP, during the past decade and change.

It has weighed on me that I have felt neglectful, with respect to updating these pages.

At the same time, I have been mindful of what it truly means to "honor" my needs, as an HSP.

As HSPs, we often have an extreme sense of duty and responsibility. Many HSPs could be characterized as "loyal to a fault." Loyalty and steadfastness are admirable traits... but the "fault" part can become a problem, when we allow ourselves (to our detriment) to become trapped by our sense of duty and obligation.

Whereas "being of service to others" can be a very important part of life (and remains an important part of mine), sometimes I have to pause and remind myself that I am no good to anyone else if I drive myself into the ground while carrying out such "service."

The ability to assess a situation and prioritize is of utmost importance to HSPs. Of course, it's of importance to everyone, but HSPs-- with our more easily overwhelmed natures-- must be particularly mindful of our choices and priorities. We must ask ourselves "Does this act, habit, idea, person best serve our needs, in this moment?"

I'm not advocating that we should just throw away anything that's not working "right now," just that we "pause and prioritize," on a regular basis. Nor am I advocating some kind of selfishness-- just stopping and evaluating.

What's most important?
What has become not as important, that once was important?
What can be discarded, completely?
Should something new be started?

Since September of last year, I have faced all these questions, many times.

My 87-year old mother was suffering from dementia, and had to move into an assisted living facility. She lived in Europe, I live in Washington state, in the US. I was her only living relative. At the beginning of August this year, she passed away. My priorities for the past year changed.

An old relationship ended, and was "redefined."

A business I had been "playing" with became a full-time occupation-- a "calling" of sorts-- allowing me to weather this economic climate, as a self-employed person.

A new-- much healthier, and reciprocal-- relationship grew, and blossomed.

The above all led me to "choice points" where my lessons learned about being an HSP taught me that if I were to add something new to my plate, I also needed to take something off my plate. Among the things that came off my plate was most of my active involvement in the online HSP community. It was all about establishing priorities, within the framework of knowing that-- as an HSP-- I am able to manage a finite number of tasks and no more, if I am to remain emotionally healthy.


Talk Back: How often to YOU "take inventory" of the state of your life? How good are you at managing your energy, and finding balance? How good are you at removing "what's no longer needed" to make room for new opportunities? Leave a comment!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

HSPs and Taking Ownership of Our Own Stuff

I spent many years being moderator and "list owner" on a variety of listservs and online communities for HSPs.

I'm sad to say that one of the most common topics of conversation revolved around "how awful" everyone else in the world seemed to be, and how "nobody" paid attention to our needs, and on and on. To be perfectly honest, a great many HSP conversations were (and still are-- I remain involved in many of these communities) little more than a giant "pity party."

Whereas I am definitely an HSP, I periodically get accused of not being one, because I rattle people's cages... by pointing at the truth, rather than becoming part of an unhealthy "group enabling" that often occurs when a number of HSPs get together in central venue, whether that's online, or at a retreat. That (evidently!) makes me "not nice," and there's a common belief that HSPs are always "nice."

Well, here's a newsflash for you:

When you-- as an HSP-- start "demanding" that everyone else adapt their world to fit needs, how is that any different from the situation you're complaining about? That is, the situation where NON-HSPs are telling you that you're "yourtoo sensitive, and need to toughen up?"

My point here being that learning to manage our sensitivities and being "high functioning" in the world is not about getting other people and the environment to adapt to us, but about finding more suitable ways to function, ourselves. Rather than engage in "finger pointing" and "us vs. them" thinking, we must "take ownership of our own stuff."

For example, I had an HSP friend who'd get headaches from the flourescent lighting at her place of work. And so, she went off on a "crusade" to get the lighting in the office changed. Whereas that certainly may have showed "noble intent," she was met with a great deal of resistance, especially since the flourescents had been installed as part of an "energy consciousness" program. I asked her if she'd asked her manager if she could simply move to a different cubicle, OR be allowed to hang a "cover" of sorts over her existing space, to minimize the glare. It had never occurred to her that she could make changes to her own environment, she automatically went to work on the external environment.

"Owning our own stuff," as HSPs, is about first asking "What can I do for me?" before we start asking (and making demands) about "what can others do for me."

Please think about this, next time you face some kind of challenge to your sensitivity.

You may be reading these words and thinking "Wait. You're not supporting the HSP cause!" And I know one of the common complaints HSPs share is that "we always have to adapt" to other people's needs.

I am supporting the HSP cause.

Please pause to consider that when you start "making demands" of your surroundings, you may not really be "helping HSPs," even if it feels like you are. You may actually be reinforcing to the world that "HSPs are a bunch of spoiled brat premadonnas who can't fit in without special treatment."

And that doesn't really serve us very well.

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