Friday, December 17, 2010

Perceptions and Reality: Childhood, Part One

How did the world perceive you as a child? What do you remember of the feedback you got from the world around you, when you were young-- family, friends, schoolmates? And how did that feedback match up with-- or clash with-- your perception of yourself?

As HSPs, one of the things we tend to do is absorb the feedback from around us and then internalize it in the most negative light possible. Moreover, because we are emotionally sensitive we will get our feelings hurt over comments that were not hurtful, and may even have been positive and constructive feedback. And after years of brooding and stewing on something, we can easily slip into a "victim role" over things/words we once upon a time internalized as negative, when in fact they were merely neutral.

As part of the ongoing examination of Who We Are, I'm going to go through a few exercises and explorations in going backwards to the source of our past and present self-perception. I encourage you to do your own "look back."

Now, in examining the roots of what makes you uniquely YOU and how you felt during early life, I encourage you to avoid taking the "Oh, I felt SO misunderstood, boo-hoo-hoo" path here... let's face it, every child/teenager-- from the mondo geek to the cheerleader-- feels misunderstood and out of step with the world. Feeling "misunderstood" is an annoying and nebulous term, at best... right up there with "being nice." What does it actually mean?

For a moment, I will just list a few single words that seemed to characterize what the outside world saw in me and commented on, when I was a kid. These might be words hear in conversation, or from friends, or even in "accusations" during moments of frustration:


Perhaps some of these words resonate with you-- they are fairly common among HSPs. Make a list of your own-- don't try to analyze deeper meaning and intent, just jot down the words. I have avoided "sensitive," because it's rather obvious and goes without saying.

Are these words "bad?" Moreover, are they true?

What we have here is merely a list of words that are reflections of what other people saw in me-- objective, or otherwise.

It can be a useful-- and often revealing-- exercise to consider (without assigning "judgment" or "negative meanings") how people got these perceptions... so make your own list, and walk through it. The point here, is to take these words we perhaps carry around as "negative" (which can turn us into victims) and instead look at them objectively and "own" them. Again, try to avoid words and phrases that mostly reflect self-pity and feeling victimized.

Let me start at the top. "Shy." Was I shy? I was certainly hesitant around people and especially around strangers... I could often "feel" their energy, and it mostly felt very rough and invasive.

But let's dig a little deeper. What is shyness? Shyness is-- for the most part-- learned through conditioning and experience, and involves a certain degree of anxiety about the prospect of interacting with people, especially strangers. But I wasn't exactly shy. I actually kind of liked people, when I was little. Apparent Shyness is a term that refers to-- obviously-- people who "appear" shy. It is often used to describe introverts, because they don't tend to be very social. Introverts (like myself) are not by definition "shy." Introverts are merely people who derive most of their inner energy recharge from solitude and introspection...(hence "intro," meaning turning inwards) while extraverts are people who gain most of their energy from interaction with other people and from socializing. Both of these are core temperament traits, and neither "good" or "bad," nor "right" or "wrong."

As a child, how did I experience what others perceived as-- and labeled-- shyness? Recent research on introverts and extraverts suggests that either preference is derived from how our brain's "reward system" responds to situations. As a child, I was aware that being around other people-- especially in larger groups-- left me feeling exhausted. Being in a group activity of some kind simply didn't "feel good," the way it would "feel good" for an extraverted person... whose brain reward system would-- in fact-- be stimulated by the interaction.

Of course, having this information doesn't excuse me from social interaction... it merely "describes" why it holds less attraction for me than for other people... and helps me understand that I do not have some kind of "phobia" holding me back. It also helps me accept that the people who called me "too shy" (and perhaps hurt my feelings or made me feel "less than") were perhaps merely ignorant about the meaning of shy, or failed to understand that a person could be emotionally healthy without being like them.

As I go down my list of words, I realize that few-- if any-- of them are actually negative, by themselves. It is only my own interpretation that at one time made them negative.

More in the next installment...

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Perceptions, Reality and Who We REALLY Are

On my "travels" through the HSP community, I have run into various misconceptions about what it means to be a Highly Sensitive Person. For example, a particularly common misconception is that HSPs are (by definition) "nice" people. In fact, I'd submit that many HSPs are actually attached to the idea that they are "nice," like being sensitive somehow makes them members of a clan of Nice People.

This idea is actually not true, at all. HSPs can be just as unpleasant and ornery as any other people out there. When I point this out, many get rather angry with me.

"You've GOT to be kidding! I'm offended!"

No, I'm not kidding.

I don't like the term "nice," at the best of times... after all, just who gets to decide what constitutes "nice" and "not-nice?"

But I digress...

When I thought about this issue, I realize that it's really just a small part of a greater issue HSPs often face: namely that there's often a huge gap between how we perceive ourselves, and how others perceive us. And I am talking about perceptions that extend far beyond the common complaint... that the world perceives HSPs as "too sensitive."

I'm talking about the overall issue of who we really are... and how we present ourselves to the world.

On the surface, that may look like a pretty straightforward exercise... but I can assure you it's not. Do you know who you are? I mean... who you really are? Do you (objectively) know how others perceive you? Do you know how people perceived you, as a child? Does who you feel you really are match the way you present yourself in the world? How is that working for you... or not? What kinds of toxic behaviors are you hanging on to-- even if subconsciously-- because you believe they somehow serve you... even if they keep you from living an authentic life?

In the coming weeks (or months) I am planning to explore these issues. One of the things I really like about blogging (aside from writing) is that a blog is an interactive forum... a place where issues can be presented and discussed. With that in mind, I'm hoping to make this a somewhat "interactive" series of explorations...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Regional HSP Resources: Texas

Every now and then I like to take a moment to pause and highlight a few resources for HSPs. Today, I am going to take a more local/regional focus, once again-- turning to the great state of Texas. HSP resources are few and far between, in some areas, but I shall endeavor to update this post periodically, to include any new and noteworthy listings

As an irrelevant side note, I lived in Texas for about 20-odd years and helped set up the very first HSP meetup group in the state, in Austin. Although that group no longer exists, here are some resources for Texas HSPs:

Texas Support & Social Groups for HSPs:

The Texas HSP Group is a statewide online discussion group. It is part of the YahooGroups network, and has been around since December 2007 when it was started as a replacement for the previous Texas HSP group, which shut down in late 2005.

The Texas HSP group is a "closed" (moderated membership) email group which can also be viewed as an online message board by members only. Although most members are from the major cities of Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, it does have members spread across the state. Discussions focus on pretty much any and all topics relating to living as an HSP.

In addition to the forum email list, the group also has its own informative web site, with some basic information about the group, and the HSP trait.

Counselors, Coaches & Therapists who Work with HSPs:

Austin, TX: Heather Davies, LCSW. Works with empaths & Highly Sensitive people.

Southlake, TX (near Dallas- Ft. Worth): Expressive Counseling-- Elizabeth Kupferman. Works especially with Highly Sensitive women.

Other Services:

Sugar Land, TX (Houston): Dr. Shelena Lalji-- integrative medicine and wellness. A fairly large office and spa; familiarity with working with highly sensitive persons.

Note: The above information is provided purely as a service to other HSPs, and DOES NOT constitute any kind of "endorsement of the people, groups or services listed!

Friday, June 11, 2010

HSPs and Attachments: Cleaning out the Old, to make room for the New

Change is difficult.

Or, if not "difficult," at least challenging.

Now I am not talking about "changing socks," here... I am talking about real, deep, meaningful and lasting change in how we live our lives.

When I think about change, a favorite quote by Helen Keller comes to mind:

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."

I've been "cleaning out the old" today, although only in a very small and microcosmic sort of way. I've been wading through literally 100's of old partially started, half-finished and almost-finished posts I've written for this blog, in the course of the past eight years. I realized, as I was doing this, that I had (and have had) a great reluctance to outright "scrap" any of these old pieces of unfinished writing. After all... "what if" they might be important? Or good? Or worth writing later?

When I contemplated all this "unfinished work" I actually came to the realization that it felt a bit an "emotional boat anchor." As long as I kept it, I was also hanging onto an unspoken/unwritten "obligation" to look at it and finish it... later. And it had a "weight."

I paused for a while to consider this. And got to thinking about other aspects of my life, and then about other people's lives... and what we all "cling to" from our pasts. Why is it sometimes so difficult to just let go of things that no longer serve us?

HSPs are masters of examining their lives-- deep introspection is broadly regarded as a part of the trait. It's "processing more deeply." It's "being aware of nuances," primarily in our own lives. Some would argue that we process excessively, and end up with "analysis paralysis."

But I'm not going to talk about that, today.

I'm going to spend a little time on the subject of "change." And the process of effectuating real personal change, as opposed to superficial "cosmetic" changes that may make us feel good about ourselves for a while, but don't really lead to our lives feeling better, in the long run. Central to forging a path forward is finding a measure of willingness to simply let go old stuff we've carried around, frequently with the intent of "dealing with it later."

Often we have good ideas about where we want to go. And a sense of what must be changed. The genuine challenge-- which seems to hold especially true for HSPs, as a group-- is to let go of "the old." Maybe it's because HSPs become very attached to staying in their comfort zones... and even if our old ways were painful and not serving us, there was still a comfortable familiarity there. And so, rather than let go of what no longer is useful, we remain attached to it, and try to "drag it forward" into our present; into the "new life" we are trying to build.


Don't get me wrong; I believe that examining the past in order to gain insights into the present is a valid endeavor. But once you've examined and processed "the past," why continue to burden yourself with it? Be aware of it? Absolutely! But continue to carry it around? Not so good...

Change is scary, too. As HSPs we generally don't like that aspect of change. And we are often a little bit OCD-ish about wanting to know what we're getting into. Stepping towards the "unknown" makes us hesitate. A secondary consideration is that we often refuse to get rid of the old, until we're certain we're going to take up the new. There may be a measure of sense to that-- at least in some situations-- but if the old warrants discarding, on its own merit, why do we persist in making the discard contingent on starting something new?

Could be a new job, or even a shift from corporate employment to self-employment. Even though we (A) hate our old job and it makes us feel stressed out and miserable and (B) we feel quite certain the new direction will make is feel much happier... we hesitate. Or more than hesitate. Instead of putting our energies and resources into our potentially brighter future, we trap ourselves in rationalizations about our not so happy past. We start telling ourselves that our stressful job isn't really that bad. That working 60 hours a week with people we really never got along with "isn't THAT bad."

Could be a relationship, or the promise of a relationship. Even as someone who has proven themselves worthy, over and over, waits for us with open arms we look backwards and reframe a wildly dysfunctional and abusive situation as "not that bad." In a fit of weakness, we may even decide to "abandon" our future and return to the "familiar devil" of our past.

Or, like my writing, it could a hobby. It could be the fourteen boxes of yarn we've been moving around for 15 years because we intended to take up weaving "at some point." And even though it has become pretty obvious that we will never take up weaving, we still cart the boxes around with us... and they represent not only physical baggage (we need to store them, and we could sure use the storage space), but also an emotional "weight" as we carry with us this "unfulfilled intention" to DO something with all this yarn... and even if that doesn't live in our active memories, we're still aware of it, and it takes up "space" in some way.

So what gives? Why do we cling so hard to "what once was" and "what has been?"

The reasons many, and I won't explore their intricacies and convolutions. The main thing I wanted to bring up is the need for awareness that we're clinging to things that no longer serve us. And to share that there is a great relief-- and subsequent healing-- in the act of simply deciding to "let go." Afterwards, there is a "lightness," and we suddenly feel more capable of stepping into the future we have dreamed about, and know that we want.

So... let go! It's gonna be OK.

So what happened to all my writing? Well, I probably scrapped about 120 unfinished posts today; maybe seventy-five thousand words vanished with a few clicks. I saved fewer than 20 that seemed interesting and were "almost finished," and mostly recent. After all, who the hell wants to read stuff written with a five-year old frame of reference? Then I thought "Oh, I should hang onto those, and release them one at a time." THEN I thought... "wait a minute, you're doing the same thing, AGAIN!" And I decided I'd release them onto the blog en-masse, with the original post dates (from when I first wrote them) intact, and then I'd have a clean space from which to continue writing.

It just seemed right.

And yes, I do feel lighter!

Talk Back: Do you have a tendency to hold onto the past? Does it keep you from being in the present, and moving forward? When was the last time you did some major cleaning out of old beliefs, objects, people and other things that no longer serve? If you have, how did it feel? If you haven't, what are you waiting for? WHEN will you do it? What is holding you back?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Reflection: Moving Beyond "Being An HSP"

As I write these words, the 19th "HSP Gathering Retreat" is about to begin, on Gabriola Island in British Columbia.

As I think about that, I can't help but contemplate my own participation in these events, and the many things I learned, as a result. I gained much, including the understanding that I had a "tribe" of sorts... but even while I recognized that, I also learned that HSPs are just as individually different as any other "tribe" of people. Sometimes I think we lose sight of that, and get very involved in the business of "being an HSP," like it somehow offers us sum-total summary of Who We Are.

Learning is about personal evolution. As we learn and gain wisdom, we change... and those changes result in our self-perception evolving, as well. HSPs tend to be quite passionate about self-improvement and the "study of self," sometimes to the point of getting bogged down in "analysis paralysis." But there is a big difference between eternally studying life, and being an actual active part of life.

Once upon a time, I was this largely "embryonic" human being, utterly unaware of myself and the "why" and "how" of my motivations. I emerged from a dysfunctional childhood as a glorified sleepwalker, moving through life like an automaton. "Functioning" (in the practical sense), but hardly "living," and certainly not living authentically. Then I picked up a psychology text and a few courses in college, and things changed. Some years later, I started studying the enneagram, which led me to a spiritual path of Nonduality, and things changed. Some years later (again!), I learned about this thing called "High Sensitivity." Again, things changed. In the course of another decade, I learned how to embrace this thing; this neurological trait... which had offered me the insight that sensitivity isn't always a choice or a learned response... but something written into my genetic code.

I feel blessed to have been a part of the evolving global "HSP Community" since 1997, and am thrilled at how much information is now available, compared to the great void I found when I first examined this new concept. I'm stoked about the ongoing research and the multinational studies now showing the science behind attributes people would often respond to with words like "That's not REAL! It's just in your HEAD!"

Indeed, it IS real.

For example, it is now known that the neural pathways of HSPs and non-HSPs fire differently, when they are studied with fMRI equipment, while subjects perform the same tasks. For example, the trait has now been observed in dozens of animal populations, as well as in humans. For example, the somewhat ambiguous and New Agey sounding "Highly Sensitive Person" is now increasingly supplemented with the scientific term "Sensory-Processing Sensitivity." For example, there's a whole new "generation" of people in the Helping Professions who are moving from an approach of primarily "validating HSPs" to "empowering HSPs."

But there is something that troubles me, a bit, about the whole HSP issue... and it's an extension of my "Staying True to What Matters" posts of earlier this year. It concerns where people "go" with their learning... or, rather, where they sometimes stop. And I know this matters, because I have been in that stopped place and realized that I had to move on. It's a place called...

"I am an HSP."

You might be asking yourself "What the &%$#?! is he talking about???"

Hey, don't get me wrong. You ARE an HSP! I think it's cool and groovy that we learn and recognize and embrace that we're HSPs. What's not so groovy is that so many tend to stop there. What's the problem? It's limiting. We are, in effect, putting ourselves in a box; drawing a "boundary" around ourselves that serves to "set us apart" from, rather than making us "a part of" Life. And it becomes particularly troublesome when the phrase "because I am an HSP" becomes closely held self-identification that restricts our involvement in life to being observers rather than participants.

Let me offer an analogy. I have no hair on my head. Like "being sensitive;" this is simply a fact about me. But I don't go through life thinking about myself as "a bald man." I think of myself (IF I even get that far) as "A man, who happens to be bald." I am aware of, and mindful that it impacts my life in certain ways. That I must always wear a hat on sunny days, and use sunscreen, up top. I understand that a whole set of "hair related" stuff is irrelevant to me, from what I can do when I am getting a hair cut, to what products I need. I understand that there will be some people who believe that you simply can't be "cool" if you don't have hair. But that doesn't stop my life, in any way.

And that's the point I want to get to, here.

The danger for many HSPs lies in this pervasive tendency to "get stuck" at discovering, then learning, then embracing that they are "Highly Sensitive," but then getting bogged down in a nifty comfort zone where they feel like they are "done." Like "everything has now been explained." Or maybe "done" is not the right statement... but certainly they languor in a state where "I am an HSP" serves as their primary source of self-identity. Because it's comfortable. And it feels safe.

I have news for you:

"I am an HSP" is not who you are!

What you are, is "A human being, who happens to be an HSP."

Maybe the difference strikes you as very subtle. And maybe it is. But please... stay awake, and be mindful of the choice points in your life, where perhaps you allow the personal statement "I am an HSP" to limit your choices. Be mindful that "I am an HSP" does not become like a "personal 8-ball" you carry around with you... and when you see something you desire, you take out your personal 8-ball, and place it between yourself, and what you truly want in life. I'm sad to say that I run into this, alarmingly often. And whereas people who get stuck like that will wholeheartedly agree with me that being highly sensitive is not a pathology, they are typically not very happy when I point out that using this "because I'm an HSP" statement looks an awful lot like pathologizing the trait.

Now, I do want to kick in an important footnote, here. We're all at our own unique "point on the curve," when it comes to personal development and self-awareness. And wanting to get immersed in the whole "I'm an HSP!" idea is a natural part of the progression. All I'm saying is "Don't get COMPLACENT and STUCK there!"

I should also finish by saying that this post is mostly for those who learned about the HSP trait a long time ago. If it's "all new to you," these thoughts and questions lie somewhere down the road for you. For now? Just enjoy the fact that you have "an explanation!"

Talk Back: Where are you, on your journey to yourself? Do you find that you often reach for the "I'm an HSP" idea as the "explanation" for many of your actions? Or have you moved beyond that point, in your life? Do you ever use the trait as an "excuse" or "crutch" to avoid certain aspects of life... even if you only "make the excuse" to yourself?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Seattle and Puget Sound Area HSP Meetup Group

The following is a "local" announcement. Local, that is, if you live in Western Washington, specifically if you happen to be an HSP in the greater Seattle and Puget Sound area.

I moved to Port Townsend (which is not so far from Seattle) a few years ago. When I left Texas, I also decided that when I arrived in my new home, I was going to get actively involved in an effort to "build community" in my area, for HSPs. For this reason and that, it got to be almost four years later, and I hadn't done anything about it. Sure, some of us had "talked about it" a bit, but it never got beyond talk.

So anyway, there is now a Seattle and Puget Sound area HSP Meetup Group. There has actually been a rather large "waiting list" for a Seattle area HSP meetup... I think (in part) because it just seems too daunting for most HSPs to "step up and be in charge" something-- especially group related.

If you're just stopping by and reading this, and you live in the greater Seattle/Puget Sound area... (it could be as far as Bellingham, Chehalis or Port Angeles, if you don't mind driving) ... and would like to be part of face-to-face meetings with other HSPs in the region, head on over to meetup and become a group member. If you live on the Olympic or Kitsap Peninsulas, or on Whidbey Island, also consider joining the smaller "sister" group, more specifically for people WEST of the Puget Sound.

If you haven't been to meetup recently, and/or you were once part of the "old" Seattle and Eastside meetups, the meetup site is QUITE different now. The group has its OWN "mini web site," with our own message boards, photo albums and more. It's a LOT easier to navigate and use than it was, 5-6 years ago. If you're a meetup member (in general) but haven't logged on in a while, you might need to take a moment to update your profile.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Elaine Aron on "How to Find a Good Therapist"

The issue of therapy and counseling often comes up with HSPs. Hereunder the question of how to choose a suitable person from the Helping Professions. As HSPs we do tend to have certain needs that must be met when working with a mental health professional, and often these needs are not the same as "everyone else's."

I came across this article on the Huffington Post web site, written by Elaine Aron on the topic of "How to Find a Good Therapist." I thought this might be useful, especially since it was written by an HSP who is a practicing clinician:

Elaine Aron on How to Find a Good Therapist

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Tribe": The Magazine for HSPs

For a moment, I'm going to put on my Public Relations hat, here...

If you are not yet aware or missed the announcements here, last year a new magazine was launched: "Tribe" is a beautiful 4-color print magazine created BY HSPs, FOR HSPs, largely about the different aspects of living as an HSP. Tribe is a celebration of the beauty, strength and creativity of HSPs around the world-- a showcase of some of the best we offer the world.

This is our magazine.

The latest issue of Tribe is now available... I just got mine in the mail; it's well worth buying and reading. And sharing with others. It's a beautiful high quality full-color publication with insightful articles, poetry, beautiful photography, art and more. It's available as a web download as well as a printed magazine, but I really recommend the print version.

Tribe is still a new publication (this is just the second issue), and relies heavily on word-of-mouth to spread awareness... so I'm helping pass along the word. If you Facebook or twitter, or have a web site or blog of your own, I'm sure they'd appreciate any good word you pass along

Finally, in the interests of "full disclosure," I should say that I'm also selfishly motivated here... I authored an article in the current issue. But don't let that hold you back...

So... what are you waiting for? Go have a look!

Go here to buy a print copy of the Winter issue of Tribe Magazine.

For more general information about the winter issue of Tribe, follow this link.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

HSPs and the Empathy, Caring and Avoidance Trap

Quite often, I base my posts here on things I’ve heard discussed elsewhere by HSPs, be it in forums, in face-to-face conversations, or from reading articles on web sites.

Recently, I came across a discussion about HSPs, empathy, wanting to help and codependence. The point was made that—as HSPs—we have a deep sense of empathy, which makes it very easy (“natural” even) to “get into another person’s experience,” but that doing so often really is less about wanting to help, than about escaping from certain unaddressed issues of our own. And that the tendency to rush to help and enmesh ourselves (and “rescue”) in other people’s lives can really be quite unhealthy in the way it leads us to “forget” or “overlook” taking care of ourselves.

Based on meeting and spending time with many other HSPs... I feel that the above is true for many of us. I'm highly aware of it in others, as well as in myself. I believe that as healers, caregivers, nurturers, empaths and whatever else goes with the trait, we're naturally inclined to be very "other referencing." In extreme or "unhealthy" forms, we run the risk of becoming "self forgetting," as well.

I also believe there are many and varied reasons why we "go there," ranging from actual (conscious or UNconscious) fear of examining our own unaddressed issues, to enmeshment and codependence issues, to a sort of arrogance (Yes, I really DID just say "arrogance," about HSPs!) in which we assume we simply "know better" than others what's good for them. When I looked at this issue in myself, I realized it was all tied into old abandonment issues… by enmeshing myself in other people’s problems, I could make myself “indispensable,” and who’s going to abandon someone indispensable to them? Problem solved!

Not so much.

I should add, however, that I believe there are healthy and toxic expressions of this tendency... although many are probably "unhealthy" to various degrees... However, if you are simply a very giving and selfless person, who’s also very aware of your own “bag of goods,” a deep caring about healing and the well-being of others is definitely not a bad thing.

So how do we assess what’s really going on with us? I believe that acceptance of-- and then maintaining an ongoing mindfulness about the fact that we do this-- offers us an invitation to pause and then exercise self care. The key word there is SELF. For me, that was a strange "pill" to swallow... I came to see how I was (often passive-aggressively) offended by anyone who took care of themselves FIRST, and by extension felt "offended" by the notion that I should take care of me. Of course, that was really just a “smoke screen" laid over a deeper issue. That issue being my pathological fear that people would not like me and abandon me if my focus was no longer on “being useful” to them. Ultimately, I had to face my root fear that I was not loveable simply as a person, but only to the extent I could “do things” for others. In one of those ironic twists of life, it was actually that very “excessive helpfulness” that made me come across as rather arrogant and needy, at the same time.

I heard something noteworthy, a while ago: "Taking care of YOURSELF is respecting, caring about and loving other people."

On the surface, it took me aback, a bit. At first, I struggled to agree. After all, I’d “processed” a lot of old garbage to reach a place that felt to me like I was finally “just being.”

But really? It's TRUE. When I take care of myself, and my needs, I am making a statement to others to the effect that "I care enough about YOU to offer you my BEST and "examined" self, not just a 'broken and damaged' version of myself with just as many issues as anyone else." In case that's not coming across as being very nice or clear... think of it this way: On a psychological/spiritual level, it's exactly the same as taking a shower, combing your hair, and wearing clean clothes when you leave your house to go spend time with friends. You care enough to do that... so take some time out to care enough to "tidy up" your heart, mind and soul, too.

Being highly sensitive to others and their needs… and here I’ll characterize this as being mindfully sensitive, not just being “blindly trapped” in your sensitivity… is often the result of being sensitive to ourselves. Maybe that sounds bass-ackwards. But I have found it not to be.

So now, for the reality check, and some soul searching!

Talk Back: Do you recognize this kind of “helping others to avoid helping yourself” pattern in yourself? In the past OR in the present? If you are a chronic “helper” or “people pleaser,” can you see ways in which you are actually trying to avoid yourself? If you are always rushing to the aid of others, perhaps with the rationalization that you “can’t help it, because you’re an empath?” WHY do you REALLY think you do this? When you look closer, is your involvement requested, or do you simply “take it upon yourself?” If this post, and these questions are making you feel uncomfortable, what do you think you’re not really admitting?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New HSP Related Books

There are a couple of new books out, that I would consider important to HSPs, and I'd like to tell you a bit more about them, and recommend them to you.

The first is Elaine Aron's new book "The Undervalued Self." Now, this is not a book about the HSP trait, specifically but it is still highly relevant to HSPs. This book has been ten years in the making; I first heard Elaine speak of the material covered, at an HSP Gathering in California, in 2003.

In a nutshell, the book helps us understand how we tend to "rank ourselves too low" in the world, as a result of negative experiences that may befall us, as a result of living normal life. What makes it particularly poignant for HSPs is that we tend to internalize and deeply process what happens to us, and often draw excessively negative conclusions about the nature of events.

In addition to illustrating how we undervalue ourselves, and how we use "self-protections" remain in states of ranking ourselves low, "The Undervalued Self" also serves as an interactive workbook to help people find healing for the wounds that keep them trapped. Although very readable, the book can be "heavy going" if you have a lot of wounds in your past and make a commitment to doing the suggested exercises and journaling.

Click on the following link to have a closer look at "The Undervalued Self."

Meanwhile, HSP author Ted Zeff takes on a part of the HSP experience that has long needed further examination: the male HSP.

Although written in the context of children, "The Strong Sensitive Boy," is also recommended reading for adult HS men, if for no other reason that to find a restrospective sense of recognition and validation of their feelings as children. It is absolutely a "must read" for parents of highly sensitive boys.

The book is both explanatory, outlining the nature of sensitive boys, as well as filled with useful guidance for parents to help them help their sensitive sons successfully negotiate the conventional "boys club," covering issues such as school, friends, sports, self-esteem and being a teenager.

Click on the following link to have a closer look at "The Strong Sensitive Boy."

Friday, May 07, 2010

HSPs and Defining Ourselves

"Unless you know who you ARE, how can you possibly know what you WANT?"

"Unless you know who YOU are, how can you possibly hope to know what you want in someone ELSE?"

Recently, I was tidying up in the basement, looking for some documents in old boxes, and basically being involved in "digging around in old stuff." It was also a somewhat mindless process, which "triggered"-- and then allowed for-- my walking around and "digging around in" old thinking/emotional "stuff."

I found myself feeling grateful about how many ghosts of my past have already been "processed" and neatly packed away. I think it is true of our ostensible "baggage" (to use a pop culture buzzword), that it never actually "goes away." But we do learn to incorporate it into our lives, and subsequently to be awake and cognizant of it, and perhaps to rearrange it into a small "carry-on" that stows neatly in the overhead bin, or under the seat in front of us. That said, there's a never-ending process of self-discovery, and often when you find and deal with some old "pothole," a new one seems to manifest itself.

The two phrases up top were spoken by Eli, one of my spiritual Teachers of many, many moons ago. As I suddenly recalled them, I ended up pondering the way HSPs are often predisposed to seek "external answers" to "internal troubles."

Because we are sensitive, we spend a lot of time in "reactionary mode," reacting to things that are coming from outside us. Then we internalize these things, often assigning ourselves blame for something that happened, or something someone did. Sometimes we assign blame outwardly-- someone did something TO us, and it becomes "their fault" that we have pain. Often these things cause us some kind of mental/emotional/psychic pain (which is internal, to us) and then we go off in search of external "fixes" to get rid of the pain. The second quote is a reflection of where we often do ourselves the most damage: we go in search of "someone else" through whom "our" pain will somehow go away. Often, this is a love relationship, but it can also be friendships, or jobs, or hobbies... pursued with a subtle subtext "If only I have X,Y and Z, my life will be better/perfect, and my pain will be gone."

Not so much...

"Know who you are."

I've had a lot of HSPs respond to this assertion with phrases like "Yeah, that's easy for YOU to say! I have NO idea who I am, nor do I even know how to find out."

Let me state for the record: Personal work is NOT easy.
Let me rephrase that: Personal work of sufficient depth that it leads to authentic insight, healing and lasting change is extraordinarily challenging and can be extremely painful.

I can also assure you that there is no "magic pill," and nobody is going to drive up to your front door and deliver "your perfect life," in a box from FedEx.

You may be reading this and going "Well... DUH!" but when I look around me, at the many HSPs I personally know, I see relatively little evidence that folks-- even quite "evolved" folks-- truly grok this at a deeper level.

A lot of people want to argue with me. They say "Yeah, but if I won the lottery, these problems would go away."

The only thing that would be "true" is that you would "have a lot of money"... and the SAME problems you had before winning the lottery. You would not stop being depressed, loveless, chemically sensitive, ADHD, sensory defensive and suffering from PTSD from an abusive childhood, just because your bills are paid. And you know what? If "money" were your primary issue, odds are that you'd blow through those lottery winnings, because the "underlying issue" isn't money, but the fact that you don't know how to manage money. See the problem? Trust me, on this one.

"Yeah, but if I was in a relationship instead of being alone...."

This is one of the most common "arguments" I hear from HSPs-- especially HSPs who struggle extensively with relationships. This may sound rude and insensitive, but please pause and entertain the possibility that your long string of failed relationships that you rationalize as having failed because something was always "wrong" with the other person may just have happened because YOU are an insufferable cloud of insecure clingy neediness and low self-esteem. My point being that healthy relationships are typically created by healthy people.

I believe many HSPs struggle with the issue of "who they are," because in-depth self-definition is-- ultimately-- a SELF-ish process. And we tend to be "all about OTHER people." It's not that we don't "self-examine" (because we DO, and in spades), but we tend to excessively frame said self-examination in the context of "what others think about us." Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against caring for/about others. I just have a problem when we allow others to "define us" and "create us" in an image that really doesn't match who we are, in our souls. When we allow "the world" to define us, we give away our personal power.

Those who have followed my ramblings here since their inception might remember how I struggled with the issue of going from "a paid job" to self-employment. And how I struggled with my reasoning for "moving from Texas to Washington." And how I have struggled with relationships.

Now, we probably ALL struggle with these at various times... but just where do our struggles lead us? My realization, last week, was that my overall "personal growth paradigm" has changed, over the past ten years. It has changed from "recognizing that something was wrong, and seeking something different," to "recognizing that something was wrong, pausing to examine what would be right, and then focusing purely on seeking IT."

Phrased a little differently, it was a subtle shift from "running away from" (what I didn't like) to "running towards" (what I did like).

It's easy to recognize "pain."
It's easy to recognize "fear."
It's easy to realize that we "don't like it."
It's relatively easy to "run away" from it.
"Running away" is generally "reactive."
"Reacting" does not require us to know ourselves well.
To "run towards" joy, gratitude, pleasure and Love, we must first know ourselves.
What gives us Joy?
What leads to gratitude?
What gives us pleasure?
What does Love feel like?
"Running towards" is generally "responsive."
It asks us to be Aware, and to be Mindful.
It asks us to look forward towards something we have consciously identified, and we feel safe in doing so, because our path is not shaped by concern about a demon gaining on us, from behind.

In the course of the change process, I have also given up most of my dependence on external factors and people, as determinants in what I do. That is, I hear what (advice) others have to offer, but I don't so much let it rule me as if it were "superior to my own inner knowing." And it's NOT easy when you encounter situations where almost everyone, and almost ALL "conventional advice" says "You can't DO that!"

There have been many and diverse steps in this process. Maybe you'll recognize some of them in a global sense-- either as a "been there, done that" reminder, or as a realization that you really need to examine them because you're actually "stuck," even though you may be afraid to admit that.

Some examples:

I "redefined" WORK. Multiple times.

I went from having "a job" to working as a contractor (You shouldn't do that! It's risky! You have bills!), then I went from contract work to being self-employed, at home (You can't do that! 90% of the self-employed fail! You have bills and obligations, and people who depend on you!).

I "redefined" work, again.

I went from doing something people perceived as "real" (technical writing, online test design) to "playing with my hobbies." I trade in rare stamps for stamp collectors, and I am a beach comber, selling "found objects" to 100s of jewelers, artists and crafts people around the world (That's not a REAL job! With your talents, you should be doing something more important! You can't make a living, doing that!).

What I do for a living, today, bears little resemblance to what 99% of the population would consider "working."

I redefined "success."

I largely abandoned the whole issue that "success" somehow is about "stuff" and what we have. Success, for me, amounts to primarily having a roof over my head, utilities paid, food on the table, a high-speed Internet connection, a working vehicle, money enough for travel and books and Love in my life. I was never happy because I had an expensive new car. I was never happy as a result of wearing a $2000 "status" watch. These were trinkets other people (and society) told me "should" make me happy... I also brought some "consistency" to my thinking. If I'm going to "preach" importance of living a sustainable life with a small carbon footprint, I must LIVE that life, not just TALK about it.

I should insert, here, that I absolutely am not advocating some kind of ascetic lifestyle. Far from it! Money is a nifty thing, and having some makes life a lot easier to live, and there's absolutely no shame in liking to have a cushion in your bank account and the ability to buy a $100 dinner when you feel like it. Feeling worthy of having-- and embracing-- financial comfort and being ruled by a driving need to accumulate material wealth are two very different things.

As HSPs we're highly intuitive and empathic and even psychic. We have these amazing "inner barometers of truth" that are right, 95% of the time. And yet? So often we assign far more value and importance to the words, advice and "wisdom" of people "outside us" who-- by their own admission-- "don't understand" who we are!


Nobody "owes" you anything. The only person who "owes" you, is YOU. What you get from others-- lovely as it may be-- is a "bonus," not an "entitlement." The Universe doesn't "owe" you a good job, true love or kind and just treatment. These are things you choose or create for yourself. Life doesn't "happen TO you," you "MAKE" life happen.

"Defining" ourselves is an inherently SELF-ish process. We aren't who other people tell us we are. Our self-definition doesn't have to make sense to other people, it has to make sense to US.

Talk Back: Do you know who you really are? Do you know what you really want? Do your definitions come from yourself, or from others? Do you feel awkward/worried that your true self would be misunderstood? Or have you completely embraced it?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

HSP Comfort Zones and Who We Are

I have been thinking, recently, about the notion of "Comfort Zones" and who we are, inside and outside our comfort zones.

Much has been written in the popular press-- and especially in self-help books-- about the need to "push the envelope" and "step outside our comfort zone" but I feel increasingly compelled to examine this notion, in the specific context of being an HSP.

Where does "complacency" and "learned (self-imposed) helplessness" end, and simply "managing our energy in a self-caring way" begin? I can certainly see how always choosing to stay safe might lead to stagnation, but isn't it also true that much of our greatest creative output happens when we're "in our (comfort) zone?"

A while back, I was talking to a friend about comfort zones and knowing where we are OK and "within limits," and where we're not. Personally, I'm an introvert, and definitely do not possess the well-documented "thrill seeker" gene. Many would consider me rather reclusive and not particularly people-oriented. I'd agree with that assessment-- the psychic energy of crowds can be very exhausting, so I tend to avoid them. That said, I do like people, and I am not socially anxious or avoidant-- it's just that my preference is for spending my time with one person at a time, and I give myself permission to be quite selective about who gets my energy.

My point being, I have certain "limits." My choice of limited social interaction is not a thinly veiled cover for social anxiety, shyness or some other kind of avoidance-- it's a response to the fact that being "on" in a group of ten people for six hours is absolutely and totally exhausting to me. What I would like to add to that statement, is that I may actually have a really good time, with those ten people... that's not what's in question..

I feel that when we consider "Comfort Zones," especially as HSPs, we must pause to consider the deeper "whys" that draw us to staying in them. Staying within our comfort zone because we are fearful of leaving it is a very different situation from choosing to mostly stay in it because experience has taught us that it's simply wise self-management.

There are those who would argue that we can "train ourselves" to overcome things that are difficult for us. Sure. I can also train myself to hit myself in the head with a ball peen hammer every morning... but why would I want to? What are our motivations? Simply pushing outside our comfort zones "for its own sake" is just plain idiocy, and surely almost as toxic as feeling trapped inside by fear. To use a simple metaphor, if you know you're going to throw up every time you ride a rollercoaster, don't keep riding rollercoasters just because "it's outside your comfort zone!"

It should also be remembered that comfort zones are not a "one size fits all" proposition. Although it's a nice ideal-- heavily perpetuated by the "New Age" movement-- that we are all one and the same, the truth of our lives in this three-dimensional plane of existence is that we are NOT all equal, and NOT all the same. We may be the same in the eyes of Spirit, but not in terms of biology! Let's just start with the very fact that we are sitting here, and have "differentiated ourselves" as HSPs. What could be a clearer statement that "we are not the same" than that?

Anyway, to conclude this train of thought, I believe we must pause and question not so much the "that" we have Comfort Zones, but the "why" being in them. A Comfort Zone is a healthy self-preserving space which shouldn't be regarded negatively unless we become pathological about never leaving it.

Talk Back: How aware are you of your Comfort Zones? When you are completely honest with yourself, do you use them as a way to retreat from (or avoid) life, or just as a safe haven that gives you the strength to make "excursions?" Do you feel like you are in balance, with your "in" and "out" time?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

HSPs and the delicate exercise of “Jumping to Conclusions.”

As HSPs, I think we sometimes just “read too much” into situations. Last month, I wrote a bit about "taking things too personally." This explores a related issue.

Most of us are empaths, and certainly intuitives. Many are somewhat to very psychic, even. I'm suggesting we sometimes become/are so dependent on intuition and “vibes” and feelings and hunches that we run the risk of reading everything that’s “between the lines,” while completely ignoring the actual WORDS of the message.

What exactly do I mean?

Let me offer a fictional example:

We’re in a conversation with Bob, and he says “I just LOVE the color blue!

We’re wearing a green sweater, and “extrapolate” from Bob’s statement and the fact that he seems a little tense and doesn't make eye contact that he “hates green.” And that his declaration of love for the color blue, combined with the fact that he didn’t also give accolades to green, is actually a latently hostile statement that he can’t stand our green sweater.


Let’s examine this, for a moment. Bob simply stated that he loves blue. No more, no less. We may accurately have picked up his fidgety vibe, but failed to know that he had a big fight with his wife earlier and was avoiding eye-contact to try to avoid a conversation in which he'd have to confess that he'd been the guilty one in causing the fight. I think it behooves to not lose sight of what was really said in a dialogue, and not to assume that some disaster or slight was intended, until we actually have clear evidence of it.

Furthermore, if we often “catch ourselves” assuming malicious intent in seemingly harmless messages, there’s actually an invitation there to examine our own “baggage,” to look at why we believe people are “out to get us.” We might also look at the deeper question of why we rather selfishly believe other people's neutral statements are actually about us. I have observed this kind of "persecution complex" in a number of HSP web groups, where someone will interpret a completely neutral message as "hate mail," after which a huge brou-ha-ha ensues.

To use a saying my Beloved often uses: "Sometimes crows eating crawfish are JUST crows eating crawfish."

To add my own commentary... situations such as the above tend to not just be about "being highly sensitive" but about deeper issues inviting further exploration.

Talk Back: So… have you caught yourself “jumping to conclusions?” And later finding out it was to your detriment? Or does it not apply to you? Have you ever been in this pattern? If you were, and moved past it, what was helpful to you in moving on?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Reflections on The “Size” of Life, energy management, and being an HSP

I live a fairly small life.

It didn’t always used to be so. For many years, I did the whole “striving” thing, living on the treadmill of always trying to get “more” of whatever it is society teaches us we “should” want more of.

The primary thing that originally motivated me to "reinvent" myself was the realization that-- as an HSP-- I have very finite "bandwidth" in terms of dealing with life. I find myself getting especially exhausted around "chaos" and people whose lives seem dominated by chaos and "drah-mah"... typically of their own making. Yet, no matter how much said chaos may be of their making, it falls down like a particularly toxic form of psychic acid rain on everyone else in their vicinity. Perhaps you can relate to this?

Some 15 years later, my life (by choice) is much smaller. Less "stuff," less action, fewer demands, almost a complete "turnover" of the group of people I once considered acquaintances-to-friends, much lower cost of living, much less effort needed to sustain myself.

The upside to all this is that much more of the "content of life" is in my life because I choose it, rather than as a result of having it "forced on me," by the inevitability of a chaotic life I have little or no control over. Or if not exactly “forced” on me, at least as a result of trying to maintain a life that left me feeling like I “had no choice” but to keep running insanely.

Now there are those who'd say I'm "in denial" and "out of touch" with real life... and that I have retreated too far inside my comfort zone. Whereas there may be aspects of truth to such allegations, I keep coming back to the fact that my current lifestyle was a very thoroughly planned and consciously chosen one. At the heart of that is the knowing that I didn't "run away" from my old life, I "ran towards" my new one... I was not trying to "avoid stress," I was trying to "gain peace."

In any case, as nice as all that may sound, I still struggle to "manage my energy." After some years of living in a rather “self contained” manner, I am now faced with many things I want to take on (as opposed to have to take on) but I continue to struggle with making wise choices. As some of you (who have been "with" me from "times of old") know, every time I end up "going away" for a while, it's the result of life having "become bigger" than my capacity to deal with it.

At the moment, I have several projects "simmering," but I find myself cautious about launching myself into them... concerned that I'll just end up "getting absorbed" again, and crashing, usually at a time when a bunch of other people are "depending" on me to be "the strong one" in a situation. Once again, everything becomes about sound "energy management."

So this is really a long-winded way of wanting to explore the topic of how we-- as HSPs-- best "manage our available energy," walking that fine line between getting overwhelmed and overstimulated, and completely isolating ourselves from "the stuff of life" in order to preserve our energy "at all costs."

I know that certain things are different, in my life, from how they used to be. The last few years have been very healing for me, and I now "come at life" from a place where I feel strong and healthy, rather than from a place where I feel frazzled and overwhelmed. I work for myself, I'm making a living doing something I truly enjoy; I'm debt free; I live in a place of my choosing, which I feel like I "belong to," on a very deep level; I'm in a beautiful and deeply loving and reciprocal love relationship; life is good! And after these years of healing, I am ready to approach the world again... but it has to be from a place of deliberate choices and conscious mindful actions.

I'm at a point in my life where "grin and bear it" is not an acceptable option, anymore. Without getting overly dramatic about it, I have worked pretty damned hard to get to the place where I am, now... and I'm not willing to just "give it up again."

"The middle way" seems like an ideal... but what does the middle way look like, in a practical sense? How do you fully commit to something, without also going overboard on it, allowing it to control you and spinning out? Boundaries, yes... but it's hard to know, ahead of time, where boundaries need to be when you're not sure how demanding (or not) something is going to be.

I have found—and increasingly find—that a large part of the answer lies in making prudent and informed choices. And a central part of what makes a choice prudent for me, is feeling a strong sense of “rightness,” when I make the choice. On a general level, that translates as “choose only the things you are MOST passionate about. Leave the rest in the background.” Maybe that sounds simplistic, and I can certainly hear “voices” in the background, saying “Oh, it’s just NOT that simple!

I’m not denying that there are aspects of life we “have to” deal with, whether we like them, or not. That’s just a part of life, or of being human, or of being a responsible adult™. That said, we have a right to choose. And not only do we have a right to choose, we have the duty (to ourselves and others) to pause and examine the motivations behind our choices. When we feel “uneasy and pressured” about investing in our uncle Bob’s new restaurant—but feel “obligated” to do so, anyway—it’s worth pausing to examine not so much the investment, or our decision (itself) but the (for example) guilt that’s causing us to say “yes,” when we really want to say “HELL, NO!

What are we afraid of, when we say "no" to Uncle Bob? That he will no longer speak to us? That telling him the simple truth that his restaurant will fail will cause a family rift? Let's say it's friends, instead. If we are afraid to tell them "no," what "leverage" is it they are holding over our heads? Furthermore, if these friends will "no longer speak to us" if we don't do their "bidding" (whatever that may be), what is the friendship really based on, in the first place?

So what’s really my point, here?

As an HSP, I can handle a lot, if what I am asked to handle is something I am truly “into” and believe in. Not so true of things that feel like an “obligation,” or a "manipulation," or that simply don’t interest me. And so “managing energy” is not merely about “how much,” but about “what” we get involved in. And it’s especially about mindfulness and prudent choices. And part of THAT revolves around setting good boundaries and adopting a willingness to enforce them. It’s OK to say “no” to your uncle. The comeback “but we’re FAMILY!” does not make something an appropriate investment. And with friends? It's also OK to say "no," and if the friendship cannot withstand a "no," then question not what is being asked, but the connection, itself.

Ultimately, we have to know ourselves, and honor our capabilities. Sometimes, that may seem a little selfish... but what good are we to others, if we are no good to ourselves?

Choose wisely.

Friday, March 12, 2010

HSPs and Taking Things too Personally

As HSPs it seems we can have a tendency to take things “too personally” sometimes-- that is, we "internalize" things that are not at all "about us." I know this has often often true for me, in various parts of my life.

Some HSPs get a bit defensive about this, stating that they are NOT taking things “too personally,” and that being sensitive is simply… well… part of being sensitive. Whereas I can agree to some extent, there’s a fine line between merely being sensitive, and then taking things “too personally” and “irrationally internalizing” them in ways that are out of proportion. Part of making peace with the trait is being mindful and awake, when we face challenging moments with other people.

Yes, I know. Some of you are going point out that we've been marginalized and picked on for being "too sensitive" all our lives... and now that we have a scientific explanation, we're allowed to empower ourselves by feeling our feelings freely... and "are you not now telling us we're the exact thing we're trying to get away from? Are you not calling us 'too sensitive,' all over again?"

Well, no. No I'm not.

But it requires a little explanation.

For example, where I most often find myself slipping into "taking it too personally" is when I am faced with someone assuring me they are "not an expert," and then they ask me about something that's one of my areas of some knowledge (or expertise, even). Then, as soon as I start sharing something about my opinion about that topic, they immediately start listing all the reasons why I really "don't know what I'm talking about." And typically I know for a fact that they are wrong. Usually, this kind of person is trying to "guide a response" that fits their reality (for example, they want me to tell them that NOTHING can be done to help them with some problem) rather than actually asking for help and facing that they do have a solvable problem. However, I find it really hard to handle the underlying implication that I'm an idiot, without taking it personally.

In most cases, I find it helpful to merely stop-- and ask myself whether I am "reacting to" or "responding to" the situation. Even if the pause is very brief, I usually find myself switching from "reactive" to "responsive" mode. And I realize that the person really doesn't have anything against me, personally... that feeling is a "creation" of my own making.

But let me offer a different-- and purely fictional-- example, although this is based on a number of real life incidents I recall:

Let's say you're at work. Something happens. Maybe you overhear a co-worker making some aside about you to a third party. And all of a sudden you start “talking to yourself” about it, in your mind. Within half an hour, you’ve managed to construct an anxiety-ridden scenario about how this person is scheming to get you fired.

Or maybe you were helping a friend with something that was weighing heavily upon them, and they just didn’t seem very appreciative. In fact, they were a bit “short” with you, a couple of times. After a couple of hours of thinking about it at home, you conclude that they hate you and want to break off the friendship.

HSPs—probably as a “side effect” of the part of the trait that’s associated with “processing deeply”—seem to have an uncanny (and often unhealthy, for us) “talent” for looking at little “incidents” and projecting the worst possible interpretation onto them. I know I have caught myself doing this, on many occasions. Last year, I had a “disaster scenario” revolved around a doctor’s visit I’d been putting off, and I had projected all manners of horrible hidden ailments onto the situation…. Even though nothing was wrong.

Truth is, in the previous scenarios, the first person may merely have been remarking to a co-worker that you “didn’t quite seem yourself, today.” In the second case, you friend may have been preoccupied because her mother has cancer, and her mind was elsewhere.

Talk Back: Do you struggle with "taking it personally?" WHEN in particular is this true for you? What tends to trigger it? How do you respond, in the moment? Do you have any tricks that help you NOT to take things so personally? What do you wish you'd do differently? What sort of information/tips/training would really help you? Have you caught yourself “jumping to conclusions” about hidden messages in other people's actions? And later finding out that it was all a big ado about nothing? Or does it not apply to you? Have you ever been repeatedly stuck in this pattern? If you were, and moved past it, what was helpful to you?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

HSP Topics: "Lowered Expectations" vs "Attainable Goals"

Recently, I've been thinking about how many HSPs struggle to put themselves "in the world" in order to achieve their goals or reach their dreams. A common subtext when this discussion comes up among HSPs often involves a lament that we feel like we have to "lower our expectations" in life because we're highly sensitive.

I just can't agree with the rather negative approach that brings to mind.

My Beloved often talks of how we must learn to view challenges and obstacles in terms of their highest possible interpretation and potential... and this happens to be a philosophy I strongly agree with. I'm by no means a Pollyanna, but let's pause and think, for a moment:

Wouldn't it make you feel better about yourself if you dropped the term "lowered expectations" and instead reframed what you were considering as setting an "attainable goal?"

If you take that a step further, consider this: Wouldn't it be depressing, in the long run, to always go in pursuit of an UNattainable goal?

As HSPs, we have a tendency to fall into patterns of negative self-talk. Part of this is often a result of taking a situation and spinning it as either "better than" or "worse than," rather than simply sticking to a more basic truth that our needs and talents are "DIFFERENT from" those of most people around us. Comparing ourselves to a "Type A" overachieving workaholic and feeling "less than" is hardly productive. Our task, in incorporating our sensitivity into our daily lives, is in understanding ourselves... and then making the most of that, rather than aspiring to "be like others."

As I once heard said at an HSP Gathering: "Comparisons are deadly. My life is MY life."

Talk Back: Have you changed your goal setting, since learning you were an HSP? Are your goals attainable? Do you feel like you have "lowered" your expecations? Do you catch yourself going into a pattern of "comparing yourself" where comparisons actually do not make sense?

Friday, February 05, 2010

HSP Topics: How "out" are you, about being an HSP?

I've been thinking about some of the topics that often are "of concern" to HSPs, as we make our way through life. The following-- along with the related "How do I tell someone about the trait?" is a common topic of conversation at many HSP Gatherings, as well as in online forums.

How "out" are you, about being a Highly Sensitive Person?

Is it something you completely keep to yourself?

At the opposite end of the spectrum, is it something you openly tell people who ask (for example) why you're so bothered by noise, or finicky about your environment, or so sensitive to criticism, or whatever?

It seems that approaches very considerably.

I've gone through a whole series of ups and downs in the 13+ years I've been aware that I was an HSP. When I first read "The Highly Sensitive Person" (in 1997) I was both relieved, and seriously bummed. Relieved, because I realize that "it wasn't JUST me," but bummed because.... "highly sensitive???" I didn't want to be that, even though I was quite aware that it was my truth. There a difference between "being aware" that something is up, and facing the reality in print, in front of you.

So I pretty much "ignored" it, but continued learning by "observing myself" when various overwhelming situations would affect me. My girlfriend at the time knew. She thought it was "cute," if a bit annoying and slightly offensive.

I swung in the opposite direction once I learned enough to "phrase it" as a neurological trait. I used a couple of analogies a lot, to explain high sensitivity without calling myself "highly sensitive."

Sometimes I'd ask people if the lights of oncoming cars blinded them at night. They do affect most people, so it's a common reference point. Then I'd say "Now imagine going through life with everything you see 10 times as bright, and everything you hear 10 times as loud. That's how I experience life... and that's why I get tired and frazzled really easily." Or I'd use the "radio" analogy: You can tune a radio to the station of your choice, and set the volume where you want it. That's how most people "receive" life. "Now imagine a radio where ALL stations are a jumble on top of each other, and all are playing at full volume. That's how much of life feels to me, and that's why I often need to be alone, and very quiet."

I learned that most people either didn't really care, or still looked at me like I was a freak. A freak they now somewhat understood, but a freak, nonetheless.

So I went through another phase of "this is mine, and for me alone to know about and deal with."

During this same time, I started going to the national HSP Gatherings, and interacting "live" with other HSPs. The question of "how do you tell people?" and "DO you tell people?" was often hotly debated.

There was generally a consensus that "charging into life" waving an "I'm an HSP!" banner is pretty counterproductive. It just annoys people, just like it annoys people to be around someone whose primary topic of conversation is some "condition" they have, or how amazing they think they are because they quit smoking.

And yet, there was also consensus that (A) being highly sensitive is a very REAL thing, and therefore (B) we do have some sort of obligation to spread awareness of it, even if not through flag waving.

I guess these days I am "open, but selective." That is, I'll tell somebody if I genuinely think it will make a difference, or if I can intuit that they are genuinely interested.

I was coming back from the 2004 California Gathering, and the other person in the Super Shuttle from the airport back to Round Rock was making small talk about where we'd come from. And I said "a retreat in California." Well, she'd been to a Yoga workshop. So I took a chance when she wanted to know "what kind" of retreat, and said "A retreat for highly sensitive people" instead of "neuropsychology" (which, by the way, is ALSO true). And we actually ended up having a nice conversation because this was someone who was "somewhat alternative" in her own interests. Odds are she later looked for a copy of Elaine's book.

Bottom line is that whether I tell-- and what I tell-- depends on the person and the situation. No matter what, I try to take "baby steps" in ferreting out whether someone will be receptive, or not. And take it from there. My approach will also be quite different, if I am trying to tell someone who most likely is an HSP, themselves... but not aware that such a thing exists.

Talk Back: How open are you about being an HSP? Do you feel comfortable telling people about the trait, or do you avoid doing so? Are you concerned about how it will be received? Do you have a good "elevator speech" about being an HSP, that you typically use?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Staying True to What Matters (part II)

I'd like to continue to explore the importance of "staying true to what matters to you," especially as it applies to HSPs.

Before I get started, though, I want to address a couple of private comments that arrived in my in-box as a result of my last post-- mostly relating to my being chided for taking the "Pink Fluffy Bunny Self-Growth Movement" to task.

If you re-read what I wrote, you'll see that I did NOT dismiss the "sweet and eternally sunny" approach to healing-- I merely suggested that it might be best suited to the neophyte, both with respect to learning about being an HSP, and subsequently entering a period of meaningful self-growth. The problem is that as the "student" advances, he or she runs an increased risk of getting "stuck" as more difficult questions-- NOT suited to being "lightfooted" over-- arise.

The second thing I'd like to say concerns the misconception that HSPs are-- by definition-- "all sweetness and light." Whereas it may make HSPs feel nice, warm and fuzzy to hold this belief about being sensitive, such an idea has little basis in truth and actually does us a great disservice... in a way it creates a false pressure to conform to something that is not real, like (for example) societal messages about "ideal body type." "Sensitive" does NOT equal "nice." Sensitive equals... well, sensitive. And I'm not even sure what the word "nice" means.

But I digress.

I believe that Staying True to What Matters is an enormously important concept. I say this not merely from personal experience, but from what I observe in those around me. On the whole, the most content people I come across are those who are pursuing their True Callings-- be it in work, in Love, spiritually, intellectually or whatever. As I said last time, HSPs are all about finding authenticity. What is also often true is that those in their Calling are willing to make certain sacrifices to BE in such a place.

Turning our backs on our authentic selves can have disastrous results. On the whole, the most depressed people I know are NOT the ones who are "drifting aimlessly," but the ones who have a good idea of "what they want most," and then erect a carefully crafted "Mountain of Reasons" why they "can't" follow their bliss.

"Yeah, that's easy for YOU to say. It's just not that simple. You have no idea how hard my life is."

"I have no idea who I am, nor any idea how I'd go about finding out.

"I can't just do that, because I have family, obligations, job, children, image, anxieties, fill in the blank."

All of the above are absolutely true! At the same time, they are also "not true," in the sense that they are ultimately excuses and rationalizations. And they tend to be firmly anchored in a world of absolutes ("Either/Or thinking") with no room for nuance, and sometimes even in a toxic pattern of compulsively "being the martyr" who wants something but "just can't HAVE it."

When you scrape beneath the surface, what often reveals itself is that we realize that we do have choices and free will, and that choices have consequences... and we're simply not willing (or ready, or we're fearful of) to face unpleasant consequences and negative feedback when we make certain choices. We're so deeply anchored in "what the world thinks about us" that we completely forget to consider what WE "think about us."

Allow me to share a favorite quote, by American writer Rita Mae Brown:

"The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself"

When you fail to respond to something your inner wisdom knows to be true, you are-- in essence-- conforming to some kind of outside influence. You are giving up your right to speak for yourself, instead allowing "the world" to speak for you.

If what you want to do is climb mountains, don't say "I can't do that!" and throw up a bunch of rationalizations. At the same time, nobody expects you to selfishly abandon your family and job and run off to climb a mountain. Instead, find a way to gradually incorporate mountain climbing into your existence. But don't lose sight of you want!

Talk Back: Do you know that there is something you truly want in life? Are you making sure it "matters" in your life? Are you making excuses and rationalizations to NOT reach for what matters most to you? What are your reasons?

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