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?

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