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?

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