Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Reflections from an HSP

It has been a while, since I have written here.

There are various reasons for this-- some good, some not so good... moving, traveling, more recently Sarah having shoulder surgery. It seems that mo matter how we plan life, "something" always comes up.

Today's entry is mostly a self-indulgent meander and reflection, although it definitely has its "HSP angles," given that I am-- after all-- an HSP.

I journal in morning-- generally before anything else comes along to clutter my head. It's a variation of what Julia Cameron (of "The Artists Way" fame) calls "morning pages," although I generally write on the computer. For no particular reason, this morning I felt compelled to journal in Danish... which is my original native tongue. I rarely journal in Danish; although I am basically fluent, I find it cumbersome to type on a keyboard that lacks the uniquely Danish parts of the alphabet-- æ, ø and å.

My words of this morning never set out to be "for public consumption," but I ended up with a few insights and a post I decided to translate into English... a series of reflections on Christmas, what it "means" to us, and how the holiday seasons might have shaped our approach to life. If the following sounds a bit "odd," and "different," please remember that it was translated from a foreign language...

Today is the 23rd of December. In Denmark, we call that "Little Christmas Eve."

Me, my dad and my Aunt Ulla, Christmas 1964
When I looked out the window this morning (and contemplated a grey day), I got to thinking about how short the Christmas season was, when I was little. My dad and I would cut our own Christmas tree in the garden (we had lots of land) and bring it in ("so it can dry off") on the 21st or 22nd of December. In 1962, "we" made a Christmas tree foot out of scrap lumber. It was saved and used for every Christmas tree since then-- at least until my parents divorced. I still have it, somewhere in my stuff-- my dad carved the date, and our names (including my teddy bear) in it.

On Little Christmas Eve we'd bring out all the decorations and decorate the tree. Back then, we actually used "live" candles on the tree. Of course, the tree had to be "back out of the house" by New Year's, so most of the time, we'd be putting everything away on the 29th or the 30th of December... which is what made me think about how short Christmas was.

Of course, my school holidays rarely started till December 22nd, and I usually had to be back in school by January 3rd or 4th.

Here in the US, the Christmas season is almost insufferably long. In some ways, that might be part of the reason why the holiday season hasn't carried as much meaning for me, during the adult years of my life I have lived here. Then again, maybe it was keeping shop-- a retail "gifty" store I was part of for 13 years-- that ruined it for me. Working 80+ hours a week with the "general public" leaves little bandwidth for anything else... especially when you're an easily overwhelmed highly sensitive person. Then again, maybe Christmas lost part of its shine when I started hearing Christmas music and seeing Christmas commercials on TV before Halloween. Ultimately, though, the sense of "something lost" could just be part of the process of "becoming an adult."

I only recall one White Christmas. I think I was nine. There was a "close call" when I was five or six... snow on the 20th or 21st, but then it rained. I only remember this one White Christmas because I remember there being snow on the ground when we drove to church, on Christmas Eve. That's actually kind of odd, now that I reflect on it. My family was absolutely not religious... yet we always went to church on December 24th. I have a strong feeling we primarily went to hear Christmas carols... dad was not into any kind of singing or dancing, but I sense he didn't mind seeing and hearing them-- once a year-- as long as he wasn't expected to participate. Then again, maybe we went to church to give me more of a "balanced" experience of life; to let me see how "other people" did things for the holidays. Frankly, I have no idea...

Christmas, in Denmark...

Making Christmas cookies with Aunt Ulla, December 1965
What I remember most is the richness of scents and tastes that came with the season. Even as a child and pre-teen, it "wasn't about the presents, it was about the FOOD." I remember we'd pack up a bunch of baking stuff, and (around December 16th) we'd pile in the car and drive to my Aunt Ulla's house in Valby (more or less Copenhagen) to make marzipan goodies and bake "brown cookies" (essentially ginger snaps). I always looked forward to this, with great anticipation. What seemed so cool about it was that the adults became "more like children" for one brief evening... actually "getting into" things with their hands, and making things. I know we also did the annual baking expedition at my aunt's summerhouse in 1965, when the city house was being turned into apartments.

I remember that dad and I would wrap Christmas presents together. He's actually the one who taught me how to wrap presents. I remember he used the same shiny blue paper (and later on, green paper) year after year. We always knew which presents were "his." He never used gift tags-- instead he painted the "to" and "from" messages directly onto the packages, using white paint.

I remember the rich scent of duck (or goose) roasting, on Christmas Eve. I remember the giant dinner later that night, and how there was always lots of food for the next three days. I don't remember a whole lot about Christmas itself (the night of our major BIG celebration), but I do remember that my Aunt Grete would always come for lunch on December 26th... and my father would always make fun of her giant brown cookies, which were far more "tough" than "crispy." The only other thing I clearly remember of Christmas Eve (aside from the food) was that Aunt Ulla always came to spend it with us.

I cannot-- in good conscience-- say that I remember anything specific I was given as a present for Christmas. There are assorted photographs of me playing with assorted toys and building sets, but I don't remember them, nor receiving them. And, as I said, I really don't remember "presents" as being what I was looking forward to.

On Christmas Day, my mom typically prepared a large buffet-style dinner with roast pork and many home made "small dishes." I remember I would get to eat "pickings" from the left over duck, for lunch. But once Aunt Grete had come to lunch on "2nd Christmas Day," it felt like Christmas was "about over." The Christmas tree seemed... sad... and a couple of days later it-- and all signs of Christmas-- was gone and the decorations packed as quickly and suddenly as they had come.

My mom by the Christmas tree in Spain, circa 1976
Christmas lost most of its luster when we moved to Spain, in 1973. It was not "the same" to celebrate Christmas with sunshine, 65-degree weather and palm trees. Christmas trees were expensive because they had to be trucked in from 1000 miles away. My stepdad would moan and groan endlessly about the expense, but my mother insisted... and we'd end up with a real Christmas tree.

But it never felt the same.

Locally, they didn't really celebrate Christmas as I knew it. There were all manners of "Saint's Days" and what (I believe) is mostly called "Twelfth Night" in English-speaking parts of the world. Most of these took place in early January. Christmas, itself, was not that big a deal. There seemed to be no Christmas lights in people's gardens, and not that many decorations to be seen... and those that were there seemed... garish and loud. The shops carried "strange" merchandise; the delicious cookies, marzipan and chocolates of Denmark were replaced by brightly colored sugar candy which I didn't like... at all. And the food smells seemed very... "foreign."

The only thing that felt familiar... and filled me with fleeting sensations of being "home," in some way... was the aroma of duck roasting, drifting through the house, on Christmas Eve. But it was very fleeting, indeed. And whereas the tastes felt right, it hardly felt like a "celebration" because it was just my mother and I who were part of the celebrating.

We had become part of an "English" household (my stepdad was English)... and the richness of the roast duck would soon be pushed out of the way by turkey, plum pudding and other things unfamiliar.

In retrospect, I recognize that my HSP-ness was manifesting... because I just never felt comfortable around something "I didn't know."

Of course, there was never any chance of a White Christmas... this was southern Spain.

Snow on the distant mountains, behind our house in Spain
From time to time-- near Christmas, and during the winter, in general-- I would walk out into the street behind our house and look up towards the distant mountains to see if, perhaps, snow had fallen at 5000+ feet. Alas, it rarely had... it was decades later before I recognized how much longing I always had for the "high north" where I'd been born...

Christmas-- as I knew it-- disappeared entirely when I moved to Texas (for college) in 1981. At that time, "old" Christmas became almost entirely "a memory," rather than "a reality." I was now in America, and things were different here. Oddly enough, I started making "Danish Christmas Dinner" every year for my ex's family and friends... and it became a "tradition" they came to very much look forward to, as a prelude to the giant turkey meal on Christmas Day. Also strange was that I started making the Danish style pork roast with prunes and apples and red cabbage... not the roast duck I had grown up with.

So now I am sitting here, and it is 2011. I look back at a long row of Christmases that have felt more like "work" and "obligation" than something celebratory. This year, Christmas around here will be quiet... Sarah just had shoulder surgery, so we're going to take it all in a very low key way.

I have been wondering where my mild feelings of "bah, humbug!" along with a greater sense of underlying sadness comes from, when I think about Christmas. It occurs to me that Christmas is-- at least for many of us-- perhaps the thing we latch onto more than any other as a "symbol" of what it feels like to be "home." We remember it as a time when there was good food, generally good moods, and people who at least made a perfunctory effort to "get along." In a sense, it might offer us a small illusory sense of being a part of something "permanent," even though life is never permanent.

As I think these thoughts, I also recognize a deeper sense of feeling cast adrift: Aside for my first nine years (up to the time my parents divorced), Christmas has typically felt like I was "borrowing" other people's traditions and history... without ever having any of my own. Maybe that is how we all feel-- but maybe soft-spoken HSPs more than others-- like we are merely the "window dressing" or "supporting act" in other people's existences.

It takes a while, to come full circle... to understand our losses, and then to recover the parts of ourselves that were lost, disappeared, or maybe even stolen. All these years later, I sit here in western Washington. In many ways, this place reminds me of Denmark... only with a better view. Outside, it is winter; grey and cold, much like my childhood. And just like my childhood, it is possible to have a White Christmas here, albeit highly unlikely.

Snow in our back yard in Denmark
It's a strange thing, that. When I think about Christmas as a kid, I think about snow... and yet, I only experienced a single White Christmas. Funny, no?

Maybe that reflects precisely what "Christmas" is: a series of memories that somehow remind us of what "home" feels like... except distorted by the lens of passing time. And as the years pass by, we bring out these memories out once a year and "decorate" them with our own "emotional Christmas ornaments" to where we eventually "recall" something that never existed, in the first place.

As HSPs, it is true that we "process deeply." As part of this deep processing, we tend to go over the same things again, and again, and again. I have met many HSPs-- especially from abusive/unsupportive backgrounds-- who seem to possess a deep sadness. Although my background wasn't particularly horrid, I know this feeling in myself. The real problems arise when we get too comfortable with our wounds and losses-- real or perceived-- and get trapped in our sadness, and find ourselves unable to move on and celebrate the positive that exists right now, in this moment.

The feelings that come with our "well-decorated" holiday memories of our pasts are exactly that. Memories of the past. They are not current reality. Pause and consider whether they even are "reality," at all. Lamenting that "today" isn't "back then" serves little purpose... besides making ourselves feel bad, and being a wet blanket downer to everyone around us.

And that, after all, is not what Holiday celebrations are about.

Happy Holidays to everyone! May the season bring you precisely what you wished for... and if you don't like how it seems to be unfolding, remember that you have the power to change it! Put less energy into complaining about what's wrong, and more energy into creating a reality that's right.

Talk Back: How are your memories of the Holidays? Happy? Sad? Do you tend to get stuck in memories of the past? Have you ever stopped to evaluate whether your memories of the holidays-- good OR bad-- are "real?" Or have you "decorated" them to where they no longer reflect what actually happened? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

HSPs and Gratitude

Thanksgiving in the USA.

Another holiday is upon us. For some, the holiday is a celebration of family closeness. For others, it might be a day to reflect on-- and count-- their blessings. For yet others, it might feel like an offensive monument to overconsumption.

For HSPs, holidays-- of pretty much any kind-- seem to be a mixed blessing. Over the years, I have met a great many who loathe holidays for a variety of reasons: Commercialization the drowns out the underlying message of a holiday; the way many find themselves in situations of "forced family cheer;" or simply the fact that many holidays tend to be about "groups and crowds" which generally lead to a sense of feeling overwhelmed.

On average, I'd have to say that I hear more complaints (from HSPs) about holidays, than I hear joy and reasons to celebrate.

As a group of people, we tend to be very good at looking at a situation (a holiday, for example) and noticing-- and then pointing to-- everything that's "wrong" with it. Of course, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with that-- "noticing details," combined with a sense of natural caution is a core part of the HSP trait. However, sometimes this focus on what's wrong and what we don't like about something can push us over the edge into territory where we, perhaps, start to come across as whiners and complainers.

Misery loves company?

Sure, there may be a lot of things wrong with the world, and there may be a lot of things we don't like, or don't have... but there are also lots of things (even if they may seem insignificant, on a greater Cosmic scale) we can be grateful for. And perhaps the spirit of the holiday we celebrate tomorrow can be remembered if we stop the lamentations for a moment and consider the things we feel grateful for; thankful for.

Just because something might seem small or "insignificant" (say, "warm slippers") compared to worry about world hunger doesn't mean these small things should pass unnoticed and unappreciated.

We recently moved. Moving is a very stressful pain-in-the-ass, but I can still find a moment to be grateful that the move was only five miles (easier packing, easier to move bit-by-bit), and not 2000.

Whereas I may struggle with friendships and connecting-- as many HSPs do-- I can still pause to be thankful for the connections and sense of understanding I have found with fellow sensitives in the world of cyberspace.

And something we often take for granted: I have a roof over my head and a warm bed. Even if you are couch surfing with friends or relatives, that's still better than living in a box, under a freeway overpass.

I think I'll leave it there, and wish everyone here in the US (and beyond, for that matter) a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Talk back! What are YOU grateful or thankful for, at this time? Even if you are going through difficult times, pause for a few minutes... I am sure you can find something. Then leave a comment and share! Why? Because "putting it out there" makes it real, in a way you don't experience if you just "think it." And it makes others feel like they are not alone. Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 30, 2011

HSPs, Discomfort and Learning

It has been a while since I have written, and I am taking a little sidetrack today, to address an issue that comes up from time to time.

I have had a few emails and private messages, telling me that I seem to take HSPs to task a lot, and that I'm often critical and make (some) people feel uncomfortable with what I post.

On occasion, the feedback I get is that I'm not being "supportive" of people who are HSPs, and I am "no better" than those out in the world who tell us that we're "too sensitive" and we need to "get over it." In other words, I "should" be more sensitive and gentle with people.

I do take criticism and feedback seriously.

This feedback made me step back and ponder the entire foundation for "learning," and the process by which we grow-- as people-- regardless of whether we're Highly Sensitive, or not.

Growth is painful. Change-- REAL change-- is not only difficult, it can be painful.

Ever heard the saying "The truth will set you free... but first it'll piss you off?" Lot of truth in that statement.

What I am getting at, here... is that if you read these pages and it feels a bit like some part of what you believe in has been "attacked" somehow... sit back and consider where those feelings are coming from. Often, when something upsets us, we're actually faced with "a point of learning;" a place in our lives where we are about to look at what might be a truth about us we'd rather not look at or face.

As HSPs-- or, for that matter, as people in general-- it does not help us grow if everyone around us coddles our dysfunctions. Some would argue that it's not compassionate to tell someone the truth if that truth hurts a person... but what is really gained by allowing someone to remain eternally stuck in a cycle of pain and unhappiness?

Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not advocating that we be brutal or cruel in examining the truth... just that we strive to be honest. And not allow ourselves to be complacent, or to "hide" behind platitudes. For HSPs, what this often involves is honest assessment of what it means (for each individual person) to be Highly Sensitive... and accepting and dealing with the fact that our Social Anxiety (just using this as an example-- of an actual disorder) is NOT "just part of being an HSP" so we don't get to just "write it off" as something we don't need to deal with.

Much as we perhaps would like to...

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Some Important Words about Being Highly Sensitive

The title sounds very impressive and serious, doesn't it? Well, it's not... really. But it is important.
I was planning to write something this morning... but I got sidetracked by reading, instead. I think it's part of the lives of most writers that they are also voracious readers. At the end of my reading, I realized that my own words will "keep," and that I instead wanted to share the words of others, today.
I want to share two pieces of writing about being an HSP. They are both incredibly relevant, yet utterly different in style... a study in contrasts.
The first is a deeply intimate and moving blog post by my friend and fellow HSP, Ane Axford... who examines-- in a deeply personal way-- the truth of opening up to our sensitivity and to laying down our "armor" against the world. As she puts it... are we "hardy" (armor wearing) or "hearty" (open to/about our sensitivity). This is one of the best pieces of exploratory writing on being Highly Sensitive I've read in years... don't miss this one!
The second piece of writing is an article from Psychology Today-- the US' most widely read publication (Est. 1.2 million readers!) in the psychology field. Extensively quoting HSP field experts like Elaine Aron, Ted Zeff and others, the article is testament to just how far awareness of the HSP trait (as something other than "in our imagination" or "New Age hooey") has come, since 1996. This is a very "mainstream" magazine... and even though I don't necessarily agree with everything written, it keeps a very balanced and "non-pathological" perspective.
"Sense and Sensitivity" by Andrea Bartz, in Psychology Today.

As a 15-year proponent of openness about being an HSP, these two-- very different-- articles made me stop and ponder the basic questions:

Where are we? What's more, where are we, as individuals trying to figure things out in life? And where are we, as a global "community" of highly sensitive persons?

How are we doing? Have we done enough? Are we doing enough? Are we being our own (and each other's) advocates, or are we hiding our truth?

What is it we really want, as HSPs?

This time my usual "talk back" space asks you to read the articles, consider, and then leave a comment about your own experience... along with your answers/thoughts about these questions.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

HSPs, Staying Present and Letting Go of the Past

How good are you at "Staying Present?"

I realize that "Staying Present" and "Being in THIS Moment" are currently popular buzzwords in the metaphysics, New Age and personal development fields, and I'll be the first to admit that I spent a fair amount of time considering what exactly "they" (You know, the "experts") mean, by that.

Then I considered some of the core aspects of being a Highly Sensitive Person.

We "Process Deeply."
We "Have Rich Inner Lives."
We "Pause and Reflect."
We "Spend Time Alone."
We "Experience Pain Deeply."

"Staying Present" may actually be particularly important for the Highly Sensitive Person. Why? Whereas we probably try to frame the above attributes in a positive light, truth is that they can also be a tempting "invitation" to become moody and broody. Because of the deep way we experience life and its events, there's a very fine line between merely honoring our natural sensitivities and depth... and sliding into either a dark and depressing hole, or a place of anxiety, or BOTH.

If you dwell excessively on things that happened in the past-- perhaps internally "playing a loop" of something negative that once took place, over and over... it becomes very easy to withdraw into yourself even grow depressed. Likewise, if you obsess too much over things that might happen in the future, perhaps endlessly "playing out" possible scenarios and outcomes-- from good to bad-- you can easily work yourself into a great state of anxiety. Either way, you increase the likelihood that you’ll miss everything going on around you, right NOW!

One of my favorite quotes (which was even my email signature line for several years)-- by Helen Keller-- goes like this: “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 that has been opened for us.

For years, I used it as a daily reminder to not get stuck in a place of endelessly (and needlessly) examining the "what ifs" of my life-- both past and future.

Frequently, we get fixated on the way things can be, should be, or will be someday... or could have been, should have been or might have been, somewhere in the past. But life always happens in the present. No amount of dwelling and brooding will change the past. And the future? It is always in motion, and depends almost wholly on what you choose to do right now... in the PRESENT.

I'm by no means advocating that we ignore the events of the past, nor ignore planning for the future. It's healthy-- and even wise-- to look at the past and understand, in a general sort of way, why certain things unfolded the way they did. That's simple wisdom. But once the basic understanding is there, LET IT GO! You cannot change the past, by living in it. Similarly, it's good to have a plan, and a sense of where we want to go, or be, somewhere down the road. But once that plan is in place, LET GO of the worry about the outcome. No matter how well you plan, "something" unexpected will inevitably happen; living in the future will not control its outcome. So why worry?

The opportunity to enjoy our lives exists right now.

So on this Labor Day Weekend, make time to enjoy your life, in this present moment. Take your dog for a walk. Play with your kids, or grandkids. Paint. Write a story. Sing in the shower. Go for a drive in the country. Go to a movie. Prepare a wonderful meal. Organize your sock drawer (yes, I really DID just say that!). Hug someone you love.

 Life is beautiful... but you have to be here and present to enjoy it! Happy Labor Day!

Talk Back: Are you good at "Staying Present?" Or do you have a natural tendency to dwell on the past? Or worry about the future? Have you found effective ways to not slip into a place of brooding and worrying? Please leave a comment!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

HSPs, Choices, Choosing and Consequences

I have been pondering the ins and outs of "choices," recently. Not long ago, I wrote about "observing" vs. "participating," and this time I'll also dig a little deeper into that particular topic...

Choices are interesting creatures. We generally look to our ability to choose our path as a tool for freedom and empowerment; as a way to create the paths and lives we wish to follow. On the surface, this is a pretty straightforward idea.

And yet?

So often, we allow the process of "choosing" to become a hurdle, itself, rather than an opening; rather than the invitation and opportunity that it is. I have previously written about how we HSPs are sometimes given to lapsing into "analysis paralysis," and perhaps the issues we face when it comes to making choices is merely a variation on this.

How often have you been with a friend who insisted "But I had NO CHOICE!" Or perhaps you-- or someone you know-- seemed immobilized when faced with the task of choosing between "A or B." Or perhaps you have found yourself waiting for "absolute certainty" with regard to something, before feeling comfortable in choosing. Or have wanted to "have it both ways" as a means to avoid having to make a choice. Or maybe you ended up unhappy with the outcome of a situation, following a choice not made-- perhaps the result of taking a "wait and see" approach. One of my father's sisters was forever lamenting how she "never got to do anything" because she invariably felt immobilized when faced with choices... as a result of which many opportunities simply passed her by, while she was deliberating.

Do you recognize yourself, in any of these scenarios?

Have you ever considered your patterns... and the possible ways in which "hesitance around choosing" may be responsible for holding you back from things you really want to do?

One of my Teachers once reminded me that "non-choice" is also a choice. For the first 30 years of my life, this was one of my biggest challenges... my uncanny "talent" for assigning "no particular importance" to most situations I faced; instead of saying "I'd prefer pizza for lunch," I'd say "whatever... it doesn't matter.... YOU choose," and then would end up feeling put upon because things never seemed to unfold as I'd hoped, or even in a way I liked.

Perhaps one of the things that scares us about choices is that a choice ultimately represents a commitment. And when we commit to something-- and I mean commit fully and completely-- we also commit to "owning" the consequences of our choices, not least of which is giving up one or more alternatives. By choosing, and owning accountability for our choices, we no longer get to "farm out" (however subtly) part of the responsibility for the outcome of the choice to someone else, or to the weather, or the black cat that wandered across our path-- even though we might still try!

It always amazes me just how many generally well-meaning people engage in this subtle dance, designed (unconsciously?) to get them "off the hook" of responsibility and accountability.

Using the simplest of metaphors, when I commit and say "I want pizza for lunch," I'm essentially giving up my option to pass on some of the responsibility for the pizza not being "all that" through a statement like "Well, it was really Bob's idea that we get pizza, but I went along with it." Furthermore, by choosing the pizza I also "lost" the opportunity to have baked salmon which also sounded really good... and in my "post bad pizza" state of mind might lead to feelings of regret.

In the arena of human dynamics and relationships, choosing can become especially tricky. In few places can we come up with more excuses, rationalizations, reasons, justifications and explanations than when we deal with other people-- and start to consider scenarios like "Jill's feelings will be hurt, if I choose to have lunch with Sue."

Now, as HSPs, we tend to be very empathic and compassionate people... but how well are we really served by being wishy-washy about choosing? In addition, many HSPs have a temperamental preference for "open ended" scenarios and for possible, rather than "decided" paths.

Again, I come back to the trouble with feeling immobilized by choice... and to the problem of letting the fear of an unsatisfactory outcome get in the way of reaching for the choice-- and outcome-- we really want, in our hearts and souls.

Maybe it's just part of human nature to fear saying (in private, or in public) "I was wrong" or "I made a bad choice." Or, as the case may be, "I thought it was pizza I wanted, but I was wrong. I really wanted salmon." Or "it was a mistake to have lunch with Sue, and now Jill doesn't want to talk to me."

Choosing-- and, again, I'm now primarily talking about the life choices that really have deep and lasting potential to affect our Personal Journeys-- requires us to be active agents in our own lives. When I read books from experts in the area of self-development, we are usually asked to be aware, and awake, and mindful... and to not just sleepwalk through existence. We are asked to be open to allowing "whatever" is going to happen, to happen to us. When we operate from fear, we tend to get "stuck."

Perhaps it's not always important that we necessarily "have our way," merely that we remain cognizant that a "choice point" was passed... and even if what we ultimately did was to "choose NOT to choose" we at least remain awake enough to recognize this as "OUR choice," and be willing to live with the attendant consequences... be they good, bad or indifferent.

I'll end by examining the often-heard statement "But I had NO choice!" Very seldom is this actually true... most often, it's an excuse we throw up. We almost always have a choice, but we can certainly face situations in which none of the available choices are very appealing...

Talk Back: Do you find it difficult to make choices? Or are you decisive? Have you found yourself in situations where an opportunity "expired" because you didn't make a choice? Or were you afraid to choose? If so, what were you afraid of? Have you ever--or do you-- deferred to the opinions of others, as a means to "not be on the hook" for the outcome of some situation/event? Leave a comment!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Assorted articles about the HSP Trait

I spent the weekend in Seattle, being at meetings and gatherings relating to a new project I'm getting involved with. In spending a couple of days among anywhere from 25 to maybe 80 people, I was reminded of how emotionally and mentally exhausting it can for an HSP-- especially of the introverted variety-- to spend a lot of time with larger groups of people.

I'm not even going to count the effect of simply being in a city the size of Seattle, in this equation...

I was planning to write a new article today, but found myself feeling "tired in the head" and not so inspired. I expect a few who read this can relate.

So, instead I am going to share some articles I have written-- in the course of the past five years-- relating to living, growing and finding resources for the Highly Sensitive Person. I hope you will find something of use, here-- either for yourself, or to share with people you feel could use a bit more information. Each link opens in a new browser tab:

The Highly Sensitive Person: An Introduction: Written in 2007, this was my first attempt at creating a brief introduction to the HSP trait. It covers the general "basics."

So WHAT if you're Sensitive? Why should it matter to you?: I wrote this article in response to a number people-- many of them HSPs-- who responded "who cares?" to me when I started writing about the trait.

OK, so I'm an HSP-- NOW what?: This article covers a bit about "what to do next," once a person discovers they are an HSP-- some suggestions on how and where to learn more.

HSP Gatherings, Groups and Workshops: Maybe not so much an "article" as a place I put together a list of resources-- since it's a permanent post, it's a little more accessible than the dynamic pages of a blog.

HSPs and the Challenge of Friendships: I wrote this piece about four years ago, in response to what seemed (and this continues) like a long stream of people on HSP forums talking about how difficult it was for them to make-- and keep-- friends.

Highly Sensitive or Highly Touchy?: This article took on one of the more "sensitive" topics I've written about: When does genuinely "sensitive" actually roll over into the land of someone who's pathologically touchy and fussy about everything... making them difficult to be around?

I realize that these articles may be somewhat "introductory level" for many readers... but sometimes it's good to have a few reminders of the basics.

Friday, August 26, 2011

HSPs and Accountability for Our Feelings

For most of us, a substantial part of being "a Highly Sensitive Person" revolves around the fact that we are... well... sensitive. Although the HSP trait covers a lot of territory... from physical, to environmental, to sensory, to psychic sensitivities, most people hear the term highly sensitive and immediately go to a place of "gets their feelings hurt easily."

Indeed, this is part of being an HSP.

So, when you're emotionally sensitive, you're typically deeply affected by people and situations where you encounter rudeness, a basic lack of compassion, unconscious action, cruelty... even outright meanness. We find ourselves in these situations, and "it stings." We are deeply moved... but how do we deal with these feelings? How do we handle it when we feel hurt-- and sometimes (often?) feel an extreme response where most folks around us just seem to "take it in stride," or even "blow it off?"

Many psychologists will argue that nobody can "make you" feel anything... another person may trigger feelings, but they didn't "make" them.

Of course, this is a difficult to understand-- and usually unpopular-- concept. It asks us to be accountable for our intense feelings. I know only too well just how easy it is to slip across a line into the land of accusations and blame; a place where we no longer think "I felt hurt," but instead move into thinking "You MADE ME feel... (whatever)."

But we're highly sensitive, right? We can't deny what we feel... and I'm not suggesting that we do-- I believe our strong feelings are perfectly valid, within our paradigm of being HSPs.

What matters is what we do with them...

Personally, I have had to learn a lot about letting go of blaming others, and dwelling on "external causes" for my hurt feelings as something I'm not responsible for; something "separate" from me. A dear friend-- who's also a therapist for HSPs-- pointed out that we (as adults) often slip into patterns we were in as children. Think about it: When quite young, how often do kids say "But he/she MADE ME DO IT!" to somehow excuse themselves from "owning" bad behavior and negative reactions? There are "versions" of that for adults, as well.

One of the great benefits of being an HSP is the fact that we have a natural inclination to "pause and check." This behavior-- by extension-- translates into a natural tendency to "respond" to situations, rather than "react." However, we still must be careful and mindful... and try to stay away from passive-aggressive "blame games," in which we set out to subtly "punish" others for how they made us feel hurt.

Again, nobody's saying that our feelings (in this case hurt, anger, or whatever) aren't real. The question is, HOW do we process them? WHO do we "make responsible?" Ourselves? Or someone else?

Of course, there's most likely not "ONE right answer." In most cases, the authentic answer becomes "some of each."

Talk Back: How do you respond, when strong (negative) feelings arise? Do you find yourself able to respond, or are you more likely to react? Do you look for an external source to blame? Do you look inside, to examine where the feelings arose from? Do you believe other people "make you" feel negative things? Or do you see negative feelings as "simply arising?" Once an intense feeling arises, are you able to let go again? Or does the feeling stay with you, and continues to "color" your day/week/month? Leave a comment! Remember, there's no "right" answer.

Friday, August 19, 2011

HSP Issues: Observing vs. Participating

Occasionally I get a little frustrated with my fellow HSPs.

Let me rephrase that... I get a little frustrated with some of my fellow HSPs.

From time to time, I have written about how we HSPs-- as a group-- often fall into a pattern of being "observers" rather than "participants." To a certain degree, this is a natural part of the HSP trait; we tend to process deeply, think and consider carefully before we act. To a certain degree, we may experience some hesitance in the face of things we've had negative experiences with, in the past. However, there's also such a thing as "going to unhealthy extremes..." and ultimately trying to legitimize and ignore actual pathologies by hiding them behind the HSP label.

In this particular case, I've been thinking about those people who dispense lots and lots of advice and wisdom about what "should" happen, and what would make a situation "better" (for them) but then fail to get involved in the process... and fail to even lift a finger, on their own behalf. Not only that, they complain endlessly about how things are "not happening."

Now, on the surface, I totally honor and respect the idea that we all have to "manage our energy" and avoid engaging in too many things that will cause us to get overstimulated and overwhelmed... this is a core part of learning to live with our sensitivities.

But here's a newsflash for you: If you genuinely want change in your life-- and in the world-- you cannot expect to sit around and have other people create and bring that change to you. It is not "other people's business" to effectuate change in YOUR life. And "your perfect life" (or your "perfect job," or your "perfect mate") is NOT going to be arriving at your front door, courtesy of a Federal Express delivery van!

There's a popular saying in the self-growth industry that we "Create Our Own Reality." Whether you're a subscriber to that idea, or to "daily affirmations," or to "living with intent," or follow the teachings of "The Secret," let us not lose sight of the fact that the word "create" is an ACTIVE VERB. In other words, we can't just "watch" and "dream about" the creative process and hope that our life "creates itself;" WE are the creators.

Gandhi once said "BE the change you wish to see in the world."

I can think of no place that quote has more import than in the global HSP Community. The concept of "sensitivity" has been extensively marginalized by our society-- especially Western society-- which often advocates competitiveness, selfishness, loudness, and "getting ahead" at any cost. Changing the public perception of what it means to be a "Highly Sensitive Person" is not going to come about if we sit on the sidelines and wait for "it" (change) to happen, or for "someone else" to make "it" happen.

If you "wish" there were a web site about HSPs and food allergies, start one.
If you "wish" there were more discussions in an online HSP forum, start a discussion; contribute.
If you "wish" there were a local meetup and support group for HSPs, start one.
If you "wish" your life were different, change something-- don't just complain!

Don't sit around and "wait for somebody else" to do it for you.

"But what if I don't know HOW?"


"But I CAN'T! I'm an HSP, and this is all too much for me! And what if I fail?! What if I get negative feedback?"

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate a good pity party as much as the next person... and I think venting our frustrations is important and even essential to our general well-being. However, engaging in pity parties and eternal whining as a lifestyle? No. Get over yourself. And while you're at it... consider the possibility that the reason you are getting the (negative) feedback from others around you that you're "difficult to be around" isn't actually due to their insensitivity... but due to your behavior patterns.


"That was not very sensitive. Are you even an HSP, at all....? I don't think a REAL HSP would say something like that..."

Oh, I am a "real" HSP... and probably more sensitive than many out there. But I also "rattle cages"-- or "shake trees," if you prefer-- by raising issues and saying things that sometimes make people feel uncomfortable. And I am willing to look at whatever version of "the truth" is presented to me, and consider the very real possibility that something someone is telling me... which I don't like and which hurts my feelings... may actually be true, and something about myself I need to work on.

So... next time something arises in your life, and you find yourself wishing "whatever" it is were a little different... participate. Become a driving force in your own life, rather than being "satisfied" with being a dead weight. Don't get me wrong... I appreciate how tempting it is to say "I can't..." when something asking to be changed shows up in our lives; it's safe and not-scary to just observe and wait for someone/something else to take the first step. Been there, myself, many many many times.

One of my Teachers once said: "If you keep doing the same thing, you'll keep getting the same result."

Which is an important thing to remember, if you're not happy how things in your life are progressing...

Talk Back: Are you more of an observer than a participant? Specifically, do you tend to be more of an observer in your own life, than an active agent? Have you found yourself in situations where you could have acted, but didn't... and then realize (later) that you could have done a much better job than the person who finally took action? What are your primary concerns/fears, when it comes to taking action, rather than sitting on the sidelines? If you were considering leaving a comment-- even a scathing one!-- but are now backing off... what is the negative inner self-talk that's stopping you? Leave a comment-- BE A PARTICIPANT!

Friday, August 12, 2011

HSPs, Authenticity, Work... and Negative Perceptions of Money

One of the most frequently discussed topics in groups of HSPs-- be it online, at a local group meeting, or at an HSP Gathering-- tends to revolve around work, and around how to make a living while also living authentically.

In her book "Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person," author Barrie Jaeger talks about the type of work she classifies as "drudgery," and how soul-crushing it can be for HSPs to be stuck in types of work that feels out of step with their sense of idealism. Jaeger then recommends that we identify and search for the work that represents our true Calling. Sadly, an awful lot of HSPs are stuck in drudgery work. Also sadly, a lot also identify with a somewhat toxic belief system centered around the notion that pursuing one's True Calling somehow requires taking a vow of poverty.

Finding one's Calling, of course, is easier said than done. And it often involves looking at certain secondary-- and very practical issues: How do we make money at our ostensible Callings? Dr. Elaine Aron writes-- in "The Highly Sensitive Person"-- that while HSPs are often highly educated and qualified, they tend to gravitate towards jobs that are generally low paying, in our society: Artist, writer, teacher, musician, librarian...

But there's more to it than that.

Whether it's actually part of the HSP trait or not, I've also often run into what I have come to think of as a form of "counterproductive idealism," when it comes to HSPs, work and making money. This belief centers around the (largely false!) notion that it's "impossible" or "wrong" to claim that you're living authentically unless you turn your back on all things material and monetary.

Frankly, I'm not convinced it's very healthy (or "evolved," for that matter) to be attached to the idea that if you're making money, "you're not living authentically."

Think about it, for a moment...

To my way of thinking, it's a rather unbalanced perspective. To think that "authenticity" can only come through embracing an ascetic lifestyle is actually as "extremist" in nature as the practices of those who subscribe to the idea that "success" can only be reached through the relentless pursuit of material wealth at all costs... you're really just looking at the flip side of the same coin.

So if you hold this belief that money is somehow "evil" and even an "obstacle" on your path to authentic happiness, I invite you to pause and consider WHY you hold this belief? What is your real "issue" with money, making money and having money? And then I invite you to consider the inherent paradox within your beliefs: You are rejecting money as being "important," even while "money/wealth" (the rejection of) is actually the centerpiece of your belief system about working and authenticity. So what you're really saying is that money actually IS important to you....?

But... "Money is the root of all evil"... right?

Actually, no. That's probably one of the most misquoted quotes of all time. The actual quote (from the Bible, 1 Timothy, 6:10) is "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (emphasis added).

By now, some of you might be asking "Why are you making such a big deal out of this?" Because I've met a surprising number of HSPs who've actively rejected their Calling with reasoning such as "I love the creativity of developing marketing campaigns for charities, but I'm not doing it because that industry is all about money!" It is almost as if the fact that we get paid somehow reduces the "worth" of the work. When I hear a statement like that, I find myself thinking "So you've rejected doing what you love because the field has a financial orientation, and instead you choose to work as a retail sales clerk, living at poverty level, hating what you're doing... while trying to convince me, the world and yourself that at least your life is authentic?"

Bullshit, says I!

As an HSP, my own work history has run the range from the relentless pursuit of material success and chasing the Almighty Dollar, to actually rejecting the need to make money and have anything material (I actually once voluntarily took an 80% pay cut in service of pursuing "my authenticity!"), to my current state of balance, in which I feel a deep gratitude for being able to make a pretty good living doing things I really love to do. And I am not ashamed (which I would have been, at one time) of the fact that I am probably better compensated for what I do than 90% of self-employed HSPs.

Now, if that sounds like it's being "boastful" or somehow "insensitive," I will hurry to point out that I share this information only for the purpose of getting others to think about their own relationships with work and money. Specifically, I invite you to consider whether or not part of your difficulties with work, money and living authentically are caused by your beliefs "getting in your own way." Let me assure you that keeping yourself broke neither assures authenticity, nor is it "noble;" choosing to deliberately struggle and suffer is more self-destructive than a path to "glory." If you have a dislike of money (and "making money") ask yourself if that's really you... or perhaps a subtle case of sour grapes: a subconscious statement of "because it's always so hard for me to make a living, I'm going to pretend money doesn't matter to me."

Originally, I had planned to write a bit about work for HSPs and finding our Calling... but I got sidetracked when I started to consider this fairly common obstacle many HSPs face, on their path of self-discovery.

Talk back: As an HSP, how is your "relationship" with money? Does materialism disgust you? Do you regard money from a primarily practical perspective, or do you also have a "philosophical" relationship with wealth? Do you believe one needs to reject material things in order to live authentically? If you got involved in your True Calling and it paid extremely well, would you feel grateful, or rather appalled and uncomfortable? Leave and comment and help start a discussion!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

HSP Gathering in Southern California, September 1-5, 2011

The 23rd (since 2001) HSP Gathering Retreat is going to take place in California, about a month from now.

The event will be held at La Casa de Maria Retreat Center in Santa Barbara, from September 1-5, 2011.

Dr. Elaine Aron (author of "The Highly Sensitive Person" and several other books) will give a presentation on Sunday, September 4th. In addition, the Gathering will include several other workshops on HSP-related topics, as well as plenty of time to relax, retreat and spend social time with fellow HSPs.

For those not familiar with them, HSP Gathering Retreats typically begin on Thursday afternoons and continue till Monday around lunchtime. Attendees live "in residence" at the retreat center and get to enjoy the "full immersion" experience of spending 4+ days in the company of only other HSPs.

On the surface, the idea of a "group" or just "a lot of people" may seem a bit UN-HSP like, given that many HSPs are introverts, but the truth is that a group of HSPs is like no other group you've ever experienced. Almost every participant in the course of the past decade has come away with a sense of feeling "connected" they've never previously experienced... and although these events are not meant as "therapy," a lot of healing and personal growth typically happens.

As a past attendee at seven previous Gatherings, I have seen many HSPs' lives change and "find direction" at these events. That... and I have seen HSPs who considered themselves "friendless" and unable to meet anyone they could relate to come away with new friends in their lives.

For more information and to register, please visit Creator/Organizer Jacquelyn Strickland's web site.

Although there is a non-residence ("daily commuter") option, I strongly recommend that you choose the "in residence" option. With less than a month to go till the event, my suggestion would be that you just say "what the heck!" and DO this without thinking too much about it...

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

HSPs... and Social Media

Here's a quick quiz for you:

Are you on Facebook? Are you active?
Are you on Twitter? Do you tweet regularly?
Do you blog? Or participate on "social" writing sites (Squidoo, HubPages, Gather, etc.)?
Are you on social bookmarking sites (StumbleUpon, Digg, etc.)?
Are you on YouTube? As in, have your own channel?

I'd guess that the vast majority of HSPs shudder at the idea of being involved in the social media circus... on any level. I expect a few might even be thinking that I should consider myself lucky that they are even on the Internet, reading a blog about being an HSP.

Experience tells me that some simply find the whole thing abhorrent; others get around "having much of an opinion" by simply pleading "technological ignorance." They look at me innocently and say "Oh, I have no idea how that works-- I'm really bad with computer stuff!" .... with an unspoken subtext echoing in the background "... and I have NO intention of finding out!"

Yet others insist that these technologies are "too left brain" for an HSP. A different group rejects the whole thing because "it is too overstimulating."

Personally, I blog, administrate online groups for HSPs, I am active on Facebook, twitter and can be found in various other places. I don't necessarily write about being an HSP everywhere, but I often speak of the trait "in passing," as part of writing/conversations about other issues. I will add that I've been using computers since 1976, and they don't scare me. I've been using the Internet since 1992, and it doesn't scare me. That said, I totally honor that others don't have an easy time with technology.

What worries me, however, is that HSPs often push their natural "cautiousness" and reticence over the top to the point where it actually becomes a form of "sticking their heads in the sand;" a way to avoid dealing with the reality of how the world is developing. Nothing wrong with natural caution, of course... but outright AVOIDANCE is not a healthy thing.

There is little doubt in my mind that these trends-- social media-- are here to stay. Now, we can choose to sit back and say "these things are NOT HSP-friendly, so we don't want to use them," but I really don't think that serves us well. Most of us wish that the world would more widely recognize the HSP trait, and in doing so make it an easier place in which to live. We wish that more people-- from employers to medical professionals-- be at least aware of the HSP trait as something that is not a pathology.

However, in order to make our voices heard, I strongly believe that we cannot afford to "reject" the dominant majority infrastructure in place for getting out our "message." If we do, we will just fade into obscurity... I'm not saying we have to LIKE using social media (after all, most HSPs are introverts), just that we need to be familiar with them, and know HOW to use them to our advantage.

Talk back: What do YOU think? Are you fairly "fluent" in using social media? Or do you reject the whole idea? If you do reject the idea of using social media, what is your reasoning? Which, if any, social media platforms are you part of? Leave a comment!

Friday, July 22, 2011

We Begin From Here: HSPs and Perfectionism

After somewhat of a hiatus from the HSP Community, I am slowly returning to writing, and to "being involved."

The last couple of years have been somewhat of a blur. It has been a good blur, though-- involving many life changes and a lot of personal growth. Still, I have repeatedly come face-to-face with the reality that we HSPs go into "overwhelm mode" when we have too many things on our plate, all at once. Once upon a time I would simply have forced myself to get everything done, but I have learned a measure of discernment that allows me to let certain things "drop out of the loop" so I can focus what energy I do have to give on what is the most important.

"Coming back" has always been an interesting process, for me. Coming back from vacation, coming back from illness, coming back from a period of overwhelm, coming back from an absence. Coming back TO writing and community involvement. Or to a hobby. Or a job, or way of life.

I always end up at the same place: "Where do I begin?"

Seems like a simple enough question, right?

Not so fast. It takes me very little time to get all worked up in the process of figuring out where and how to reach "the perfect re-insertion point." Very quickly, something as simple as sitting down to write a few words becomes this giant nightmare of studying dozens of my own private blog entries from the past couple of years, brainstorming with myself for hours, and basically turning a very simple task into a complex problem that makes the planning of D-Day look like a picnic. Because, after all, "everything must be perfect."

The truth is that all I am trying to do right now is get back in the habit of writing, reaching out and connecting with the community. The whole notion that I somehow am only "allowed" to return once I've mapped out the next six months in great detail is... well, a self-imposed nightmare. Indeed, I do have a lot of "80% done" articles I would like to share, but trying to make their completion and scheduling part of this moment is really irrelevant. Not only that, it becomes a way for me to get caught in an eternal loop of (metaphorically) "cleaning my desk perfectly before I can do my work."

HSPs-- as a group-- probably struggle more with this kind of perfectionism than any other subgroup of the population. We can label it "conscientiousness" (or something else) till we're blue in the face, but ultimately we're just "getting in our own way."

Sure, I probably have 20-25 viable articles I've started... and could finish writing "before I am ready to return to blogging." And I probably will finish them. But for now?

I am choosing To Begin From Here.

A lot of sages and gurus teach this very thing. After all, "the past" has already unfolded... and we can't do anything about it. In this case, the past is represented by my partly finished articles, and my choice to step away to deal with more important things. That has happened. It's done. No amount of getting "perfectly prepared" will undo it.

The future? Well, it's always fluid; in motion; unpredictable. No matter how much we may plan and scheme, there will never be "a perfect moment" in the future... in which we resume whatever it is we've been waiting to start. We just have to start somewhere, and then wing it.

So whatever you have going on, out there... and have been "planning" and "thinking about..." I'd suggest you simply start where you are.

And yes (for those of you I can hear protesting and rationalizing). It IS just that easy...

Talk Back: Do you struggle with various forms of perfectionism? Do you tend to "get in your own way" when starting or resuming a project? Do you find yourself (metaphorically) "cleaning your desk" eternally before you can start anything? 

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