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!

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