Saturday, December 29, 2012

HSP Issue: NOT everyone is "Supposed To Like You!"

Rejection is difficult... for pretty much anyone. When you're a highly sensitive person, it can be even harder. Not only do many HSPs get their feelings hurt rather easily, but "after the fact," we tend to engage in endless brooding and extensive "post game analyses" of what just happened, hereunder every little nuance of what we could have said and/or done differently.

It's probably part of human nature to want to be well-liked. But sometimes we go overboard in our efforts to be "liked" end end up hurting ourselves in the process. WE do the hurting-- through how we process and treat ourselves-- not the other person.

For HSPs, this can be a particularly troubling issue. Many of us have lived lives of feeling marginalized and misunderstood, so when we do "put ourselves out there," we tend to be very deeply invested in a positive outcome; in being liked. Now, I'm not for a moment suggesting that there's a way to "not feel hurt" when someone doesn't like us (aka "rejects" us), just that we can sometimes save ourselves from a lot of pain by simply taking a step back and having a reality check.

Author Rita Mae Brown once wrote:

"I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself."

"Conformity" is actually a pretty wide concept. It doesn't just imply conforming to societal and cultural norms, it also can mean conforming to other people's impressions of what we "should" be, like, think, do and so forth. Since HSPs are very good at intuiting what others want and feel, we'll often twist ourselves into a pretzel shape in order to present the "version" of ourselves that would be most appealing to the person we're interacting with. But what happens to us, in our process? Often, we've "lost" ourselves... and what's worse, when our true self "returns" to the connection (once we get comfortable in the relationship) the person we're befriending or connecting with will no longer be dealing with the person they thought they were getting to know... and that's often how friendships (and relationships) fall apart.

As HSPs, what we sometimes lose sight of-- especially when it comes to "feeling liked"-- is the basic fact that not everyone is supposed to like us. And the fact is, not everyone is going to.

So where does the reality check come in?

We must stop and consider whether we have become deeply invested in "impressing"-- and adapting ourselves to "fit"-- people who don't even matter very much to us... in service of our inner need and desire to feel "liked." And we ultimately have to consider why we are bending over backwards to elicit a positive response from some random person who could care less whether we're alive or dead... let alone happy.

Many years ago, I had a deep conversation with an (HSP) friend of mine, about the whole "being liked" issue. She was lamenting the fact that it was so hard for her to make and keep friends... and feeling hurt because she's get talking to "someone" who might be a potential friend and after a short while-- or a couple of get-togethers-- this person's eyes would just start glazing over, and soon enough the connection would wither away.

Eventually I asked her why she was trying to make friends with people she relatively little in common with, and who didn't share her worldview, at all. She shrugged and said "but that's what most people around here are LIKE, and other people seem to have no trouble making friends like that."

Whereas I could "see her point," the bottom line is that HSPs are not "like everyone else." And because of that very fact, it's folly to think that "everyone else" is going to universally think that we're "all that, and a bag of chips." Some years back, I wrote an article about HSPs and the difficulties they face with friendships, and addressed this very point-- among many others.

Because the highly sensitive get easily overstimulated, we have only a limited amount of bandwidth to give to "other people." We owe it to ourselves to be discerning in our choices of whom we share that energy with. We also owe it to ourselves to accept (and even embrace) that NOT everyone is going to like us... and that this is OK, and not something to obsess over. It's not an easy process, and it asks us to let go of some old less-than-healthy beliefs about ourselves, and what we "should" do. But in the end... odd are your life will be less stressful and less painful... and your relationships and friendships more rewarding.

Talk Back! Do you worry about people liking you? Do you believe that everyone should like you? As an HSP, do you work hard to "make" people like you? Do you find friendships and other relationships frustrating? Have you ever considered that it may be the people you choose that are the problem, not who you are, as a friend? Share your experience-- leave a comment!

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Monday, December 24, 2012

HSP Reflection: The Lost-- and Found-- Meanings of the Season

I'd like to start by wishing everyone who reads this "Happy Holidays!"

This morning, I am taking a little time to reflect on life, rather than write an "advice column" or talk about aspects of the HSP trait. We'll return to our usual programming, next week... promise! Which is not to say that today's commentary doesn't have a distinct "HSP flavor."

Many people will be celebrating Christmas, today and tomorrow (depending on where you are, and what cultural mores you follow). I realize many of you do not "practice" Christmas... and my initial thought was to add the words "so this is not really aimed at you." But in a broader sense... you are part of the equation, even if Christmas is not what you observe, in your family; in your culture.

I was thinking--earlier this morning-- about how shopping for gifts has never been easy for me. Part of the issue is that I am only interested in giving gifts that will truly mean something to the recipient, and will be genuinely appreciated by them. I was never able to "just grab something off a shelf," throw it in a gift bag, and go... seems a lot of people are able to do that, and be perfectly happy.

Whether this is related to the sense of "conscientiousness" that tends to follow the highly sensitive through life, I don't know. Actually, I feel it's far simpler and more "selfish" than that: I never liked receiving gifts that clearly were given out of a "sense of obligation" and with very little thought behind them. I'd-- quite frankly-- rather have nothing than have to feign enthusiasm over receiving some useless random trinket... and then have to figure out how to dispose of it, later.

But the main part of my gift shopping "dilemma" is that I have never been particularly oriented to "stuff." And when you don't really "relate" to stuff as something that brings lots of joy it is a bit harder to buy stuff. It's not that I'm not clued into whether or not someone would like something-- I'm pretty good at that, especially with those close to me. I don't say these words as some kind of social commentary against consumerism, nor as a reflection of a personality that thinks "everything must be functional"... I say it merely to share a piece of my experience of living.

Anyways, reflecting on my "gift shopping issues," led me to reflect on days gone by... and what felt meaningful and important about Christmas, when I was a kid.

Certainly, getting a new bike, or some toy (actually, I was more interested in books!) I'd really wanted was "exciting," but looking back at age 0-14, I don't have an "honest" (e.g. unaided by photographs) memory of a single "thing" I got for Christmas. I know there were Legos, I know there were building sets, I know there were stuffed animals, I know there was a portable radio, I know there was an Instamatic camera... but I have no searing memories of these.

A faded photo of my dad and I decorating the tree. 1964-- I was four.
Instead, my strongest memories of what Christmas was "about" came in the form of the extraordinary cornucopia of food that flowed through the house, from December 23rd through about December 27th. It was all this delicious food we didn't get to eat, otherwise-- and it came all at the same time. There were roasts, and puddings, and cookies, and giant luncheons and exotic treats and it was all just amazing... as were the scents, wafting through the house. There was my mom's cooking; there were other people's cooking. We were certainly not "hard up for money," but for a few days my mother's eternal "small portions, SMALL portions, don't be a pig, you'll get FAAAT!" admonitions basically went in the toilet. To this day, I can still smell the food, see the tables, even tell you "what was where," and "which years" the table was set up "what way."

All this deliciousness was accompanied by a parade of people who seemed to be in a better mood than usual. As a young HSP, I had a deep appreciation for the fact that my father and his brother temporarily would stop bickering over nothing. Raised voices were few and far between. And I felt an actual sense of inner joy that we got to see interesting people and more distant family members we only got to see once a year. Maybe that was an early reflection of being an introverted little HSP... because "once a year" felt like precisely the "right amount" of socializing... and I basically wanted to see these folks, even if not actually interact with them... yet I also felt deeply attached to those once-a-year visits... they felt like part of the meaning of the season. It felt "a certain way" when these people were in the house... and those feelings remain with me.

So here I sit, at age 52, considering the "meaning" of Christmas... not in the religious/spiritual sense, but in the effective memory sense. In terms of what "means" something, to me.

It's the feasting, and the gathering of people.

But then my mind snaps back to the reality of now, and to my Christmas shopping dilemmas. And to what I see around me, in the greater world. And I struggle, as I try to process what "matters" to the greater world, vis-a-vis what matters to me. And somehow it feels all backwards.

Often, it seems to me like people's JOY... and their sense of self-worth... has become so wrapped up in "things." We "measure" our sense of importance and value not by how we feel about ourselves and who loves us and cares about us, and wants to spend time with us, but by what we "get." Which I am having a real struggle relating to. Maybe I'm weird... because there is always this "soul component" involved, when I try to give people gifts. I don't really care what the "thing" IS... I care about how the recipient will feel, when they get it.

Christmas 2012
This inner paradox makes me wonder when our hearts, minds and souls became like cash registers, measuring off the spirit of the season in a giant "ledger" with columns for "received" and "given." Because that's increasingly how Christmas, and life in general, feels to me. Have the stresses and demands of the technological age taken so much out of us that we just don't have the bandwidth to care, on a deeper level?

This, in turn, got me to ponder the way it feels like everyone gets so "easily offended" during the Holidays, in this modern world of ours... in what feels like a complete reversal of the temporary harmony I took so much joy from during holidays with my family. What is that about, on a deeper level?

We feel like we must use the phrase "Happy Holidays" because-- God forbid-- we might offend someone if we wish them a "Merry Christmas," or a "Happy Hanukkah," or a "Happy Solstice," and that happens to not match that person's belief system. As I search myself, I just can't imagine getting offended because someone wished me some "flavor" of good cheer that didn't happen to be mine. Why do we choose to make that an insult?

Maybe the intent to be "sensitive" has its merits, but WHO is being "sensitive," in this equation? Perhaps the well-wisher is being sensitive, with their choice of words... but isn't the person taking offense being stunningly IN-sensitive by virtue of their brusque response to someone whose intent was to wish them well?

Isn't it just language? Would you be equally offended if someone wished you "Happy Holidays" in Russian... because "it's not in English!?!?"

Think about the deeper meaning here.

When someone is offended by an ostensibly "inappropriate" holiday greeting, what does it really say? From where I am sitting, the underlying message is intolerance, in the form of "Your experience is different from mine, and that makes me angry! It makes me angry that you are not like me, and don't believe as I do!"

Well, hallelujah! Welcome to the human race! We're all different and unique human beings!

But pardon me for a moment, who the hell died and made you "Emperor Of What Everyone Should Experience?" Secondly, where the hell did you get the idea that everyone should be the same as you?

▲ ▲ Yes, that was a "grumpy and INTOLERANT moment." I'll get over myself, now. ▲ ▲

Last couple of posts I have written here have been about focusing on "the positive" we encounter... because we can affect our lives a great deal, merely by where we focus our thoughts. When we see good in the world, we focus on finding good, and ultimately we DO find good. When we see negative (and "insults") in the world, we will focus on them, and our lives will reflect finding them.

So when someone wishes you "Merry Christmas," and you don't "do" Christmas... remember, they are most likely JUST wishing you "happy holidays," from within their frame of reference.

It's a friendly greeting, not an attempt to pick on you!

Whatever way you celebrate the holiday season-- or not-- here's hoping it unfolds in a way that creates a positive and happy memory for you!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

HSPs and Health Worries-- More on Positive Framing

My previous post "High Sensitivity is not an "Illness:" Framing our lives in a more positive fashion" got a lot of attention-- along with a lot of feedback (some good, some not so good) through various HSP forums and groups.

Today-- on the day following what many (mistakenly) believed would mark "The End of the World," I wanted to follow up with some more thoughts on how we can sometimes "create our own problems," simply by virtue of how we think about-- and act on-- things that happen to us all the time, in our everyday lives. This day seemed appropriate, in the wake of so many people "freaking out and panicking" based on only the flimsiest-- or none at all-- "evidence" that the world might come to an end... essentially, mass hysteria based in fear.

Specifically, I wanted to delve into the often "delicate" issue of HSPs and health... and our propensity for often making things worse than they are. Don't get me wrong-- it's no secret that many HSPs struggle with an array of "health-related issues."

However, some of these issues can also be viewed from the angle of "creating a negative reality."  Specifically, I wanted to examine that tricky issue of what is part of being an HSP and what is not part of being an HSP... including the fact that excessive worry about your health can actually be bad for your health!

Most people will agree that part of being a Highly Sensitive Person is being extremely "tuned in" to ourselves and to our surrounding environment. This higher awareness can be a really good thing-- it can (in particular) help us detect problems before they become problems. Now, we can also consider HSPs-- as a group of people-- and determine that we tend to be fairly health conscious. I should add here that this does not necessarily mean "healthy," just "health CONSCIOUS."

Being aware of things happening in your body-- tiny changes in how you feel; tiny twinges; even the rhythms of your own heart and breathing-- is definitely a part of being an HSP. Certain more psychic-intuitive HSPs may even be able to "see" what is happening within them, and make a correct assessment not only as to what is going on, but as to whether or not it is "serious." But that's effectively about where it ends.

Which brings us around to the issue of "creating a negative reality." An surprisingly large number of HSPs "interpret" these tiny changes and twinges in their bodies from a deeply "fatalistic" perspective. There's a tiny pale spot on their arm (noticed, because they are highly sensitive) and their first thought is that they have skin cancer, and then are off to see 47 specialists. Or they have a tiny twinge in their midsection... and immediately attribute it to a rare gastro-intestinal illness. Or a tiny twitch in their big toe... which is automatically interpreted as a dangerous neurological condition.

What is the deal, here? I'm talking about otherwise well-adjusted people, here.

Being "aware" of tiny things happening to how you're feeling is definitely part of being an HSP... however, "going off" and having something akin to an anxiety attack each time you feel one is very likely NOT.

Certainly, "awareness" is part of a bigger picture that makes us HSPs-- as I wrote previously, "being highly AWARE" is a defining part of the trait. However, HOW WE RESPOND is an individual "thing" that is largely an individual choice. And overall, "blaming" our extreme responses on the trait hardly serves us very well.

The good news about all this is... well...  that "having a health anxiety attack," is something you can definitely seek help for, work on and move past.

A deeper concern is that when we see the tiny pale spot on our arm and immediately respond with "OMG! I have cancer!" we are subconsciously focusing a large amount of our energy on "cancer," thereby making it (at the very least) more likely that we'll actually get/have cancer!

Whether we believe in the metaphysical aspects of the equation, it's well documented that thoughts do have a way of turning into things.

Now, I recognize this probably a "touchy" subject for many HSPs-- and I can already hear a couple of unhappy peanut galleries "going off" on me for writing these words.

One of them is pointing to "that one time" when their shoulder itched and it was a precursor to a heart condition. I absolutely honor that. You were totally right.

Our lovely dog Daisy barks incessantly at EVERYthing. People in the street, squirrels crossing the lawn, the wind, a leaf falling... we (only halfway) joke that she'll go off "because a butterfly farted, three counties away." Daisy's "sensitivity" is not only annoying (noisy) to us, it's annoying to neighbors as well... and the bottom line is that nothing she has barked at here has ever been an actual threat. We do truly appreciate her "awareness" and we know she's a good guard dog... BUT unlike most dogs (even "sensitive" dogs)-- who might raise an eyebrow or an ear in "awareness," Daisy always "goes off" on a long barrage of noisy barking when a leaf falls. She does not know the meaning of a "measured and proportional response."

We're gently and lovingly trying to teach Daisy that she's a wonderful guard dog, but not everything is "a threat." What's my point? As HSPs, we sometimes need to retrain ourselves from "barking too much," before we can make sure that the "something" we're barking at... really IS something to bark at.

The other peanut gallery is going on about about how "we can't just shut it off" and-- by extension-- insisting that "we can't HELP it."

I'm not suggesting that anything be shut off. Of course you "can't help" feeling all these things in your body and your environment. However, you can "help" how you respond to them. Instead of running off to see an ear, nose and throat specialist because you just sneezed once... you might take a moment to pause and observe "Oh, I sneezed. I should keep an eye on that and see if I feel any different in a few hours-- maybe it was just stray pollen."

The issue with HSPs and feeling health-related things is not that they feel something, but how they choose to respond.

You might be thinking I'm "picking on HSPs" (I'm not-- especially since I am one, myself) and asking why I am even concerned. Two reasons: One, perceiving every tiny twinge in your body as a "health threat" is actively focusing your energy and intent on everything in your vicinity actually being a health threat. As I have written many times, thoughts become things! Intent creates.

The second reason I'm concerned has to do with having a clear understanding of what it "means" to be highly sensitive... heightened awareness IS definitely part of the trait... but extreme reactions to what we are "aware of" is not. In many cases, if you truly feel that you "can't help" how you react to things you feel... it may not be "because" you're an HSP-- it's most likely because you actually do have an anxiety or panic disorder of some kind.... and addressing that one issue can help you not have to spend the rest of your life feeling like you are "dealing with something terrible" every time your big toe feels a little "odd."

As we enter these times of "Awakening" and "Ascension," one of the common threads is love and compassion-- for others, and for the self. One of the things we can do for ourselves is to not respond from fear, when something happens within us.

Talk Back! Are you generally a healthy person? Do you often worry about your health? Do small changes in the way you feel cause you to feel alarmed? Have you ever been told that you "worry too much" about your health? Do you feel like you have a balanced sense of where your feelings are simply "because you're an HSP," and where you might actually BE "worrying too much?" Do you sometimes feel like you might be better off you could "worry less?" Share your experience-- leave a comment!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

High Sensitivity is not an "Illness:" Framing our lives in a more positive fashion

Being a Highly Sensitive Person "means" a number of different things in our lives.

Fundamentally, it means that we feel more, and we feel more deeply. In a sense we're more acutely "tuned in" to life and everything in it. As a result, it's easy for HSPs to get to a point of feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated.

Dr. Elaine Aron (author of "The Highly Sensitive Person) repeatedly emphasizes that high sensitivity-- as the inborn trait that it is... is a neutral trait. It has its pluses and minuses... but they all average out to being neutral. Unfortunately, many HSPs don't perceive themselves thus... they see themselves, how they are, and everything around them in a very negative light, often to their own detriment.

The rock of Gibraltar, from a beach in southern Spain
Much of my inspiration for this blog comes from hearing and reading what others say-- in their blogs, on web message boards, in email lists as well as in person. Recently, I have been noticing just how many HSPs see the trait as a distinct drawback, something they wish they were without, or could "cure"... and I wanted to examine that, and hopefully offer a gentle suggestion to adopt a different approach.

Some things I have heard/read recently include HSPs wanting to "be on disability" because they are highly sensitive. Others claim that the reason they can't "make a living" is because they are highly sensitive. Some insist their depression exists solely because they are HSPs. Similar claims can be applied to a variety of conditions, from shyness to being Bipolar, to ADHD.

Yet another group is made up of those who openly ask for support and help to-- allegedly-- be more capable of dealing with their sensitivities. That's certainly an excellent idea-- we can all use a little help and guidance-- but sometimes that's not exactly everything that's going on. Many workable suggestions are offered-- tips successfully used by other HSPs to make their lives easier-- but the people in question categorically reject everything that's suggested. No matter what, none of the suggestions "will work" or are "good enough."

After a while, it becomes quite clear that the person asking for help to deal with their sensitivity is actually asking for ways to get RID of their sensitivity. Which, of course, is not possible.

Much has been written about "creating our own reality," in the self-development and metaphysics industries. Whether you believe in creating reality, or the power of intent, or "positive affirmations," experience has taught me that it is just as easy to "create" a negative outcome as a positive one. It's all a matter of where you choose to focus your energy. Sadly, the HSPs who always seem to focus on the negative aspects of being highly sensitive also seem to get caught in a cycle of things "going badly" for them.

How do you make things turn out better... when everything feels so gloomy and depressing?

I'll be the first to admit that overstimulation, and feeling like life is just "too much" is not a lot of fun. Nor is criticism from those around you that you are "too this..." and "too that..." However, we have to start digging ourselves out of our (frequently) self-made holes of misery, somewhere. And since it's very unlikely to start with other people, it has to start with us.

Hillside water tank, near California Hot Springs
A good place to begin is with taking a completely honest inventory of what being a Highly Sensitive Person "means," in our lives-- and becoming fully accountable for what is ailing us. And along with that, recognizing what it doesn't mean to be an HSP-- including a number of illnesses and conditions-- even though we may be "attributing" such things to sensitivity.

Such honesty is not easy-- but it's important, when we truly want to heal and become strong and empowered individuals. We must reframe our negative self-perceptions... and work towards addressing and healing the actual issues at hand. For example:

You are not depressed because you are an HSP. You're depressed because something bad happened/is happening in your life... or because you have a chemical imbalance. Being an HSP may cause you to feel it more, but it didn't cause the depression.

You are not unable to make a living because you are an HSP. You're unable to make a living perhaps because you repeatedly choose jobs that suit you poorly, perhaps because you are trying to live up to other people's expectations, not your own, perhaps for some other reason. Being an HSP didn't cause you to be broke, but it may have made you more aware of your negative feelings towards work.

You are not shy or socially anxious because you are an HSP. Those are learned conditions that happened as a result of some negative social interactions you experienced in your past. Perhaps you're not either of those things, at all-- just aware that people easily overstimulate you, so you desire more time by yourself. Either way, being highly sensitive didn't cause your shyness, although it may have made you more tuned into feeling uncomfortable in certain situations.

One of the pieces of advice I most often offer my fellow HSPs is to "avoid comparisons," and to avoid letting other people define what's normal or not-normal... for YOU. The root word in "self-definition" is self. If you get overstimulated after two hours at a noisy party, then that's YOUR limit, and it's nobody else's business to define whether or not that makes you "abnormal" or not. It's not easy to shut out other people's opinions, and HSPs do tend to be very sensitive to criticism... but ultimately, we'll experience nothing but pain if we try to live by what other people think we "should" be able to do/handle/cope with or whatever.

In a sense, we must declare our own independence!

Once we separate out what our sensitivity truly is and stop trying to "repair" that part of us (which is futile, anyway!), we can attend to healing those parts of us that can be healed... whether it's "social anxiety" or a toxic relationship with work. And the beauty is... because we are HSPs, we'll experience the healing more strongly, as well!

Talk Back! Do you-- or have you-- "blamed" high sensitivity (which is not "fixable") for "causing" problems or conditions in your life (which are fixable)? Do you have a clear sense of where your sensitivity ends, and other "issues" begin? Have you ever tried to "cure" your sensitivity? If so, what did you learn? Share with others-- please leave a comment!

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reflection: HSPs, childhood and how early lessons shape our adult lives

We are off to Seattle, today, to see "The Hobbit."

I feel somewhat ambivalent about the whole thing. Don't get me wrong, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy was a great movie event, and I thoroughly enjoyed it-- blood, gore and violence notwithstanding. Seems like a lot of people think "The Hobbit" series will be a much greater and "more important" set of movies than LOTR. Beats me.

When I was a teen growing up in Spain, it seemed like half the world around me was reading Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I just never got into it. I am not even sure how I "missed" it, so I got to reflecting a little bit on that, this morning.

I quickly came to realize that I grew up in a household where reading was absolutely encouraged, but meant I was weaned on Alastair MacLean and John LeCarre and other "spy vs. spy" action stories. James Bond was probably the closest thing to "fantasy" and "mystical" anyone considered reading, in my world. Occasionally, I'd be treated to a historical novel-- basically a "history book" with "characters" inserted to make the reading more... interesting.

In most aspects of my pre-adult life, I had little to no opportunity to explore "my own" sense of intrigue and interest... only the version of life that was superimposed on my existence by my parents and the adults around me, which included the books I read. It was an environment in which "children don't have opinions." I clearly remember that comic books were "banned" at our house-- I got repeated lectures on how they were "stupid" and lacked any kind of worthwhile content... and were basically "for people who are too dumb to read real books."

I think my father genuinely believed I'd turn into an idiot, if I read comic books...

During much of my childhood, everyone was "into" trading cards-- there were "space" trading cards, cars, nature, airplanes, sports and much. The "issue" I grew up with-- which caused trading cards to be a total "no-no" for years-- was that trading cards came in packs of gum. And gum-- being part of the candy "family"-- was also "banned" at our house. I eventually managed to make a tenuous agreement with my mom that as long as I bought the trading card/gum packs with my own money (from mowing lawns in summer and shoveling snowy driveways in winter) AND I agreed to open the packets in front of her so she could take the gum and dispose of it-- it was OK... even though she thought it was "stupid, and I would soon get tired of wasting my money."

Whether it's a natural part of being an HSP or not, I never argued with my parents... I just shrugged and went along with whatever was served up to me. Whether being "compliant" is part of a temperament type, or part of being an HSP, or something we are taught-- or some of each-- I don't know. But I do recognize that my "survival strategy" had a lot to do with wanting to keep my stimulation levels very low-- of course, as a child I had no idea that the reason I was so "excitable" was because HSPs are simply wired that way.

In her books about the HSP trait, Elaine Aron points out that highly sensitive children typically don't need to be yelled at, lectured to and/or controlled the way many other children do. The HS child typically learns easily, and doesn't need "beatings" to get the message. Nor do they typically need repeated lectures, reminding (and shaming) them over and over to drive home the point about some "trespass" of theirs.

What is not discussed very often is the effects a "highly controlled" (but not necessarily abusive) upbringing for a highly sensitive child can havem with respect to who they turn into, once they become adults. Specifically because HSPs tend to learn their lessons easily, childhood habits can be difficult to unlearn... regardless of whether they are "still serving" us, as adults.

In my own case, my very structured and controlled childhood helped turn me into a young adult who was always "waiting to take direction" from others. I have no doubt that my parents genuinely wanted "what was best for me," but they gave me their interpretation of that in a way that never involved my having my own opinions-- in fact, it often felt pointless for me to have opinions... unless said opinions/preferences happened to be what my parents wanted me to want.

As I continued to evolve into adulthood, those early lessons led me towards increasing solitude. When I sit here now and look back 25-30 years, I can see how I gradually learned to "have my own tastes and opinions"... BUT I fell into a pattern of only choosing what I wanted, and doing what I wanted, when I was alone. If there were other people around? I just went in whatever direction they wanted to go. Sometimes that would set up some awkward moments for me, especially in the company of those I considered friends, when they suddenly say something like "How come you never told me you were interested in _____ (fill in the blank)?" and I'd find myself trying to explain I hadn't "mentioned" a favorite pastime they perhaps also were interested in. Back then, I didn't really "get" that friendships existed and grew strong because of sharing, and my tendency to keep everything to myself was directly correlated with my difficulty in making-- and keeping-- friends; in and of itself a challenge many HSPs face.

In the latter part of the 1990s, I started learning everything I could about this "highly sensitive" trait of ours, as a result of which I got to know dozens-- and eventually 100s-- of HSPs through email and forums and workshops, and I really came to see the "effective" way in which childhood lessons imprint deeply on HSPs. I also came to see that my very "controlled" childhood was by no means a unique experience, among my sensitive peers.

Of course, I'd already been in therapy for a number of years, but had struggled with certain issues-- one of them being the ability to "just let it go," with respect to old patterns and behaviors I'd been taught were "right," when I was younger.

OK, so that wasn't precisely what my therapist had recommended-- but the gist of those words clearly lay as the core message below dozens of hours of analysis. I'm not for a moment suggesting that HSPs shouldn't learn to let go of the past and of habits that no longer (or never did) serve them... just that our path to reaching the "point of letting go" is often a little different, because we have "embedded" the lessons from the past far more deeply than most people do.

Another thing Elaine Aron often shares in her workshops and presentations is the fact that HSPs who grew up in chaotic and/or non-supportive homes tend to be more deeply affected and "harmed" by the experience than the greater population. Of course, the UPside is that those HSPs who grew up in loving and supportive homes are generally more powerful and well-adjusted people than their non-Sensitive counterparts. In other words, being highly sensitive works both ways.

So what's the message here?

To parents of HS children, to learn what they can-- and what it truly means-- to have a highly sensitive child. What you do for that child-- NOW-- will have more impact on their long-term functioning as a human being than you could possibly know.

To my fellow HSPs who struggle with "reacting to life" in ways that are clearly based on dysfunctional lessons from childhood... recognize that "letting go" may require you to chart your own path to healing. There may not be a standard "fix it method" you can get from a therapist or a self-help book. It's also a difficult thing to break out of a pattern of "dwelling on the negative." However, that must be done, if we are to truly leave our pasts behind. But here's the good news: as HSPs-- we have something going for us in that respect: Because we experience everything more deeply, and take those experiences to heart more readily... we also experience HEALING more deeply and profoundly.

To myself, the message is that I did have very judging and controlling parents who didn't encourage me to have my own thoughts and opinions. That's a fact, which I can put in a neat little "box" and store away. My parents are dead, however. Beyond that, life is full of judging and controlling people, and I will have to deal with them, sometimes. They are not my parents. I am not dependent on them for my survival. I have a right to my own opinions and convictions... AND a right to choose who I spend my time and energy on.

And yes, it's JUST "that simple."

Talk back! Are there childhood lessons that clearly have controlled your life-- in ways that don't serve you well-- as an adult? Are you consciously aware of when you are "responding to a memory," rather than to the ACTUAL situation in front of you? Is it difficult for you to "let go" of old behavior patterns? Have you found any particularly helpful ways to move on? Share your experiences-- please leave a comment!

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Monday, December 10, 2012

HSPs, Stress, Simplicity and Turning Down the "Volume" of Life

I watch people, and their struggles with life-- and it makes me wonder about how we approach our choices, and our pursuit of meaning and happiness. Although I write these words from the perspective of being a highly sensitive person, I feel like they can be applied to pretty much everyone in this world-- not just HSPs.

So many struggle so much to deal with the overwhelming volume of "stuff" that seems to flow through modern existence... we even have programs like "Hoarders" on TV, showing us people for whom the "stuff" has gotten completely out of control. But somehow... we look at them and rationalize "Ah, but that's just an isolated few." And perhaps that's true-- in its most severe manifestation, and in a specific aspect of living.

But really....? REALLY?

Mt. Shasta, June 2012
We discuss "hoarding" and think about it in terms of having a lot of "items," but it strikes me this is just the tip of a much larger iceberg, and far more people struggle with this issue than we imagine... as "Hoarders of the MIND."

HSPs perhaps struggle more with this dimension of "excess" than the rest of the population, because we spend a lot of time "inside our heads."

For the highly sensitive, actual "stuff" (in the physical sense) may not be the greatest issue at hand, instead it is the mountain of "ideas," "experiences," "activities," "anxieties" and "beliefs" that weigh us down. We and those around us don't really notice this issue, because-- like emotional abuse-- there are no outward "physical signs" of emotional/spiritual hoarding... aside, perhaps from the way we find it difficult to "deal with life" because we're chronically overstimulated.

Think about it, for a moment...

Think about those you know-- and that includes yourself-- who are "stuck" in a state of paralysis or frenzy, because there is "too much content" in their lives. Think about the way people obsess endlessly over their (in)ability to reach some state of Being they feel like they "should" have. Think about the endless lists of "what needs to be done today/this week/this year/this lifetime," and how there's almost never any "space" left over to just sit and contemplate. Think about how many people have to "schedule" relaxation... because "something else" would not get done, if quiet time was something you merely took because you wanted to or felt like. Think about how many people feel bad about themselves... and even suffer from chronic low self-esteem because they look at those to-do lists and conclude that "I'm a useless person and I hate myself for not being able to get everything on my to-do list done."

Then think about how and why it got to be that way...

Not just in your life, or a friend's life... but in global life.

We spend a lot of time looking only at the symptoms of the things that ail us. We point at "poor organization" or "bad time management" or "lacking motivation" as the core reasons for not being able to get all of it done. There's a multi-billion dollar industry centered around organizational and motivational self-help.

And yet?

Nothing ever seems to change. In recent years, I have spent more time examining our underlying motivations, rather than the "symptoms."

Olympic Peninsula, Washington, October 2012
In the end, everything seems to be fear based. Almost all hoarding exists due to a fear of "not having," in some capacity. Sure, there are "rational and reasonable" triggers... often based in some past trauma. But even seemingly "healthy" people do it... and I strongly believe that emotional hoarding is still an illness-- albeit a "cultural illness." It's a way to-- individually and collectively-- put a "barrier" between us and merely "being" in the world, as we are.

Maybe society teaches us fear. I don't know. Actually, I am pretty sure it does... or it's at least part of the picture is societally generated. We are surrounded by messages that we are somehow "failing at life" unless we constantly FILL it with something. Even as I sit here typing, I watch the cursor on my screen "freeze" every thirty seconds, as my computer (via Facebook, this article started as a shorter Facebook post) updates an endless parade of things I should "want," "need," "have" and "do." The implication is that if we HAVE or DO less, we somehow ARE "less."

Whether my assessment is ultimately true or not, society DOES teach us to regard "input overload" as normal, and then goes on to define the choice to have/do "less" as either "underachieving" or "laziness."

As HSPs, our sensitivities can become augmented to the point of hypervigilance because we're tuned in to the feedback from the world around us. We process the signals from our surroundings... and impose on ourselves that we "should" be able to finish our to-do list. We tell ourselves that "that's what EVERYone does!" Then we run like crazy, operating under 24/7 stress and tell ourselves that we can get it all done. And when we're not physically running, our minds are running-- processing endless thoughts about how we might make ourselves come across as "more normal," while telling ourselves we can do that, too...

Agreed! Absolutely! We "can" get it done...

You can also become a professional basketball player, even if you're short-- as Spud Webb did, at 5'7" (170cm) tall.

But why choose the most difficult path you can find, with the most obstacles in the way? Why choose a path that really doesn't feel "natural" to you? And why choose the path "defined" by society, rather than by yourself? Here comes that rationalization again: "Because that's what people DO!" And below it lies a deeper rationalization-- one we're perhaps not as proud of or willing to admit to, because it shows our less-than-pretty insecurities: "I want people to be impressed with me and by extension like me!"

So? Who cares? Your life is your life. Comparisons are deadly. And for HSPs-- who tend to be very "inner oriented" and "self-referencing"-- basing life on "outer oriented" cues can be particularly toxic; leading to physical illness, low self-esteem, depression and a host of other issues. And here's a fact check for you: Other people are only going to be "impressed with you" to the extent you're impressed with yourself.

Lake Siskiyou, California, June 2012
So how do we deal with all this?

One of those clever "pop culture" self-improvement principles asks the metaphorical question "do you see your glass as half FULL, or half EMPTY?" Then it goes on to teach us that we can live better lives if we learn to take a positive attitude and see our Glass of Life as "half full."

Whereas I agree with the underlying principle of this maxim, let's step back and look at the bigger picture.

Let's look at the glass, for a moment.

If your Glass of Life is so BIG you have no hope in hell of ever keeping it even half full-- let alone ever getting it completely full... of course you're going to eternally struggle with life, and not feel good about yourself. And it's not your approach to life (optimism/pessimism or happiness/depression) that's the issue, it's your F&%#(*!! GLASS!!!

Bottom line, get a smaller glass!

If your "glass" is of such a size you can relatively easily keep it half full and-- God forbid-- maybe even fill completely from time to time, of course you're going to have an easier time feeling good about life!

His Holiness The Dalai Lama once said "The purpose of life is to be happy!"

I can already hear a chorus of protest rising, all its voices singing out the words "But I/you can't just not ____ (fill in the blank)"

Why not?

What are you afraid will happen, if you "take away from" the quantity in your equation of life, rather than "add to it?" What are you afraid you will "not have?"

Look, if you are genuinely content and living a happy and fulfilled life in pursuit of keeping your giant glass "half filled," then these words are really not directed at you. But the point is, most people have a "giant glass" but they are not happy with the state of their glass (aka "life")... and they are eternally in a state of struggle and emotional turmoil. Many will say (truthfully!) that they are "working on" making things better; making their life more manageable. But the problem is that they are working on the "symptoms," not the "problem," itself.

Assessing your life-- honestly-- and embracing greater simplicity and "less" in both the physical and spiritual/emotional realms can be both scary and challenging. Bottom line, many "factions" of our (especially western) consumer society depends-- for its own survival-- on keeping us all fearful and overworked. It accomplishes this by portraying life as a "contest," where the objective (or "winnings") center around the word "more." It teaches us that merely wanting "enough" is not acceptable... unless, of course, we define "enough" as "having it all."

I say-- sometimes the ONLY reasonable path to happiness and inner peace is to embrace the word ENOUGH!

Talk back! Do you feel overwhelmed by the "content" of your life? How do you define how you want your life to be? Is it done through an INNER process, or an OUTER process? If you are letting others/society define your life for you, why? What do you think would happen if you chose LESS content in your life? Leave a comment-- share your perspective and experience!

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Thursday, December 06, 2012

HSP Notes Gets a New Name (sort of!)-- and a Facelift

If you're a regular visitor to HSP Notes, you may have noticed that things look a little different...

For starters, there has been a name change... of sorts. After more than ten years as "," the HSP Notes web address is now simply ""

What does this mean to you? Actually, not a whole lot-- either address will still find the site, but it might be a good idea to update your bookmarks with the new address. And if you add links to here from your own blog or web site, it's better to use the new address.

In addition, the site's layout and design has been changed to reflect the more modern standard of "widget driven" web sites. The old design-- which I had been using since 2009-- was getting a bit dated and no longer supported the latest "building blocks" that lie beneath the surface of any web site. Besides, I'd had a few comments that the (old) site seemed "too wide" on a large monitor-- making the very looong lines of text difficult to read-- and the new design addresses that issue, as well.

Other than that, HSP Notes is still... "HSP Notes." All the old content and archives (going back to 2002) are still here, as are all the resource links-- and they are pretty much in the same places as they used to be.

What is new is that I will be adding a number of free-standing pages to the site, now that it is no longer "just a blog." Since HSP Notes is basically a labor of love, I will be doing this in my copious (not!) spare time... so don't hold your breath!

Meanwhile, the holiday season is upon us! For some HSPs, this is a time of joy and celebration and family gatherings... but for many, it is a time of some stress and overwhelm, making them just want to run home and hide from all the noise and lights. I recently wrote an article about "Coping with the Holidays," and it includes a number of tips on how to manage overstimulation during a time of the year when there is a LOT going on:

HSP Living: Tips for Dealing with the Noise and Stress of the Holiday Season

For a number of years, I have been encouraged to write about HSPs and work. I have generally not said much about that topic (A) because of Barrie Jaeger's excellent book about HSP work and (B) because it's a huge area that can't be dealt with in just "a few blog posts." However, a fellow HSP-- writing on an HSP message board on Facebook-- pointed out that it has been over seven years since Barrie Jaeger's book was published and "a lot has changed." That offered enough motivation to get me started on a series of articles about HSPs and the work experience-- part one was completed a few weeks ago:

HSP Topics: Work and the Highly Sensitive Person, Part I

Several more installments are in the work, including how to discover your calling and turn it into paying work; HSPs and self-employment; HSPs and managing difficult people at work; How changing your work can change your life-- and vice-versa; Finding balance between idealism and the need to make money... and more.

If you have an "HSPs and work" related topic of interest, by all means leave a comment-- I might incorporate it into an upcoming article.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

HSPs and the Healing and Meditative Powers of the Labyrinth

A few weeks back, Sarah and I went to the annual Labyrinth Society Gathering in Hudson, Wisconsin. As I alluded to in an earlier post, the other attendees at these events always feel a lot like "my tribe"-- in a way that's very similar to how I feel like I am with "my tribe," when I go to an HSP Gathering. It makes me think that perhaps what we all seek is the chance to hang out with some people that allow us-- even if only temporarily-- to feel like we're not complete strangers on this planet.

Now that I have had some time to pause and reflect I wanted to take a little time to talk about Labyrinths, their healing and meditative powers and how useful and appropriate they can be as a tool for the Highly Sensitive Person.

A little background history:

The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France-- possibly 900 years old
Photo by Lars Howlett,, used with permission
Labyrinths are ancient-- simple labyrinth designs can be traced back more than 4000 years. There may be some misconceptions that they are "occult symbols" or "pagan" or "religious," but nothing could be further from the truth: Labyrinths can be found pretty much anywhere. Perhaps the most famous labyrinth is at Chartres Cathedral in France; 100s more can be found on the grounds of a variety of churches around the world. Conversely, there are also labyrinths to be found "deep in the woods" where they may have been used in tribal ceremonies past and present. You can find labyrinths on hospital grounds, in public parks... and in people's back yards. And they are definitely not a "New Age" invention.

I have had labyrinths in my life for a long time. When I lived in Texas, we had a guest house with a flat concrete roof, and created a simple labyrinth there-- outlined in native limestone rocks. That was over 15 years ago. We're currently building a labyrinth in our back yard.

So what's the big deal? What's the attraction? What's the "magic?" And what is it that makes labyrinths such a "perfect fit" for HSPs?

Of course, I can only speak from personal experience, here... your own experience may differ.

Labyrinths and HSPs:

Labyrinths are far more than just "a pretty garden pattern," and should not be confused with "mazes," which are-- possibly-- better known, as designs or puzzles we've seen, at one time or another. The primary difference between a labyrinth and a maze is that a labyrinth has only one path to the center-- a maze is a "puzzle" with blind alleys and multiple "solutions."

Building the labyrinth in our back yard
This becomes very important when we consider the labyrinth as a meditative, prayer or self-discovery tool, especially for a highly sensitive person. With a labyrinth there is no "failing" -- the path is fixed, and you will always "succeed" in reaching the center-- with a maze, you can "fail" and get stuck down a blind alley. The labyrinth design allows you to do a walking meditation without having to "think" about where you are going... you simply follow the path and it will take you where you need to go.

And that's one of the great healing aspects of walking a Labyrinth: it is a meditation. If meditation isn't your thing, it can be a walking prayer. Either way, for HSPs it's a particularly suitable one-- most labyrinths are set in peaceful outdoor locations, or in indoor meditative spaces like churches or temples. Or, of course, you can create one in your own back yard.

The Labyrinth can be-- and often is-- a powerful teacher. I have heard it said that everything that happens in the labyrinth is a metaphor... and I believe this is a very appropriate and true statement.

Another way in which Labyrinths are "HSP friendly" is that walking them is generally a solitary pursuit. Yes, you can absolutely walk a labyrinth with other people... and there's a whole set of lessons associated with that... but most of the time you are walking alone; just you and your thoughts.

You move through a labyrinth at your own pace-- there's essentially no "right" or "wrong" way to go; slow, fast, skipping, dancing.

What Labyrinths Teach Us:

In the broadest sense, the circuits of a labyrinth are a metaphor for the journey of life. The path sometimes take us very close to our goals (the center of the labyrinth), only to lead us back out and back in, several times. Some look at the path through the labyrinth as similar to the path to enlightenment or self-realization-- we think we're getting close, but we're not; we get closer, we move away... and then suddenly we are there. If we walk a labyrinth with a friend-- starting at different times-- we will sometimes come very close to each other, sometimes be far apart, illustrating how we're all "on our path" but not necessarily in the same place.

Labyrinth at the Hudson Hospital, Hudson, WI
The Labyrinth teaches patience; it may seem like we don't have much land to cover to get to the center, yet the walk turns out to be quite long and has many twists and turns. The labyrinth teaches us that fulfillment comes with staying on the path-- sure, we can "cheat" (walk directly to the center without following the path), but getting there by such means feels hollow and meaningless. And once we reach the center, we can stay there for a while and rest-- but we cannot stay in the center of the labyrinth forever; just like life cannot be perfect all the time. We must continue walking new paths; towards new challenges.

On a more subtle level, the labyrinth teaches us how to "move towards" something, with purpose. Many people's life strategy is based on "moving AWAY from" things they don't want, rather than towards things they do want. In the labyrinth, movement is towards the center, and the fixed path allows no deviation.

Labyrinths also teach us to be mindful and to listen. Like many spiritual and healing tools, me must be "present" and open to whatever messages are coming our way... or ti simply will not "work." Or, at least, we will not derive significant benefit from the experience.

The Healing Power of the Labyrinth:

Some people say that walking the labyrinth is as direct an experience of God (or a higher power, or "the Source") as you can get. At the same time, walking the labyrinth-- to meditate on a problem, issue or desire, for example-- is an intensely personal experience. There is no "prescribed way," and no book of laws or Scripture to guide you. In many ways, the labyrinth is a place where you get to "be alone with yourself."

Raked leaf labyrinth at the 2012 TLS Gathering
UNlike many different New Age healing and enlightenment paths-- which tend to focus heavily on spirit and being in your head/mind-- the labyrinth (because of the physical movement) has a way of pulling people out of their heads and into their bodies. Even when we meditate, we have a tendency to "wander" to the past or to the future-- while walking a labyrinth, most people find is much easier to "be present" with the wind, the sound of your feet, in the moment.

What the labyrinth offers is a peaceful and effective way to "problem solve." When I walk a labyrinth, I almost always get answers-- not always the ones I was looking for, mind you, but the ones I needed. You may start walking with one particular "issue" in mind-- and come out with a solution to a completely different problem, and might wonder "why?" Often you'll discover that using the "off topic" answer you were giving "opens space" to address the issue you were originally concerned about.

And often the labyrinth will give you answers in ten minutes that you could not have gotten from three months of psychotherapy. All that's needed is an open mind and an open heart... and a willingness to truly listen.

Maybe this all sounds rather "structured," but I want to reiterate that there's really no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth. Perhaps nothing at all will happen-- or perhaps whatever is going to happen will happen later. Perhaps all you'll "get" is 15 minutes of calm that will leave you better equipped to deal with the day ahead.

More About Labyrinths:

There is lots and lots of information about labyrinths online.

The Labyrinth Society (TLS) web site is a good place to start. TLS is a large international organization promoting education and friendship between labyrinth enthusaists worldwide. You might also check out the Veriditas web site. Veriditas is another worldwide organization for those interested in labyrinths. In addition, there are a number of regional and country-wide labyrinth societies around the world.

If you want to find a labyrinth near you, visit the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator-- a joint project of The Labyrinth Society and Veriditas-- which currently contains information about more than 4000 labyrinths in over 70 countries. is Lars Howlett's very interesting and informative site (Facebook page) about many aspects of labyrinths, as well as an ongoing "news stream" about events relating to labyrinths.

Thanks for reading!

This post is a little bit of a departure from the writing I usually do here-- however, this last trip to the Labyrinth Society Gathering (I've been before) really reminded me that Labyrinths are a perfect "match" for HSPs.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

HSPs, Finding our Tribe and "Belonging"

In less than three weeks, HSPs from around the US and beyond will congregate in Montreat, North Carolina for the 25th HSP Gathering Retreat.

Reading a recent news announcement about the event reminded me of the importance of feeling a sense of "belonging;" of knowing that you are "part of" something. Of course, wanting to belong is not "an HSP thing," it's "a human thing." However, HSPs often find it more difficult to fit into groups than the rest of the world.

When I went to my first HSP Gathering (10 years ago), I remember coming away with a strong feeling of joy at having truly "found my tribe." Although HSPs are as individually different as any other group of people, we tend to share significant common ground that extends beyond just sensitivity. And so groups of HSPs tend to feel a bit like our long lost families.

The Labyrinth outside the Hudson Hospital in Wisconsin
Of course, not everyone feels comfortable with the idea of being part of a group of "sensitive people." Some of this-- sadly-- has to do with the negative bias society tends to place on the word "sensitive." Some just don't like the idea that "people at work" might find out that they belong to a group for sensitive people.

Some HSPs simply don't want to be part of a group activity... period. But they still like to be "affiliated with" a group, from afar. And that's OK, too-- we each have our own level of "belonging" we feel comfortable with.

I have often been asked what other "tribes" might be a good fit for HSPs. Ostensibly, these would be groups where an HSP would fit in well, and the central activity or interest is "HSP friendly." And most likely the other group members would be open and accepting of (or at least neutral towards) someone highly sensitive-- we all know how bad it feels when we share our trait-- or certain aspects of it-- and the words are received with eye rolling.

This week, I find myself in Hudson, Wisconsin... to spend time with another "tribe" with whom I have found common ground: Members of The Labyrinth Society, who are here for their 14th Annual Gathering.

Again, this is a group of people from all walks of life... with one thing in common: a fondness for labyrinths and walking labyrinths. No, this is not something "weird" or "occult--" labyrinths are an ancient spiritual symbol and tool that can be traced back 4000 years... and is used by Christian churches, hospitals, Pagans and free spirits alike.

The photo above is of the labyrinth on the grounds of the Hudson Hospital, a marvelous small medical center that truly feels like a "place of healing," rather than a cold faceless "institution." The labyrinth is used in healing not only for patients, but also to soothe visiting family members and visitors in general.

I have had an interest in labyrinths for many years (we built one in the back yard; had one when I lived in Texas, too-- in a "past life"), and they are a perfect tool for HSPs. I'll share more about that once I am back home, because I think the labyrinth can be of great value to us.

For now, I will just ask: What is your tribe? Have you found your tribe? Are you looking for a tribe; a group of people with whom you feel a sense of belonging? Please leave a comment!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

HSP Notes 10th Anniversary

The very first HSP Notes blog entry appeared on September 26th, 2002.

10 years is an aeon, on the Internet, a venue where most web sites and blogs come and go in a matter of a few years-- or months, even.

When I set out to write on these pages, I had little idea what I was doing, nor where I was going. What I did know was that there was relatively little information available about being a highly sensitive person and I felt compelled to be part of a small-- but growing-- movement to generate greater public awareness of the trait.

"Karlsstenen," a stone age burial site in Denmark
HSP Notes actually started as a sideline to the Inner Reflections web site, which I started as a very simple "online profile page" in 1995, but it went on to become my first "HSP related project" in early 2002. At the time, I'd been aware of "high sensitivity" as a trait for about five years. Back then, I remember frequently feeling surprised by the statistic that "15-20% of the population are HSPs," given that I almost never came across anyone who was an HSP.

At that point, I hadn't really considered the huge gap between being an HSP, and being aware that you're an HSP.

Aside from a couple of Elaine Aron's books, I got most of my information from a couple of HSP groups I belonged to on the web-- one of which went on to become the world's largest HSP "community," before its untimely demise. The other-- the HSP Book group on Yahoo-- is still going strong.

Much has changed, since 2002.

Although many HSPs continue to feel a little out of step with mainstream life, a far greater number of people in the general population are now aware of the concept of being a "Highly Sensitive Person." The trait-- itself-- has grown up, too, gaining a more scientific name in the process: "Sensory Processing Sensitivity." Dozens-- if not hundreds-- of articles about high sensitivity have appeared in the mainstream press.

What have I personally learned, in ten years?

Perhaps the most significant lesson-- and one I keep sharing with all who give me a couple of minutes to listen-- is that HSPs are just as individually different as people, in general. We simply share one trait... albeit a trait that often leads us down similar paths. But beliefs (which I often run into, to this day) such as "you MUST be an introverted vegan artist, vote Democrat, only wear fair trade cotton clothing, reject materialistic goods, drink organic green tea and love cats in order to be an HSP" are simply not true. HSPs come in every size, shape, color, persuasion and interest group.

It's a topic I touch on in my most recent article about HSPs, introversion and extraversion.

I have also learned that a lot of people know they are HSPs, and may even have read one of Elaine Aron's books, yet still either outright reject the idea or at least never tell anyone about it... typically to their own long term detriment. Surprisingly many people still consider being Highly Sensitive a "condition;" something they can-- somehow-- "get over," or be "cured" from. It is my hope to be able to continue to do my part to educate the world about the trait, to where we may eventually reach a point where fellow HSPs don't feel the need to "hide."

And I've learned something about myself... that in spite of my general tendency towards scatteredness, I've been able to "stick to" something for ten years.

Which makes me feel very hopeful that I'll keep HSP Notes going for another ten!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

HSPs and Acceptance: How Being very Tall, Collecting Stamps and Playing Golf Helped me Embrace Being an HSP

It's no secret that many HSPs struggle and wrestle with the idea that they are a Highly Sensitive Person. After all, there are all manners of cultural prejudices and misconceptions surrounding the word "sensitive," and it seems like few of them are positive.

From time to time, I have been asked how I can "be so open" about being an HSP, and "how" I managed to so readily accept the trait. After all, "aren't I afraid of being seen as weak (or "weird")," and aren't I afraid I "will be discriminated against?" And other biggie: "men aren't supposed to be sensitive, right?"

A few days ago-- during my daily morning writing-- it suddenly struck me that part of the answer to the "acceptance" question was/is that I "already had experience," in unrelated ways. Truth be known, I think most of us do, but we ignore it or are blind to it.

"What does that mean?" you might be asking. Let's explore...

Me, at 15, carrying... a bag of golf clubs
What does it really mean, to be an HSP? What are some of the deeper implications? When you "embrace" that you are highly sensitive, what what are you really accepting about yourself?

For most, it means some version of "I don't really fit in" and/or "I'm a little different from the rest of the world." As human beings, we are-- basically-- tribal creatures. Even if we are very introverted and don't necessarily want to interact with the "tribe," we are still comforted by the idea that at least we belong to one. And when we accept being an HSP, we are-- in a way-- "agreeing" to making our tribe 85% smaller. And it's totally understandable that not everyone is ready to jump at the chance to do that.

So how exactly was I "prepared" to embrace being an HSP?

Well, let's start with being really tall. I was 6'2" (188cm) already when I was 15. I stood head and shoulders above 99% of my peers. The rather fuzzy photo at right shows me in all my lanky 15-year old geekiness. So what's the point, here?

Being much taller than everyone else gets you used to a couple of things. One, people look at you-- even if not "oddly," they look at you. And so, I got used to the idea that people would "look," and that it was because I was not like most other people.

Second, my actual physical experience of life was-- and remains-- a little different from everyone else's. There are a number of things I simply "can't do," because of my height (I grew up to stand a bit over 6'4"/194cm). For example, finding clothes is more difficult than it is for "normal" people. A normal t-shirt almost becomes a "crop top" for me, after a couple of cycles through the wash. And when it is time for me to buy a car, I can't just choose a highly rated car I like... I have to choose from among the limited half-dozen models that actually have enough legroom and headroom for me.

Embracing that you're an HSP is rather parallel to being tall. You can't "help" it, it's simply the way you are. And just like I am not running around looking for a way to "fix" being tall, I'm not running around trying to "fix" being an HSP. It is not fixable! Nor am I running around moaning and groaning about being "too tall," any more than I am inclined to run around moaning and groaning about being "too sensitive."

The only significant difference I can discern between the two is that tallness is visible, sensitivity is not. But I was still made fun of for being "the giraffe," just like I was made fun of for being "a pansy." Kids can be cruel...

My parents-- inadvertently-- "helped" me come to terms with being highly sensitive. How? They pushed me towards a couple of hobbies/pastimes that served to rather "set me apart" from my peers. As a boy and young man, I was guided and encouraged to get into-- and occupy myself with-- stamp collecting and playing golf. Not exactly what you find most 15-year olds interested in-- even in 1975.

Ironically, both stamp collecting and golf are perfect "HSP pastimes," although nobody was aware of that, at the time. My parents were mostly interested in getting me to do something that would keep me quiet and took hours at a time.

Collecting stamps is a quiet, solitary pursuit that almost becomes a Zen-like meditation when you spend some time with it... and it offers a fascinating glimpse into world cultures and history-- not to mention that each stamp is actually a miniature work of art. And golf-- as sports go-- is a solitary (as opposed to "team") endeavor, played in silence, that involves being in (even if a golf course is a bit contrived) nature... a place where most HSPs feel at peace.

That said, not only does being a 16-year old golfing stamp collector pretty much put the final nail in the coffin of hoping to attain even the tiniest bit of coolness, it pretty much dooms you when it comes to getting a date. In addition, these two pastimes often cause people to pause and look at you "strangely," in ways they wouldn't look at someone who "plays football and goes hunting." Only now that I am in my 50s are the strange looks gradually giving way to "Oh, that's pretty cool!"

Anyway, by the time 1997 rolled around and I learned and realized that I was-- indeed-- an HSP, I already had 20+ years of experience in dealing with being thought "weird and different."

Now, lest you should get any ideas, I am not writing this to share some personal "boo-hoo-hoo, woe is me" story, nor to try to persuade anyone that I am somehow "special." I am actually writing this to illustrate-- especially for those who are having a difficult time embracing being an HSP and feel "unprepared" to do so-- that some of the most ordinary things in life actually do prepare us to accept our sensitivity.

So, if you're struggling a bit, I encourage you to examine ways in which life have challenged you... and see whether there are lessons there that might help you become more at ease with being an HSP.

Talk Back! Leave a comment: Was it difficult for you to accept being an HSP? Is it still a struggle? In what ways? If you think a bit, what are some other (unrelated) differences you have had to deal with, in life? Can you see parallels with High Sensitivity?

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