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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