Tuesday, February 12, 2013

HSPs & Overstimulation: Do your choices support a balanced life?

From time to time I like to check in with the online bookstores (Amazon, etc.) to see if there are any new books on the market about high sensitivity, Sensory Processing Sensitivity or other closely related subjects.

As I perused a few titles I hadn't come across before, I started noticing how many new books are made for Kindle (or other tablet readers), and how an increasing number are "Kindle ONLY."

Personally, I like books. Books made of paper, that is. It's not that I am a Luddite, or "technology phobic"-- I'm actually surrounded by a sea of recent technological innovation-- it's just the old fashioned books are "low tech," which also means they are "low stimulation," at least for me.

A book is... just a book. It can't "access the Internet," it can't suddenly "update itself" and it doesn't have a built-in dictionary or 47 different display options. A book isn't suddenly going to let me know (as some readers and tablets can) that I have an incoming phone call, or new email. A book doesn't come with any concerns that its battery is running low. With a book, I don't have to think about anything but "words on a page," and there are no "tempting sidetracks" to distract me... which, for someone with ADD-ish tendencies and a general propensity for simply being interested in lots of things, are features I'd just as well keep to a minimum.

As I said, I'm not a Luddite and I really like new technology... but I am also someone who remains constantly conscious of the "small trickles of stuff" in life that contribute-- when all added together-- to that this we HSPs know as "overstimulation" of basically getting overwhelmed by our environment.

Which got me to thinking about whether-- and to what degree-- HSPs really do make choices in support of "slowing down" and managing stimulation... or are (like most people) doing the many things that surround us, all of which are designed to "speed life up."

Normally we think of events that cause overstimulation as "big" things like traveling to a family gathering, planning someone's birthday party or spending an entire day at the mall. But are you aware of all the little things in your daily life? These are things we don't so often think about because they really don't cause overstimulation... they merely make a "small contribution" towards it, when added to a bunch of other "small contributions." Many are so subtle we don't even think about them...

Like reading books on an electronic device with "other feaures" than just the book. Or trying to catch up with the TV news while on a treadmill or exercise machine. There are lots of others... rather than list them, I ask you to consider taking a few minutes to sit down and think about where they are, in your life. You might be surprised.
Anyway, since this post is partly about books, I'd like to give a shout-out to Dr. Ted Zeff who has a new book out entitled "Raise an Emotionally Healthy Boy: Save Your Son From the Violent Boy Culture."

There has been a recent increase in the general "visibility" of highly sensitive men, as more and more are stepping forward and talking about their experiences with being male and highly sensitive-- a combination that's often "frowned upon" in our "tough guy" culture.

Although this book isn't specifically about HSPs, it is highly relevant for HSPs... and is basically an extension of Zeff recent research and focus on highly sensitive males. If you have a son who is-- or whom you suspect might be-- an HSP, do consider getting your hands on this book!
Anyway, I hope this might inspire you to take a moment to consider your daily choices, and whether or not they support keeping your energies well balanced.

Talk Back! Do you make an active effort to consider whether or not your daily choices help "manage" the stimulation level in your life... or do you just allow things to "unfold as they will" and hope for the best? Are there things you know you ought to change, because you'll feel calmer if you do? Please share your experience and leave a comment!

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Saturday, February 02, 2013

Childhood Memory: A Highly Sensitive Boy's Relationship with "Excitement"

From time to time I get asked if I ever write "anything personal" on these pages.

"You know, like a memoir, or something that happened to you," they then add... perhaps since pretty much everything I write here is "personal." I did actually start in on some more "personal" stories a couple of years ago... and, in all fairness, my post "Perceptions and Reality: Childhood, Part I" was about my early life. I intended to write a series of such articles, but got bogged down after thinking it was a little too self-indulgent.

The other day I was reading an article about having the right amount of "excitement" in my life, which led me to another article about the issues of "boredom" which got me to thinking about my own life and reminiscing about myself as a boy and youth... and who this highly sensitive youth really was.

One of the things I realized was that one of the ways I always seemed like an oddball among my peers was that I really was never interested in doing "exciting" things. And that was true of me, from a very young age. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that "exciting things" simply didn't feel "exciting" to me; I didn't want to be any part of them, I wanted to do "safe and comforting" things. Or maybe it was more a case of the feeling we call "exciting" not actually feeling good/positive the way it does for many people.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't that I didn't want to "do" things-- I just found almost all forms of (what I perceived to be) "risky" behavior to be stupid. I don't have all that many memories from being six or younger, but I do remember that I would almost always engage in "critical analysis" of things, back then. If someone said "let go do 'something'," I would  not only want to feel assured that this "something" have a high likelihood of a pleasant outcome, but I wanted to feel confident that any "collateral damage" resulting from the possibility of failure was minimal.

That's "fancy speak" for not engaging in risky things, and not being impulsive.

So when some of the other neighborhood kids would come along and say "let's jump over the fence, steal some apples and beat on the window so the neighbor's dog starts barking, and then run away really fast!" I was never onboard with it. And even if I hesitantly agreed to go along, I'd be so beset by anxiety that I had no possibility of enjoying the experience. All I could "see" was the potential trouble at the other end... there would be the neighbor's anger at us, then the phone call to my parents, followed by a lecture from my mom, then a different kind of lecture from my dad.

My mother's primary form of punishment was that she would sit me down and spend about an hour (at least that's what it felt like!) lecturing me about what it meant to be "good" and "obedient," and what shame I was bringing on the family with my actions, and how I must be ashamed of my ways... and she had a manner of forcing me to sit through an age of droning on about the same thing said 30 different ways. There were no beatings, no "time out," no grounding... just my mother talking, and asking sharp questions about once a minute-- which I'd better have the answer to-- or the lecture would just be prolonged because I "hadn't been paying attention."

Once my mom was done with me, odds were I'd be handed off to my father. His lecturing style was a bit more direct and threatening. His favorite thing to point out was that "parents of boys who disobey them end up with little choice but to call the police and have said disobedient little boys put in jail where they belong and can only have bread and water until they come to realize that they should behave properly." It was a fairly effective punishment tool-- the idea of going to prison scared me, and it really didn't occur to me that it was "a story" he told... till I was almost in my teens.

Yes, I was extremely gullible, as a child. In many ways, I still am.

Anyway, I literally did think like this, as a small boy and teenager, and my "risk-reward analyses" never came out in favor of "excitement." It's a way of thinking that has never left me. Some thirty years later, I learned about High Sensitivity... and deeply related to something Elaine Aron once said about HSPs being like the "cautious deer" observed among wild deer populations.

Of course, I didn't just think this way about "illicit" excitement-- I also thought this way about "endorsed" excitement, from riding rollercoasters to jumping in the water from a high springboard. If it looked like it could "go wrong" or "be painful" I wanted no part of it. I was never a candidate for "Stupid Human Tricks."

I have often been told that my reticence is fear-based. Whereas there might be a slight truth to that, there's more at play here. So-called exciting activities don't feel good. I feel "jangled" for an extremely long time, afterwards. Shaky, out of sorts. Like the shot of adrenaline we get in response to an "exciting event" stays with me for many hours, where it dissipates in minutes for most people. It's not a "good feeling" when I'm still "jittery" from the "thrill" of riding the rollercoaster... six hours "after the fact." Giving rise to the question of whether my avoidance of "excitement" is genuinely fear, or merely reasonable life management....

But here's an odd thing, as I wind this up: At the same time as being excitement avoidant, I was always very open to doing things that most others-- including my childhood peers-- rejected because they were "extremely/too difficult." From an early age, I excelled at accomplishing things many wouldn't even attempt, let alone succeed at. Need a giant tree cut down, and all you have is a steak knife? Give it to me, I'll get it done. Car has broken down at the summer cabin and someone needs to ride twenty miles on their bicycle to the store for milk and bread, and then twenty miles back? No problem, I'll go.

This strange marriage of extreme caution and extreme stick-to-it-iveness defined me until I became an adult... and remains with me, although in a milder form than 30+ years ago.

A past therapist once psychoanalyzed this as being a reflection of my self-perceived shortcomings at "outwitting" people made up for by "outlasting" them, instead.

Not sure I buy that. But it sounded plausible, at the time...

In retrospect, I feel increasingly sure that my pervasive childhood and teenage nickname "grandpa" was more earned as a result of my retiring nature and careful approach to life than from my mother's penchant for dressing her young son in clothes befitting a 60-year old. I used to blame being treated as a "weirdo" and "misfit" on my "grandpa pants" but I'm not so sure, anymore...

Caution and risk aversion is-- of course-- not in the nature of all HSPs, nor is a tightly controlled impulsivity. However, my years of introspection and self-inquiry tell me that in my case, it's more a reflection of my HSP nature, as opposed to "learned fears." Even when I was an infant in my crib, I had little interest in bright shiny objects, "noisemakers" and general interaction. From the anecdotal evidence I've gathered over the years, it wasn't that I was afraid, just that I seemed not interested.

That's my story, and I am sticking to it!

Talk Back! What was your relationship with "excitement," as a kid and youngster? How is it, today? Have you-- and do you-- generally have a different perception than other people as to what "excitement" feels like? Do you consider yourself risk-averse? Share your experience-- leave a comment!

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