Wednesday, August 28, 2013

HSPs and Healing: How we tend to SEE what we KNOW... and why We Must Move On!

I belong to several dozen forums and groups online-- many often them related to being an HSP, some related to other interests.

As part of the “daily doings,” lots of people post pictures, articles, quotes, book recommendations and all the other bits and pieces that simply seem to be part of an online community. Most of the time, their posts will end with words along the lines of “what do you guys think of this (writer/article/idea/healing method)?” This, too, is part of the natural flow of online groups.

Reading the responses to a post—which often can number in the dozens—is an interesting and valuable reminder of just how much our perceptions are influenced by our experiences. This is especially true when we carry around “wounds” we haven’t fully addressed… and may not even be aware of.

The thing I keep seeing, over and over again, is that we “see” in something—a situation, an idea, a person-- what we know; what we’re familiar with… but not necessarily the actual “truth” or the “facts” right in front of our faces.

So somebody posts an article and asks “What do you think of this person’s viewpoint?”

Those who have been abused and have had abusers in their life, see an abuser.
Those who have been victims of narcissists, see a narcissist.
Those who have been manipulated by people, see a manipulator.
Those whose lives revolve around being a crazy alternative artist, see a crazy edgy artist.
And so on, and so forth.

Observing this pattern repeatedly makes me wonder just how “objective” we are able to be, when faced with essentially neutral situations. Especially if we have lived “difficult” lives, as many HSPs have.

Do we tend to see a metaphorical “snake under every rock” when faced with situations that might (or might NOT, even) remind us of something difficult from the past… or are we able to look at these situations and see them for what they usually are: A “rock” that might have the potential to hide a snake, but probably doesn’t?

Don't get me wrong-- I'm not suggesting that we ignore our intuition. After all we HSPs tend to be highly intuitive people. What I am looking at here is pervasive patterns, as opposed to intuiting things about people and situations on a "case by case" basis. Our intuition is often on the mark... but if we're at a point where even Mother Teresa looks "suspicious" in some way, the issue is probably with US, not with Mother Teresa.

I’m also not suggesting that our experiences shouldn’t be regarded as valuable “teaching moments” and that we should be able to magically step away from our lenses of perception. And I'm well aware that one of the fundamental attributes of the HSP trait is a tendency towards thinking before we act. However, that can go overboard when certain “attachments” to the past end up serving as obstacles we put in our own way. And sometimes it can end up feeling like we are subconsciously “building fences” between us and what we believe we are actually seeking.

This is why it is especially important to work on healing ourselves before we go forth in the world to help others, or become “involved” with others.

As an example, I keep thinking of one particular HSP woman whom I’ve known—in “that Internet way”—for over ten years. For as long as I’ve known her, she has had “dating troubles” and her life seems to be one endlessly long saga of rejecting men because they seem to be “not trustworthy.” In her past, she has had her trust broken… and so, now she doesn’t trust anyone. And every time she meets a new man, she “goes looking” for reasons why he “can’t be trusted.”

Of course, she finds exactly what she’s looking for: Evidence of non-trustworthiness. Her relentless pursuit of this “evidence” clearly clouds—or “unbalances”-- her objectivity about people because she will end up disregarding 99 positive qualities in the search for one specific negative quality… which may even have to be actively coaxed out of hiding, essentially through attempting to"trigger" that attribute in a person who was actually pretty emotionally stable. And so, the cycle continues.

Maybe we all do this to some degree… at least until someone makes us aware that it’s not “others” that are the problem… we are the “common denominator.” This was a challenging concept I had to face, a number of years ago. "They" were not the problem... "I" was. And maybe it’s not “dating.” Maybe it’s “never being able to find a decent job.” Maybe it’s “not being able to maintain friendships.” Maybe it’s “always ending up with a judgmental boss.

We tend to create our own reality. We will find exactly what we are “looking for” even when we don’t actually think we’re “looking.” In fact, we may believe—quite sincerely—that we’re being “sensibly cautious.” Yet we run the risk of not being able to “see the forest” because of our obsession with one particular tree.

As HSPs, we “process deeply” (which is usually a good thing) and we’re very perceptive (which is also a good thing) and we tend to be very insightful (one more good thing). But sometimes we also tend to learn “too well” from our pasts, and end up obsessing over “something that once happened,” to the point that it keeps us from moving forward and enjoying our lives.

We get in our own way.

Learning to become aware of our own patterns—and to “self check” and pause to examine what is really going on when we get "stuck"—is an important part of healing past wounds and moving on with life.

Now, most HSPs would argue that they are very good at examining and studying their “issues,” and I agree with that… and I'll even add myself to that category. But we must do more with our issues than “study” them; we must process, heal and move on.

Not saying it’s easy—just that it’s important.

I'd like to recommend the book below, which helped me a great deal on my own journey. It's called "Excess Baggage: Getting Out of Your Own Way." It's not "for" HSPs or about HSPs... but it does contain a lot of valuable and insightful information. Some may find it a little too simplistic, but sometimes you have to start with the basics!

Talk Back: Are there patterns you keep repeating, even though it feels like you're actively trying NOT to repeat them? Does it sometimes feel like you are putting hurdles in your own way, even though you don't want to? Leave a comment! 

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

HSPs, Sociability and Feeling Overstimulated

This past weekend (August 16th-18th) The White Light Express held its annual conference and retreat, here in Port Townsend, Washington.

I mention this because I am a central part of the organization, and thus have lots of attendant responsibilities. And this annual event find me-- as an introverted HSP-- being on the go and having to be very "public" with lots of people, for several days.

There's a common misconception that introverts-- HSP and non-HSP alike-- are "antisocial" and outright "don't like people." That's simply not not true. I actually like people very much but the act of "socializing" (especially with a large group of mostly strangers) is exhausting, for me.

To truly understand what's going on with an HSP when they declare "I really don't like crowds" is typically far less about "avoiding people" than about "avoiding overstimulation." Although the greater world has a fondness for labeling HSPs as being "shy" or "socially anxious" that characterization actually holds true in far fewer instances than most people would think.

At the end of three days of being "public" and "social," I found myself feeling quite worn out. And even though the 60-odd people in attendance at the conference's "main event" were mainly of like-kind beliefs and orientations, being in close proximity to so many "energies" for an extended period of time was draining. The only thing I really wanted to do with the Monday immediately following the conference was to sit and stare at the wall. Alas, that was not entirely possible, as there were "loose ends" to be chased and closed.

And these were nice people, many with similar interests.

Going into the event, I was already a bit "on edge" given that I was going to be teaching a 3-hour workshop on Sunday. It wasn't that I felt like I didn't know my material, or that I would have to "speak in front of people," it was again about a sense of energy drain... not simply as a result of being an introvert, but as a result of being an HSP and "aware" of other people's energies.

As HSPs, it important that we understand the underlying whys of how we get to feeling exhausted... and that we do not accept external perceptions of us to be "facts." So whenever someone is trying to offer you a "good reason" for your social interaction choices, take a step back and ask yourself whether it really "feels true." Most HSPs are really not shy, or socially anxious... they are just... HSPs.

Talk Back: Do groups of people overstimulate you? Have you ever attributed to "social anxiety" or "shyness" behaviors that might be only the result of being an HSP? Leave a comment! 

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting or useful, please share it with others! Use the buttons below to post to social media or send by email, and help be part of  the ongoing process of spreading general awareness of the HSP trait. Thank you!
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Thursday, August 15, 2013

HSP Learning: Elaine Aron's "The Undervalued Self:" An Undervalued Book?

At a recent presentation in Walnut Creek, California Elaine Aron shared that one of her recent books, "The Undervalued Self," has not been selling all that well... at least not in the US. Evidently it is doing quite well in other parts of the world... as an example, she mentioned that just 7,000 copies (as of this spring) have sold in the US, but 36,000 in South Korea.

I was very surprised to learn this because when I read it I concluded that it was possibly Elaine's most important and significant book, maybe aside from her "original" book The Highly Sensitive Person. Elaine, herself, also believes it's an extremely helpful tool for HSPs, and was surprised. Getting this piece of feedback from the workshop left me wondering whether her fans-- being HSPs-- had perhaps been "avoiding" the book because the words "HSP" or "Highly Sensitive Person" weren't in the title.

It just doesn't make sense to me-- this is a REALLY USEFUL book. Anyway, I wanted to take a few moments to talk about this book-- which is part of my personal list of "5 books I recommend to all HSPs."

This book was a very long time in the making. I first became "acquainted" with it when Elaine announced it as her "newest project" at the California HSP Gathering in June 2003. Back then, it had a working title of "At The Crossroads of Love and Power."

The basic premise of the book-- which is based on many years of research done by Elaine and her husband Art, who have spent decades studying how people relate, connect and love each other-- is that human beings have two fundamental "orientations" or strategies in life: "Ranking" (centered around power) and "Linking" (centered around Love and connecting).

Power is about "competing" and how we "rank" ourselves (and others) in social systems... be that at work, in families, in primary relationships. The focus of "power" tends to be hierarchical, i.e. "I'm smarter than Bob, but not as smart as Carol," or "Jenny has more social influence than I do, but I have more influence than Carl."

The other approach is "Love." Love of centered around "connecting" and "cooperating," and is also referred to as "linking." What Elaine discovered in her research is that there is actually a huge correlation between the "linking" strategy and being a Highly Sensitive Person.

"The Undervalued Self" may not be directly about HSPs (it can be relevant to anybody), but it does speak directly to HSPs. As a group-- or "demographic"-- uncommonly many of us face issues surrounding various ways in which we "diminish" ourselves in the world. We are generally uncomfortable in the domain of "ranking" and having to "compete" for our place-- many HSPs even outright reject having a "need" for it in their lives, citing a number of reasons... which Elaine also identifies and explains in the book. And when you combine a general dis-ease with the ranking strategy with a potential non-supportive or even abusive background... we tend to "rank ourselves too low" most of the time.

Now, this may sound like nothing more than "self-esteem, renamed," but there is far more to it than that. Most self-help books simply address the issue of self-esteem and go from there. In "the Undervalued Self" Elaine explores how our innate natures (especially as HSPs) influence the way we gain (or lose) self-esteem.

Being an HSP who "rejects" the need for ranking really does NOT serve us well! We may rationalize that we're "taking the high road" by avoiding hierarchical thinking, and that it "serves" the idealistic part of us that believes everyone has "equal rights"... but actually, we're just avoiding looking at the inevitable: ranking is a necessary part of a functional life. Denying it is a bit like declaring "I don't NEED sunshine!" just because our skin burns easily in the sun. What we need to do is learn to be in the "sun" appropriately, not avoid it altogether.

So what exactly does an "Undervalued" self imply?

Again, this is where the book really IS for-- and about-- HSPs-- and so important for may of us. We experience things very deeply. And because we tend to be soft spoken and "cooperative," we often feel overwhelmed by confrontations. We may feel doubtful that we can emerge from a confrontation (or competitive situation) positively. We have doubts, and perhaps back down, in the (alleged) interest of preserving a "connection." But we still feel "defeated" and may end up internalizing that negatively... and are more likely to simply accept a "low rank," rather than actively compete for the spot that reflects where we actually belong. This is something many HSPs have experienced in the workplace, for example, getting passed over for promotions and ending up "underemployed." We become truly "undervalued" when we engage in a pattern of actively "avoiding defeats." In other words, we don't even compete for that promotion, because we (believe) "know" we won't get it, anyway, so "why bother."

The book is an excellent exploration of how "ranking" and "linking" work, then on how to identify the ways in which we undervalue ourselves, the rationalization we use (Elaine calls them "the Six Self-protections"), how to silence our inevitable "inner critics" and finally on how to build stronger relationships that will lead to healing that "Undervalued Self."

We HSPs are marvelous people with many gifts to offer the world. Although it may be an uncomfortable-- and even scary-- journey, it's important that we learn how to let our lights shine... rather than "hide them in the closet" somewhere.

One of the questions... or "observations," if you will... that came into my head and led to this post was this: "Do we, as HSPs, question and avoid competition SO much that we will even go as far as to not support a book that brings that very avoidance into question, as a life strategy?" Perhaps that's a stretch, as far as reasoning goes... but it's also precisely one of the points Elaine brings up in the book. It doesn't always serve our best interests to actively avoid all things competitive; all things "ranking." Instead, we must seek a healthy balance.

"The Undervalued Self" is an excellent guidebook for that process... I highly recommend it! The link in the little box below is to Amazon... as you can see, copies of this book have become fairly inexpensive-- and I think you'd get a lot out of it. And don't worry, just because it says "buy now" you will NOT have to buy something-- the link is just to Amazon's descriptive page with more information, reader reviews and more.

As an aside, I would like to invite you to visit the HSP Notes Bookstore, which has 100's of handpicked books chosen with HSPs in mind... most are in my personal library, in addition to numerous others that were recommended by fellow HSPs.

Talk Back: Have you read "The Undervalued Self?" If yes, what did you think? If no, how come? Was it a book you thought about "getting later?" 

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