Thursday, August 15, 2013
HSP Learning: Elaine Aron's "The Undervalued Self:" An Undervalued Book?
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.
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.
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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