Thursday, November 12, 2015

And Now for Something Completely Different: Self-Promotion and HSPs on the Radio!


Many HSPs-- whether self-employed or otherwise-- struggle with the concept of promoting themselves. For a large number of reasons, we find the idea of "tooting our own horns" distasteful, in some ways.

Elaine Aron and Barrie Jaeger, both, allude to this in their books on HSPs when it comes to our work life... many of us end up "underemployed" because we don't stand up and sell ourselves to get a well-deserved promotion, or even to let people know about our talents and capabilities.

Many HSPs work in creative fields-- as artists, musicians, performers, writers and more. I'm one of those... and like many of my peers, I have struggled with "promoting myself."

"Promotion" sounds so... pushy... to me. Brings to mind insurance salesmen and used car dealers who scream at me from their home made advertisements on TV.

Of course, that's really just unfair stereotyping. And the fact remains that if you have a talent, or service, or art, or something else creative... unless you're willing to let people KNOW what you have, and allow yourself to be SEEN, nobody's going to even know that your marvelous creative "thing" even exists. The point being, nobody's going to magically show up at your front door, just because you "made something."

In my almost 20 years of studying the HSP trait, it's a common source of suffering for many self-employed highly sensitive persons that "nobody sees us," so we end up working hard for little reward. In doing so, we overlook the basic fact that we are partially to blame because we are almost afraid to "sell ourselves."

A couple of days ago, my wife (also an HSP) and I were having a discussion about this very thing... and remarked on the way many HSPs almost UN-sell themselves by downplaying the value of what they have to offer ("Oh, it's nothing... just something I play with now and then..."), rather than openly sharing it.

I am not excluding myself here... in fact, both my wife and I suffer from some degree of "unselling ourselves" in our various ventures-- she with her counseling and life coaching, radio show and healing organization... me with my writing, with my art and with my collectibles business.

Perhaps the first thing to keep in mind is that the "ugly" part of self-promotion (those loud car dealers, mattress shops and insurance salesmen) are not representative of authentic self-promoting with integrity. There's really nothing distasteful about letting people know that "I'm an artist, and this is my work" or "I'm a writer, and this is what I do."

This means we have to be willing to "be seen," and that means stepping outside our comfort zones.

Part of this post is about me stepping outside my comfort zone: I am going to do something that is FAR from my normal approach to things: I am going to be on the radio!

Now, granted, this is "baby steps."

My wife Sarah (yes, she IS an HSP, but more of the "HSS" variety) has a bi-weekly radio show, and she's doing "HSP month" and talked me into being on the show, since I have been studying the trait for a long time.

Yes, it's fairly "safe" because it's an interview done my someone I know and love, BUT it's still me allowing myself to "be heard" by a worldwide audience of thousands of people. Not only that, part of the show is going to be about "my creativity" (my art-- the hand painted mandala stones in the photo) not just about "the HSP trait." And that's the scary part... I'm not just on the air as a sort of "expert witness," but to talk about something creative that is near and dear to my heart.

That's where we HSPs-- especially the ones in creative and artistic fields-- must find the courage to stand up and "be seen" and "be counted" and get over our concerns that what we have to offer doesn't have value to the world-- it DOES.

So, I'd like to invite everyone to listen in (the show first aired on November 12th at 7:00pm US Eastern time/4:00pm US Pacific time)... to a couple of HSPs chatting on the radio! Don't worry if you missed it, or couldn't listen at that time-- the show archives instantly after it ends.

You can hear the archived version by clicking the ► below:


Talk back! How do YOU-- as an HSP-- deal with "self-promotion?" Have you missed opportunities in your life because you failed to "speak up" when you had something to offer? Do you wrestle with idea that your work isn't "good enough," even when it is clearly the best? Are you in a creative field, but struggle to promote your writing, art or other talents? Help start a conversation! Please leave a comment!

Sharing is Love. If you enjoyed this post, or found it useful, or interesting... please consider sharing with others, using these handy social media buttons, below! The more people become familiar with the HSP trait, the better off we ALL are. Thank you! 
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Friday, October 30, 2015

HSPs, the "Consciousness" business and Living a Meaningful Life

Recently, I have been spending a lot of time considering the whole "Consciousness" issue.

No, I don't mean "consciousness" as in what happens in the morning when you wake up after a night of heavy drinking... I mean consciousness in the context typically defined by the self-development and "New Age" industries. Some might call it "awareness;" others might call it "mindfulness" or "Being Present."

I expect this is not a "foreign country" for most HSPs, as our natural tendency towards introspection and self-improvement leads many of us down a path of discovery, driven by a desire to find-- and explore the nature of-- our "True Selves," "The Meaning of Life" and our "Life Purpose."

In the course of  living within the HSP Community for almost two decades, it would be tempting to latch on to the idea that being a Highly Sensitive Person somehow makes someone "more conscious" than the rest of the world... but my experience tells me otherwise. At best, I would feel more inclined to think of HSPs as "differently conscious" from the rest of the world.

I can already hear a few voices rise in protest, saying "How can you SAY such a thing?!?! Being Highly Sensitive automatically makes people more tuned into others, and more empathic, and so more conscious!"

Therein lies the rub, however...

By nature, our ability to "Live Consciously" tends to flow towards those areas of life that matter most to us... and not so much towards those that don't.

"True" consciousness also requires us to navigate-- with equal consciousness-- those areas that are not important to us. And that's where we (HSPs) don't do as well, because we tend to stay within our comfort zones and avoid those things that make us feel uncomfortable and overstimulated.

Let me offer a metaphor, to illustrate:

We may feel like we're doing the right thing by choosing to drive a Toyota Prius because it's environmentally friendly and gets 50 miles to the gallon (highly conscious choice), but are we being truly conscious if we're unaware that that anxieties that cause us to never go faster than 35 mph is actually endangering other travelers when we do so in a 55 mph zone and everyone around us is "doing crazy shit" to try to pass us because we're holding up traffic?

My point here is that "Consciousness" is more than just an esoteric abstract; it is a set of life choices, and many of them highly functional, as they exist in our daily choices. Like that other popular term "enlightenment," consciousness is not a thing; not something we can "have," but rather an ongoing practice; a perpetual sequence of choices that support the highest and best outcome for all-- ourselves included.

For HSPs, if there is one Achilles heel we have, it's our tendency to eternally "stay in our heads" as a means to-- in essence-- avoid interfacing with "real life" around us. And don't get me wrong... I am guilty of doing the same thing. However, it doesn't really help, in terms of becoming well-rounded, fully integrated people who can be of service to the world.

Think about this, for a second:

You are highly sensitive and have learned that the energy of crowds overwhelm you, and that's why you've never done well at festivals and concerts, even though some part of you really like them. Now, you can take that information and either translate it into "avoid crowds" and thereby withdraw from a part of life... OR you can observe yourself in a crowd, determine your "trigger points" and decide that the knowledge "crowds overstimulate me" means you can go and enjoy an event, be self aware, and then make a conscious choice to stay for TWO HOURS instead of "all day."

From my vantage point, the latter is definitely a more conscious choice.

Then I think about the many times I have attended HSP Workshops and Gatherings, and have found a great sense of community and connection, as well as a sense of "direction" in my life... only to end up at the inevitable question (posed by myself, and other attendees): "How do we take this home and continue to experience it outside the protected setting of a retreat?"

Good question!

Often, we know what "The Good Life" (or our version thereof) looks like-- in theory-- but the application is difficult. Or seems complicated. Or an invitation to becoming overwhelmed.

As regular visitors to these pages know, it's fairly rare that I recommend or "endorse" products or books... I think I have done so maybe five times in the 13 years I have been writing here.

Today, I am going to make one of those rare exceptions, because I am working with something I truly feel is of value.

Recently, I have been reading one of the best (and most "functional") books about Consciousness I have ever encountered:

Coffee for Consciousness: The Application of Perspective to Reality by Vito Mucci (opens to description on Amazon, in a new tab)

What I love about this is that it's not yet another fluffy feel-good self-help book overflowing with flowery motivational quotes that sound good without actually helping us-- instead it looks in depth at living consciously at the level  "where the rubber meets the road." In some ways, it reads far more like a "manual for life" or text book than your typical self-help book... and its 550-ish pages filled with no nonsense information underscores that.

In his book, Mucci focuses on the heart of consciousness, mindfulness and self-awareness... and instead of the eternal "rainbow soup" of cute sayings and quotes that sound good but leave us wondering what to actually do next-- this marvelous book is all about what these things actually mean, and how we apply them to our lives.

Of course, that also makes Coffee for Consciousness a challenging read, in its own right... because it asks us to-- or demands-- that we look beyond the pretty window dressing of the so-called self-awareness movement and graduate to making actual changes in our lives, rather than just talking about changes in our lives. So if you prefer "light and fluffy" over getting to the root of issues, this book is not for you.

Although this is in no way "a book for HSPs," I'm impressed enough to feel compelled to recommend it here on these pages-- something I rarely do. Yes, I know it's not cheap... but this is one of the rare occasions where I will counter with "Yes, but it's well worth it!" Whether Vito Mucci is an HSP I do not know, but the insights he shares definitely are meaningful for HSPs.

Now why do I care enough to write this? Well, because there is more to being an HSP than just eternally focusing on "being an HSP." We need to also become the best Humans we can be... and this is one of the few resources I have found that has the potential to truly help, in that respect. And the underlying ideas of the book seem to me to be very in step with the worldview and core values of many HSPs I have known. My wife Sarah-- who's also a Highly Sensitive Person-- has read it and now refers back to concepts learned with surprising regularity... and she's a 30-year "veteran" of the self-development trade.

If you're not quite sure what I am talking about, or you want to get more in-depth with the idea, I would like to recommend that you listen to Sarah's recent radio show where she interviews author Vito Mucci on Radio Nahmaste. As I mentioned, she's a fellow HSP and shares my high regard for this book as an amazing and helpful tool for life and for living consciously. And yes, HSPs do make good talk radio hosts!

Just click on the ► below to listen!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ambition, High Sensitivity, Too Many Interests and Having "Enough"

I've been spending a few days recently trying to get my work life organized.

I work from home. I run three "micro businesses" from the house, and help out with two more. When people ask what it is I "do," I usually tell them-- only half-facetiously-- that "I play with my hobbies for a living." How that came to be is a long story I'll write about some other time. Anyway...

On paper, that probably all sounds rather lovely and bucolic. In practice? Not so much.

Aside from the fact that I am an adult HSP living with ADHD, I tend to not get nearly as much done as I would like to, or as I need to. After all, there are "bills and things" to be taken care of!

Part of the problem (or "challenge") is that I am genuinely interested in a lot of different things, and I have always struggled with prioritizing appropriately. It's not so much because I am "scatterbrained" as it is because I see the potential of many different things, and what they could become... if developed properly. And even though I am often able to develop these things, the ongoing grind of running and tending to them soon wears me down.

Some people struggle to get "from idea to reality," but that's not me. I struggle more with "ongoing" reality. I've always attributed this to a self-perception that I am inherently lazy. I have never been a very "active" person, nor what I (or other people) would consider a "hard worker." And I have certainly never felt "driven."

As such, one of my greaest problems with being self-employed (as well as one of the "answers" to my laziness life dilemma?) is that I lack ambition. I have previously written about the issue of ambition and achievement as an HSP... and it's a topic I continue to struggle with in a world that often feels like it operates on a "work hard, or perish" value set.

What I mean by that is that I will do exactly "enough" to get by and no more. I am not lazy in the sense that I will not do my very best work, because I believe that's just "right action." I am also not lazy in the sense that I believe I should be "served" or that I deserve "money for nothing," nor that the world "owes me" anything.

However, I have no inherent ambition to "strive" and "be greater," beyond my basic ambition to just "be enough." And it's a very old feeling, for me. I remember being at University and thinking about what I was going to do and be, after graduation. At 20-something, everyone around me seemed like they wanted to "take over the world" and become the next industrial magnate, or whatever.

I looked ahead and I just wanted to be able to afford a house, a car and food-- without having to work too damn hard for it.

In years gone by, my perceived "laziness dilemma" always seemed to get in my way when I worked "real" jobs. I was never "driven," so I struggled to do well in work situations that required me be to be highly competitive. I even lost jobs because I was not interested in the work load that came with a promotion to a higher level of responsibility. I expect that may be part of my HSP nature.

Bottom line, though, was that someone whose essential sense of self was around simply "being satisfied" did not seem to fit into a world eternally focused "more, bigger, taller, richer."

Upon reflection, I have come to realize that one of the potential downsides to living by a paradigm of "doing enough" is that I often have ideas for things that "might work out well," but I lack the inspiration and ambition to put them into action, especially when things are "going OK."  If the bills have been paid, I feel no particular desire to "get moving," however good an idea might be.

Yet, many of these ideas are definitely things I want to "do later." But by the time "later" rolls around, I often discover that someone else (aka "someone more ambitious") has already taken my idea and run with it, so I can't even USE the opportunity any more.

I don't say this to have some sort of personal pity party, but to point out one of the downsides... namely the frequency with which what seemed like a potential to get "enough" gets transmuted into "nothing at all."

Anyway, this post is a bit of a precursor to more writing on the ongoing topic of HSPs, work and ambition... and how to carve out our niches in life, without getting overwhelmed and stressed out in the process.

There is also a new book that has just been released, about HSPs and careers-- more about that in an upcoming post!

What do YOU think? Does it come naturally to you to "strive" for greatness? Or are you more of an "enough to get by" sort of person? Is work a challenge for you? Do share and leave a comment!

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting, thought provoking or useful, please consider sharing 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, June 18, 2015

Time Traveling Through My Past

For the past couple of weeks, Sarah and I have been on holiday in Denmark. Denmark is where I was born and raised; where I mostly lived till I took a trip across the "pond" in 1981 to go to University in the US, and ended up staying there.

The summerhouse; the thatched roof was newly replaced this spring
We have been staying at my family's summerhouse; a quaint "fairy tale cottage" in the woods north of Copenhagen. The house has been in the family since 1939, and now serves as a sort of "family timeshare" for several generations of great- and great-great-grandchildren of the people who originally built the place... as a summer retreat in the country where people could come to relax and forget about their troubles.

Yesterday, we had lunch with my cousin... and as we talked, we got into sharing respective memories of what this place-- the house named "Tofte"-- represented in our lives. Later in the day, I continued to think about the pieces of life we carry around with us... in the form of memories... pieces of the past we either embrace or long for, or desperately try to forget and/or run away from.

For the past couple of weeks, I have experienced the rare luxury of being able to "forget" about my daily life and not live in a state where every waking moment is filled with the eternal demands and obligations of modern life in the US of A. Instead, I have been able to spend hours and days, doing little more than "contemplating" and thinking about life and "things."

As I kept wandering around these 12 acres of woodland and garden, attempting to connect with the land and nature around me, I realized that a large part of what brings me back here is a subtle desire to "time travel;" to re-experience how "something felt" in some distant part of my past. A search for "lost innocence?" No, not really... although there are elements of remembering life before it felt exhausting and filled with demands and complexity. That said, my yearning feels more like a search for something "solid;" a touchstone with a measure of permanence in a life otherwise shaped mostly by movement, instability and uncertainty. But, as the days passed, I had this growing sense that certain things didn't feel quite "right." After a while, I realized I was wrestling with the way things change... and yet they don't; and how things can be both the same, and yet never the same again.

In the broadest sense, this "place" I return to is exactly as it has always been. As I had determined, it is one of the few places on this planet I can return to as a "touchpoint" that somehow connects me to all times in my life. No matter how screwed up my reality otherwise was, this place simply "existed;" it had a permanence that was otherwise lacking.

The dining table on which my laptop now sits is the same table where I would eat salami sandwiches when I was five years old. Even the smell in the room is the same. The brown wooden wall clock is still on the wall-- and even though it no longer runs-- I can still hear its ticking in my mind's eye, as my 8-year old self would stand at one of the half-doors looking outside at a sunny day.

And yet? Even though this "place" is still here, part of it is "missing" because much of its character was shaped by my Aunt Ulla, who lived here every summer as the house's only "permanent" resident until her death in 1997. The "place" remains the same, but what is here now feels like a strangely "sanitized" version of what it used to be; or an "image" the same way a photograph of an event is never going to bring to life the event, itself. It is here, but parts of it have drifted away on the mists of time...

The lawn outside is beautiful and mowed... but the "old" lawn, filled with random bumps and weeds and occasional mole hills... ending in a meadow filled with wildflowers, butterflies and grasshoppers... no longer exists. Old garden furniture in varied stages of age and repair has given way to uniform modern replacements. Storms have taken down many of the trees I remember; others have grown up in their place. Many colorful flowerbeds have given way to grass, in the interest of easy maintenance... because, after all, nobody lives here permanently anymore. And there is absolutely nothing "wrong" with that... aside from the fact that it doesn't "match" my memories of a time that has been and gone and never will return.

These small differences notwithstanding, the "place" hasn't really changed... as much as I have.

A butterfly in the woods... just like 50 years ago
So I started contemplating what it really is I try to "time travel" here to find. The other day, I remarked to Sarah-- and later to my cousin-- that it feels more like I come here to visit memories of summers in the Denmark of my past, rather than the Denmark that exists in the present. In a sense, when I "go to Denmark," I am not really going to Denmark... I am visiting my own past... or at least trying to.

There is something mildly ironic about that, because my past-- that is, my childhood, in general-- was really not that much of a great or happy place that it should warrant retrieval and reliving. So what is the "allure" of this place?

When I was a child, visiting this summerhouse was a strange dichotomy, in and of itself.

I grew up in a very old-fashioned family, with very old-fashioned and often narrow-minded views on the world and how "one" were to conduct oneself in the world. In a sense, my cousin was exactly right yesterday when she remarked that "the family" would have been perfectly OK if it had been the year 1900 when we grew up... problem was, they were trying to live an early 1900's life with early 1900's values... in the 1960's and 1970's.

So I end up characterizing my visits to this summerhouse-- as a child-- as dichotomous, because on one hand these visits were lovely and filled with the "freedom" to be a kid and run around in the woods, climb trees and be outside... and get away from school, and the normal strict family life. On the other hand, this same "freedom" came wrapped in a very tightly defined "box" where I knew everything that was expected of me, when it was expected, how it was expected... which offered me a great sense of comfort from the perspective that it allowed me to completely "disconnect" from any kind of thinking... my existence was completely "mapped out" and no thinking of my own was required... let alone allowed. At home, this same kind of restrictiveness felt stifling, repressive and depressing-- yet here, it felt like "freedom."

The dichotomous feeling remains, but it has a different "flavor," in 2015.

In my 1970's experience of my family, children were not "allowed" to have any kinds of thoughts or opinions of their own, let alone any kind of "identity" (aside from coming when their name was called)... but now I come back to this place and experience it through the filter of 35+ intervening years of being "elsewhere;" of "becoming someone," in the sense of truly knowing myself rather than just needing to comply with someone else's perception of "what a young boy should be."

I left here with no "identity;" I went into the world and found one... and now I have returned.

And the effect is strange: Although I came here as "me," version 2015, I feel an odd "tug" at the corners of my being... pulling me back towards that place and time where I was "without identity;" where the desired state (and the state that would earn praise from the adults) was essentially that of "blending into the woodwork" as much as possible.

Although few of the people originally associated with this house are still alive and none of them would tell me "who to be,"... I still experience little pieces of myself; of my adult self-identity, "fading," like a reverse version of one of those old Polaroid photos where the image would slowly appear with exposure to light... I observe the arising of a subtle sense of needing to preface anything I say with an apology for "daring" to have an opinion or feeling about something... just like I did, all those years ago.

On this rainy morning, I sit here in this vault of memories and consider the strange allure of the past in all of our lives... and how it can "trap" us; keep us locked in stagnant places we seem unable to grow beyond. It's not an "evil" trap... but it holds us, nonetheless. The past can exert great power over us-- in many and strange ways-- yet we are powerless to "do anything" to change that past or to go back to it. And the naked truth is that there is no going back. It doesn't matter whether our pasts were joyful or traumatic... they are "back there," around a corner we can never get to, and no matter what we may do or want, those pasts can never be "here." Yet... we often give the past outrageous amounts of power and influence over our present choices and actions, typically to our detriment... because of the way it interferes with our ability to experience the present with our eyes as they are... in this moment.

And so-- two weeks into this journey to a past from which I am not even 100% sure what I was seeking-- I decide to leave the past where it belongs, in the past... and try to look at this place with my "Present Eyes:" A house in the woods where I once came to visit; a place that-- objectively speaking-- represented a feeling of "not AS distressed" in a world where I generally felt lost and disconnected. But this house? It is just here, as it has always been. The memories of the past are not... those only live inside my head.

A tiny blue butterfly from a distant past...
It was a sunny day and I walked across the bottom half of the lawn in front of the house, where the meadow used to be. I was looking for something familiar, although I was not sure what... but it had something to do with finding a "sign of the past;" of the past I was looking for but since came to realize no longer exists.

The meadow that no-longer-is used to have a wealth of butterflies, grasshoppers and other small creatures-- including lots and lots of tiny blue butterflies. Now... that acre  is nothing but neatly mowed lawn.

Then I saw a small blue speck flutter across the expanse of green and-- just for the briefest of moments-- settle on a single yellow flower that had somehow escaped the mower's blades. By some miracle, I was carrying my camera and was able to snap a picture before the little guy moved on.

And I realized that much of the allure of this place lies not so much in triggering the traces of personal memories I have been chasing, as in its ability to make all of outside existence fade into the background, allowing me (and anyone else who visits) to truly BE with themselves and their memories, and the sounds of birds singing and wind in the trees... and the sight of small blue butterflies fluttering across a flowery meadow of yesteryear. In some ways, this place feels as ancient and timeless as the land itself and the breeze in the leaves softly shares whispered memories from endless summer evenings of my distant past.

And that's as it should be. They are memories; they are not "now." And I'm OK with that...

Monday, May 18, 2015

HSPs and the Challenges of Ambition and Achievement

This morning, I was reading a post about HSPs and Achievement by fellow HSP blogger Cliff Harwin. Cliff asked his HSP readers: "What are the biggest obstacles to Achievement?"

I sent off my answer (below), but the question really made me think and realize that it's an issue with many "layers" of meaning.

Now, let me preface what follows by saying that these impressions apply to me, and are-- by no means-- intended to serve as some kind of broader summary of "How HSPs feel about Achievement." That said, I will also add that I have encountered a great many who could deeply relate to how I feel.

First, here's how I originally replied to the blog post:

My major obstacle is that I am just not ambitious. The concept of "achievement" isn't something that shows up on my radar. I want to "achieve" paying my bills... which is not to say that there aren't things I'm passionate about-- there are-- I greatly enjoy nature photography, beach combing, writing and other things... I just have never felt much compulsion to "do" anything with that. So I end up at the crossroads of HAVING to do "something" in order to have a "realistically functioning" life and just being a "stationary object." 
Thankfully, I have made it to where my life revolves around my basically "playing with my hobbies" for a living, which is quite enjoyable... but it doesn't afford me any more than the fundamental ability to "pay my bills." Which I am not sure where fits on the "achievement" scale. 
So then I can close my own circular reasoning with the answer "My biggest obstacles to achievement are that I don't care about achievement."

Now, whereas I stand by those words, they do beg some deeper exploration. Specifically, they bring to mind discussions I have had with fellow HSPs concerning how we define "success."

I have been asked the question whether I am "avoiding" or am "in denial" about something relating to achievement and success, and that's a valid concern,

Many moons ago, I spent several years in therapy-- and one topic that came up along the way was whether or not I was being "avoidant" of certain aspects of life, and specifically whether I was suffering from the (not uncommon) psychological condition referred to as "Fear of Success," which plagues many who are perceived by the greater world as "underachievers."

In the course of some pretty rigorous self inquiry work, I did manage to sort out the parts of my psyche that avoided "striving" out of a fear-- old "programming"-- centered on the negative thought pattern "as soon as I have anything, it will just be taken away from me, so why bother in the first place."

With that out of the way, I am still left with my "core values attitude" towards the meaning of "success" and "achievement." So let's poke around in that.

"Achievement"-- which we might consider a branch or cousin of "success"-- generally comes about as a consequence of our motivations. And this is an area in which many HSPs find that their personal life philosophies radically differ from those of the Greater World. When you're highly Sensitive, you're often not motivated by the things the greater world uses as measuring sticks for success. And I'm not just talking about work, here.

To narrow down what I was trying to arrive at, here are a bunch of things I can honestly say I am not motivated by:

Fame? Who cares...

Power? Not the slightest interest.

Material objects? I could see myself collecting art, but that's about it.

Money? Only to the extent that I'd definitely prefer to just PAY my electric bill, rather than deal with the stress of negotiating payments through a bill collector.

Winning? Being "number one?" Not really. "Doing my best," definitely... but not as a function of "ranking" myself; rather, to get a sense of satisfaction from "a job well done."

Of course, now we've taking most of the conventional measures of achievement and success off the table-- so what does that leave us with?

To some degree, I am motivated by wanting to "be happy." Of course, that opens up a whole new bag of worms... because what does "happy" mean? I won't explore that at length-- the shortest version (for me) amounts to some combination of "feeling secure" and "having enough" that I don't have to worry about whether I can afford the rent, electricity and food in the most basic of ways. Nothing fancy.

I am also motivated by a desire to maintain inner peace... and "being left in peace." I am also motivated by my enjoyment of exploring ideas; examining mountains of unrelated facts and data... and then pulling together common threads that turn relative "chaos" into a meaningful and more readily "digestable" summany.

Then there's that rather nebulous concept called "making the world a better place," which rings true in the idealistic natures of many HSPs. Again, it's something I can't generalize about because we each have our own interpretation of what that means.

For me, it means that if my presence or input can somehow lessen others' concerns and suffering, then I have "done right." But I am a fairly "passive" person, in the sense that I have no ambition to go forth and "wave abnners," or teach, or be a counselor or coach, or give lectures or workshops... in an ideal world, change for the better would happen because someone reads words like these and get an insight that helps them on their path; helps them navigate life a little easier.

But that's an outcome that's difficult to measure in terms of "Achievement." In fact, it's an outcome that's probably impossible to "measure" in any terms... and part of why the term achievement is more or less meaningless to me... and to a good number of other HSPs.

But now something else has arisen here-- a paradox, of sorts. As I have closed in on defining my motivations-- and let's, just for grins, call them things I would like to "achieve"-- I am opening up the interesting paradox that one of my "biggest obstacles to achievement" has almost always been "the need to make a living."

Perception? Or reality? Or excuse?

Maybe the truth is that I just haven't yet figured out how to turn a desire to... put the information in front of people that would inspire them to examine their lives and reduce their own pain and suffering... into something that pays for groceries and electricity, here in 3D reality.

So... my "ambition," and-- ultimately-- the "achievement" I strive for-- is bridging the gap between "doing what I want" and "I need to eat."

Until then?

I'll continue "playing with my hobbies for a living," because it's the best substitute I have.

If you've read this far, congratulations! And thank you!

What was the point of this article, really? In a sense, an exercise in thinking about the layers of deeper meaning behind words we see every day. There's that trite saying that "change comes from within." Whereas it's true, many people miss something in translation of "within." Within doesn't just mean that it starts with ourselves, it means that we need to get to the "center of the onion layers" of our being in order to gain real understanding and then make real changes.

What do YOU think? In closing, I'd like to rephrase Cliff Harwin's original question and instead ask "What does Achievement mean, to YOU?" Have you done the inner work to truly define-- "from the center of the onion"-- what your ambitions are? If not, is something keeping you from that? If so, what? Do share and leave a comment!

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting, thought provoking or useful, please consider sharing 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, May 07, 2015

HSP Derailed! Overstimulation... or ADHD?

From time to time, I find myself examining just where being a Highly Sensitive Person "ends" and where "other issues" begin.

Personally, I believe that thoroughly "understanding ourselves" is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves, as HSPs.


It's an easy "out" to simply attribute everything we struggle with to the blanket statement "because I'm an HSP, that's why" and thereby shut ourselves off to genuine avenues towards living better and more fulfilling lives. Let's face it, not everything we experience is because of high sensitivity.

Issue at hand: I work from home, and yesterday I was working on a fairly large "catch-up project" I've been avoiding (a bunch of fairly dull paperwork sorting related to business taxes) when something unrelated "came up."

Even though I was only "distracted" for about 20 minutes, I found it almost impossible to get back to being productive, and the more I tried to pick up where I had left off, the more irritable and overstimulated I felt. Eventually, I just gave up and moved on to doing something completely different. Even so, I remained kind of annoyed with my own inability to resume where I'd broken off and the remainder of the day ended up pretty much being a loss. Ever experience something like that?

So what's really going on?

Whereas I am an HSP, I am also an adult with ADHD. I am easily distracted, and I have issues with concentration. And that's not "because I'm an HSP." Now, the "overstimulation" part? That's more likely where the sensitivity kicks in.

And the fact that was sitting here "processing deeply" and overanalyzing the whole thing? That's probably also related to my being an HSP...

OK, So that last bit was a joke. At least sort of. We HSPs do ruminate a lot...

It's not always easy to get these distinctions to fit neatly into one category or another, but I do find it useful to pause and examine what's really going on when distressing situations arise. I realized that part of my anger with myself stemmed from very old memories from school where my parents were often told that "Peter would do really well if he'd only apply himself more." I would get angry because nobody seemed willing to consider that I just couldn't "apply myself" any more. I tried... I really did.

So why do I care "what's what" and why do I feel that it matters... and why should it matter to you?

Life as an HSP can be challenging, and since we are living with an inborn trait all we can do is "manage" our lives to run as smoothly as possible. You can't "treat" being an HSP and there's no "cure" for it (It's not even a "diagnosis") but often we can apply certain techniques and "helping tools" to help smooth the bumps. But to do so correctly, it's important we understand the nature of the bumps we encounter and precisely what caused them.

As a simple metaphor, "allergies" and "a cold" both cause your nose to run and it would be an easy out to say they were "the same"... but from a healing perspective, it makes little sense to treat them like that because they are actually two quite different things.

So it is with being Highly Sensitive, and dealing with things that are not high sensitivity... but still cause us distress. We mustn't allow our trait to become a convenient "catch all" to explain away all our difficulties.... be informed! Know yourself!

What do YOU think? Do you usually have a clear understanding of what happens "because you're an HSP" and what happens for other reasons? Do share and leave a comment!

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting, thought provoking or useful, please consider sharing 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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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Being a Highly Sensitive Person and the "It was MY Fault!" Trap

In our hallway, we have a couple of whiteboards that serve as the "Information and Nerve Center" of the household.

Aside from calendars and upcoming events, we also use the space for mind mapping and developing creative ventures. Inevitably, as few quotes and sayings get written up there, as well-- ranging from "this would be a great band name!" to "revised" (or "improved," as we like to think) versions principles outlined in the 1000's of self-development books we own.

This being an HSP/HSP household, clear communication between Sarah and myself is of the essence. Along the way, we have adopted various "tools" to help us, including the principles from Gary Chapman's "The Five Love Languages" At some point-- partly as a joke-- we made up a sixth "Love Language" which we've named "Statements of Unfault."

As I said, it was just a joke...

... but it has its roots in a reality that plagues many Highly Sensitive Persons: A tendency to "assume responsibility" for events and outcomes that aren't actually ours to "own," especially when they are somewhat negative in nature.

How often have you found yourself saying "I'm sorry!" in situations where whatever you are proclaiming to be "sorry" about had absolutely nothing to do with you? How often have you-- in work, or family, or social situations-- been tempted to "assume responsibility" for something that didn't go as expected? Maybe it was an outdoor party, and you found yourself "taking ownership" of the fact that there were inadequate preparations in case of rain. Maybe you were even apologizing for the rain, as if YOU made it happen.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that part of what we deal with in these situations is an HSPs natural tendency towards being empathic, helpful and wanting people to feel good and be happy. It seems to be part and parcel of this gig to want to make things right for others. Nothing wrong with that!

But there's a big difference between merely "caring," and actually taking responsibility for screw-ups that weren't our doing.

Caring is great... but "assuming fault" can be damaging not only to our self-esteem, but if it's a pervasive pattern, it can even lead to depression and health problems because we deliberately take on "feeling bad about ourselves." Let's face it-- nobody likes feeling guilty and like they failed, right?

I certainly don't. But here's a confession... I used to, many moons ago.

In some cases, we actually can become "addicted" to not feeling good about ourselves-- which is why the habit can be very hard to break.

So why do we do this? And how do we break free?

There are numerous reasons, and they are mostly too complex to explain in a blog post. Often, we are dealing with "stories" from our families of origin or relationships where we felt powerless and out of control, and the only way we could gain a measure of control was through "taking responsibility" for things gone wrong. We may also have been extensively "scapegoated," so being "the guilty party" feels-- if not exactly "good"-- at least "natural." Maybe we have issues with feeling "unseen" (this was me!), and in being "responsible" for life's disasters, at least we got noticed and received a measure of gratitude and appreciation when we could put things right.

But seriously?

Who wants to spend a lifetime "righting disasters?" Whereas we might be good at it and feel a fleeting sense of accomplishment it is typically a thankless path... and it's very easy to end up in a place where we become disillusioned and bitter; missing out on joy and happiness.

There's no easy path out, but simple awareness that you're in this pattern is a great start!

We can also help ourselves by asking whether the "emotional script" we are running actually has anything to do with "Right Now,"or is it actually an outdated "remnant" from from a situation that no longer exists. We may be "reacting to a memory."

Personally, I was helped-- a LOT-- by a little known book called "When Misery is Company" by Anne Katherine (pictured at right-- link leads to its Amazon page). Not an easy read, mostly because I didn't "want" what was being said to be true-- even though it was. Have a look-- I highly recommend it!

Ultimately, we all deserve to be happy. But it's difficult to be happy if we are stuck in a pattern of making choices and taking actions that keep us in a place of feeling guilty and responsible.

Does any of this resonate with you? Do you find yourself "taking responsibility" for things that were not your doing? Is it an "active" thing, or do you just "fall into it?" Do you wish you could change things? Do share and leave a comment!

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting, thought provoking or useful, please consider sharing 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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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

HSP On The Road: Joshua Tree

I am not home, at the moment. I am typing these words from the funky living room of a small bungalow in Joshua Tree, California. It has been a while since I last traveled-- almost precisely two years.

This morning, I was having conversations with myself-- inside my head-- as to whether or not I have really missed the change of scenery.

Let me preface this by saying that I experience travel and adventures through the eyes of a LOW "sensation seeker" HSP. I am one of those who prefers routines and "the known" to adventures and the unknown. And I have never really felt compelled to "collect experiences," for their own sake.

Traveling is overwhelming. You go to a place you don't know, and you don't have your "stuff" and you're probably on a different schedule than you're used to. Things around you are unfamiliar, and (depending on where you are) maybe even the food is unfamiliar. These are all things that don't sit so well with many of us HSPs

What I do really like about traveling is that it offers me the chance to get away from the ever-present piles of "things I need to get done," and the attendant sense of stress and pressure that comes with knowing that no matter how hard I might try, there will always be more "things" in need of doing than there is "me."

As I sit here and look out across the back patio onto a yard filled with unfamiliar vegetation and wildlife, I feel a certain degree of relaxation come over me... from settling into the realization that there is not a thing I can do about all the stuff clamoring for my attention, back at home. I might as well just relax.

Of course, it has taken me some years to learn to "stop worrying" while I am away.

A tendency to "worry" seems to go hand-in-hand with being a Highly Sensitive Person. Maybe it's that sense of "conscientiousness" Elaine Aron talks about, in her books. I worry, because I feel like I am not being conscientious enough about my work, when I am away from that work. At least I used to. And I used to feel like I was "failing" people by "daring" to take time off. The irony of that is that I never thought anything negative about other people for taking time off...

I expect these feelings have been exacerbated by the fact that I am self-employed in a "company of one." The infamous "buck" stops with me.

Taking time off does give me the opportunity to engage in one of my favorite pastimes: "sitting and thinking." And while engaged in sitting and thinking, I often feel my mind and body let go of all the tension and stress that has built up, as a result of normal daily life.

HSPs are often uncomfortable with the unfamiliar... so we tend to avoid it. I know I often have. There may be all sorts of truisms about "stretching your boundaries" and "stepping out of your comfort zone," but to what end do we do so? And is it really helpful... or is the very fact that we have-- and get to be in-- a comfort zone part of what makes us able to feel centered, as HSPs?

What do YOU think? First of all, do you enjoy travel, and the change of scenery? Or does it just stress you out? Do you find "unfamiliar territory" to be a good thing, or a bad thing? On a broader level than just travel, do you think that "pushing outside your comfort zone" is important for HSPs? Or do you feel more like the very fact that you have a comfort zone and stick to it, is what keeps you grounded? Do share and leave a comment!

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting, thought provoking 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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Friday, March 13, 2015

Overstimulated by Punctuation?

I have been a writer for far longer than I have been an HSP.

Scratch that. I have been a writer for far longer than I have known there was an official "name" for something that has influenced my life since birth.

Which is a fancy way of saying that I have been a writer since my teens (40+ years ago!) but have only been writing about the "HSP Experience" for the last fifteen of those.

In the course of writing hundreds (if not thousands?) of articles about life and self-development specifically through the eyes of a Highly Sensitive Person, I have also received a lot of feedback-- comments and emails and so forth-- which has been a very rewarding education, in and of itself.

One of the more interesting pieces of feedback I have received has been several readers telling me they feel overstimulated by my use of punctuation.

WTF, mate?

OK, confession time. My writing style has always been rather lively, and tends towards the informal and "conversational," rather than the more dry and academic textbook style. I was never much good at writing dry prose in the third person. And I use a lot of quotation marks, the ellipsis ("..."), hyphens, parentheses and semi-colons to break up my writing and (in my opinion) give it life and rhythm. Then I add a bunch of metaphors, parables and anecdotes for "extra flavor."

My writing teachers through the years have even remarked on it, and this tendency to overpunctuate often earned me feedback like "brilliant but unorthodox writing style," purely from a writing technique standpoint.

Personally, I have never enjoyed going to lectures, workshops or listening to the radio where the announcer or teacher just droned on monotonously about "just the facts" for an hour. I preferred those who made the material at hand come to life with personal experiences and anecdotes.

As an HSP, I found that it gave me some serious pause for thought to get the feedback that my writing was overstimulating. That's just part of "HSP nature," I suppose-- we tend to pick out little things and allow them to overshadow the whole.

Way back in a time long gone, a writing teacher commented on my excessive and flowery punctuation, so I decided to submit my next writing assignment completely without of my usual "written hand waving."

The teacher's comment on that paper?

"This essay is rather wooden and pedantic."

So what is the lesson here? I am always grateful for feedback, and the idea that punctuation could be overstimulating to an HSP had never occurred to me.

Does that mean I'll stop? No... it just means that I am going to be more mindful about my language. And therein lies the lesson for all HSPs: Feedback is just that, "feedback." As a group, we have a tendency to blow (perceived) criticism out of proportion and go to a place of "I should stop doing XYZ because it overstimulates/annoys people!" because a few people said so... yet three thousand people like things just the way they are.

Meanwhile, perhaps that old truism "You can't please everyone" is applicable here. It's a reality I have almost always struggled with... but I feel it bears saying that some people simply can't be pleased.

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