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!

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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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