Note: this post is part of a series on dealing with the comfort zone.
Glancing through the internet the other day, I noticed several blogs by HSPs that showed a defensiveness about expanding or leaving their comforts zones. There was a general attitude about being forced out of their safe space and facing new expansive challenges outside of the comfort zone. As an HSP, I get this, but it’s not a good place to live life.
Yes, for HSPs the comfort zone is our safe harbor, our haven for processing or re-energizing. When we need it we go there. But, to bristle at the idea of leaving or expanding that same comfort zone for growth purposes is absurd. Unfortunately, our comfort zone is a place of pattern and routine, a place where change is often absent. It is not the place for challenging new growth or real expansion. It seems so many HSPs fight that notion, in spite of the fact that at some point they know they are inherently wrong. Hence the defensiveness.
Living outside of the comfort zone for HSMs or HSPs for that matter is especially vexing. We sometimes live in our bubble and this cocoon can protect us even from the normal external elements we face each day. We live in predefined boundaries that keep us safe and secure, but can we really thrive or reach our optimal potential if we don’t stretch those boundaries?
According to neuroscience, the answer is no. Lack of variability leads to rigidity in the brain. Variability comes from experiences largely outside of our bubble. Without experiencing at some point the departure from the comfort zone means that we are relaxing in our unchanging, invariant secure environment. Now don’t get me wrong, that comfort is a necessary part of the HSP world, but it doesn’t teach us much about growing as individuals if we use it as a fortress.
The brain is a highly adaptive organ, a neuroplastic engine that is designed to adapt, designed to grow and expand neural networks. In spite of how we perceive the world, or in our case absorb the world, we still need to move into the occasional uncomfortable space, where real growth and new experience lives.
We know that HSPs are evolutionarily designed to be cautious creatures. More input to us means more likely more hesitation to move into the unfamiliar. But, how do we cope with this cautious nature, in a world where adaptation is an evolutionary necessity, and we have a brain that is also perfectly designed to expand and grow? Can we still live within our cautious nature and yet occasionally explore beyond it freely from our customary boundaries?
I think most certainly. But, it’s going to be a bit different for most HSPs. Questions about how far and how fast we push boundaries before we hit that exhaustion point that many of us fear, linger deeply within all of us. Another consideration-- does the usual pushing of boundaries always lead to expansion of boundaries, or could too much pushing lead to the retreat of those boundaries? Is there a risk/reward equation that we need to examine before proceeding? Can we really devise such an algorithm, or do we always subjectively bias that equation to err towards caution and back into the land of comfort.
Something else to consider: is it better for HSPs to focus more on growing inwardly, deepening our awareness of self and self- in-universe. Or should we expand outwardly, looking to external experiences to shape and move us forward in our growth? I think many HSPs believe that going outside of the great walls of our CZ is equivalent to mind numbing exhaustion and overwhelm; always seeking the comfort of a personal space, such as described in Brian Wilson’s song, In My Room. Perhaps, that line of thinking comes from being pushed by others, even well-meaning others to go outside of where you are comfortable thus; leaving you feeling like someone else is in control.
I think it’s a little of both. All people seek comfort, although it seems HSPs are most comfortable when in the comfort zone. But life in our brains is a biochemical mix of fear versus homeostasis or comfort. It is the great yin and yang balancing act of life. The fear aspect can be a great growth stimulant for us HSPs. It’s called optimal anxiety, where performance and productivity apex. I’m not so crazy about that name, but fear can be a powerful motivator and so can discomfort. Fear and uncertainty can produce a state of productive discomfort, which drives us toward achieving a certain competency. This competency leads to a state of comfort or homeostasis again, which completes the cycle of learning and growth. The greatest source of confidence comes from experience, not rumination.
A key here may be in dealing with the anxiety in a controlled way. This is the difference between attaching a fire hose to a fire hydrant versus opening up all of the ports of the hydrant at once with no controls. Humans are goal seeking creatures and goals require an expansion beyond mere comfort to deliver real growth. I see no way around that.
What we should be talking about is growing the comfort zone to include new experiences. This contrasts with HSPs notions of leaving the safety of the CZ and I think is a more palatable notion to HSPs than saying you have to live outside of your comfort zone. You can overcome acrophobia from flying in a plane, without having to skydive out. It doesn’t have to be extremist to be valid.
I know from personal experience that comfort zones can expand. They don’t have to be static and unchanging sanctuaries. What I am now comfortable with was not the same ten years ago, or twenty years ago. And it required being placed in uncomfortable situations to make this happen. Places which I hated at the time, but in later reflection appreciated.
So what is the best approach for HSMs to begin expanding? Toe dipping or diving in? It depends on the individual. We all have had our experiences of being initiated into the traditions of manliness in our culture, most often put in uncomfortable situations with things we are not especially suited to or prepared for. Here are some general tips on expanding your comfort zone and maybe learning something new in the process:
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
Arriving at a decision time expectations have shrunk in the past thirty years, as our technology speeds have accelerated. This is largely due to our reliance on instant technology; technology that can either produce near instant results or produces the illusion of instantaneous gratification. This quick decision making has in many ways rewired our brains to expect hasty decisions, often based on little information inputs or with wide information gaps.
With text messaging and social media, we get faster response times and now our society looks for leaders particularly to make instant decisions. Technology is beginning to rewire our brains to expect more instant response decision making and teaching us to almost make battlefield decisions without the benefit of inputs or training can leave everyone feeling battle fatigued.
This type of decisioning seems to lack reflection and appeals mainly to our more primitive limbic emotional processing systems. With technology accelerating communication, decisive responses are now expected, too. From that we can see more and more bad decisions being made across the society, from teenagers to seniors, from politics to religion, from corporate to private worlds, it’s happening all over.
I’m not saying it’s all bad. There have and always will be times when quick decisioning is imperative, think of an emergency room, in NORAD’s control center, or while flying a plane in bad weather. But more often now, we see decisions expected quickly for times when more reflective thinking is required.
This carries over into the realm of business, and in the field, I once worked in Information Technology it is rampant. We have created a great and ponderous beast, called the internet and it requires 24/7 attention and feeding. All of our technology is tied to that, one way or another; a giant communication network with billions of nodes and requiring perhaps as many or more decisions every day.
HSPs don’t work this way. We are deep processing thinkers and we are also observational, receiving high quantity of multiple inputs from multiple sensory paths. Instead of bypass processing, we are absorbed by all the inputs and have to sort, categorize and process the data. This takes time and runs contrary to modern cultural expectations. “I’ll get back to you”, doesn’t cut it today. Leaders expect workers and workers expect leaders to instant process to decisions – no rumination, no mulling, and culling, just get the answer…NOW.
Part of the stress that working HSPs that are in industries that require this type of quick thinking has to do with the expectation of making decisions on unprocessed information, hastily sifting through the inputs and creating a less than perfect output. HSPs are highly conscientious individuals and doing this kind of half-baked thinking goes directly against our wiring. The stress comes from the pressure to decide and not being given ample time to process deeply.
Now, we can do this like everyone else, but it’s not comfortable. To be asked to do this all the time can be almost debilitating. Going against our nature is what we are expected to do all the time, and indeed, not doing that, can have real world consequences for many HSPs in the workplace. The increased pressure and stress can even at time short circuit our processing, delaying further decision making or in some cases shutting us down.
And, the world is not changing for our needs, at least not anytime soon. If you want to work today, you’ll need to find a way to cope, adapt or join in the fray, to deal with the pressure to move more quickly. Adaptation is the key, but with all things for HSPs – self-preservation is the lock. You’ll need that to stay secure.
Let’s look at some things that may help:
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
So much attention is placed on money in our society and making said money. We equate having or not having it with our own value, self-worth, power, freedom and respect. And what is money-- is it just a unit of financial significance, a measurement of success, or as some billionaires says, a way of keeping score. I really believe it is none of these. We are so focused on the score of the game that we often overlook the game. I think it is clear that we as a money obsessed society miss the whole idea that money is simply energy with enormous work potential bundled around it.
We have attached too much superficial meaning to the accumulation and procurement of money that we fail to see that we have enslaved ourselves to this concept to the extent we are not participating in the game, i.e. life. As HSPs, we inherently understand the fundamentals of money acquisition and possess many of the characteristics needed to acquire money, but more often than not, refuse to play the game or participate because of the taxing nature on our personalities. Let’s look at this.
HSPs are by nature, cautious creatures. That makes us less likely to be willing to engage in behavior that risk assaulting our sensibilities. We are in many ways risk averse. However, according to Dr. Tracy Cooper, about twenty percent of HSPs are high sensation seeking individuals. So, we are not entirely a tribe of non-risk takers. Those high sensation seeking HSPs are like other risk takers, looking for novel experiences, able to disinhibit long enough to engage in risky behavior and can get bored easily with the same old, same old. And HSPs are naturally curious and creative souls that like connecting disparate dots to make new ideas happen.
So, why don’t more HSPs become prominent in business or startups or in the art of making money? Why aren’t we front and center on getting promotions at work, implementing our ideas in the marketplace, making sales, pitching our ideas to investors, sticking our necks out there, and risking everything for an idea that has money making potential? Oddly, I don’t think it’s the risk that factors in here.
One has to consider the nature of business, or the nature of making money. One is either in the business of labor creation or in the business of labor offering. The motive of all business is to make profit for the enterprise. Economic purists would argue that this is a noble and time honored task. To profit in a business is to be efficient and innovative – two things HSPs are fairly good at. To profit in business is to be able to provide rewards to shareholders and owners and to perpetuate the business as an entity.
Much like evolutionary survival, a strong, profitable business thrives and continues. And much like a true reflection of Darwin’s evolution of species; modern, capitalistic business, must compete to survive. And, survival becomes the prime objective. Think of crushing competition, dominating the marketplace and hoarding resources this is what we prize in our culture. It’s what we deem as winning (watching the scoreboard).
This applies equally to individuals at a micro-economic level, too. And it comes back to how we earn, acquire and accumulate money. It’s how things get done and it’s rampant in our culture. There is a little lechery in any business that is purely out to make money, in spite of high moral posturing with mission statements and company visions. Does this put off HSPs? Surely, for some of us. Does it intimidate us? Quite possibly, for many of us. Do our collective moral compasses steer us away from being business “savvy”, and drawn away from the whole proposition of making money? Well if you think about, social Darwinism, an unwritten credo of modern big business, is so non-HSP. Is this how HSPs define winning? I doubt it.
What drives entrepreneurs? What types of personality characteristics make for a good startup CEO? Most sources agree that successful entrepreneurs are risk takers, highly confident, and have a love for learning new things. They, also, are wired for failure resiliency, perhaps aided by an undying passion for their endeavor and a high degree of adaptability and tenacity. In addition, they display great social skills, like networking for results, money management skills-- which require an “its just business” attitude, and self-promotion and charisma.
How does that match up with generalized HSP characteristics? Well, in some places well. We are creative and innovative thinkers, and as noted some of us like risk. We love to learn and appreciate novelty. Where we fall short are those areas where quick decision making, supreme confidence, the gift of bullshitting your way into someone else’s pocket book without guilt and an outward focus on output with an inward drive on self-aggrandizement. In other words, welcome to ego El Supremo. It’s rare to find a consciously aware billionaire, maybe even rarer to find an HSP billionaire.
So are we HSPs doomed to being poor or at least living a frugal life, because of some ineptness or inability to override our moral convictions to make “good” money? Do you think there’s an alternative universe out there that allows for doing the right thing and becoming wealthy as a result? Is the nature of profit simply access to excess? Really folks, is there something inherently wrong about making money that makes money distasteful and disgusting?
Perhaps we need to re-frame the whole question. Is money or having money dirty, unsavory and undesirable? Frankly, I think it’s placing a value judgement on something that can’t be categorized that way. In and of itself it’s neutral. Having money or lacking money is neither good nor bad. Money is simple energy potential. It’s an agreed upon denomination for exchange of goods and services and represents energy.
Greed and selfishness, often associated with money are bad, but they are not money. Big Pharma extracting huge profits off the backs of sick people is bad, but the money they extract is not. It’s neutral. Doesn’t make it right, it’s still neutral. Yet, is it really noble and honorable to be materially bereft only to miss many of the material experiences your life could benefit from?
Where does this attitude or aptitude for not making money come from? By the age of seven money habits are formed in children that will last them a lifetime. Children learn their attitudes towards money from their parents. HSPs being the sensitive, intuitive and inquisitive types that we are, no doubt, pick up on many subtle cues from our parents that other children might miss. “We can’t afford that” or “that’s too expensive”, or “easy come, easy go”, might carry extra influence on HSPs because of the added emotional content our deep processing might add.
Because money has so many emotional implications in our lives, we as HSPs may grasp significance in terms of lack or abundance depending on how our parents framed money in their lives. This may in addition to the uncomfortableness of acquiring money, help shape HSP’s world view of money in their own lives. Or conversely, could HSPs override all of these apprehensions about money, due in part to an upbringing that emphasized confidence in money acquisition and success? Since money is our cultural barometer of success, could an early belief in ones self-worth and confidence, make one more likely to become more successful from a monetary standpoint, regardless of personality temperament or makeup?
I keep hearing over and over that HSPs tend to gravitate towards low wage earning jobs. In the end, is this a nature vs. nurture question. Is it our nature to go for easy flow, low paying jobs, or do we tend to move towards work that is part of familial or societal expectations and just gut it out? It would seem that many HSPs would avoid high profile money jobs because of the stress of it all. It doesn’t mean we couldn’t do it as many of us have.
Are HSPs so laid back that we only prefer low paying jobs and forego the high price of high wage jobs? Perhaps, generally, we tend towards simple life situations, with lots of quiet time, less money, but more personal freedom. If you follow our worries, you will see where our priorities are: ensuring downtime, are we close to nature, time for creativity and how to get personal peace. We then can smugly eschew the greed and selfishness of big profit jobs and business and revel in our low wage art gallery job, or a counseling job for a non-profit or writing a children’s book (that has sold millions of copies and been made into several blockbuster movies, re – J.K. Rowling). It can happen.
Some things to ponder:
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
I am at times both health maven and junk food junkie. It, of course, depends upon the mood. Right now I am in a cycle of diet and health focus, so I am doing my best to avoid junk food. But as is the cycle of life, I imagine I will once again fall into the clutches of fast foods and a maddening desire to satisfy a genetically inherited sweet tooth.
At times, I wonder if because of my sensitivity or heightened sensory awareness, does this make me more prone to indulge in the pleasures of junk food? Is it just about the sensation of taste, smell and mouth feel or is there brain chemistry involved as well. This week’s topic is about the HSM and being junk food junkies.
Ever since I was a kid, I have been a bit of a junkie for the foods that today we know contribute to multiple health issues. It seemed I could soothe a disappointment or overcome a hurt feeling with a sugary soda (Pepsi) or a sweet and crunchy candy (Chick-o-stick). It was always seemed to be a reliable way to soothe raw emotions.
I grew up as a tall and skinny kid, active and always in motion, so eating junk food never dealt me the same misfortunes of those that gained extra weight with over consumption of sugar. Back then High Fructose Corn Syrup was not as prolific as it is today, so I had the good fortune of most of my generation of consuming good ol’ straight sugar, made from beets or cane. This only lessened the blow by a degree or two, but I do think kept us from becoming a generation of obese sugar junkies.
Today things are different. Junk food is designed with the intent of making you addicted or as the manufacturers would prefer saying -- craving more or their product. Their foods and I use that term loosely, are specifically designed to appeal to the brain and the senses. The appeal is more than a quick treat, it is made to continually keep us coming back for more.
Working with food engineers, manufacturers carefully design junk food to elicit neurological, psychological and physiological responses in the consumer. Things like dynamical contrast, where a hard shell of a candy contrasts with it’s soft, gooey inner layer; salivary response, just the thought of the food brings forth a physiological response; vanishing caloric response – a fancy way of saying, because of the “lightness” of the food fools the brain into thinking you are consuming less calories, you eat more; sensory specific response – satisfying a brain need for food variety, the food is designed again to fool the brain by not providing too much satiation to prevent a dulling of your senses and a future avoidance of that food; engineered caloric density – a way of mixing ingredients to pass the brain’s food test, but not enough to pass the “full” test; and finally, past memory association – this is the psychological part, where your brain associates this food with some pleasant past experience.
Now I added all the above verbiage, to illustrate a point about how junk food is designed to be addictive. If you have a personality that is prone to addiction, it is easy to fall prey to this game played with your body and mind by food conglomerates. This falls easily into the category of food addiction.
As a hypnotist, I have worked with many people over the years looking for help in losing weight. One of the main components of the weight issue is the ease with which we become addicted to certain foods. This is no accident. The emotional ties we have to food, especially foods we consider to be comfort foods is very strong and difficult to break.
Many of the triggers for food addiction are physiological, the interaction from the brain to the body, brought about by the ingredients in the food we are consuming. This is a complex interaction and can involve the brain and the gut, both centers of neurological control. When food is engineered to affect a response in the consumer, you can see the danger. In addition, food addiction has a psychological component, largely emotional. Food as self-medication has at its root the use of food for coping with difficult life situations. Then throw in social pressures: family, friends, media, social occasions, you can see how pressures within and without can push us over the line.
The pull of sugar on behavior is very powerful, as are starchy carbs, which ultimately are turned to glucose in the body; creating this cycle of repetitive behavior. Indulging in the junk food of choice, creates a body response, a kick of dopamine as a reinforcer, a rush of sugar into our bodies, creating a sugar high and then within a short period, a drop off of energy and crash. What happens internally is even more devastating. The continued pumping of sugar producing foods into the body leads to more insulin production, which is used to absorb the energy into the cells and at some point a saturation of the cells occurs leaving the body to store the excess as fat. This condition can lead to insulin resistance, which is a precursor to a whole host of diseases. Not good for your long term health outlook.
Does this affect HSMs or HSPs more so than the general population? I think it can. Because the research supports that HSPs are processing more sensory data and are prone to overwhelm more often, it would seem to reason that HSPs are operating under more stress than the general population. Not necessarily under the greatest stress, but as a group, stressed more often, and could this be a motivator in turning to junk foods for a calming effect.
Recent studies have shown that a select group of high stressed females ate more “comfort foods” to alleviate stress, than individuals with less stress in their lives. The high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, creates an increase in cravings for sugar, carb, fat types foods and the consumption of these foods did lower stress rates, albeit only temporarily. Could HSPs also be more prone to doing the same thing? Certainly, some of us do.
Since more HSPs tend to present more intense moods as a result of our sensory processing sensitivity traits, food also can heighten mood expression from a biological standpoint. Should HSPs avoid sugar and processed carb foods to help throttle down some of our emotional responses? The consumption of sugar in particular, can suppress activity of a key growth hormone in the brain; brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which when levels are low corresponds with depression and schizophrenia. And increased sugar consumption can affect blood sugar levels in the body effecting mood. There is enough enhanced brain chemistry naturally with HSPs, no need to flood our systems with junk food highs and crashes.
To top this all of off, someone has studied a correlation between personality types and preferred junk food. Although HSPs were not called out as a personality type, I could surmise from the personality descriptions where HSPs might fall. The criteria for snack foods, aka junk foods, were largely in the processed carb category, but traits like – loyalty, integrity, perfectionism and thoughtful kind of fit into the HSP wheelhouse. The foods corresponding to those categories were: meat snacks, cheese curls, tortilla chips and crackers. No chick-o-sticks…bummer.
Here are a few thought for HSPs on junk food consumption:
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
The complications of being an HSP are already pretty demanding, but what if you added the personality type of INFJ to your identity? Yes, if you consider rare personality types as another layer of complexity. Well, actually, INFJ type is probably more common in HSPs than they would be, say in the general population.
Many of the INFJ attributes are overlapping with common HSM characteristics, so it’s possible that it really doesn’t add too much more complexity, but if you factor in the rarity of this personality – around 1-3 % percent of the world population, it is likely to be even a small subset of HSPs in the world. In males, it’s even rarer with only 1% of all males presenting as INFJ and I would guess that all of them are HSMs. So what exactly is an INFJ?
Carl Jung defined certain personality types as part of his body of work, largely based on cognitive function and style. From that seminal work psychologists Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs further developed an instrument for testing personality typology, called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
The focus is on sixteen different personality types composed of four major indicators: Extroversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling and Judgment/Perception. Each of the four elements reflects a particular style of dealing with the world, for example: Extroversion is outwardly energetic, while Introversion is inwardly energetic, the same would be true for Sensing (fact based) versus Intuition (insight). Another dichotomy would Thinking (cognitive logic) or Feeling (values and emotion), and finally the plan of attack, Judgment (structure, plan) and Perception (flow guided).
The combination of the four elements produces sixteen basic personality types, each with its own style and process for interacting with the world. If you think about this, our personality develops as we age and serves as an outward mask we present to the world. It’s hardly static and highly interactive.
If you have been following the blog for the last six months, you should be getting a pretty good handle on the HSP personality type and in particular the HSM or male version of HSP. What is interesting as of late is there has been a lot of attention on the Introvert personality type, such as in Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. What is not being talked about as much but will be, I believe, is the overlap in the HSP personality type and the Introvert personality. In fact, about seventy percent of HSPs are Introverts. What percent HSPs make of Introverts as a whole, is still unclear.
But, back to our original proposal about the combination of being HSP and being INFJ and the uniqueness of being twenty per cent of the population on one attribute and being one per cent of the population on the other. We’re talking rare air here.Let’s delve a little deeper in to the INFJ personality type.
INFJ’s are indeed rare individuals. They exhibit many of the characteristics of HSPs. They are intuition dominant, relying a great deal on this subconscious process for assessing the world. They tend to see things in patterns, big pictures, and symbolic meaning. The live largely in the abstract, are quite independent, enjoy working behind the scenes and are very private individuals. Ironically, they can seem to be extroverted and animated when engaged in passionate dialogue about something they care about and can even sport a personal charisma that is arresting, if not a bit off type.
They love to work in environments that are harmonious and if put in chaotic and hectic situations, can withdraw due to overwhelm. They have keen insight in problem solving, even though they are less rational in their thinking and rely heavily on their feelings and intuition.
Emotion, gut feel and internal sensing play a big role in how they interact with the world. There is often a strict perfectionism about them, that can seem almost snobbish as they survey their footprint in the world, conscientiousness on steroids. They are easily hurt by what they may seem is an indifferent world, which may not have time for their grandiose visions and emotionally intuitive problem solving methodology.
You can easily see why artists, creative types, activists, healers and spiritually inclined folk would be represented in this group. In part, the same types you see in HSPs. HSPs tend to be represented well in the MBTI areas that feature Introversion, Feeling and Intuition (INFJ, INFP, INTJ, INTP).
INFJ’s are caring, imaginative people. Some examples of INFJs are Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Florence Nightingale, Shirley MacLaine, Jimmy Carter and even Carl Jung. A great crowd to be running with, but INFJs have some negative baggage, too.
INFJ’s have the highest marital dissatisfaction ratings of any of the personality types, go figure. Under stress, they can act very impulsively, even destructively, make decisions without thinking or evaluating consequences. They can be hypercritical of others, finding fault everywhere and display an OCD like obsession with meaningless details. At times, INFJs can go against their own moral code and break rules, become very selfish, and display a shadow self that is really not their core values. Again, like most HSPs the INFJ needs downtime to reevaluate, re-energize and decompress.
Now does being an HSM magnify the INFJ traits, if you are both? If being an HSM is as much a physiological based (Sensory Processing Sensitivity) personality type as INFJ is a cognitive personality type, then it would seem logical that being an HSM would amplify, through heightened sensitivity, the traits inherent in being an INFJ. Of course, if all INFJs are in fact, HSPs, then there would be no other option. And I wonder if that is not a valid assumption.
Perhaps, I’m wildly speculating here about the mix, since both personality types are small populations, but not all HSPs are INFJs. Certainly too, not all HSMs are INFJs, so at the end of the day, I think when you do see this combination, you have a rare cross breeding of personality types that can make life challenging, interesting and unique.
That fact that so few men are HSM/INFJ, means that interacting in an often unsympathetic world, which reacts to rare personality types in sometimes callous or harsh ways, you can see where the problems might arise for HSM/INFJs. My conclusion is not that the personality combo is bad or maladaptive; I think it might be more problematic because of its uniqueness. In the end, being understood is a key to happiness and for HSM/INFJs that is often a hard commodity to find.
Here are a few tips if you believe you may be an HSM that is also an INFJ:
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
What makes film especially meaningful to Highly Sensitive Men? I think it starts with the idea that film is the most complete art form. It combines sound and sight, light and motion, emotion and feeling all into a neat package. It allows the viewer to become the omniscient observer with a dynamic viewpoint, giving us the opportunity to take both passive and active roles in the unfoldment of a story. It can inspire and uplift and allow us to vicariously experience living a fantasy through the characters, plot, and action. I mean, what’s not to like about that?
Films cover a panorama of emotion from sadness, to anger, love to loss, joy and fulfillment, horror and surprise. We respond as if the events were real, with engagement that hangs on the precipice of mutual experience with the characters. This is a great opportunity for naturally empathetic people to explore emotions within a safe and controlled environment. We respond to the sequence of images flashed upon the screen in story format and get lost, I dare say, hypnotized, by what our eyes and hears behold. It may be the greatest thing to happen to storytelling, since the campfire.
Watching movies does have a direct psychological effect on the viewer. Studies are showing that there are distinct physiological responses to plot points within the story. Whether its increased blood pressure or heart rate, tears or heavy breathing, we have all felt the visceral effects of being at the movies. Movies can have positive effects on the viewer from a cognitive standpoint. You may see something inspiring or moving and this reaction can contribute to positive feelings you may have towards yourself or others.
This phenomenon can be triggered by what scientists refer to as mirror neurons in the brain. These neurons help us to mirror the activities of others and can contribute largely to social cooperation and encourage empathy. This sounds exactly like something that highly sensitive people would be drawn to and that’s why I think HSPs in general, like myself, enjoy the movie experience. HSPs are thought to draw heavily on mirror neurons to create our great empathetic nature.
Now wrap this all around with an emotionally charged and moving soundtrack, and you have an experience unlike anything else in entertainment or education. Studies are showing the emotional effects of music in movies on the audience, which those of us enthusiastic movie fans, have known for years. A sound score carefully and artfully done can elevate a story and film to heights of emotional vibration that cements the experience for all viewers.
What’s really interesting about the score is that it often rides just below conscious awareness. We know it’s there, just like we know there’s someone sitting two rows down from us, but we don’t consciously care. A good score, I believe, affects and guides your subconscious more than you think. It charges and cues the emotion centers within, which ultimately can make a movie memorable or not.
What kind of movies do men prefer? Well, in word: action. Most men are looking for action, sex, and nudity. It all appears too much like the primal objective takes over for men in the movie house. Men like “real men” in the movies, doing real men stuff, which is often involved with blowing stuff up, driving fast cars, or bedding beautiful women. Although a couple of those sound interesting to me, they can’t hold my attention for two hours. Now as men mature, I would hope that at some point they would expand their horizons a bit, and start taking plot and characterization into account, but, perhaps, that’s asking too much.
As an HSP male, I find myself a little bit out on island. I like a good plot, a good story, good directing, writing and acting and in the end, something that moves the emotional meter. I just want to feel something from the movie. Relatability is key to me. And, I will add, I want to walk out of the theater thinking about the movie afterwards, over coffee, or dinner. Or even to be left speechless --like after watching 2001, A Space Odyssey, way back in the day. I don’t care about seeing a single car sacrificed, or a super hero demolish a city single handed, I just want the movie, to well, move me emotionally, viscerally and to create a lasting memory. I suspect most HSMs feel the same.
I don’t like trashing whole genres of film. Art is art, whatever form it takes, and I begrudgingly admit some great action movies have been made and yes, I enjoyed them. But, the corporate cookie cutter approach to film making which basically takes the Pavlovian approach, if a dog salivates at a bell, we are going to make movies about bells and bells only, doesn’t work for me. And there are many out there who agree, including producer, Stephen Simon (Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come), who has been an advocate for bringing back character and plot driven movies. See his website: http://theoldhollywood.com/ .
Another question is, are there HSMs in the movie industry? Of course, it’s an art form. HSMs are and can be sensitive artist types as we all well know. I would dare say that a majority of male actors in Hollywood, perhaps worldwide, are HSMs. I have no scientific proof of that but map the profile of being an HSM to being an actor, and well, it overlaps pretty nicely.
At least that applies to the really good actors, directors, et. al. (pardon my smugness here). I’m thinking of people like Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, George Lucas, Bruce Joel Rubin, and geez, I’m not even scratching the surface, but you can see what I mean. You can practically start rattling off names of prominent Hollywood males and derive your own list.
Are HSMs portrayed often in movies? Yes, but not nearly enough. Some of the best movies, the male protagonists have been to some extent, sensitive men. I’m thinking of movies like Forrest Gump, Dead Poets Society, Dances with Wolves, Field of Dreams, It’s a Wonderful Life, Good Will Hunting, and the list extends back into the history vaults at TCM.
What you often see in movies is the male character showing some sensitivity as a means for character growth, but often not explored deeply enough (as we HSMs would want). Hell, even John Wayne, played a sensitive character in The Quiet Man, but couldn’t get out of the movie without a half hour fist fight with his nemesis. I’m sure at the time; the male audience would have abandoned the theater if he didn’t start slugging away at some point.
I would be remiss, without mentioning something about violence in movies. HSPs in general, do not like watching violence. The more graphic, the worse effect it has on our systems. Over the years, I grew up with increasing violence in films. Long gone are the days, when a cowboy shot a bandit and there was no blood. The Sixties ushered in more graphic and gratuitous violence and the door has been open ever wider since.
I suppose there is some desensitization that occurs if one watches violent movies, but still, like cars blowing up, I don’t much care for seeing people blow up either. Maybe high sensation seeking HSMs find this appealing, but not me. We have enough in the real world; I don’t care to see it on my day off. I get that sometimes it’s important to the plot, but I think Hitchcock did it best, by suggesting, hinting at violence and letting the viewer’s imagination take over (okay, forget about The Birds).
I love the movies; I suspect many HSMs do as well. Here are some things; I think movies should do for the viewer:
Did you ever feel like an emotional junkie? Sometimes feeling like a slave to your own emotional patterns. Brain chemistry drives our emotions and the subsequent addiction to those brain chemicals can lead to repetitive and habitual behaviors that may be feeding a circle of “junk” behavior.
As we all know, HSPs commonly experience emotions in an intense way. We react to the stimulus and because of our deep processing mechanisms we reprocess and reprocess the emotion attempting to make sense of those feelings. The repetitiveness is what intensifies the emotional reaction. Within HSPs this leads us, at an unconscious level, to seek out more intense emotions, which may seem contrary to our need for moderation of emotional experiences.
What makes this happen? Emotions occur at the unconscious level and are driven by peptides released by the hypothalamus. These peptides proteins are then released into the body and attach to cells with corresponding receptors. When attached they produce a desired effect in the cell, which corresponds with a bodily function associated with that emotion. The process is largely unconscious, yet experienced and felt as feelings at the conscious level. The feelings may drive more of the same emotion, creating an addictive cycle of stimulation based on our experiences. In other words, the addiction drives the experience.
Of course, there are other brain chemicals involved, but the basic process lends itself to a model of possible addiction. It stands to reason that HSPs, more so than the general population, might be subject to this type of addiction because of their increased ability to experience sensory information and most importantly the ability to hyper-process that information.
In its simplest form it looks like this: 1) thoughts created in neurons, networked together, trigger, 2) a chemical release from the hypothalamus, peptides, which 3) release to the cells and attach at receptors on the cell creating 4) a visceral reaction, which is recognized 5) via consciousness resulting in a feeling. The emotion spoken of earlier is largely automatic and unconscious and driven by brain/body chemistry. The feeling is what we recognize consciously. It is simply emotion wrapped in thought.
Addictions by most definitions are largely automatic behaviors driven by unconscious emotion or memory or association. And the operative word here is repetition. This is why addiction is so difficult to treat and deal with consciously. The neural patterns are so reinforced that, they occur without thought. It is only when we recognize the pattern, that we can affect an interruption in the behavior.
Now how does all of this effect HSMs? Highly sensitive people are by definition people that experience sensations, feelings and emotions more intensely than the general population. Could it be that because of this ability that we as highly sensitives can become eventually more habituated or desensitized to emotion?
If the nature of emotion is largely addictive (perhaps, for survival purposes) than this addiction to emotion could lead to ever increasing need to experience more intense emotions to satisfy the addiction. The more highly charged the emotion, the more repetitive the emotion, the more likely the receiver cells will need to create more and more receptor sites to handle the incoming data; thus allowing the whole experience to grow more intense.
There is a sub group of HSPs that are sensation seekers. Sensation seekers tend to look for experiences that provide novel experiences, adventure and thrill seeking rushes, splashes into social activities that may be unconventional and are prone to boredom susceptibility. HSPs that are also sensation seekers may exhibit a less driven desire for over the top experiences, but nonetheless, need to break the monotony of HSP’s careful and cautious behavior.
Could this not include, seeking highly charged emotional sensations as a way of producing an affect high? This may be truer in HSMs, because of our cultural expectations for men, in general, to be more daring, bold and adventurous. We find ourselves taking the bait and falling into the trap of sensation seeking. Sometimes, we HSMs need not venture much further outside of our own craniums to get that rush experience. A good heartbreak can seem like bungee jumping.
Do HSPs therefore, fall in love more often and fall harder in love just for the adrenaline rush? Or do we moderate our emotions by smoothing out the intensity by avoidance, interrupting the process before intensity becomes too strong? In reverse could this lead to a state of emotional anorexia? Does being an HSP come with an automatic regulation system that prevents over-stimulation by shutting down input and requiring emotional time outs? If so, does that make us less likely to become subject to emotional addiction? Interesting to think about. Would like to hear your comments. We as a group could be emotional junkies and not even be fully consciously aware of that addiction.
To wrap up here are some thoughts on how to deal with high intensity emotions if you are an HSM:
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Passive-aggressive is a label often meted out by non-experts to cubby hole people who may be moody or not willing to talk straight talk, people who are quiet and not assertive or even as a way to manipulate someone else by placing a derogatory label on them. As an HSM, I have been called passive aggressive by those who think my thoughtful and deliberate approach on things is manipulative. Not so.
What is passive aggressive behavior anyway? The classical definitions describe this behavior as a passive group of manipulative behaviors used to provide resistance to another or others, mired in moodiness, sarcasm, stubbornness, learned helplessness, blaming, and backhanded compliments or in some way to mask hidden anger. The gist of this seems to be about an inability to process anger in a straight forward and positive, assertive way. Repressed anger, lack of assertiveness. Sound familiar, HSMs?
Passive aggressive behavior is learned at home. Children made to feel that anger is something not to be expressed, find ways to allow the inner turmoil to seep out and passive aggressive behavior is one way to do that. It also occurs in families where any honest, straight forward emotional display is discouraged, and again, the child learns coping strategies, that help relieve the internal pressure cooker.
Passive aggressive behavior in extreme is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSMxx) as a disorder, needing therapeutic treatment. In its lesser forms, passive aggressive behavior is more of a failed coping strategy that is more of a distorted approach to getting your point across. It’s a childish behavior, it’s manipulative and it’s catty.
The root of passive aggressive behavior is most often stemmed from anger or disappointment, or hurt feelings. The motive for passive aggressive behavior is a subtle type of revenge that is manipulative but not aggressive.
Not surprisingly, men and women process anger differently. Men are taught to be more visual, external and aggressive, while woman are taught to suppress their anger and to vent it in more subtle and diffused ways. You would think that the perfect candidates for passive aggressive behavior would be women. But this does not seem to be the case. Because women verbalize more than men about their emotions, they can, in fact, find suitable outlets of expression that don’t lead to aggressive behavior. Conversely, men aren’t always allowed to express aggressive anger, repress the feelings and find passive aggressiveness as way to cope with the anger.
But what about HSMs? Because we tend to be less assertive and certainly less aggressive, would this make us candidates for passive aggressive behavior? On the surface that would seem logical, but thinking about one of the hallmarks of HSPs, empathy, it would seem less likely that this behavior would be likely to be implemented.
Empathy is a powerful force in its own right. Manipulation of another stems largely from a lack of empathy towards the other. Having the sensitivity to react to our reactions, makes us more likely to consider the outcomes before implementation and our empathetic and sensitive nature makes it unlikely that we would feel good about this strategy.
Now with that said, it is not impossible to imagine an HSP using passive aggressive tactics in desperation, but as a long range strategy, it just doesn’t feel right. It does require some disconnection from the “what I say” and “what I do” of the behavior to enact passive aggressively. And this would be the point where HSMs would struggle.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the HSM personality that might lead others to label HSPs as passive aggressive. Because HSMs tend to be more connected to their emotional state and are aware of the emotions of those around them, do we tend to get more defensive when emotions run hot? The answer is a resounding yes. We are very sensitive to criticism and as a result this often leads to people pleasing behaviors, some of which are inauthentic. This becomes a point of incongruity for our internal compass.
This can be become a disconnect in our communication with others, as we pursue an often idealistic goal of continual peace and harmony with the world. As Dr. Elaine Aron states, “…(HSPs) are naturally more influenced by feedback, and it may even be why we are more emotional generally.” We take that feedback to heart, process it, and at some point take action. The time lag may appear to others to be a form of passive aggressive behavior (shutdown reaction, quiet, not saying what we feel, etc.)
We hurt more easily, too. HSPs are not angels. We do have a dark side as well. As men, we still have a drive to act aggressively, even if it is not our nature. Can we formulate strategies to react less aggressively, but still showing passivity and milder aggressiveness? Perhaps, we do show signs of hypercritical evaluation, self flagellation, indecisiveness, irritability, moodiness, need for solitude, naivete, and eccentricity, but taken as a whole is this passive aggressive? I can see where the non-HSP world could see that. But its not, and the key is the motive. Manipulation and revenge are the key motives of passive aggressive behavior and are not major drivers for HSPs.
In fact, Dr. Aron points out, “Generally, the research does not point out or show increased activation in HSPs in areas of the brain related to ‘primitive emotion’ …Rather than ‘getting all stirred up’ more than others, we tend to process emotional experiences more in ‘higher’ parts of the brain, the ones designed precisely for emotional regulation.”
Anger a swift moving emotion, helps us to set boundaries and protect our rights. For HSPs, this highly charged emotion can leave us in a processing overload. Our reaction are not often swift enough, and hence boundaries can be lost. This is upsetting even for HSPs and can lead to coping strategies that may not be best for our personality type. Sometimes, the non-HSP world see this is passive aggressive without truly understanding what that term means.
Slow to anger does not mean the anger is not present. Because we HSMs tend to suppress some of the aggressiveness of anger, we still have to process our reaction to anger. At some point, it will come out. Assertiveness training is helpful and the use of assertiveness strategies is in alignment with HSP values. Most of us never get this type of education. Unfortunate. I know for myself at some point a eruption point occurs and like a volcano the anger explodes unexpectedly. Bad strategy, and for that we get bad labeling.
So what can we do? If you show passive aggressive tendencies or what the non-HSP world describes as such, here’s some ways to deal with that:
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Western culture seems to disdain sensitivity in men. Our prevailing concept of manliness is of rugged individualism, with little or no outward display of emotion. Well, perhaps, anger is revered, as in righteous indignation, but any so called “soft emotions” are eschewed by our culture.
Men are seen as week if tears appear in public or a shimmering sunset leaves a man speechless. Any signs of tenderness or any show of depth of emotion often relegated to females is seen as unmasculine. As Dr. Tracy Cooper, psychologist and HSM says,” …American culture is steeped in a masculinity that glorifies anger, aggressive behavior, domination over women, and winning at all costs.”
I take exception to this notion that sensitivity is a weakness. In fact, I would argue that is a strength that is much needed right now in men. For just a moment, let’s throw out the words high sensitivity for men and replace it with high sensing or acute sensory perception. Both of these terms more accurately reflect what is really going on with highly sensitive people. In fact, it is officially known as sensory processing sensitivity.
Let’s imagine what is going on with HSMs on an everyday basis. Imagine if you will, a filter that sits somewhere within the brain that is allowing sensory input to reach the unconscious mind. For non-HSPs, this filter is set at a lower threshold than HSPs. It allows less data to pass through into the brain from the senses which naturally affects the parts of the brain that control emotion, fears, and behaviors. The filter trips and lets a steady but moderate about of sensory info to pass through.
In HSPs, our filter has a higher threshold and more data is allowed to pass through to the brain. Meaning more data to affect emotions and feelings and still requiring the extra associated processing needs taken to process the data. What this means is that when there is a lower filter threshold (non-HSP), there is lower sensory registration, conversely, a higher filter threshold (HSP) means higher sensory registration. In its simplest form, HSPs process more sensory information than non-HSPs. And, this is not a choice, it just happens. So stop it with the, “you need to toughen up”, or “you’re too sensitive.”
Because of this, data has to be processed and the task of doing this can be overwhelming at times. Remember this data is affecting moods, behaviors, and thoughts. These emotions may be triggered from deep within the brain and can often lead to what most non-HSPs see as moodiness in HSPs. For men, the last thing we like to be classified as is – drama queens. So, instead we bury emotions deep within ourselves, mask our feelings, and cover up our true nature. A lot gets killed in the process --feelings, intuition, and creativity and disconnection with our feelings.
Furthermore, let’s not confuse emotional hypersensitivity with highly sensing capability. They sometimes look alike but are not. High sensitivity is not a disorder. And having an HSP personality does not necessarily mean you are emotionally fragile and or dysfunctional. We do need to be aware as HSPs that we do have a highly active amygdala, a lower perceptual threshold and the tendency towards deep processing, which can condition us to be more reactive than active. It’s not just stimulus – response with us, it’s more like stimulus – rumination – response. And of course, that comes across as very un-John Waynish, in a culture that emphasizes “doing” over “just being or thinking.”
But what do all these abilities (remember, I see this as an asset) give us highly sensing men? Do these traits give us some advantages? Let’s look at a few; see if you can relate:
Because of these traits, HSPs make great advisors and counselors, outstanding long range strategists, purveyors of alternate viewpoints, champions of moral justice, the balm to aggressiveness, bastions of harmony and fluidity and vessels of meaningfulness.
With all of this said, does our culture value these traits? In short, yes and no. The traits that lead to a monetary gain will be valued most; the others will get us a pat on the head and a doleful grin but not a bonus. However, I am hopeful that society can and will change. We are in the midst of the last of what I hope is unbridled, unrestricted capitalism, an untamed romp on the dark side. I believe that we are now standing just beyond the threshold to more sane times. HSMs are going to be instrumental in the transition.
Yes, I know you fellow HSMs have been dealing with negative feedback for the entirety of your life. You’ve repressed your true nature, you’ve played the game, you’ve bucked up, strapped on, and “acted like a man”. Now it’s time to let go of all of that repressive crap. Here are some ideas on how to do that. Let’s run through the list, shall we?
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
In a recent blog article, I wrote that I was relocating to Texas. Well, that was about two months ago and because I shut down my business in Oregon I now find myself looking for work again at age 61. I have worked for years in Information Technology for a large financial institution and took an early retirement a few years back to pursue my small business idea. Now with a gap of five years or so, I need to get back to the corporate workforce to serve as an anchor job, while I’m here in Texas or until I can reestablish my business.
Now, to be honest, I never liked working in corporate America and never thought that I’d ever have to go back to find employment there. But, life has its interesting way of steering you round and round, sometimes in circular fashion. Now that I am back pursuing a regular job again, I have given a lot of thought to what kind of job or job environment would best suit me as a highly sensitive man. And more broadly, what kind of environment would be best for HSPs, regardless of the industry?
Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more articles published about the trend towards looking for more empathetic and emotionally intelligent workers. There seems to be some movement in favor of the soft skills that HSPs tend to naturally have and are most comfortable using at work and home. This all tends to make for interesting TED talks, but where exactly are these type of jobs? Having worked an entire career in Information Technology, a competitive, high stress and almost soulless job, it seems almost impossible to find an IT firm that would even consider these newly valued traits, the qualities which HSPs bring to the table.
As an IT manager, I know I brought a penchant for clear communication, empathy for staff, emphasis on esprit de corps, a genuine interest in them as people, and a recognition that we all rise or fall together. I was well liked by my teams and respected by other managers within the organization. Like most HSPs, I valued deeper meaning in the job, more harmony, and cohesiveness within the team and a desire to get the job done right, even if it meant doing it more deliberately.
I enjoyed coaching my teams and enjoyed watching them grow and develop as the years went by. These are traits that HSPs bring to management. I was most comfortable when my style was not constantly challenged and undue pressure was placed on my teams and myself that I thought was unreasonable. I was fortunate for many years to be reporting to a manager, who valued my contributions and the management style I employed.
As deep thinkers and emotionally connected individuals do HSPs make better managers or even better workers? I think the answer is clearly yes. Because we are more reflective, we naturally process more data and information more carefully, making us if given the time, more accurate thinkers. We absorb more information, and although this may cause overwhelm if not given space and time to process we can analyze more data points than most and formulate a clearer big picture perspective.
Because of our enormous potential for empathy, we also tend to be more nuanced in our handling and dealing with people. Not only does this make us better team members, but especially better leaders.
Our characteristics such as high perception, empathy, focus on justice and fairness, loyalty, our passion, creativity, and generosity collectively make us almost the perfect employee. Yet, where is the box on the application form where you can check off for HSP?
Nowhere. And largely because, we are often seen by non-HSPs as individuals with singular HSP characteristics in the negative, such as – high sensitivity, or overly emotional, or prone to overwhelm. However, when seen as a whole, the collective of our HSP characteristics mentioned above, the perspective is entirely different. The prejudice against HSPs is based on ignorance, pure and simple. In fact, I think companies should be seeking out HSPs for three main reasons: creativity, loyalty, and empathy.
How we perform as employees in the workplace is a function of the environment itself. Given encouragement, space and time, we are among the most gifted, most talented staff members any company can have. Yet, if the environment is toxic, at least to HSPs, we can wilt like flowers in a waterless vase. Seems simple enough.
The notion of HSPs as a personality type is gaining traction amongst those in the world of psychology and the world of the arts but doesn’t seem to be making a whole lot of headway in corporate HR or in management suites. Much still needs to be done to promote the benefits or hiring and nurturing of HSPs and training managers on how to get the most from the highly sensing worker.
There is no question we are out there in numbers (twenty percent of the population), and straddle across racial, gender and ethnic lines. If twenty percent of your employees are underperforming because your environment sucks, who’s fault is that? And what is that telling you about you?
For HSMs and HSPs, due to all things discussed in this article, we tend towards working in areas where competitiveness, aggressiveness, and high energy are at a minimum, which of course, relegates many us to low demand, low paying jobs. Sad but true. Is it possible to have high meaningfulness at work and high pay? Do these two things ever meet in the work vortex? Yes, I think it can be found, but needs a more considerate approach to job seeking. It requires more flexibility and more willingness to do an exhaustive search, but I do believe it can happen. That’s my plan anyway.
Here’s some tips on planning this out and finding best fit jobs for HSMs.
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Bill Allen lives in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.