It occurs to me that Highly Sensitive People tend to live a mostly trusting life. I think we generally look for the good in others, are optimistic about outcomes, maybe to a fault, and generally foster a rich internal life that supports this belief. The general characteristics of HSPs as outlined by Dr. Elaine Aron’s are 1) a depth of processing input data, 2) tendency towards over-stimulation, 3) emotional responsiveness and empathetic response, and 4) a certain sensitivity to subtleties. So, how do these characteristics foster a trusting and maybe borderline naïve outlook on life?
It has been noted by Jacquelyn Strickland that most HSPs fall into the NF (intuitive feeling) category on the Myers Briggs personality inventory. NF’s tend to be highly idealistic visionaries, who focus on big-picture ideation and do not typically get down in the weeds with detail and minutiae. Ironic that our depth of processing is typically emotionally based versus a more objective analytical processing of information that many more analytical personalities take. We like the feeling of ideas as opposed to the critical analysis of ideas. This is by no means saying that HSPs are not analytical or have the capacity for critical thinking. However, I do believe we prefer the feel of ideas and I would add the playing with these ideas in our minds.
Now if you combine the general characteristics of HSPs with the personality tendencies of HSP NFs, what I think you get is a rich inner world in which we tend to play with ideas and judge their worthiness based upon our feelings or emotional reactions. Processing deeply for us really means a deep rumination of thought and emotion towards an external stimulus. We deep dive with our feelings carrying thoughts and ideas with us on our rich inner journeys.
Part of the problem with this strategy is that it often leads to overstimulation, both from external and internal sources, as we turn the idea over and over in our heads. Because we live so much in our emotions, based on what I think is our need to experience emotional flow, our response is typically emotional, impulsive and not always rooted in rational thought or grounded in critical analysis.
It has been noted in studies, that HSPs tend to respond mostly in emotional centers in the brain when presented with positive or negative images. Almost as if we filter our world through our emotions, i.e., how does it feel? This could explain why the same study suggested that HSPs exhibit differential susceptibility, which really means we do better in positive (read emotions) versus negative environments. This is, of course, would impact our internal world processing.
HSPs may also show a stronger optimism bias, which is a somewhat naïve view that bad things won’t happen to us. Without external confirmation of our theories about life, we may find that we stoke up our psychological immune systems, with those beliefs that cushion the blow of negativity in our lives and give emotional respite towards negative events. This sometimes prevents us from learning our life lessons through objective analysis, albeit temporarily protecting us from the blow. In addition, this emotional optimism may give us a sense of control, when events in our lives seem uncontrollable.
Does this make us overestimate the reality of our lives or get overly optimistic about our careers, plans, relationships, projects, and ideas when faced with pushback in the real world? Do we need to learn to be more critical or rational in our thinking? Should we suppress our intuition or feelings, when dealing with the outside world in making key decisions? Is our rich inner world composed of emotional fantasies untamed and wild and driving us to poor decision making? It certainly is something to consider.
Perhaps, we should consider how we might become more critical in our thinking. I worked for many years in corporate America in the information technology area of a large bank. Critical thinking was essential to success in this field and I did have to learn to become more analytical, not only as a technical resource but as a manager as well. Problem-solving requires a certain calm state in the brain, laying the facts all around you and dissecting and discerning the objective pieces before you. I learned I was quite good at it. Yet, throughout, I knew that my strength was in the big picture overview and not in the details. It was I thought a good compromise, considering how my brain works naturally. Somehow, I was able to make it work.
But do all HSPs need to be more critical in our decisions and interactions, or more skeptical or even cynical? At the extreme end of the spectrum, cynical thinking is rooted in fear. It seems more in more in our world, critical or skeptical thinking has been overrun with cynicism. In business and in science, I sense a more cynical view from these areas on outlier or new ideas as if to keep the herd in check. Cynicism is hard and vindictive; it is not open-minded and displays a lack of the characteristics that HSPs own. It is the damaged outer portal of someone who has been burned and has full shields up for protection. Not something HSPs should aspire to.
Can we, should we learn to be more critical? The premise of this blog piece was to look at the way HSPs process internally and the effects of our rich inner life-- sometimes fantastic, sometimes fanciful. Are we more susceptible to others taking advantage of us, for our trusting, nurturing nature? And do we live too much in our inner worlds? This is especially targeted at the Introvert HSPs, which make up seventy percent of our base. And in addition, to narrow the field a bit more adding the introverted HSPs that are NF on the Myers Briggs.
Because NF’s focus on abstractions in speech including using rich metaphors, promote diplomacy and harmony, foster altruism, believe in optimism fueled by positivity, trust intuition, are romantic in thought and deed, and focus on what could be, rather than what is, we tend to be easy targets for those that would prey on many of these characteristics. Yes, it would seem we are a lot of Don Quixote’s chasing windmills. The idea that we are prone to mysticism continues to put us out in the realm of outliers. Our rich inner life does provide us with a wealth of new ideas, mostly untested, still soft, not hardened by the real world, but still new ways to think.
Our enthusiasm for these new ideas can be easily crushed by cynical outside observers, who intent on keeping a mythological status quo, press us back into the herd. These are folks we need to be wary of and avoid. In the last blog, I spoke of receiving criticism and fostering a more accepting nature towards constructive criticism when given by those that indeed wish to help us.
To realize that our ideas that emerge from this font of creativity within us are like newly released magma, fluid and still malleable. With the help of those that we cultivate around us to give us that external testing and feedback, we can then shape the ideas into practical and useful and insightful ideas that have real value. Yes, we can develop our own critical faculties, as many of us have, but releasing some of our internal world to the external world for evaluation, confirmation, and agreement, to me, is a good thing.
Now, I realize that not all HSPs are lumped into the same bucket. We are all unique; we are able to navigate the world in our own ways. Many people write that HSPs are too broad of a group to lump into categories, and perhaps there is truth there. However, I still feel that too many people out there have identified and are continuing to identify with like characteristics attributed to the highly sensitive person. The discovery continues, the more we share with each other our thoughts, our feelings, and our ideas the more we all grow.
When I was a young boy, I would often feel the sting of my father’s criticism. As a highly sensitive male (HSM), I would always take to heart his feedback and retreat to my room. No matter how hard I tried to please him, I would always find that there was something else that I could have done to improve or performed better in his eyes. It was a painful lesson I learned young, that sometimes you just can’t please everyone. Later in life, I recognized that my father was an HSM as well. Like many men of his generation, he tried to bury that fact in by not acknowledging those characteristics in himself that he saw in me. His answer was to force me to take the same route he had, which was a denial of his sensitivity.
As I grew older, I rebelled against him. It was fashionable and trendy at that time to rebel against your parents and I fell in line. We often had tense moments, I began to loathe being around him, and then abruptly, he died. I never got that opportunity to explore with him our HSP characteristics – an opportunity that would; I believe, have bridged the gap between us. His criticism still stings to this day.
This week, I’d like to discuss the receiving and giving of criticism for HSMs. Highly sensitive people are often criticized for their perceived hypersensitivity to criticism and are often accused of this primarily from people who are not very sensitive or empathetic. This is often compounded by HSPs self-admitting to being overly sensitive to harsh or brash criticism. The truth is we as HSPs do internalize criticism and become our own worst critics.
Highly sensitive people tend to have an intuitive understanding of where we are in our world, a kind of situational orientation, provided in large part by our greater sense of ourselves and the environment. We tend to overanalyze our situation, and in some cases, I believe we assume that we are right and correct because of this analysis. It’s almost a hidden agenda for us because we feel we can control the environment because we have done so much internally to analyze and prepare for it.
When we are criticized, especially unexpectedly, we tend to overcorrect because we have overthought the criticism. In other words, we don’t look for the criticism as feedback, but rather and sometimes harshly, internalize the delivery of the criticism and overlook the message. With that in mind, many HSPs tend to people please in order to avoid criticism. We quickly learn the expectations of the critic and modify our behavior to avoid the causes of their criticism. When we don’t take this tact, we often find that the external criticism coupled with our own internal criticism overwhelms us with emotion. This leads to defensiveness, withdrawal or shutting down.
When defensiveness becomes the regular coping strategy, an almost narcissistic attitude develops that we are not at fault, but rather the critic is faulty in their analysis. The walls go up and productive communication shuts down. When ego gets involved, we like most people, do not want to feel that we should be submissive to other’s critiques or if the criticism is harsh or unfounded to the devaluation of our ego. As Dr. Steven Stosny says, “the valued self, cooperates, the devalued self, resists”.
Criticism takes many forms and the deliveries reflect that. The criticism that goes wrong and fails to connect, often focuses on character and not behavior and is filled with blame. When criticism is not focused on improvement and is presented in an unconstructive manner, it is likely not to be received well. The realization by the critic and their subject that there very seldom is one absolutely correct way to do something and that the critical offering is to suggest an alternative for improvement, make the discussion about the suggestion more palatable to the person getting the feedback. This is especially true for highly sensitive people.
The reaction of oversensitivity to criticism may be learned from childhood. The childhood environment whether over critical or even non-critical can influence the child’s ability to receive criticism later in life. Oversensitivity to criticism may have roots in narcissism, perfectionism or obsessiveness. All of these traits may have been learned at the direction of the parents. If you compound the sensitive nature of HSPs with the childhood environment that may create a hypersensitivity to criticism it’s easy to see how constructive feedback or harsh attacks can be lumped together and then avoided.
HSPs tend to ruminate over conflict and this can lock us into not releasing the criticism. Releasing the criticism is like unwrapping the package and then discarding the package and keeping the gift. We tend to focus too much on the package and forget that the gift is the prize, not the wrapping. We tend to avoid conflict, which would include criticism because of some inherent feelings of vulnerability over differing opinions or just the risk and fears of disagreement. When receiving criticism we need clarification of the criticism to help us remain authentic and in preserving our sense of validation. We tend to sometimes overlook the facts and focus on the emotions involved, which attaches us too much to the suggested outcome instead of regarding it as a possibility for consideration. Research suggests that there is a correlation between our hypersensitivity to criticism and our perception of negative bias towards criticism.
Many HSMs compartmentalize feelings to avoid overwhelm. Our handling of criticism falls into this category. Sometimes delayed reactions occur as a result of bottling up the emotion, leading to withdrawal, anger or retaliation. The key to handling criticism is to remain calm, that is to say, keep the emotion objective with self-regulation of a peaceful internal state. This takes practice. Meditation, exercise, being out in nature, following a spiritual practice, Yoga, Tai-Chi or doing brain training will help aid in being able to conjure this state when needed. Your reaction to criticism is by now automatic and through mindful awareness, you can begin to control the reaction.
As males do we need to find better ways to handle criticism? Yes. Part of the problem is that many people who are in positions to critique others are miserable at offering feedback. To the larger, non-HSP population, criticism may only be a mere annoyance, but to many HSMs, it’s a personal affront. I do not think that in any way, HSPs are not capable of handling criticism in the spirit in which it is given. Yes, we tend to over sensationalize some of it, but truthfully, if given in the spirit of helping us improve, I certainly think we can handle it even if at first, we don’t agree with it. Part of what we need to do is help educate those around us, with suggestions on how to best offer us feedback. If the idea behind the criticism is to affect change, then certainly those in positions on offering us criticism should be open to criticism of their feedback.
We as humans are self-correcting organisms. As a species, we have the ability to offer correction advice to each other for the overall preservation of the group. It’s going to happen, wanted or not. In today’s online environment with social media being what it is, we are experiencing emboldened criticism of each other, some merited, some unmerited. Some of this criticism will sting and avoidance of it is impossible. The only thing we can do is to control our reaction to this criticism and realize that sometimes there is a kernel of truth and opportunity in every criticism. All feedback is good feedback. Even the harshest and most insensitive means that at some level you have affected someone else in such a way that has caused them to react to you. You are not a shadow; you live life in the open. That is a good thing.
Here are some tips for handling criticism:
In the late sixties, a UCLA anthropologist named Carlos Castaneda coined the phrase “a path with a heart” referring to following one’s calling in life. I read his books in the late seventies, although, I had seen them many years before in bookstores. His books intrigued me and I loved his writing style. He touched on so many of the questions I had about life at that time. In his books, he chronicles his time he spent apprenticing with a Yaqui Indian brujo (sorcerer), Don Juan Matus. Carlos was impetuous and hot-tempered and like most modern men, wanted logical answers to his logical questions about life. Don Juan on the other always found the cleverest ways of dismantling Carlos’ structured thinking in order to help him see the errors in his “logic.” It was all so perfectly sixties, but one thing did stand out to me: the path with a heart.
Don Juan answered Carlos’ question about life’s meaning and selecting a lifelong path, with a question: “Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use.” Carlos later intoned, “…both paths (or any number of paths) lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey, as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.”
That metaphor has always stuck with me. I had always been taught to believe that work was about making a living, earning money, and that work was not supposed always supposed to be pleasant. The notion that work could be aligned with life goals, and individual characteristics, was simply beyond the realm of my thinking. I spent the greater portion of my life; following what I was taught, but never really forget the message about “path with a heart.”
To follow a path with heart means basically to follow the path of knowledge (our true path) versus the path of materialism (ambition, money). One leads to an attainment of knowledge of one’s true self and the other is a false path that leads to an over-identification with the material world, a false path that in the end can lead to enslavement. One means freedom, one imprisons us in a false narrative about what constitutes success in life.
So many practical folks will tell you to believe all this pie in the sky, new age crap won’t put food on the table or meet your material needs. They like to simplify thinking by saying that it’s all like ECON 101, with the supply and demand curve. Your life’s work is about providing a service that is in demand, and the monetary rewards will follow. I’m not saying they are entirely incorrect. I’m saying that that is not the only option. This is especially important to highly sensitive people, where work environment and meaningfulness play important roles in happiness.
What HSPs need is a career path that utilizes their highest and best use. It is a value based concept on utilizing the strengths and talents of the individual in the area of greatest need. In real estate, this is referred to as HABU or highest and best use. The highest value comes from a properties best use.
While researching this blog, I found a Japanese term that really resonates with me. It captured the heart path concept precisely. The Japanese have a concept that one should strive in life for a state of Ikigai, or reason for being. It’s the thing that you wake up for in the morning, the thing that drives you, the thing that gives life meaning and purpose. It plays into the heart path concept with immediate feedback. You do the heart path work and the feedback you receive is the feeling of value and worth. It is an intrinsic feedback loop that self-perpetuates as long as you follow the path with heart.
This is all fine and well, but putting this into practice is not so easy. Yes, there are people out there we have all read about that find that perfect intersection between purpose and pay, but how do many of us still striving for that get there? For HSPs and I think in particular highly sensitive males, the leap into something that fulfills us is wrought with worries and fears. We are by nature cautious and thoughtful creatures that when confronted with making an important life decision, can often over deliberate and lead to analysis paralysis.
Since HSPs make decisions largely by weighing all the data, perhaps ad infinitum, we should use that analytical ability to systematically analyze our options and strategize to find the best fit, not necessarily the perfect fit. What that means is that there may not be a career option that perfectly fits our complex and intricate needs, but there is always a space where those needs, our core needs can be met. I have written before about trying to find the mythical place where we find bliss, sans conflict, obstacles, challenges, etc. Great goal, but not likely to happen in this world.
Yet, with that said, we can and should strive to find those environments, those places of work, where meaning, respect, dignity and some degree of comfort exist. Environments which are people focused, where creativity is prized, where you have more control of your work, where compassion and cooperation rule and you can feel a sense of self-direction and authenticity. And yes, create your own unique requirements for the right path.
Stay clear of environments that are people intense, pressure focused, needlessly competitive, uncreative and environmentally harsh. This will not likely work for you as an HSP and certainly not get you in line with your path with heart or Ikigai mental state.
A good way to determine this is by creating a matrix or quadrant or comparison chart. An example may be to modify Stephen Covey’s decision priority quadrant. He uses the terms, Urgent, Non-Urgent, Important, Non-Important as the box headings. You could use something like that to create your own decisions quadrant or matrix. List the qualities you wish to have in a job and their priority. For most HSPs placing an overriding variable of “What this feels like” should be your guide stone. That is your most important rating. If it doesn’t feel right via your intuition, don’t follow it. It has no heart for you.
This feeling component is no small matter. Because we as HSMs have very thin membranes for emotional boundaries and a hyperactive amygdala, the feeling of being in the right environment is perhaps the most critical element in deciding a career path. In fact, I don’t believe we can be truly happy if we aren’t following our life path. Can we exist? Yes. Can we be happy? Maybe. Can we be fulfilled? Not likely.
There have been many studies considering the effects on career choices because of gender expectation. Since this column is written primarily to address the needs of HSMs, I do want to make a brief comment on how this may affect highly sensitive men and career expectations. Numerous studies have shown that women tend to pick careers based on cultural norms for women. These career choices are continuing to change, as we continue to socialize girls and young women to avoid limiting choices based upon traditional gender lines of thinking. This is a good thing.
However, I wonder, how much study has been devoted to men following the inverse line of thinking, i.e., pursuing careers that have traditionally been considered to be female careers. These careers are in such areas as nursing, teaching, helping professions, etc. Is there a reverse bias against males making such career decisions?
With the social expectation that men must work to provide for families, and that work is an option for women (please forgive single mothers, single females – not my expectation), are we forcing men into higher paying, higher pressure careers that may not necessarily fit with the individual's personality profile? Does this plague more HSM men, who tend to prefer soft skills careers, and is there pressure for many HSM men to make bad career decisions to fulfill this expectation? Are there any men out there, both HSM and non-HSM, who because of male ego concerns would not admit that their career in business or STEM jobs, is not very fulfilling to them? Would these men not want to admit the mistake for fear of appearing weak?
Money and happiness research shows that making more money may drive down the likelihood of sadness without necessarily increasing the feeling of happiness. Which seems to fly in the face of our societal expectation that happiness is tied to money, the acquisition of wealth and the procurement of things. Yet, the attributes of sadness and happiness don’t seem to be correlated with this research. The absence of sadness does not mean that happiness increases, but rather moves independently of each other. Having a place to live, food on the table and a big bank account may mean you have avoided sadness, but can it really make for happiness?
Ask the super wealthy. Perhaps, maintaining their huge caches of wealth is more anxiety driven than happiness oriented. It makes me think of the lowly Bob Cratchit in the Christmas Carol. His life was bleak, his work conditions were miserable, his monetary reserves were sparse, but, yet he found happiness in his family and the love that surrounded him. Whereas the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, wealthy as he was, was lonely, his life was void of companionship, and his drive for money was a poor substitute for appeasing the lack of love in his life. Who was really happier? Truth be told, neither was pursuing their path with a heart, but at least Cratchit found happiness in his off time. And, one could argue that both were HSMs. One turned into a wretch by life circumstances, and the other living a wretched life by circumstance and poor opportunities. Thank God we don’t live in that world…or do we?
Again, this focuses back on choices. To the live life on a path with a heart and to be in the state of Ikigai each day, would be ideal. It would be ideal for everyone, but truly ideal for HSPs. As a clear minority in the world, we must choose our paths wisely. The world is not set up for our comfort or to accommodate us. It is incumbent upon each of us to seek our path with a heart. Yet, practical matters require that our idealized life merges with the intersection into the real world.
There was a wonderful graphic about living the life of Ikigai. A Venn diagram of three concentric circles in which the following elements intersect: 1) What you love (your passion), 2) What the world needs (targeting your passion), 3) What you are good at (taking stock of you) and 4) What you can get paid for (compensation of service). The ultimate intersection of the four elements is Ikigai or your path with a heart. This takes work to surmise this balance of all four, but in the end, the path is lighter, the walk gentler, and the heart happier. If you have not found this, keep looking. Your happiness may depend on it.
We live in a mean world. A lot of attention lately has been spent in the media on cyber-bullying, trolling and the unpleasantness of just being mean. We get modeling from television shows, movies, online social media and now from a president that seems rather more content on tweeting his dislikes about everyone he disagrees with than making substantive policy for the country. You have to be tough to survive the onslaught of maliciousness that surrounds us daily.
That can be challenging for Highly Sensitive People. It is not as though we don’t get angry, have tempers or occasionally go off on somebody or something, but our highly empathetic natures makes this difficult for us to do with impunity. We are by nature cautious and thoughtful people. We have already in most cases thought through our actions even before we have set in motion a reckless reaction that stirred the initial emotion.
In the real world, situations arise where “meanness” can be regarded as a sign of dominance and power. At work, especially in cutthroat corporate environments the people most often promoted are those that display a Machiavellian ruthlessness, or a willingness to play by the mean game rules, that eschew cooperation or team efforts. We now generously apply the term, narcissist, to anyone that follows this strategy. And yet, they always seem to get rewarded.
All too often in the workplace, HSPs and especially HSP males, are seen to be ineffectual and go unregarded for contributions that are likely subtle and hard to quantify. We as HSPs go unnoticed or are undervalued due to our less aggressive behavior at work, our non-confrontational natures, and the perception that we are weak in a traditional male-oriented work culture. It matters little that we are perceptive, insightful, conscientious and typically hard working. The view that meanness and dominance demonstrate effective leadership skills in our culture, defies all the research about effective management. The idea that mean-ness and man-ness are the same is truly unfortunate. Yet, it shows up everywhere in our media and now in our everyday lives.
This all lies within the traditional values of an ever increasingly conservative viewpoint in this country. It stems from the idea of a hegemonic masculinity ideal that espouses the characteristics displayed by those who embrace traditional male role models. The gist of the belief follows: 1) there is a distance from the feminine (for males, unhooking from all feminine energy), 2) restriction of emotions, especially those that involve tenderness, nurturing or love (an avoidance strategy), 3) tough and aggressive behavior (dominance via violence), 4) highly sexual aggressiveness towards women, 5) proving continuously through gesturing, posturing or verbalization that one is sexually heterosexual, and finally, 6) emphasis on violence: physical, sexual, verbal and mental.
This all seems rather Neanderthal and primitive. You would think in these modern times with all of the survival advantages that we have, that this would be seen as an archaic strategy for men to assume. In fact, when resources are more plentiful and survival is easier, the emphasis on masculinity tends to be less pronounced and gender roles blur. Yet, this still does not play out in certain elements of our society.
There are growing factions of men and women who are open to and exploring the roles that males play in a world that is changing rapidly. The traditionalists, nevertheless, are reluctant to let go of the old male role models. Power is beginning to transfer, ground up, to a more thoughtful and nurturing clan of people. We, indeed, are in the midst of a culture war. And, it plays out in every aspect of our lives from politics, to social engagement, to religion, and especially in familial relationships.
The notion of masculine privilege is in serious jeopardy. What once may have been that masculine privilege provided some notion of benevolence has now been cast aside for the more defensive posture of meanness. Somehow, the distortion has come full circle. As power slips from one viewpoint to another, desperation sets in. Meanness all by itself has become a quality many men aspire to. Yet, let’s not confuse meanness with permanent lasting positive results. Meanness is not toughness. Meanness is meanness. Everything we were taught not to be as children. This damn stereotype is plaguing all men, not just HSP males. It is a scourge on our society and must be extricated.
What about toughness? Is toughness something that HSP men can aspire to? Absolutely. However, it depends on how you define it. Toughness is not about defining that quality in the context of the aforementioned traditional male role model. Toughness is not about lack of feeling or emotion, or dispatching a task without considering the consequences to self or others. It is not about being the “baddest” S.O.B. in the bar or on the field.
Dr. Tracy Cooper defines toughness as persistence, focus, determination and consistency in the face of obstacles and pressure. Toughness can be measured internally with the confidence in which one proceeds to the goal-- our proficiency, our productivity, and our perseverance. I see nothing in this definition that implies meanness or ruthlessness or forsaking HSP characteristics, however broad these HSP characteristics can be.
So, do we as HSP males need to change to conform to this unfortunate norm? Do we need to become meaner? Do we need to find our mean selves to succeed in life? In short, no. HSPs are designed for survivability. As Dr. Elaine Aron often mentions, nature designed this personality type to aid in the survival of the species. We are meant to be here. As men, we are unique among males, comprising only about 20% of the population. Our contributions sometimes seem subtle, but nonetheless, are important.
Our place in this unique juncture in our culture is no accident. I believe we are here to guide and yes, to lead by example. To the doubters, I say, that we are tough. Tough like waves crashing against the rocky shore. With every wave, movement takes place. Something old and affixed is moved and shaped forever. It is our insights, our persistence, and our toughness that makes this happen. Yes, toughness.
We are not going to change, nor do we need to. To change is to abandon our evolutionary purpose. If we change, we lose our power, our destiny to the world. Better for us to lead by example and by our unique ability to influence by insight, perception, by feeling, and seeing the unique patterns that our brains are wired to see. By sharing these insights with those around us, by allowing ourselves to express those feelings without worry of not being curtailed by the archaic masculine definitions.
Life is going to be full of tough situations; they are inevitable and cannot be avoided. Get comfortable with your HSM skillset and meet those situations head-on, honing your navigational abilities as you go. The more you experience, the greater your skill and confidence will grow. Remember toughness is not meanness.
Here are some summary tips to help in influencing the world if you are an HSM:
Just wanted to send out a brief post letting you know that I have not quit writing the blog. I have been busy pursuing some new interests including one love interest. Tied up in a long distance relationship and shuttling back and forth between East Texas and New Orleans, I have been lately consumed with matters of the heart and planning for a new future in Louisiana.
Life has taken me on a strange and wondrous path in the last eighteen months, but I have been growing and learning and will start sharing again soon my new insights on the blog.
For those who have “liked” this blog on Facebook, I appreciate and value your readership and support. Please know that I will be delivering more blog articles soon on a regular basis. And, please do share your thoughts with me on either Facebook at The Sensitive Man site or directly on the blog. Your feedback is important --let your voice be heard.
In the coming months I will be writing on the following topics and more: Following the Path with a Heart, Taking and Receiving Criticism, On Living a Life of Naivete, HSPs and Arguments, Embracing Our Eccentricities, Dating Choices, The Androgynous Scale, and much more.
When new articles come out there will be notices on Facebook and Twitter. Please share them with your family, friends and fellow sensitives and to the rest of the eighty percent who are not HSPs, but surely now them and love them.
Until next time...keep feeling.
Have you noticed lately, that we have a label for everything and anyone these days? We have become acronym obsessed. Our acronyms have become our new coat of arms. Every disenfranchised group, every subset of a group, now has their own special alphabet soup label to identify themselves.
But really, what does labeling each other really do? Is it to say, “I’m included in this group and your not” or “let’s form a new group, find an unused label or string of all caps letters and band together to become a group.” Then followed by starting a website, printing some signs, scheduling a protest, raising awareness, gain recognition, then what? All this just to point out how different we are from everyone else, how special we are, rules for how to engage us, how to deal with us, and how we deal with you. I understand that this sounds a bit cynical, because I really do believe in diversity and inclusion and celebrating our uniqueness, but I wonder, are we all getting a little bit overboard here? Let’s dig into this some.
Some of the labels that get handed out are pejorative labels that are meant to hurt, segregate and outcast a group. These type of labels are generally all bad, and so, I don’t want to focus on that today. What I am more curious about is self-assigned labels, labels that groups of people place on themselves. By creating our own labels, are we intending to identify who we are by separating ourselves from a larger group, putting a fine point on why we are different and should be recognized. However, doesn’t that create animosity, does it promote diversity or bitterness, resentment, and hatred. Some would argue that it’s divisive, and frankly many are getting tired of the long and growing list of social labels. I’m not sure that rejecting diversity is the answer, but I do think maybe we could all be a little more judicious about adding to this growing list. So where does all this labeling come from?
Labeling theory promotes the idea that self identity can be formed or influenced by or determined by the terms we use to describe or classify ourselves. There are lots of elements at play with this theory including the effects of stigmatization attached to the label and how that effects identity or the effects of feedback from the labeled group regarding group norms and conformity and self-policing standards regarding deviation from the label norms and how that influences behavior.
Labeling can lead to self fulfilling prophecies for the labeler and the labelee. Labels categorize sets of characteristics and sometimes may seem arbitrary, yet can carry much power over the individual because of the perceptions associated with the labels. Joining certain labeled groups, in some cases, can even carry some cache. In other words, it’s the “fit in” mojo that drives us to either create or join labeled groups.
Our self-identity is heavily influenced by feedback from others. The ego identifies with the labels and the labels become our perimeter boundaries wherein we live our lives. This over identification with labels can inhibit us from living life fully and freely. Our true self, the essence beneath the subjugating ego, is in a constant state of flux through out our lives. It is not static. Yet the ego clings to the labels it self identifies with and confines us and forces us to remain with the labels we create and accept as us. We do have a level of awareness that can rise above the labels, letting go of the incessant feedback loop of opinions, boundaries and herd mentality that keeps us from experiencing our uniqueness, nested and protected within a labeled group. No one is immune from this.
We are all searching for individual congruence. Constantly trying to match our changing identity to our long held labeled identity and trying to find resonance and authenticity. Being aware of our own personal evolution can help make the trap of overidentification with a label, less of a sticking point, and recognizing some labels we accumulate are temporary and more importantly are not who we are as individuals.
So what about HSPs and HSMs? With so many underrepresented groups of people, race, gender, sexual preference, and religious groups out there, does it help our cause to educate about being an HSP individual by choosing to jump into the alphabet soup, holding our three letter acronym up proudly? And, are we really a minority group? Even though our numbers are smaller than the population at large, does this qualify us for protected group status? Since we have relatively recently just been labeled and are just now beginning to get some traction on being recognized as a personality group, what can we expect as far as empathy from the larger population?
I think we are a unique case. HSPs have been around as long as humans have been around. We are not something recently evolved. We show up culturally, ethnically, racially, and evenly along gender lines, so we may have smaller numbers but our reach is quite extensive. If you ask people and explain what it is to be sensitive in personality terms, everyone seems to know someone that is an HSP. I have often found that when asked about the HSP in their lives most people recall qualities that are often seen in a favorable light. You see, we don’t buck religious beliefs, we don’t offend sexual tastes, we don’t have our own unique physical characteristics, and we straddle all cultures. To be sure, we actually fit in nicely, even though we feel we are not fitting in sometimes, we as a group are quite adept at fitting in. Not making waves, getting along helping others. Sound familiar?
Yet, I have noticed myself that I am beginning to identify with the label: HSP. It gets broached more and more in conversation, especially when I sense another HSP is present. Within minutes, if they are not aware of the label, they begin to identify with it via the conversation with me. I have become an evangelist for high sensitivity, a recruiter if you will, of those that can identify with the characteristics of the group. I’m doing my part in educating others, even non-HSPs who seem to either want mightily to correct this “condition” at one extreme or at least understand it at the other extreme. Perhaps, the folly of this is that like any personality characteristic, it is imperative to recognize that individuals are all different and can broadly represent along that spectrum.
Being HSP is more trait than type. A trait is a broader continuum versus the more specific nature of typing. There is much diversity with the HSP community and with our heightened sensitivity the variations are large and wide. Like sexual preferences, we cover a large territory and a broad range on the sensitivity map.
One of my commenters on this blog seemed to be all flushed about the need to even add another group acronym to the alphabet soup bowl. “Why can’t we just all get along,” the reader commented. Well, although in principle I agreed with them, we should all get along, sometimes theory is harder in practice. What can we do then to promote awareness of high sensitivity without creating a victim stigma to our community and to the world? Although we have nothing to apologize about, by creating more dialogue about it, I think we all win. Especially amongst HSPs who are not yet aware of the gift they possess.
Here’s some tips for recognition and integration:
In America, we tend to see the personality characteristic of kindness (or niceness) as a weakness and not strength in men. With are jingoistic fueled capitalistic attitude we praise the notion that humans are basically selfish, self-serving creatures and revere those that make it to the top of the heap, generally stepping over everyone in their way. Altruism, kindness, and niceness are seen as fundamentally weak traits, perhaps meted out once in a while to the less fortunate, but generally not to be prized. It saddens me that we have over the last twenty years or so, have adopted this unfortunate attitude, especially with regards to men and their cultural roles.
The reality is that collaboration and kindness are basic survival skills. Without them, humankind would have been disposed of many millennia ago. Without “niceness” or the ability to put others first or the interest of the group ahead of one’s on needs, we could not have been able to build the civilization that sustained our species. This key interactive ability became the precursor to “nice.” Studies are beginning to bear out this idea that being the aggressive alpha dog is not the most efficient or effective way to succeed, lead or attract a mate. In the end, in spite of cultural biases against it, niceness is necessary and good.
HSMs are generally considered to be nice guys with our non-aggressive, gentler, kinder nature framed within a masculine exterior. Certainly, not all HSMs fit this description, but I think because of our thoughtful, considerate personalities, we tend to be lumped into the nice guy bucket more often than not. But what really is a nice guy?
Niceness is measured on personality scales as agreeableness. The characteristics most associated with niceness: are trust of others, compliance and easy going, unselfishness, easily satisfied, modest and sympathetic. All great qualities. There’s also a down side of niceness. Sometimes niceness leads to conflict avoidance and lack of problem solving skill due to confrontational ideation avoidance. It can also lead to self-effacing behaviors in the extreme, low confidence and other self-defeating behaviors.
The joke for years has been that nice guys always finish last. The reference is to dating or romantic prowess – “the nice guy dating effect”, which states that women say they prefer nice guys, but really wind up choosing bad boys. The term nice guy often is used to describe a young male that is gentle, sensitive, compassionate and vulnerable and generates other pejorative terms in lieu of masculinity.
There even some negative claims that nice guys are unassertive, dishonest, manipulative and passive aggressive. In either case, the general rule is that nice guys are weak, ineffective, unattractive and losers. This extends well beyond dating, an into other areas of life. The perception is that niceness equates to submission so that in life the nice guy never gets the prize, whether it’s an amour or promotion or to be the quarterback, nice guys always lose.
Does the research bear this out? The answer is no. Let’s begin with the idea of the Alpha male, which would be the antithesis of the “nice guy.” We consider the alpha male to be the top dog of the pack, a dominant, strong, self-centered individual that gets whatever he wants. , the dominant player in the group.
Dominance starts at the unconscious level and at the hormonal level. The hormones influencing dominance are testosterone, cortisol, and oxytocin. Testosterone is the male hormone which influences male behavior in many ways, including physical prowess and aggressiveness. Cortisol is the stress hormone, which kicks in to create active behaviors, and finally oxytocin, the love bonding hormone. Surprised? Studies have shown that most alphas are not the brash talkers and braggarts that we expect from alphas, but instead are good listeners and not always physically intimidating. They are good social connectors and can be actually mild mannered as well. They almost sound like closet nice guys with a slight more edginess to them.
Most alphas focus on accomplishment and goal fulfillment, which requires a certain degree of “niceness” to get the cooperation of others to deliver desired results. Many accomplished CEOs are considered to fall in the nice guy category, such as the founders of Costco, Starbucks, the head of IKEA and Patagonia, Ben and Jerry’s and also the founder of Zappos, creating great company cultures, leading teams into becoming successful companies and never losing the nice guy persona. So, nice doesn’t have to mean ineffectual, or weak or unsuccessful. To the contrary, it may be the only real way to achieve sustainable success via cooperation (nice guy) vs. competitiveness (bad boy).
Alphaism is not gender confined either. Alpha females are prominent in our more egalitarian society. Indications are all around of the collapse of the old line alpha male strawman that has been the dominant mode for centuries. The economic and societal implications are profound for new roles that men can and should play in society. A lot of talk these days suggests that more and more men are assuming the beta role in family and the larger society. Now let’s be clear, beta role is not the exact opposite of the alpha. The term for that would be the omega. Omegas are in effect the weak, ineffectual and women hating male we associate now with betas. Betas are complimentary to alphas. Betas (perhaps uber nice guys) are cooperative, emotionally available, relationship savvy and conscientious about everything they do. They are good team players and do not abdicate their masculinity by portraying this role.
Alpha, Beta, Omegas but what about HSMs? Where does this leave the highly sensitive males and where do we fit in? I suppose HSMs could be any of the above. Good, conscientious alphas, cooperative and team playing betas or even, distorted and warped Omegas. The environment, upbringing, and genetics all play a role in shaping personality and like the general population this individual encoding can enhance or diminish the fundamental HSP characteristics.
One of the best strategies for success for men is to adopt some of the best characteristics of the ideal alpha, focusing on what is termed the prestigious male – one who accomplishes goals in a general way. To balance that driving goal seeking behavior, there is need to add another component, that of the generous giver. In studies where females rating overall attractiveness of males, the prestigious generous male was seen as the most attractive. What this implies is that being a nice guy can and does work, if coupled with effective goal achieving. I even believe the attractiveness factor could be generalized to the overall population and this could be a new cultural norm. The nice guy Alpha, a point of strength and decency. A true leader.
Is this another leadership opportunity for HSMs? Showing the larger male population that characteristics we come by naturally are things that men can learn and practice. Perhaps, moving forward a few more studies, more “wins” for this philosophy in business, sports, entertainment, etc., can get some attention on the nice guy personality and demonstrate that nice guys don’t always finish last.
Here’s some suggestions on what we can do to promote this new male approach:
This week’s question is what is happiness? Is it static emotional state between sorrow and joy, a neutral state of contentment, or is it ephemeral and fleeting like a forest sprite, popping in and out of our lives? I know I have been pursuing this elusive butterfly for the entirety of my life, still left with questions about what I’m pursuing. I’m not sure we will figure out the correct way to find it for everyone, but I think at the very least we can attempt to define it, look at it and give it an identifying pin on the human emotional map.
Psychologists like to frame happiness as experiencing frequent positive emotions, such as joy, pride, and high interest coupled with infrequent bouts of negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety, and anger in other words a deficit of depressing feelings and a surplus of upbeat and positive feelings. I like that there is an acknowledgement of the existence of both within the definition if for no other reason than to acknowledge that there is no perpetually happy person.
Generally, though, happy people have a special penchant for processing life events with a positive spin; especially those challenging events or perceptions of such events that might take some or most of us down. I suppose it is the optimist versus pessimist viewpoint. This seems largely a perception thing, and more or less defines how individuals interpret life events.
The outcome of those perceptions could lead to a happy person viewpoint or conversely, or it could mean someone who is largely negative processes the inputs in an entirely different way leading to a neutral or sad interpretation. Hence connecting life moments dot by dot to create could either a happy life or a sad one. All in the eyes of the beholder.
Aristotle saw happiness more in the act of doing than in the being mode of perception and receiving. The Greeks believed happiness was in a life well lived -- an aspiration, not so much a state of being. Which begs the question is happiness an emotional state or is it found in a state of living or becoming, something to strive for? Nietzsche argued that the pursuit of happiness was contemptible. Instead one should endeavor to instead focus on the difficult and challenging struggles of life. Something noble in just reaching the finish line, no smiling permitted. Perhaps, Nietzsche was not a very happy person.
Modern psychology endeavors to define happiness along two lines. Both mirror some of the ancient Greek philosophy concerning happiness. One most familiar to most of the Western world is the idea of hedonia – the pleasure principle of happiness. This concept is much like the attempt often found today of connecting the dots of happiness moments to create the illusion of a continuum of happiness. It is exploited continuously by the advertising agencies to create a desire for a product, equating the acquisition of said product with a happiness moment, i.e., new car, new house, new can opener, you get the picture.
The other Greek concept copped by modern science about happiness is the notion of eudaimonia or the well lived life. This is really translated as life with meaning, living a satisfying, contented life. This idea is less focused on moment by moment acquisition of happiness, but rather a lifelong thread of aspirational living.
In reality, both of the concepts appear to live concurrently with happy people. They seem to enjoy moments more positively and over time live more satisfying happiness producing lives. This might also be described as living life in more of a flow state with more peak experiences – focused, absorbed and active. Positive Psychology even calls out the main elements associated with happiness as the pursuit of pleasure, high engagement (see flow), satisfying relationships, meaning and purpose, and accomplishments (reaching goals).
It’s no wonder that the Founding Fathers, particularly Jefferson annunciated this in the Declaration, a particularly popular notion of that time: “…of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And as the U.S. has become the poster child of capitalism, it’s fitting that Jefferson’s definition of happiness was interpreted to mean – prosperity, thriving and well being.
But what of the highly sensitive person population and happiness? Does our observant, cautious and sometimes timid natures, make us less likely to actively pursue this thing called happiness. Is it possible we are wired to be a bit more pessimistic, therefore a little less prone to the pursuit of elusive ideals? With happiness comes some of the most intense of emotions, including, love, joy, ecstasy, and are we more prone to shying away from that intensity? Does happiness create too much brain chemistry for HSPs? Yeah, I know it sounds absurd, but I wonder sometimes if we are most contented when we live in the neutral zone. I’m thinking joy suppression here to affect calm over emotional exuberance.
Positive and negative emotions have important evolutionary components. Neuroscience suggests that our proclivity towards pleasure is an important driver in survival. Our perception of pleasure which can be an affective state, essentially straddling somewhere between the lower brain/upper brain neurological connections, subliminal in nature, contrasts with the higher level state of conscious affective pleasure, which overlays conscious thought onto the neurological communication of pleasure seeking. These pleasure centers are all over the brain from limbic to cortical areas all acting in concert driving behavior. Each influencing either a “like response” or a “want (desire) response”, the former more primitive and the later more consciously influenced. Together they both move us towards the pleasure principle aspect of happiness.
So how does this filter through the HSP brain? Are we different than non-HSPs when it comes to happiness? Does our empathetic nature and deep processing of environmental inputs, put as at an advantage or disadvantage in pursuing happiness? Because of our “deep wiring” do we naturally form strong neural networks between the emotion centers and cortical regions and because we engage these almost continuously are we if given the proper environment in which to work/live are we more likely to be content, satisfied, dare I say, happier? Do HSPs live in the hedonia zone or are we more content with eudaimonia principles? If I were a betting man, I’d say the latter.
And what about being unhappy? Is it so bad not to be happy all the damn time? Does being unhappy really mean being sad or down? Can we be just as fulfilled by pursuing the neutrality of contentment? And is all this talk of happiness not especially useful for HSPs who live within the full spectrum of human emotion. Can we be condemned for not being slap happy all the time? Being more intuitive, more empathetic, more emotional and deep processors -- does that not lend us to getting stuck in one emotional state from time to time. Again, perhaps, we should strive not to connect and hold on to the happiness dots as a pleasure pastime but rather striving for a more balanced and satisfying life, with the inherent ups and downs associated with a well lived life. Wouldn’t this be a good overriding principle for HSPs?
We are at a point in human history where the idea of every human being having an inherent right to happiness is considered to be a truth. It was as if a resort somewhere in the tropics where once we visited has now become a desired destination of permanent residence, just because we were happy for a brief time there in the past. Not realizing that happiness, like resort living, comes at a price. A state of perpetual happiness is likely not possible, just like holding a moment in time, trying to make it last forever. Happiness comes and goes, flitting in our lives like the elusive butterfly. The idea of happiness as an elongated moment, that will last a lifetime is myth. We aspire to happiness as we aspire to spiritual growth. It is a journey, not a destination. Yet, all of it is good - even sadness, even the state of not happy.
I’ve been in pursuit of happiness all my life. An elusive and impossible dream. Looking outside of myself everywhere to acquire, befriend or pursuit it. I’m not sure I’ve ever found it for long. Does that mean it doesn’t exist – not likely, but maybe my personal definition is skewed? Maybe like the butterfly, happiness appears out of nowhere arriving for a fleeting moment. We that are living life, never know exactly when it will come. For the observant ones, we experience it outwardly and inwardly by a variety of uncontrollable means. Happiness is temporary, it comes and goes, just like the butterfly, it flies away again in jagged butterfly patterns. It zigs in and out of our lives, showing up like an omen, and then leaves without warning. We never catch this butterfly, for to do so will destroy it. But, maybe the illusion is that we can catch it and keep it for all time. It does seem there is a difference between pleasure and happiness. Yet, we get them confused.
Happiness is like art, we behold, enjoy it, interpret it, often misunderstand it, but somewhere within our souls we crave and appreciate it. By recognizing this, we can then quit making a living pursuing it; instead, live our lives with integrity and contentment. Know the art work of life that we are creating is flawed and gets weathered by life and yet perfect for us at a deep and soulful level. You see there are really no rules here, not for happiness. If we can say that at the end of life, that we lived a life in which happiness visited us many times, then surely we are blessed. The breadcrumbs to happiness are scattered on the ground where life was lived. Be happy to recognize when happiness finds you.
Note: It’s funny how the pronunciation of words can change over time. The word happiness is one of those words. I have noted in many films of the 30s and 40s that the word is pronounced by both American and British actors with emphasis on the “p” and the “ee” sound in the word happy is less like we pronounce it today and more flat like ”uh”, something like hap-puh-ness vs. happ-ee-ness. Every year around Christmas, I watch the Bishops Wife with David Niven, I notice this, don’t know why. Let’s just say it was an inspiration for this blog.
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
Who defines masculinity in a society? Do men define it or are women contributors as well? Or is it just the most powerful influencers in the culture that set this norm? Do we have specific baseline behaviors that perhaps all societies around the world define what masculinity looks like? Or is it historically defined as an arbitrary set of rules, based on the present day cultural norms? How does Western society base its definition of manliness?
Current traditional definitions of masculinity in the U.S. tend to base masculinity on several factors. Many of them centered on physicality (read: physical strength) and acquisition of resources. So for example, a man’s prowess at providing for his family or for himself might set a picture of his masculinity. Still important may be his sexual aggressiveness in finding and selecting a mate. We still see in our cultural dialogue, the depiction of the quintessential male as an emotional isolate, who always remains in the logical, rational mindset, to maintain good decision making in the face of an uncertain world. Of course, there’s dominance in relationships and understood leadership roles in work and social activities. Finally, if you throw in a thought for ambition, pride, honor, and duty, you could pretty much sum up what we in the West would consider our ideal man.
How does this compare with other cultures around the world? With current American influence at its greatest, you might think that our masculine definitions would be more accepted around the world. In many ways, masculinity around the world can be seen as an opposite of feminine traits and in fact, that measure was used to create a scale as it were of how masculine values rate around the world. This scale known as the Hofstede Scale ranks countries around the world based on a masculinity ranking; the higher the number the more emphasis in the culture on masculine values versus feminine.
Japan ranked as the highest on the masculine scale with a score 95 out of 100. The U.S., surprisingly ranked around the middle of the countries listed, which was a good cross section of nations around the planet. Joining the U.S. in the middle were countries from the Middle East (Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, et.al), countries from Africa and surprise – Latin America. At the low end were the egalitarian Scandinavian countries (once home to the warrior Vikings). I suppose Ikea might be credited with that.
By using a scale that measures masculine values (aggressiveness vs. passivity, emotional detachment vs. emotional engagement, power vs. cooperation, traditional values vs. open values, etc.) and comparing it to what is considered feminine values, the scale is measuring what essentially is the opposite of feminine. It would stand to reason that that is how we define masculinity against the baseline of what culturally we see as feminine behaviors. As the ratings drop on the Hofstede scale, there is more of a lean towards more androgyny within both sexes and a more egalitarian approach to defining gender roles.
Again, in the West, we often see portrayed in novels, film, and advertising, the depiction of the traditional male character as strong and silent, or as a tough guy, or even a great and forceful lover and physically dominant enough to qualify for Alpha Male pay. There is a certain tendency towards homophobia (more on that in a minute) and possessing domain over women. Our Western ideal male also tends to be a winner and often a winner at all costs--personal and interpersonal. The expectations are hammered in our heads as males from childhood to the grave. We never escape this ideal, yet we all know that it is entirely unrealistic to expect all men to live up to this caricature. In fact, living up to most of it is a fast lane to interpersonal issues, mental health problems, substance abuse, and violence.
Across history, especially Western history the ideal male role has been depicted as hero, chivalric and even as court dandy, all changing under the cultural shifts over time. With the rise of technology and the increase in leisure time, male roles have changed accordingly. Less work on providing for self and family, more on recreating a new vision for the male, which includes new models, i.e., metrosexuals (see 18th century court dandies), herbivore males an extreme bellwether, which seems to forsake male sexuality altogether and stay at home dads, who take on a lot of the traditional female work from home.
Many of our traditional values about masculinity have been intertwined with our religious beliefs as well. In Western culture, the influence of Christianity in a largely patriarchal church that emphasizes the importance of male dominance, including the Godhead can’t be understated. I believe today that many of those who cling to evangelical and fundamentalist views of Christianity are the most threatened by what could best be called the “precariousness of manhood” which is now threatening traditional male role values.
With the rise of the feminist movement in the 60s, followed closely by the emergence of a strong and vocal LGBTQ movement in the 70s, traditional males are feeling affronted from many sides. The fact that this country elected a demagogue like Donald Trump as our leader represents the last gasp of this traditional masculine based culture. Surprisingly, many women still support the traditional male value based ethos even if it is not necessarily in their best interest to do so. Fear of change is a powerful motivator.
And now, we are beginning to see the emergence of the sensitive male movement, although movement may be a bit premature at this stage. Highly sensitive men are starting to recognize that they are different and for good reason and beginning to find themselves in the complex world of masculinity. The world needs us now, and as psychologist Ted Zeff contends, we can be instrumental in saving this planet from runaway traditional aggressive masculinity.
HSMs are now able to, with head up, state that they are a different kind of male. We are no longer accepting labels of gay or effeminate or sissy, but showing strength with a sensitive, nurturing empathetic, cautious, non-aggressive and contemplative nature. All characteristics that even twenty years ago, would have branded them as weak and ineffectual men. And like the feminist movement and the LGBTQ movement, this idea of a different definition for masculinity is another nail in the coffin for traditional manliness. And you can bet there is going to be strong push-back.
Now, I don’t expect that traditional value masculinity is going to disappear, maybe ever; however, I think it’s going to have to move over for a wider and deeper definition of what masculinity entails. The world is changing, and as I often mention, evolution favors those that can adapt and change with the environment. The traditional male value systems are going to have to change as well. And as HSMs we can and should be the perfect intermediaries and ambassadors for that change. For many of us, we have lived in both worlds. And as HSPs, we know how to be the bridge.
What about the next generation of men, the boys of today? What can we do to shape them, give them guidance on being a man, in a world where the definition of masculinity must and is changing? We should focus on teaching them to be themselves first and to craft a new ideal for masculinity. There is no need to sacrifice strength, but realizing that strength is not just physical strength, but emotional strength as well.
Let’s not forget men still have a sexual role to play, but interpersonal relationships don’t have to be based on aggressiveness or dominance. We can be leaders without sacrificing compassion; we can be active without forsaking contemplation. And yes, we can still be rough and tumble, get dirty, climb trees, be adventurous and at times androgynous, without losing our sight of the new masculinity. There is much to learn here for boys and men, and for that matter women who influence us so much.
Here are some ideas on raising our boys, both HSP and non-HSP boys:
Footnote: A rather attractive grandmother came by the house recently to pick up a chair she had purchased from us. Her husband, a tall, quiet man was with her as was her three year old grandson. I remarked about how sharp the little boy’s cowboy boots looked. The grandmother proudly reached out for her grandson to gather his attention and she said to the boy, “that’s why we won’t to be a cowboy, isn’t?” the little boy shuffled around with his head down. The grandmother repeats to him, “and we want to be a cowboy because cowboys don’t cry, right?” the little boy thought a moment then silently shook his head in acquiescence. Grandmother was a traditionalist and just did more harm than good for this child. It was not her intent to harm, but the firmness with which she stated emphasized the ideal that men don’t cry. Shame. But, it’s the Texas way. I didn’t bother to ask her if she saw Brokeback Mountain. Seems that cowboys do cry.
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
What does it mean to walk the path of fear? As Carlos Castaneda once said, and I paraphrase, that walking a path of fear is walking as if death is stalking us, always worried that one wrong move and death will overtake us. It’s a subconscious thing. Fear is our warning system, planted deep within in our minds, throttled by our amygdala, and embellished by our conscious minds. Fear is about warning about an impending, imagined death. Surviving is avoiding death.
But, how does this affect our ability to live genuine, authentic lives? Is living a life well wasted, ravaged by fearfulness, really a life? Our mission in life is simple: learn, grow and for the spiritually minded, love. Everything else is gravy. It doesn’t matter how each of us filters the world, filters wide open or mostly shut, we all have to bend to the mission.
Fear is a driver. Fear is a healthy impulse. Fear can be learned and it can be imagined. Our reactions to fear are often comprised of four actions: freeze, to ponder the circumstance; Fight – to resist the threat; flight to escape the threat; or fright – to internalize the threat, in which case it can become overwhelming. For many HSPs, the last action is simply too often the case. And we are driven back to the comfort zone, that place where the threat is controllable or no longer there.
But what are we really afraid of? To die, to be hurt, to be misunderstood, to be shamed or made fun of? To be afraid to learn something new or grow? Perhaps, we fear the growth we may experience will be the death of who we are, a kind of existential death. Death of self and the dismantling of our ego, our essence. Or is this just an overwhelm thing? Do we fear the onslaught of too much threatening information, too much to process with a rush of adrenaline? Is overwhelm like drowning in a tidal wave, out of control and rushing into the unknown?
HSPs often find themselves walking in this pathway of fear so that it seems fear is a driver of our behavior. Is fear avoidance a personality characteristic of HSPs? This is not to say that HSPs can’t brave or courageous or don’t do things that require overcoming fear. But we live so much in our heads that before the threat is even real we have imagined endless possibilities, some not so positive. Its no wonder that many HSPs are threatened when their comfort zone is questioned. But the comfort zone is not an expansive mechanism, restorative, yes, but not the ideal mechanism for growth.
For humans habituation to fear is hardwired. This ability to habituate to the thing we fear is what allows us to try novel and new experiences. It increases or capacity for survival. This is not just for the HSP world to ponder, but for all humans. Avoiding the thing(s) we fear, prevents this habituation, this getting used to the fear and the repeated retreat into the comfort zone, does not relieve the fear. It avoids it, allowing the fear to anchor within.
The only way out, is through the fear, says psychologist, Noam Shpancer. This requires expanding the comfort zone enough to repeatedly face the fear and overcome it. Experience brings confidence. Confidence is expansive and grows your comfort zone.
So, where is this root of fear? Is it in the amygdala, the brains warning system? A limbic to cerebellum circuit that takes the subconscious warning signal and embellishes is with conscious emotions, creating fear and sometimes anxiety. With HSPs because of our sensory sensitivity is much greater than the population at large, we seem more prone to excessive fears and overwhelm because of our circuitry.
According to Dr. Elaine Aron, we need to pay attention to where we feel the fear, generally in our bodies. We will register sooner than most. In that moment of freeze, mentioned above, it is our opportunity to consider the odds of our perceived threat happening and then act accordingly. We often confuse the arousal of the stimulation with the fear or emotion of the situation. But when it is time to act, we need to consider a thoughtful strategy and go with it.
Consider the attributes of courage. No one that is courageous is fearless. Realize your vulnerability, acknowledge the fear and allow yourself to be exposed to the fear, the exposure will give you experience, valuable experience. Stay positive, sometimes, just saying the right things at the right time can help to associate positive actions with negative stimulus, helping you overcome the fearful thoughts. Practice bravely going beyond your comfort zone and you will grow as a result.
So often we HSPs think that our comfort zone is the place where we can handle the fear. Our fortress, our mailed armor, our protection. Yet, staying solidly in the comfort zone for a lifetime without altering it, will keep us walking the the path of fear. I think we need to consider going beyond, risking the imagined type of “death” we fear so much and expand and rebirth that comfort zone.
So, here’s my tips for overcoming that fear of which I speak:
Thanks for stopping 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.