You hear this a lot lately, people describing themselves as being spiritual, but not religious. This familiar moniker is on online dating profiles, overheard at meetups, gatherings and is a general verbal calling card when dealing with people, perhaps, ones you don’t want to deep dive with.
More and more people are distancing a bit from traditional religious affiliations and preferring the, oh, yeah, I’m spiritual, but not assigned to a church, synagogue or mosque. It’s a safe parking space for most folks who are leaning towards the abstract meme “there’s more to life than what we see”, but not quite at the “everything is random and you are a happy accident” polar opposite. It’s a broad spectrum. I’m not sure we even know what spirituality means anymore.
But, where do highly sensitive people tend to congregate? Because of our sensitivity we are more likely to be more spiritual (inwardly focused) and due to our heightened sensory awareness we gravitate towards spiritual ritual for some peace and quiet. Let’s do a little exploring on this spirituality thing for HSMs.
As a species we have always strived to connect with the cosmic thread, driving the urge to connect with something greater than ourselves. From an instinctual, survival perspective, I’m not even sure this urge is essential to continuation of our tribe, but, nevertheless it still persists almost universally.
At its essence, it’s not even about connecting with other souls, but rather a connection with the infinite, tethered at one by our longing to connect and at the other to the omniscient and infinite -- a lifelong path that ends in our reconnection to the infinite.
So, we create religions, a man made construct, and embrace philosophies to help us obtain this link with the dimension of spirit. As humans we look for connection and confirmation to our abandoned status in the physical arena we call life. We reach out to our “good books” and religious leaders and institutions for that guidance. They sometimes help, sometimes deflect, and sometime obfuscate the matter. But do we really need them?
HSPs, we know, are always turning inward for guidance, rest and regrouping. We are naturally drawn to the contemplative life, but does that make us more prone to being spiritually attuned? We seem more intuitive and are more open to internal inspiration than most and rely more heavily on our own internal receivers to drive our thoughts and behaviors. Does that deep connection create the environment for a richer spiritual life? And if so, are HSPs also likely to be spiritual leaders?
How many of the great spiritual teachers were HSPs? If you look at the big three, Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad, examine their lives and read their philosophies, you will see elements of what one would consider to be thoughts similar to what one would expect from a sensitive, compassionate, and contemplative individual. There was also an emphasis away from the teacher and more focus on the teachings. Each came to bring the fold pack into the spiritual pen, so to speak.
Looking at today’s spiritual landscape, it would seem that some of the most profound spiritual teachers are men and women of high sensitivity. Some of these spiritual leaders move towards the more esoteric and often borrow from multiple doctrines with an emphasis on loving compassion, acceptance, tolerance and hope. These are all principles that resonate with HSPs, which is not to say that all HSPs are potential great spiritual leaders or that all HSPs are further along the spiritual path than others, but as a whole we tend to lean into spirituality naturally.
We are made and equipped for spiritual journeys. We as HSMs are looking for our path to follow, maybe more so than other non-HSP men. It may be a trait more than a calling. With that said, being able to easily look into the spiritual mirror does not always mean the image is any clearer for us. We need to be seekers and acknowledge that quest for meaning.
Starting a spiritual path, if you haven’t already done so, is an important step for HSMs. The path is of your choosing, whether a strict religious path or a loose and evolving spiritual path, addressing this element in your life, complements the other work we HSMs need to do (body, mind, etc.).
What can HSMs do to explore their spirituality?
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Special note: Well, I missed my target date to restart by about two weeks, but now I am back in the saddle, in where else but Texas; settled in and ready to continue the blog.
Hey gents, for those of you who slept through high school biology class, here’s a little news flash for you: we all start out as females. So when I mention honoring the anima, Jung’s delineation of the unconscious female mind in all men, then you realize that perhaps a biological component played a part in creating that facet of men. You see, about nine weeks in for the fetus, the testosterone kicks in for males, and it just keeps kicking in throughout our lives, even when the hormone dries up, the after effects of all those years of raging aggressive hormones, leaves its residue on our psyches.
For thousands of years of human history, the male domination of culture, religion, politics and civilization has left the planet exhausted and nearing depletion. It’s an unsustainable path, with no room for escape. And Gaia will revolt if we don’t alter our course.
We must all embrace the role of the feminine energy that permeates all of life on this planet. We are cut off from our sacred creative core, when we only follow the destructive path of unbalanced masculine energy. Without the calming, nurturing and creative alliance with the feminine, we are on a one way ticket to hell. Balancing the aggressive yang energy with calming, life giving yin energy means all of us must embrace that side in us that brings healing. This includes men accepting and encouraging feminine energy within and without of themselves.
This does mean honoring the feminine energy in all things. As HSP males we are perhaps perfectly suited to usher in what appears to be an impending era of female leadership and feminine spirit. As males that are often more in touch with our emotions we unconsciously embrace both the masculine and feminine. We are in tune with the subtle differences between the two and can aid in leading this movement forward in conjunction with wise female leaders. We do know of the anima within and must learn to accept the gift that it brings.
Yet, this movement requires more than just HSP males to champion the transition. Highly sensing males must aid other men to acknowledge and promote the critical need we have at this juncture in our history to restore the ancient wisdom of feminine inspired leadership. The need for a feminine influenced direction is dire as we witness the destruction of our planet, our human values, and the decency of nurturing our planet back to its point of equilibrium.
Embracing the feminine does not mean that men have to become female. It is not about the vanquishing of the masculine energy either. It has and always will be about balance. It’s clear for those who have eyes to see that we are in an unbalanced and destructive time. We have shifted too far in to masculine dominance and it will take both male and female leadership to correct the problem.
HSP males are going to have to put themselves out there. This is not a comfortable position for most sensitive men. We need to push back on an aggressive and powerful force that has long been entrenched in our culture.
We will need to convince not only males, many who have profited from this current era of male dominance, but females who are still entrenched in the old male authoritarian model. Many women need to be educated and liberated from this antiquated philosophy and some may only listen to male figures, rejecting the advice of their own feminine peers. This is a place where HSP males might be quite useful. Our sensitivity and compassion coupled with our male personas might help with these females’ transitions.
So how can we men embrace the anima within and facilitate the change to the divine sacred feminine?
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
The Sensitive Man – Brain Training for HSMs
Special note: I will be relocating to Texas at the end of December. I am in process of packing up and getting ready to move. There may be some lapses in posts for the next few weeks. When I am in Texas in January, regular schedules will ensue.
What is the number one problem for HSMs/HSPs?
The number one problem for HSPs and this includes most HSMs is handling overstimulation and overwhelm. How to calm the mind effectively and quickly can be a problem in our over connected, over stimulated world. Many of the causes of overwhelm for HSMs are the usual suspects: internal sources of over analysis about things, obsessing over our internal state, making mountains out of molehills, pain, fatigue, stress, anxiety and of course adherence to an unbending perfectionism. Needless to say, dealing with overwhelm can be overwhelming. HSPs generally rely on the old tried and true methods of retreat and decompress, which sometimes work and sometimes don’t.
Most often recommended mind calming methods.
Psychologists recommend a multitude of standard remedies for overwhelm, including watching the diet (think caffeinated beverages and sugary foods), getting enough sleep, exercising, being active and of course deep breathing exercises. Some of the methods, however, can in some cases, actually be counterproductive. While it’s always good to be mindful of diet and I can’t argue with getting enough sleep, exercising can sometimes be overstimulating and just doing a few deep breaths if done incorrectly can cause us to hyperventilate. I’m joking of course.
One of our biggest problems is our own negative self-talk, arguing with ourselves over our lack of fitting in, measuring up to the norm and the like. Quieting our monkey minds can be challenging. Working with the body to calm the mind is also a good way to relax and throttle down. Getting a massage, engaging our auditory senses with music, watching a funny movie and laughing hard way down in the belly is good because laughter affects brain chemistry in positive ways. I have recently taken up the practice of gratitude. Seems too simple to work, yet, I have found that it’s subtle ways are effective in moderating negative moods. It’s easy to do and you can always find something to be grateful about.
The great Kahuna of mind calming techniques, at least for the last 30 years or so, has been meditation. There has been quite a bit of research done on its positive effects and more and more doctors and therapists are recommending it for handling stress and overload. Regardless of the flavor or your mediation, Zen, mindfulness, Transcendental Meditation or just progressive relaxation – breathing with muscle relaxation, all of these techniques have been proven to be effective, recently by evidence based research, but before that thousands of years of practice in cultures that knew the practice was the evidence.
Effectiveness and efficiency of meditation and mindfulness practice.
As someone, who practiced TM years ago, I noticed immediate benefit for short term results. I could quiet my mind and feel the alpha brainwaves kicking in with the relaxation. As long as I could find a quiet place with no disturbances and could devote twenty minutes or so, to sitting still; I found it most useful. As a spot tool, it was great.
My problem with meditation was hanging in there for the long term. The nuggets of gold in doing meditation requires a long term commitment to disciplining the mind to stay in that alpha zone. Granted as time goes by, the practice becomes easier, but for a lot of us, especially HSPs need relief fast and want it to last past the period of relaxation activity. Again, we, as HSPs often fight the battle within, our minds can be our biggest enemy and quieting that active overstimulated brain can be difficult. In other words, our conscious mind can interfere with the deep relaxation we need by short circuiting the mental discipline that meditation requires.
Is there a better, easier way?
In a word, yes. I think for relieving immediate anxiety, stress and overwhelm, it’s important to use techniques that bypass the conscious, critical mind. Although a lot of the source of overwhelm comes from external sources, our environment, our relationships, a good bit is sourced to our internal state. A good many of our real problems reside deep below in the unconscious mind. Stored memories, patterns, beliefs, pre-lingual thoughts all these contribute mightily to our mood, our thoughts and behaviors, especially in reacting to said external world.
In the past thirty years some very effective techniques have been developed to address this. Some are easily accessible, and can be used readily at home, while others require a trained professional to assist. Techniques like EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique- tapping), EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), hypnosis and neurofeedback can all reach down into that area of the brain and release material which can be a source of anxiety and stress. Some of these techniques like hypnosis and neurofeedback can also be very relaxing in and of themselves. You get the short term benefit of relaxation – changing your brainwave state, and the long term benefit of relieving the source of the anxiety deep in the unconscious mind.
Word of caution here, self-treating of serious mental health issues, or using these techniques alone for dealing with serious issues, should be avoided and treatment options should be evaluated and supervised by a trained mental health professional. Nevertheless, they are all worth exploring as ways to decompress for HSPs, who seem to benefit most readily in my experience.
Brain training with neurofeedback tools.
Brain training with neurofeedback tools is an excellent way to create a more resilient and efficient brain. I use at BrainPilots, utilizing Zengar’s Neuroptimal system for doing brain training. Notice I am not saying this is treatment, for it is not that. As a brain trainer I don’t diagnose or develop a treatment protocol, which is the beauty of using this tool. Neuroptimal simply takes data from the brain via EEG signals and runs them through a sophisticated computer software tool and then relays alerts to the brain back via a signal interrupt in an audio file listened to by the client. It alerts the brain when learning moments are optimal and the brain does the rest.
Now this is an oversimplification of how the whole process works, yet in its surface simplicity there is great benefit to allowing the brain to make its own corrections in real time, in its own way. Natural, safe, effective. Now getting back to our point about, bypassing the conscious mind, this is the perfect tool for this. The signals cannot be interpreted by the conscious mind, so at some point the CM just drifts off to sleep or into some other thought patterns. The training takes place regardless of whether the client is attentive, asleep or just thinking about lunch.
The best part about this is that most clients drift off into a deep relaxing state, while listening to the music and the entire session is over in thirty minutes. Relaxation – check, brain training- check. Mission accomplished.
There are clear short term and long term benefits, especially for HSPs. Our brains can easily be overactive, overstimulated and contaminated with excessive data that most non-HSPs never have to deal with. We talked about the benefits of this, more creative, more observant, more discerning, but we still have to deal with a great deal of garbage that can cause overwhelm.
Doing an exercise, like brain training is perfect for overstimulated HSPs. The activity is passive; it requires nothing of the client but to sit in a chair. It’s relaxing, providing short term immediate relief from stress. It’s training the brain in subtle natural ways, working directly with the unconscious mind, providing opportunities for the brain to make changes for the client's good. Since their own brain is doing the decisioning in what gets done, it works for the higher good of the central nervous system without side effects. Hence, there is a long term benefit in helping bubble up the detritus of the unconscious.
How it’s worked for me.
As a HSM, this has been amazing for me. I’m so glad I found it. I have been doing brain training with Neuroptimal for almost two years. Once a week is like doing daily meditation. It calms me in the session and later for the week, I recognize the subtle yet clear changes that occur in my CNS (central nervous system.)
I react differently to stressful events. I process things more quickly, not holding on to things forever. This is efficiency and effective use of the brain. Now, don’t misunderstand, I still have the same issues that all HSPs have, but continuing with training has helped me to navigate those with less overwhelm.
Just recently, I returned home on a flight from Houston to Bend, Oregon. I had two hops along the way in Dallas and Phoenix, each with tight connections. Throughout the entire flight, I noticed that my reaction to making those connections had changed. Ordinarily, I would have been tense and tight knowing that the slightest thing could cause me to miss the next flight. Yet, throughout, I was calm. It was a visceral calm that can only come from the unconscious mind. Body calm, mind calm. As I sat in my seat on the last connection waiting for the plane to unload, I noticed this and said to myself, “Bingo, we have a winner.” It had changed me. Anecdotal yes, but the change is real. I’m sticking with it.
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Special Note: I’m writing this on Thanksgiving Day. I have much to be thankful for, but wanted to mention that I am especially thankful that my oldest son survived a horrific automobile accident on election evening and is going to make a full recovery. I am truly blessed. There will be no blog next week, as I will be in Texas for the funeral of my stepdad who passed last Friday. He was a WWII veteran, a proud and honorable man. He will be missed, God speed, sir.
Disappointment, hurt feelings, crushing blows and heartbreak.
As sensitive men, our negative feelings seemed to hurt more, feel heavier and last longer. It is a unique and peculiar burden we bear. The depth of feeling has been documented with fMRI scans of HSPs. It is not just imagination, it’s real. We have a tendency to get stuck in our feelings, looking for perfection in ourselves or, perhaps, it’s just in our nature to seek the ultimate truth through feeling.
These deep insights mean sometimes we have deep hurts, disappointments or emotional blows that are difficult to get over. Bouncing back from these deep emotions can be challenging for HSMs in a world where men are expected to deflect pain, angst and worries as if they were trifling matters. It doesn’t help that many HSMs are perfectionists and can compound this longevity of feeling, by beating ourselves up with self-criticism for not being more resilient.
How HSPs deal with deep emotions differently.
I do brain training for a living. I work with a special type of neurofeedback software that allows the brain to become aware of emotionally troubling patterns, based upon the EEG feedback the software receives. When the brain is processing this deep emotional stuff, we often can observe a great deal of activity around 3-5 hz, which we refer to as dirty theta. Since theta is on the lower end of the monitored brainwave activity, this supports the old saying that “stuff rolls downhill.” This deeply felt, deeply processed emotional baggage, often lies below conscious awareness. The brain training helps the brain to become more aware of these patterns to help de-energize them.
With HSPs, we tend to process more deeply our emotional stuff and I imagine that a lot of that rolls downhill to that particular “area” in dirty theta. Compound the situation with the fact that HSPs are more empathic creatures and you now have situations where we are not only processing our own deep emotions but carry the load of others around us as well. We share their ‘dirty theta’, absorbing like a sponge the emotional energy of others. This becomes overwhelm by empathy. And because we are processing more deeply these emotions and more completely, we can easily get stuck, sometimes in endless loops of analysis and processing for longer periods of time than most people do.
Can the non-HSP world really understand how much we hurt?
The answer is mixed on this. Yes, there are those in the non-HSP world that will understand why we process emotion and will be great allies and sympathetic to our tendency to hold on to emotional hurt, pain, rejections, etc. But my guess is that the world largely sees this characteristic in HSMs and HSPs and considers it to be borderline neurotic and/or at least obsessive.
Hearing “get over yourself”, “your too sensitive”, “don’t be a wuss”, instills a since of guilt and shame especially for male HSPs, who in spite of their intentions to get over things, just can’t help processing and reprocessing that hurt, pain or heartbreak. And because HSMS don’t readily practice non-HSP means of distraction, such as externalizing our feelings or pain, and redirecting into some socially acceptable, yet temporary fix, like going out on a bender, we naturally shoulder inwardly the pain, replaying and cross examining, what we did wrong.
Targets on our backs.
This self-flagellation can create low self-esteem in HSMs. Low self-esteem creates a perfect environment to attract the wrong element into our lives. Bullies and narcissists flock to those who they perceive to be weak, and HSMs with low self-esteem can certainly appear to lack confidence and strength to the outside world. It kicks in some kind of reptilian survival function in bullies and they react to manipulate and exploit this perceived weakness in others.
This is not only important for HSM boys to be aware of, but as adult HSMs the manipulation and traps abound at work, at home, in love and in society. It’s as if we have a target on our backs. Feeling too much, too deeply, makes us seem weak and ineffectual to those would take advantage of our caring, deep hearts. There are always those in an insensitive world that seem to want to impatiently bully the sensitive ones, to their own subjugation.
But, isn’t our strength really in this perceived weakness? Don’t we have something they sorely lack? A depth of feeling beyond their shallow emotional range, an ability to be authenticate in our feeling and the courage to show with it and go with it, beyond their capacity to feel. Aren’t they really just jealous of our broad canvas and deep hues of emotion, which allows us to paint the tapestry, sometimes tortured, of our complex feelings? As we behold and labor over ever stroke of our brush upon the canvas of our feelings.
Living through the deep cuts, flowing through the emotion.
Authenticity is our kryptonite to a bullying, insensitive world. Remaining genuine to our feelings, however, complex and deep, allowing them to flow through us, is exactly what we were designed to do and to be. Why hide what we are, why shun our true selves? Trying to be another version of masculinity, the manufactured Hollywood version of manhood, is not us.
Remember there are real world health consequences to suppressing our natural flow of emotion that will stress our systems, our bodies and minds to a breaking point. Don’t fall into that trap. And when I say emotions, I mean all of them: joy, sorrow, pain, ecstasy, passion, hurt in all its forms, anger, disgust – hold nothing back. Not even tears. Tears were not created for the benefit of the manufacturer of Kleenex, they are natures emotional cleansing fluid. So cry, dammit.
Even as men and yes, especially as men, we need to model to our children and to the world, what it means to be authenticate and real with our feelings, our perceptions and our insights. In a world, with muddled instincts, with clouded emotions, with a lack of vision and clarity everywhere, our insights as HSMs are sorely needed now. We need to lead, but lead in our uniquely HSM way. Not to dominate, but to share, instruct, guide and counsel a world that yearns for that balance, that harmony, that depth of feeling. And certainly there is some adapting we have to do for the world, but adaptation does not mean abdication of our true selves, our true roles.
The strength of deep feeling, when emotion is a shield.
Although, I am convinced that deep feeling is a strength and can yield some amazing insights, sometimes the negative feelings can be too much. It’s important to make sure that as HSMs we validate in some way our emotions, check them with an outside observer – a friend, a family member or trusted other. I know for myself, it’s easy to run wild with emotion and let my over analytical brain create and compound issues, without any external validation. This can help calm and teach your HSP mind to settle down when things get overwhelming.
You can be assured that the emotion regardless of how inundating it may seem it, too, will pass in time. Letting it flow over you, knowing you won’t drown with these emotional waves is key to staying true to who you are. Reject any notions of self-destruction within your thoughts, being overly self-critical, not only sets you up as a target, but can serve as fodder for self-berating thinking. Know there is always hope, and surround yourself with hopeful, helpful people, people you trust, who accept you for being you. Your emotional self is in reality your shield. Let it protect you, let it guide you.
On a side note: Something I have been thinking about a lot lately is how to create a message for employers that HSPs can be some of the most imaginative and creative employees they have. The need to foster an environment where HSPs thrive is important to getting the most from your HSP staff. HSMs have many drivers in the work place, but I see a simple model of how using these natural drivers would aid HSMs to create novel and unique solutions to work problems. In theme with our message about deep emotions these drivers come naturally to us.
First, our attention to detail and observation skills create an awareness about our environment that others might miss. This awareness spurs our creativity and intuition that helps in creating novel solutions. These novel solutions create passion in the HSP which aids in driving towards a solution and its installation. You see, all of these steps, require deep emotional processing. Again, a strength. I’ll have more on this later.
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Being a loner or being alone
When I was little, I would love to play in my room for hours with toy soldiers, miniature cars and Lincoln Logs. Sometimes it was like I was directing a movie, filled with dramatic scenes, terse dialogue, and the careful movement of characters upon my own little stage. I had great fun with this. Later on as I got older and put the toys away, I would grab one of the encyclopedias from the den bookshelf and would read or research a fascinating topic, like tracing the English monarchs from Alfred the Great to Queen Elizabeth. All this for no other reason than to be alone with my thoughts, without distraction.
Sometimes the neighbor kids would ring the doorbell and ask me to come out and play. I would fake a headache or stomach ache, or anything else I could think of just to return to my solitude. I wasn’t like this all the time, about half the time I would opt instead to go outside and play, build forts in the woods, or play a game of catch or kickball in the street. But when I needed downtime, I would retreat to my room and revel in being alone.
I was fortunate, as I was the only boy in the family, and the oldest so I got my own room. It was truly my castle, my fortress and I used it well. Sometimes, my friends thought I was weird about this, remarking wryly that I should probably see a doctor about all those headaches and stomach aches. It became a bit of joke in the neighborhood. But, I always knew instinctively when I needed to shelter in my room, and regardless of my peers commentary, I carried on.
At times, I wondered if it was because I was a lone wolf, a solitary boy that need solitary time that made me different. At that time I had not yet registered that I was wired from the beginning for this type of solitude, the need for alone time. Now as an HSM adult, I recognize the importance to my system of parking myself away for a time, processing, recharging and quieting down my brain.
Why alone time is essential to HSMs.
When describing to others, what it’s like to be an HSP, I will cup my hands together, like praying hands, where the tips of my fingers barely touch, with the palms bent like open sails. I then open the fingertips just a bit wider, perhaps a few inches and say that this is like the non-HSP brain, where the gap between fingers is the aperture of their sensory reception. The flow of data being what a non-HSP would receive at any given time, not limited but not overflowing.
I then open the fingers wider, much wider, so that the aperture is much larger and say that this is the comparative difference between what an HSP receives in sensory data. The gap is substantial. These gaps stay pretty constant for each group; with I suppose some variation for stressful times. The constant bombardment of information, takes its toll on HSPs, usually followed by some type of overwhelm and then the need to withdraw to quiet quarters. This is the necessary downtime, all HSPs need. This is the importance of solitude to HSPs, that period of silent regrouping, of catch up processing time, of freeing and purging the queue, and mostly of resting alone time.
How often this occurs varies from one HSP to another. Some need more time than others, some need complete alone time, while others may just require a throttle down of stimulation and social contact. But be assured, all HSPs need this time. We don’t function well without it.
Confusion around HSP downtime.
Just like my boyhood friends, there is likely much confusion about the need for this sanctuary for HSPs among friends, family, partners, co-workers and social acquaintances. This need for “aloneness”, may make us seem like recluses to others, maybe even dangerously shy or socially anxious. Although some of those attributes may apply to some, for the most part this has nothing to do with our need for temporary seclusion.
Like introverts (which many of us are), we tend to draw significant amounts of energy from within. The outside world tends to drain us of that energy and in order to refill our tanks we need the space and time to do that. Most of the world sees that as odd and can’t quite grasp why we shun 24/7 connection. By nature, we are not always on, favoring the need to be off at times.
In this area, I think HSMs have a slight advantage over HSP females. Culturally, men who are lone wolves carry a cache or mystique about them, you know the dark, quiet types. Independent and brooding, the stuff of solitary heroes. Think of the lone woodsman in Alaska, independent and alone. Women on the other hand, are expected to be more social and this could present some perceptual problems for HSP women who need to isolate to recoup their energy. This could add some stigma to them that is not merited, but gets delivered anyway. Think the bookish, librarian, alone amongst the stacks, who prefers a quiet tea over shots of Tequila with her girlfriends.
Does significant alone time mean loneliness?
There is always a thin line between being alone and being lonely. For some people, being alone at all for short periods of time, conjures up thoughts of abandonment and/or loneliness. To an HSP though, that sweet solitude, that break from humanity, is the elixir of life. Something to return to often and in proportion to the stress of life. But, it can be too much. Isolation to an HSP can be addictive. In a healthy manner, it has purpose and place, but taken too far, it can be a prelude to social avoidance, fear and anxiety.
If HSMs are naturally shy, then stepping out of the comfort zone can be challenging. Rushing back to the sanctitude of aloneness, although a refuge, can also become a prison. Knowing the upper threshold of solitude, as it borders onto the cold plains of loneliness, is important for all of us HSPs. I wonder at times, if we are limited by our hardware, our wiring, to constantly live on the edge of that isolated border with loneliness with occasional forays into the warmth and shelter of companionship.
What price the cost of solitude?
In many ways, we HSPs go against the grain of social interaction. We tug back and forth between the non-HSP world and our own shelters. The cost of this sometimes, may mean loss of friends, real and potential, misunderstanding amongst our family and peers and the unnecessary labeling of us as social isolates and troubled souls.
I think sometimes for me, it’s a selfish indulgence, that keeps me disconnected especially from my family. Not intentional, I pull myself back to the comfort of my own solitude, alone with my thoughts and sometimes without a reference that society would provide me. And, I wonder, what have I missed? What learning, what interaction, and what emotion did I not experience? And, yes, I am feeling that now, more than ever as I age.
Balancing sanctuary with social interaction.
As with all things in life, it’s about balance. As HSPs we need the down time, that’s obvious, but we also need the opportunity for social growth. For getting out there in the world, pushing our comfort zones from time to time, growing and experiencing the world outside of our heads. As much as I love being alone at times, I do need social interaction and contact. Sometimes boldly and sometimes quietly, but getting out there a mixing it up with others is just the intoxication I need to feel alive again.
I think it helps for us HSPs to be involved with socially active partners or friends. They serve as brokers and intermediaries into the greater world. Find one and attach yourself to them. But choose one that is mindful of your HSP needs and respects your requirement for downtime. Do things that will energize you, charge your batteries and channel some of that energy to social affairs and interactions with others.
Getting prime face time is experientially beneficial for you and for those you interact with. Be sure to understand your limits and communicate them to those who care. They can have your back in social outings. Reach out to others and don’t just wait on others to reach out to you. There is growth inherent in doing this and it keeps you attached to the planet on which you live.
Above all, seek out kindred spirits, people who will respect you and will desire your company. And when you step out in to the world, make sure you are mostly in environments that you can thrive in, positive, optimistic, healing places. It’s easy to get mired in the negativity surrounding our world, since we absorb so much of that deeply. It’s not always simple to shrug off, like so many non-HSPs can. Make your base camp a place that nurtures your tender and creative spirit. Then go hiking bravely on the trails of social interaction.
So, tell me. What metaphor describes us best: lone wolf or pack dog that sometimes needs quiet sanctuary of the den?
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Day after the election: What am I feeling right now?
It’s midday, the morning after one of the most important presidential elections in US history. My team lost and I'm full of conflicting emotions. Normally, when one of my sports team loses, I go through a period of anger, mourning, resentment, much like a spoiled child. But then time passes and, better faculties prevail and I move towards acceptance and homeostasis.
Today feels different, a sinking feeling not only for the loss of my candidate, but a much greater fear for the country and subsequently the world. This is like getting hit in the gut by one of your friends, unexpected and shocking. It’s like dropping over, with wind knocked out of you, and you wait anxiously for that moment of breathlessness to cease and air to rush back into your lungs again. It’s hollow and empty. I know the air will come back, but as I wait, there is that moment when you think: what if it doesn’t?
This week’s blog was to have been about dealing with difficult emotions, perhaps, a nod to moodiness, or the perception of moodiness. And i wonder, is it more common in HSMs? How often have HSMs been described as moody guys, or a drama kings because we show more emotion, or react more emotionally than most men do. Sometimes emotions roll out quickly for us and are difficult to mask-- almost automatically the emotional reaction is present.
With most guys anger is the dominant visible emotion. But what about showing shock, fear, joy or sorrow? And when you do, do you shutdown, withdraw or cover up difficult emotions. Is it a sign of weakness to show fear, sadness, or surprise? Is it less manly? Does context matter, or is it all about bucking up and remaining stoic no matter the situation.
Are difficult mood swings moodiness?
My difficult emotions are hurt, shock and surprise. For example, when a conversation is going along at a measured pace with a friend, family member or love interest and suddenly the timbre of the conversation changes abruptly and gets unexpectedly tense; I almost go into a state of shock and confusion.
Some people claim I shut down or become moody. My mood does change, but mostly without my conscious awareness. It might even take some time to recover and re-balance afterwards. However, during that moody stage, I am sometimes completely withdrawn as thoughts race through my mind, wondering what went wrong and what did I say. This state of mind makes me a lousy debater and in the heat of an argument, almost defenseless.
Is this moodiness? What makes up the “Moody Guy” syndrome? Is this something I really have control of, or is it operating at the speed of unconscious thought? Is this reactionary thinking or a protective response?
So much of mood, is impacted by biochemical elements. Since so much of moodiness is predicated by anxiety, and anxiety affects neurochemistry, which in turn triggers behavioral shifts (moods), is this just a rapid fire physiological reaction to mind impacting stress? And as an HSP male am I more prone to this because of my enhanced sensory make up? Lots of questions few answers.
Some people would argue that it has shared characteristics with bi-polar disorder. Sometimes the mood shifts have a similar intensity as bi-polar shifts, but the duration, especially for me is not nearly as pronounced. It can be over fairly quickly; still the impact is clear and immediate. To the person I am interacting with it can be very confusing.
Now before the alarms go off, the instances of this happening are not as frequent as you might imagine, and although the intensity seems severe, it is more likely to be considered as moderate or even mild. As I get older, I am also learning to moderate these feelings and observe them as they occur.
Often, men don’t seem to have the hormonal card to play with extreme moods, but lately I have been learning of the male version of PMS, referred to as Irritable Male Syndrome or IMS. Many men, especially older men, report lower testosterone levels as they age. There is some evidence that lower testosterone effects mood in men. This could cause some men to show grumpiness, anger or other outwardly focused emotions as their testosterone levels drop. In fact, it might even increase sensitivity, anxiety and frustration. Sound familiar, HSM brothers?
Other factors might include drops in the brain neurotransmitter, serotonin, which can affect how we feel. This is often affected by diet. Stressors in life, stress associated with male identity, including what it means to be a man in the twenty-first century, all can contribute to changes in mood for men. I suspect this might be amplified for HSMs.
What’s so difficult about sharing these feelings?
These mood changes sometimes, especially, for HSMs are difficult to share. As noted before, the emotions are not often ones that are easily expressed or accepted as emotions men express easily, which can make it difficult for others to understand or accept. I wonder if keeping this under wraps is a function of a learned response or some innate trait that is characteristic of HSMs. Nevertheless, this can be difficult to express and can make us seem moody and overly dramatic to other men and especially to women who may find it a turnoff to be around man this moody.
Why moodiness is seen as such a negative trait.
If you go to online dating sites, one of the most common characteristics listed by potential partners is the desire to avoid “drama” in relationships. I have never quite figured that out yet, because everyone’s definition of drama is different. For some, the slightest element of negative emotion sends them running for cover, while others extreme emotion is what drives them away.
Regardless, real drama is based on life, and life, like it or not is full of emotion. The term drama too me is a turn off. Anything resembling moodiness, conjures up negativity in many people and they like to avoid it at all costs. What I have observed is that those who are most attuned to moodiness, are the ones who generally are the most moody, yet can’t see it themselves. It’s a classic projection scenario.
Perhaps, the prevailing attitude is that moody people are not in control of their negatives emotions. I realize that in some cases this is true, but in other cases there’s more than what appears on the surface. The confusion may be that moodiness and say, bi-polar are often misunderstood to be the same things. Perhaps, someone from the judging person’s past, had other personality issues, bi-polar, or borderline personality disorder and now everyone with the appearance of moodiness is now a sick puppy, to be avoided at all costs.
Especially for men the externalization of these difficult moods is not considered desirable. A man that shows these tendencies shows a certain finickiness and similarity to a type of hormonal driven emotion that is often attributed to PMS and to negative feminine moodiness. Well, guys can have this too. Combine that with the emotional processing capabilities of HSM males and well, moodiness happens.
How to deal with temperamental emotional swings.
I think the main thing here is to try and be mindful of what is happening within in your own head. So much of the emotional reaction is automatic and unconscious. Nevertheless, thoughts are associated with those feelings, so putting a “thought-catcher” to examine them carefully will help slow down the runaway train. This is a trained response and not one that is native to most of us HSMs. It requires attention and focus and repetition. We often want to run with our wild emotions, but sometimes need to train them instead. Attention, capture, examine and release.
Get clear on what moodiness is for you. Don’t confuse needing downtime as being moody. As an HSP you need that time to recharge. You will always need that time and you will not be able to change that part of you. Accept that about yourself. Then there are the physical things, sleep, diet, exercise and in your quiet time, a meditative practice of your choosing will help. For men, get your testosterone levels checked. It’s important for a number of health reasons, not just for your emotions. And as always, if this gets too stressful, too difficult, too overwhelming…get help.
Is this native to HSM(P)s?
I don’t know that there is any study out there that says if you are an HSP you will be a moody person. From my own experience, that seems to be the case. However, we are all different, coming from different backgrounds, different genetic heritage and different environments and that can affect your mileage on this.
As more studies are done with HSPs, as we learn more, there will be a greater understanding of the complexity of highly sensing people. For now, expect to be labeled as moody at times, depends largely on the crowd you are associated with.
Looking for the right people to be with.
Finally, I think as an HSP and an HSM, it is important to be selective in who you hang out with. Your inner circle should understand you and your traits and accept them for what they are. This doesn’t mean being around only HSPs, but rather those people who see you for the special person you are and understand at times to them you might be challenging. But as I once told an ex-girlfriend, the same guy that you complain about mood swings and being too sensitive, is the same guy that writes you beautiful love poems and buys you flowers for no reason. It’s all part of the package.
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Depression in my genes?
As I sit here, this week, penning this blog, I am experiencing an old familiar feeling. It’s a lonely, dark feeling; mostly void, but strong enough to register on the emotion scale. It comes and goes as sadness, as disappointment, a feeling left behind. It’s not debilitating, I don’t curl up under a table, I don’t cry, but I do feel it in my body and way deep in my mind. It’s hard to express in words, it’s mostly a body sensation, like pushing down from my eyelids down through my shoulders and cratering in my chest cavity. Is this depression?
My father before he died of a massive coronary, spent time in the hospital, in a dark place. Fearful and absent of hope, he battled his own demons. He was diagnosed with depression. It tormented him and eventually, I believe caused his death. He struggled with a small business, a growing family and responsibilities that exceeded his capacities to cope.
I see the same in one of my children, and possibly the early formation in one of my grandchildren. All the aforementioned individuals are or were HSPs. The question I have is, is depression more likely in HSPs or is this simply a particular genetic component that gets passed from one generation to the next?
This insidious disease – is it just chemistry or it is wayward thoughts?
Research seems to indicate that depression does have a genetic component, at least a propensity for depression. It’s not necessarily a single gene, but could in fact be a suite of genes that causes depression. Of course, there are always environmental factors and it would seem that personality would influence this as well.
Because of the tendency for HSPs to feel things more intensely, it stands to reason that we would be more prone to overwhelm with melancholy. But is it just deep, wayward thoughts that trigger this disease --just feelings gone awry. We all have on occasion experienced sadness and disappointment and loss. Yet, for the majority of people who experience sadness, recovery is inevitable and they eventually bounce back.
So clearly there is more to it than just incorrect thinking. By now I think it’s pretty clear (watch the commercials on the evening news) that there is a chemical deficiency in the brain that can lead to depression. The pharmaceutical industry has stepped in to provide a pharmacopeia of medicines to battle depression, and has provided an array of anti-depressant meds to numb and calm and flatten the experience for depressive individuals.
I have tried these meds and found that they via chemical manipulation remove a whole host of other feelings good and bad. It’s like applying weed killer to your lawn, killing the weeds and your grass as well. I got off of them as quickly as I could. For an HSP, losing touch with feelings is losing touch with self. Our feelings are how we experience the world.
When feeling more sucks – HSMs and depression
Yet as HSMs we do feel more than most. Our highs are pretty ecstatic and our lows are fairly intense. Almost sounds bi-polar, doesn’t it? But is depression a natural consequence of experiencing life with more depth, more feeling and emotion? Would this hint that HSPs are more likely to become depressed than, say the other eighty per cent of the population? Do we swing lower down near the dark waters of loneliness, despair and emptiness?
Is that also caused by some genetic component or a switch that allows us to “paint” with more of the emotional palette humans experience? Do we open ourselves more to the darker feelings because we can or because we have no choice? Mix in our natural propensity to overthink situations and it would be easy to see how this level of intensity could cause depressive episodes in HSPs.
Can empathy cause depression?
Not to pile on here, but add our unusual capacity for empathy, to absorb the feelings of others and you can be certain that at some point overwhelm is lurking just over our shoulders. Even feeling bad about feeling bad, how our sadness affects others, can be a cause of concern. Perhaps, being too empathetic can lead to some of the characteristics of depression, but I really wonder if it can actually cause depression.
Empathy is a survival tool mostly seen in mammals-- social creatures, where collective good is paramount to surviving. It would seem that nature, would have not devised this characteristic if it could be used to undermine the individual’s wellbeing. As HSPs, this is one of greatest assets. Yet, if all the ingredients arrive at the same place at the same time: genetics, bio-chemistry, cognitive distortion and personality type (i.e., HSP), you could bake up some serious depression.
Where in your body do you feel it?
I have always felt this feeling somewhere in my body. It’s just lately that I have begun to pay attention to it. It comes and goes, but I always know in my body when it arrives. Some people feel emotion associated with depression in there chest area; others feel small and compressed; still others feel it in their shoulders, much like a weight; or a burning inside; or emptiness, like the void. I feel it in my chest and throat, a sinking, tingling sensation. Sometimes it rises from my chest area, and then sinks down into my solar plexus. It’s distinct, like a signal flag in a desert.
And it can be ephemeral, coming and going without warning. There’s something very visceral about depression or feeling sadness. The downing is felt in the body as well as in the head. It blankets you, wraps you tightly and not in a comforting filling you with a tight uneasiness. Which is why I think it’s so hard to escape it.
Riding through the avalanche, completing the arc…
Now for the topic of coping and dealing with depression. As stated previously, this is an insidious and potentially dangerous disease. Weathering the storm can be tricky and trying to remain objective in your own head about what’s going on, is a best at fool’s errand. Riding down the avalanche alone can leave you buried alive, slowly suffocating from the weight of forces greater than yourself.
There are a myriad of ways of coping, some simple and easy to do – diet, exercise, relaxation techniques, and taking natural supplements. Others require a great deal of work and connection with someone trained to help – therapy, medicines, and learning new skills designed to help overcome the overwhelm. I found a great article here with some useful tips and suggestions.
Whatever the case, riding down the emotional arc of life, requires a completion of sorts. Returning to a place that’s neutral or even better, a place of peace, will complete the ride. For HSMs it’s all a part of our great adventure. We sample emotions like a truck driver at an all-night buffet. It’s easy to get caught up in our own experiences and not realize that most of the world isn’t even aware of what we are processing. We’ve learned that sharing too much, can be exposing too much, and so we hide in our own world of emotion. This is especially true for the negatively branded emotions. The ones men are not supposed to discuss.
It’s time to be mindful, particularly of those troubling emotions, acknowledge them, share them and process them. We too, have to paint with the dark colors sometimes, to bring the light colors out on the canvas. And it is often our interpretation of that darkness that sheds light for others who suffer likewise, but can’t express with our depth of processing.
So, I take comfort in writing this down. I know now in my heart, that I will survive the avalanche.
When not to be alone in the lonely dark void
As a parting word, if you are truly alone and are facing the void of depression, reach out and get help. HSMs are just as likely as others when facing difficult depressive states, to think the unthinkable and to lose hope. We are cautious creatures by nature, but in the depth of darkness, release from these oppressive feelings can present in many unsavory forms. Realize there is help out there and that you are not alone. Remember, we need all HSMs on deck now. Your life is important.
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
From the vault of my personal experience
“Son, are you a man or a mouse?” These few words were delivered to me by my dad every time I got a bit too weepy as a little boy. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, it was not wise for little boys to show too many traits of emotional sensitivity. Might look like a sissy, if you know what I mean. So, my father would chide me with this little question and I would abruptly stop my sensitive ways and buck up and act like the little man I was supposed to be.
This fit nicely into the Southern faux paradigm of manliness and toughness of which he and so many men of his generation subscribed. Hence, began a lifelong chorus of hearing: “you’re too sensitive”, “man up”, “toughen up” and “grow a pair.” Hearing this repeatedly, from males and females, makes one doubt, whether one is man enough to be a real man. After all, real men don’t eat quiche. And what is a real man?
As the years went by, I began to shield myself from this type of criticism by trying to live the manly life, I was taught to live. But it always felt a bit disingenuous and inauthentic. The older I got, the more I began to realize that what I was, no less a man, because I could feel deep emotion, get in touch with my inner core, and freely express the emotion within. When I began to read about the highly sensitive personality type, I felt vindicated and liberated. Dr. Elaine Aron gets a lifetime achievement award from me. And I’m sure a lot of HSMs feel the same way.
The Male Sensitivity Spectrum – where do you fall?
When I first started googling this topic, I was looking for male sensitivity and found that the first page or two of the search was focused on penile sensitivity. Interesting, but not what I had in mind here. But, I suppose there is some metaphorical tie-in too obtuse for me to elaborate on.
Is there a sensitivity spectrum within HSMs? Are some HSMs more sensitive than others, more prone to emotional display or sensory overload, than say, other HSMs. I for one believe there is some truth to this. I mean after all we are all individuals and science does account for individual differences. We may have the same predisposition for an active amygdala, but perhaps the signals get muffled more so in some than others.
Maybe there some broad gradation starting with a threshold HSM, who is lowest on the scale of HSM sensitivity, a moderate HSM that straddles the wide middle, and a high HSM, that is bordering on hypersensitivity. This could explain some of the diversity in HSM capacity and expression of that sensitivity. I know all HSMs are not what the general population would peg high sensitivity to be.
Of course, no one is better nor worse than the other, just a way to stratify further the traits of HSPs. Might explain why some HSMs weep at sad movies, while others just get the obligatory lump in the throat and wet eyes. In any case, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, if you are an HSM, you are a man with fully functioning tear ducts. Be proud of that.
This still remains about sensing capability, our high capacity to sense our world. It’s the inputs that affect us so. Sensitivity is the reaction to that sensing, and perhaps this sets us apart from our non-HSP fellows. So whether it is sights, sounds, smell, taste or touch, or even the unconscious sense of intuition, we are always sensing deeply. And it will always affect us deeply. And, yes, we react sensitively and passionately. Yet, we HSMs are still men and that’s okay that we broaden the masculine definition.
A world that values machismo among the menfolk
Fitting into a world that values machismo, the hyper male, and toughness is always going to be a struggle for HSMs. The ridiculous focus on aggressive and dominant behavior, which is often seen as being the epitome of masculinity in our culture, naturally divorces the American male from the emotions that are native to all humans. This separation begins in childhood. The boy is expected to be the ideal and anything less is considered, well, effeminate. In other words, you no longer are a male, unless you reflect a set of traits that would be better suited for 10,000 B.C. than the twenty first century.
You can see this in our militaristic, warrior archetype that is reflected throughout our society in board rooms, bedrooms and now bathrooms. We are still fighting imaginary wars every day at work, at home and at play. Even some women have adapted to this model to succeed in this dysfunctional paradigm.
We have lost touch with reality. We no longer even know what toughness is anymore. It’s an ideal brush stroked from a cartoon hero we see in the movies or on television. When you elect action heroes and cowboys as governors and presidents, it’s not real anymore. This is then passed on from one generation to the next, effecting millions of young men and really damaging young HSMs, who feel they don’t fit in or worse yet aren’t real men.
Our politicians, our athletic heroes, our matinee idols, mostly don’t know what real toughness, character, courage or mettle is anymore. It’s just not real life, folks. And we have to stop worshiping this ideal. It benefits no one, not even non-HSMs.
So where does the sensitive masculine male fit in
Our world is very troubled. Just watching the news, the political discourse this year, the racial divides, the wars, the poverty and all the detritus that swirls around this world, makes me think that there has never been a time when HSPs and HSMs need to find and be in our place in this world. We are likely on the verge of our first female president, following on the heels of our first African American president, who was in my opinion an HSM. It’s a time that is ripe for a shift away from the machismo politics of the Reagan Republican brand and back to a more compassionate, empathic form of government.
If this shift fails to take hold, I fear we are heading for a dark place as a culture and as a people. The HSP is often the canary in the mine shaft. Pay attention world. We are uncomfortable in this manufactured male macho world that generally insecure and paranoid males have created. We as HSMs need to assert ourselves in a distinct HSM way, and penetrate the corporate ranks, the world of politics, religion, art and journalism and serve as new role models for men everywhere. It is our sensing nature that will help change this world and as men we can help reshape the balance of things. We need to do something challenging for us – stand out.
Since most of us will not be in politics or will be religious leaders, we can start somewhere closer to home. At work HSMs are not always in leadership roles, especially at work. We tend to work in the background, quietly and diligently doing our work, getting along, being good soldiers. But, I think it’s time to start talking about change in the workplace.
HSPs are generally the first to detect toxic work environments and need to speak out about conditions that we sense first are not conducive to productivity. That is our prime objective as the alert mechanism to the larger group. We need to start talking about being HSPs and explaining to our managers and co-workers and Human Resources that we may have some different requirements to be at our best. The research shows that a lot of what we find necessary for a good productive work environment is similar to what our non-HSP coworkers also find important.
And when given the opportunity we need to accept leadership roles and promote a more cooperative and empathic work place. HSM males can model this new paradigm for a more compassionate, caring male that may shift all that yang energy to balance with the feminine yin energy. That can easily filter within the entire organization. Sounds new-agey, well, maybe so, but science says that we are energy and the polarity has been imbalanced for a long time now.
Is there a time to suck it up and play the old role model?
In word, maybe. I believe in balance. We as HSMs can’t always be about feeling our pain, expressing emotional outpourings and living in flight or fight all the time. Sometimes, we need to “suck it up”, which just means being willing to adapt, stay fluid and flow with the energy around us. We often retract at negativity and recoil or retreat, but sometimes staying authentic means letting the storm blow around you, putting away the protective umbrella and let the rain fall in your face. Sure, you get wet, but you don’t drown, regardless of how you feel.
Sometimes you’re the man, sometimes you’re the mouse. But, remember, the man doesn’t have to be unemotional and stoic. Courage and bravery come from a deep place within us all. Ride the wave, do one brave thing and never trust a man that doesn’t cry. Adieu.
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Early rite of passage or coping tool
Well, I’m running late on the blog this week, largely because my son and his girlfriend came up from Los Angeles to visit. We spent a week of hanging out at night, visiting the local breweries and restaurants and I must confess, I drank a wee bit more this week than I normally do. Which is a perfect segue to this week’s topic of HSMs and strong drink.
I have had my fair share of spirits during the course of my life, often to simply celebrate, sometimes to fill a void, frequently as a social lubricant, and very seldom to improve my mood. Growing up in the Southeastern United States, where drinking is sport and young men are often required to prove manliness by the quantity of alcohol consumption, I was baptized in this rite of passage during the early days of high school. Alcohol is the great social leveler and for brief moments made me equal to the socially adept.
It was so wretched to me that I began a second vice, that of cigarette smoking to combat the bitter and often burning taste of alcohol. It was at the time a seemingly fair trade to help a tall and skinny, pimply faced young man gain social confidence amongst peers. I drank -- I got confidence and, an inner personality emerged that was affable and full of social grace. At least until I, as all young men do, overconsumed and promptly deposited my day’s food intake into the back seat of my best friend’s parents’ car. Not cool, but repeated again and again, until the lesson of moderation was learned.
But, all this really said about me was that I was prone to overwhelm, to shyness and to social awkwardness, and that I believed that I needed to consume some external substance to make me more of what I thought the world wanted from me…the nerve to be cool.
I am sure that many young men and young women face similar challenges, but as an HSM, these seem so much more exaggerated internally, and alcohol seemed to offer comfort and relief.
When overwhelm seems too much, does alcohol really help?
As HSPs and particularly HSMs, we often pretend to be not overwhelmed by our environment so as to fit in and to project being in control. However, since our nervous systems are keenly and tightly wound, we feel and experience sensory information much more intensely than some of our peers. It’s hard to process what we feel and what we sense without some coping mechanism.
For many HSMs alcohol serve that purpose. Just look around at the world of art, music and creativity. How many great artists mire themselves in addictive habits of substance abuse to quell the waves of emotions, expectations and demands of their creative endeavors? Many of these creative creatures are HSPs and in particular HSMs.
The burden of being misunderstood and feeling too much becomes being too much and at some point there is a crossing of a threshold that drives the need for quick, albeit temporary relief. The price that is paid is often devastating, and the damage greater than bearing the burden unassisted or alone.
Turning an HSM introvert into a raving extrovert
As stated earlier, one of the primary reasons I started drinking alcohol was to disinhibit myself in social interactions. It made me more comfortable and talkative. It was easy for me to make small talk, to be a bit more casual and speak my mind. I was more like an extrovert. And for those times at parties, celebrations, gatherings - that was a convenient persona to take on. I could mingle; I could be loud and yes, a bit cocky.
As HSPs we are typically not risk takers. So fully engaging in drinking behavior, makes us feel like we are being a bit edgy and it pushes us to poke at our own boundaries. Yet, we tend to be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol and more easily pay the price of over imbibing. But, alas, plow ahead we do, at least some of us. We feel the social pressures to drink more intensely, and conform to please. That offers an altered state of our personality helping with the anxiety of social overload. Forgive me for generalizing, but visualize the bespectacled, quiet admin or the nerdy computer tech at the annual Christmas party cutting loose on the dance floor and propositioning half of the room. Yes, it could get dangerous. But it doesn’t have to be.
Tamping down versus numbing
So, what is really going on here? Are we really trying to change our personalities to fit in? Or is there some effort to tamp down or numb down some internal pain, anxiety or fear that we feel that we can’t overcome otherwise. Is overwhelm so poorly misunderstood among HSPs, that we follow a path that is neither natural nor safe for us to follow?
Since many HSPs are introverts, (not all, but most), and introverts tend towards some degree of self-loathing at some point in their lives -- which can lead to depression. What are the dangers that substance abuse can become problematic for introverted HSMs? It appears that there is a correlation between alcohol abuse and depressed introverts. Sadly it’s strong enough to raise eyebrows and flag as a warning. I think this is especially true for HSMs who easily panic, get anxious or are otherwise uncomfortable in social situations. Again, yet another thing to be cautious about as HSMs.
Dealing with our stuff
All in all, I think we need to continue down the path of owning our stuff. This notion that we are so fragile and prone to overwhelm, although not overstated, needs to be ameliorated in ways that allows us to function in the world more comfortably. The idea that we can control everything in our environment tends to box us in, retards spontaneity and limits us in so many ways. Having that drink at the office party or loosening up at the company picnic or family gathering with a beer or a glass of wine is a way of coping with heightened sensitivity.
Granted it shouldn’t be our go to solution for every life challenge, but occasionally bellying up to the bar, could actually teach us about our inner selves. Alcohol can introduce us to an alternate reality as it were. It can teach us how to overcome fear, to let loose and celebrate with others, especially our non-HSP family and peers. In the end, our nature is different. I think we have a gift, but one that is very high maintenance. The people around us feel it; we feel it and can easily set us apart, which creates isolation.
Celebrations with alcohol can bring us to together. It can open us up to the world. But it has to be used with respect and caution. Granted, it’s not for everyone. It can be used as way to ease into social situations that might otherwise challenge us. It’s not so much the alcohol, but the context in which it is used. I see no problem using a drink or two to alleviate and relax what many see as a difficult, but not life threatening situation. Conversely, I don’t advocate its use as a way to numb pain, depression or deep seated anxiety. There are better ways to tend to those problem areas. I think we all know that.
As for myself, I will continue to be a social drinker. I’m older now, know my limits and boundaries and stay within them. I like the little buzz of a slightly altered state, the relaxed calming feeling of a few drinks. My HSP characteristics, and a cautious, risk averse nature, keeps me from over indulging. It’s a good balance. I would think there are many of you out there who would agree.
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Energy expenditure in HSMs – my own experience
Energy expenditure. Sounds like a line item on an airline budget. Most non-HSPs don’t usually gives this much of a second thought, but HSM’s like myself do. Because we rev a little higher with our motors, we tend to experience energy fluctuations on a daily basis. The things that tend to trip us up is the lack of energy after a particularly exhausting exchange with our environments or with others around us.
I know myself, right now as I am writing this; my energy levels seem to be fading. I just finished a big meal, and my body is slowing down to process the food and my mind is a bit cloudy. So, we’ll see how this entry turns out. Most people have this type of slow down after a big meal, but it seems we HSPs, tend to drop energy, off and on, throughout the day.
It’s almost as if we go into a hibernation period at various points in the day, to conserve energy or to recharge.
This can be annoying to our colleagues as many are non-HSPs and tend to be more high energy than we are, couple that with being amped up on caffeine drinks, they can sometimes seem to be flying around at warp speed, while we are just doing well to move at all. Of course, I exaggerate.
This can lead to accusations of HSPs being lazy or passive, or lacking energy or even worse, not being fun to be around. Yikes.
Because of our higher capacity to process sensory data, we are often left exhausted after a busy day, as our brains and bodies tire of the constant influx of information. Interestingly, I don’t often experience this in a linear way, up or down, but rather as energy fluctuations throughout the day, more like waves of energy, crests and troughs.
These ups and downs of alternating energy are what cause many of our non-HSP associates to see us as being moody and irritable. It’s like we have our own hyperactive bio-rhythm that nobody, including ourselves can follow or even predict. If you couple that with the notion that we are “picking up” on others’ moods, this can exhaust and deplete even the heartiest HSM.
Downtime is necessary
For HSPs downtime is a critical part of the recovery of the energy process. We lose a lot of energy, with thought, via the environment and our social interactions. Very often, just getting away for an hour or two is necessary to recharge our batteries and process the seemingly eternal flow of input. Getting away is not always feasible, especially during a work day. Managing a few micro breaks, for a breath, a quick nap or even just some quiet time looking at a tree, makes a big difference in turning off the spigot.
HSMs are no different than HSP females in how we process life stressors. Although, I see the tendency in myself is to just suck it up and plow through the day, even if it’s at twenty per cent attention or less. Burn out is not a very masculine aspiration, or one many HSMs are willing to admit to. And because most of us don’t choose our careers wisely based upon our personality type, we often fall victim to the effects of overwork, over stress and physically burdening our bodies with the toxic overflow. Hello, disease.
When over the top, becomes overwhelm
Continuing to prime the pump, when the well is dry, is the perfect formula for overwhelm. Overwhelm what a word. It almost sounds a bit prissy, doesn’t it? The image that comes to mind for me is a huge tidal wave “overwhelming” everything in its path – including me. I mean really, would it be any less of a problem to just stop at “whelming?”
Seriously, this is a societal problem. We, as a culture have taken the Puritan work ethic and made it a 24/7, 365 (this is actually seen as a positive in our cultural lexicon) expression of an ideal work ethic. This is disaster for HSPs. Clearly not good for HSMs, or non-HSPs, dogs, cats or any living thing. But as HSMs we often adopt this philosophy without question.
Living in an “always on” culture
For years I worked at a large corporation in the Information Technology department. We had a CIO who coined the term “Always On” as our exuberant work theme. It became a part of our culture. No down time for machines, software or people. Whatever it took to keep the company IT platforms always on was our imperative. This is great for a bunch of pimply faced computer geeks, just out of college, with no families, and with an unwavering love of all things technical, but for most of us, older, familied workers, we appreciated having the time to leave work behind. To turn the light off, as it were and relax in the shaded, quiet spaces beyond the persistent lights of the data centers.
For an HSM male and a manager, this work condition was especially difficult for me. With each merger and acquisition the competitiveness, the relentless call of work and the stress of high energy millennials napping at my heels, eventually got the best of me. I took an early retirement, walked away from corporate life and starting to experience the rejuvenation of relaxing walks, of highly indulgent 45 minute meditations in the morning and the freedom of making my own schedules. It helped enormously.
Tools and strategies for recovery
I started my own business, focusing on helping people relax and recollect themselves. HSPs or not, we all need to learn this type of resiliency. I learned about hypnotherapy and neurofeedback and crafted a business on helping people recapture that quietness in their brains. It’s been a great move for me; I get to help people relax, by using the innate powers of their own brains.
Of course, there are many ways to accomplish this objective. A good way to start, is putting the right things in your body. Avoiding excessive sugar and grains has helped me by avoiding the roller coaster of spikes in blood sugar.
Recognize that as HSPs we need to set boundaries and sometimes temporary barriers around ourselves to allow for decompression. This could be getting some good alone time from family and friends to do things that allow you to de-stress. An apt term for this is what Dr. Elaine Arons calls emotional regulation. Being mindful of our energy fluctuations and respecting our own personal bio-rhythms, to help regulate the ups and downs that come with recharging and depletion of energy.
You may need to make some environmental adjustments: change the lighting in the room, adjust the ambient sounds with music that soothes and serves as white noise, even burn some incense, light a scented candle, or buy an essential oil diffuser. These often subtle changes can alter and uplift your mood. I particularly do this when I’m writing. These are all senses I use, but not as primary; yet, I benefit from the sensory input – all creating a calming and relaxing effect. Allowing me to work while minimizing stressors and extending my energy.
Above all, get alone. This solitude is good for the soul and good for you as a highly sensing creature. I like the term solitude over aloneness, because it sounds more like a deliberate act, an act of choice.
Because of our “always on” culture, we are always seemingly connected to something-- our phones, our tablets, our laptops, the internet, television…always connected. Our technology is trapping us into a dependency of connectivity and moving us away from solitude. HSPs crave, no require solitude in order to function at full capacity for those brief intense periods of time. Like night and day, wake and sleep, we need our cycles of downtime to match our intensity when we are “on”. As Dr. Ester Buchholz says, “Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems.” And like deep sleep is critical to proper wakeful functioning, we need our breaks.
I am concerned that many men such as myself, HSMs trying to live life as relentless drivers of constant functionality and busyness that we are pushing our limits and limiting ourselves by doing so. We are creative, emotional, intuitive creatures that offer our nuanced interpretations of life back to the society at large. Because we often ride the fire hose of sensory data, our energy levels fluctuate throughout the course of our days, and our reactions to such, can be perplexing to many.
Finding meaningful work for HSMs is not just a lovely sentiment, but imperative to our health and well-being. Since the work environment consumes much of our waking time, this is essential to maximizing our gifts and our usefulness to society. This may mean unconventional jobs, vocations, hobbies and pursuits, but we need the flexibility to ride our wild roller coaster energy and still feel that sense of belonging in the society at large. Many HSMs are already there – in the arts, the healing professions, and in freelancing life. I found a piece of that, but I’m still searching and listening to that small still voice inside – “don’t give up. “ And so, I rest, and work and rest again.
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.