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:
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.