It was about ten years ago, when I first heard about the Highly Sensitive personality type. All of my life, I had no idea that there were others like me out there. I just considered myself to be this lone aberration amongst men, a quiet, sensitive, nice guy.
I grew up in the Southern United States, perhaps, the last bastion of macho manhood, where boys are expected to be men, even when they are still boys. My formative years were rough on my ego and left many lasting scars. It was difficult at best for a young, impressionable boy to assimilate in a culture that prided itself on raising young Clint Eastwood prototypes.
But, what is this personality type? According to Dr. Elaine Aron, highly sensitive people or HSPs, are highly sensing individuals that are easily overwhelmed by excessive stimulation, are often creative and artsy, intelligent, highly observational and can seem withdrawn, overly sensitive or shy. The likelihood that you are an HSP is about 20% and the distribution among HSPs between male and females is about 50%.
Being an HSP male does not mean that you are effeminate or gay, or weak or even introverted, its simply means that you are highly sensing. In fact, I’m not sure I resonate with the nomenclature for HSP, since our culture attaches a stigma to being too sensitive, especially for males.
Many HSPs have become some of our greatest leaders, our leading artists (in all media), they are philosophers, religious/spiritual leaders and provide great counsel to the other 80% of the population. Dr. Aron states that there are evolutionary reasons for HSP representation in the population, often to aid in protecting the larger group/species, because of the innate cautionary nature of HSPs and our ability to detect danger in the environment. This is also true among animal populations as well.
Nevertheless, this trait is not always valued in human societies. It is apparent in modern, Western culture that these set of characteristics are mostly seen as feminine, even perhaps, eschewed as weak and ineffectual. Not to be gender biased, but HSP females tend to be more highly regarded, than HSP males, and that puts an undue pressure on men with this personality type.
Being an HSP male, makes one more vulnerable to criticism, humiliation, bullying and ostracization. Trying to fit into the larger culture of males, can be a source of self-doubt and self-loathing, which is only amplified by the HSP trait of enhanced internal sensing. This is not a good recipe for a happy, well adjusted individual.
Now this is not to say that all HSP males are destined to lead a depressing, lonely life of isolation and shame, but since we are just now getting a handle on the trait and its expression in men, the much needed support is often spotty and limited. One of the reasons for this blog, is to discuss my experiences as an HSP male and to share how I cope with often not fitting in and how I am growing to accept my trait and fully utilize it in my life.
I’d like to end on an observation of mine that came to light at the death of comedian Robin Williams. As Williams was one of the most innovative and original comics of my generation, I naturally followed his career in TV, standup and film. There was always a nervous uneasiness about Williams that I sensed came from an underlying sensitivity, that belied his external persona.
In interviews, he seemed to use his comedy to mask his true feelings and like a magician, use humor as sleight of hand. He was masterful at this, and of course audiences loved it. Underneath I sensed there was something deep and insecure below the surface.
It became apparent to me in his dramatic roles in film that he gave himself permission to release that superficial mask and unveil a masterful and sensitive actor. His acting came from his heart and his performances were genuine and brilliant. I believe his greatest gift to all of us, was his dramatic depiction of real humans, with real feeling. His work in Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, What Dreams May Come, and others, were simply works of art. He was a brilliant, if not tragic representative of what an HSP male can become.
Now I don’t know if his sudden death, was a result of an overwhelm within his sensitive personality or whether the cause was more prosaic, caused by the disease he was suffering from, I do know, that I like many others, mourned his death as I felt we lost an HSP brother and spokesman.
Finally, the world needs more men that are HSP males to rise up and own their highly valued traits. As Dr. Ted Zeff says HSP males need to empower themselves and help save this planet from a runaway warrior class, of non-HSP male dominated leaders, who rarely take counsel from the priests, artists, philosophers and thoughtful people who nature put her to guide and moderate. We need to retake our emotions, our feelings and our powerful observations and present them in ever changing ways before it’s too late.
Each week, I’ll discuss another topic about HSP males. Thanks for dropping by and 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.