A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
We are a peculiar bunch, we HSPs. Some might even say we are a bit eccentric. This is especially true for Highly Sensitive Males. We HSMs are a small percentage of a small percentage of the human population and we just don’t meet, for the most part, the stereotypes of the modern western male. But, eccentric?
Dictionary.com defines eccentric as adj.: deviating from the recognized or customary character, practice, etc., irregular erratic, peculiar, odd. Noun: A person, who has an unusual, peculiar or odd personality, set of beliefs or behavior patterns. The word has its root from the (Medieval Latin) eccentricus from the Greek ekkentr(os) which is to be out of the center. It is used in Geometry and Astronomy to describe something that is out of center or not concentric. In other words, something that lies on the outside.
Eccentricity is often tolerated or even revered in the very wealthy or those who are celebrities. Their odd ways and behaviors can become fashionable amongst the masses, and are sometimes talked about as if these eccentrics were geniuses or acceptable outliers. In that regard, eccentricity can be a favorable quality, making one a leader or a trendsetter by walking a different path.
But what makes us HSMs seem eccentric to others? Is it the emotional aspects of our personalities, our broad accepting worldview, or our internal conflicts about our masculinity? What about our aversion to overstimulation, the hermitic deep processing of our experiences, or the masculine/feminine polarity, that many HSM men wrestle with? Are we too moody, too quiet, too sensitive to criticism, too introverted? We can be too empathetic, too observational, and too persnickety to environmental changes, but are we that different? Do we appear to the outside world to be outliers, strange, hard to figure out and hard to live with? In some cases, do people just want to throw up their hands and give up on us, because we are too much work?
But does that make us eccentric? Maybe. Eccentricity, also known as quirkiness, is not necessarily a maladaptive behavior. But, yes, we can be a bit off center from mainstream personality and behaviors. Many HSPs have an intellectual giftedness and curiosity, and a propensity for original and creative thought. That’s what makes many of us talented poets, actors, authors, painters and visionaries. We see things differently via our peculiar and unique perceptive lens. But are we eccentric?
The psychologist, David Meeks states that eccentrics are less prone to mental illness than the general population. Doesn’t that seem odd? Perhaps if you look at some of the other defining characteristics of eccentrics, it makes more sense. Eccentrics have an enduring propensity for non-conformity, they are creative (sound familiar?), have a strongly motivated curiosity (and I would add observational skills), an enduring sense of differentness and embrace this wonderful idealism that drives them to want to make the world a better place to live. In addition, eccentrics are intelligent, outspoken and have a quirky, mischievous sense of humor. With that battery of personality characteristics, it would seem eccentrics are well armed for survival in uncertain times, does it not?
Because we HSPs have an increased awareness and sensitivity to our environment and we do very deep and thoughtful processing, it makes sense that we may seem to the majority of the non-HSPs world to be a bit different, because of our peculiar way of looking at the world. And what about our tendency towards overwhelm, how we can so easily be affected by other’s moods or emotions, then retreat to our voluntary isolation, our emotional caves. We are prone to unrealistic perfectionism at times, which sometimes causes us to live out of sync with our environment and the people around us. So with our enhanced qualities of sensory detail, nuanced expression, and meaning, our emotional awareness which leads us to greater empathy and an expression of creativity, could we not be seen as eccentric?
Think about this: the following people have been associated with the quality of high sensitivity or Sensory Processing Sensitivity – Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Orson Welles, Edgar Allan Poe, Salvador Dali, Picasso, Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, Nicole Kidman, Katherine Hepburn, John Lennon, Elton John, Alanis Morissette, Neil Young, and Dolly Parton. And, my personal favorite, Robin Williams. That’s a pretty quirky bunch, wouldn’t you say?
Eccentric – well, yes, in a lot of ways. But, they turned that eccentricity into beautiful art. They are beloved by millions. And perhaps their sensitivity played heavily into their creative process. For some, it might have been a way to mask and protect themselves, for others it might have been a way to reach out and find common ground with the world. But for all of them, they risked being called eccentric and to rise above criticism to be themselves.
So, if we HSPs are that quirky, strange or weird, then what do we do about it? Is some eccentricity really good for HSPs? I mean, is eccentricity just really being different? But, wait, aren’t we different? Don’t we already admit that? I would say rather, how do we embrace our eccentricity? Can we stop worrying about what others think about us? Should we be promoting and socializing our uniqueness? And as people learn more about our nature, our personality our SPS secret, will they better understand us, and with that begin to normalize us?
Here are some things to think about concerning our “eccentricity”:
Following on a recent post on taking criticism, this week we focus on those times when criticism leads to arguments and how HSPs often struggle with conflict. How is that generally, bright, intelligent, deep thinking people, seem to wilt in the heat of a contentious argument. It’s as if a bit gets flipped in our brains and we shut down unable to keep up with the fast pace of heated argumentative situations. I have often wondered about that in myself. It's as if I lose processing power to fight back or at least contend with the high emotion of the situation. The minute the temperature heats up, my force fields go up and my brain starts to scramble. Yet, my ego won’t let me stay quiet, even if my arguments are a scrabble board of mixed thoughts and my parries fall into almost nonsensical logic.
I have never quite understood what happens to deflate my ability to counterpoint, especially against clever people who seem to thrive in these types of situations. What am I afraid of? Loss of face? Shaming? Am I afraid of losing favor with the person I’m arguing with? Does the overwhelm caused by unbridled defensiveness, a welling up of emotion, and my perfectionism kick in together to create a stew of mush, that causes me to lose control of my thoughts and move from single threading to a kaleidoscope of mixed emotion and thought too incoherent to vocalize? Does my thoughtful manner, and in this case I mean pensive, lead to a type of “ I’m right no matter what,” because I thought a lot about this, therefore I must be right.
Last week I talked about the external testing of our ideas and thoughts, not so much to gain consensus but to test our theories in the real world. Part of that is to hear and debate counterpoints in our line of thinking. But if testing leads to pushback on our ideas, ideas that are a representation of who we are, then does this ultimately lead to avoidance behavior, i.e., for arguing our point, because we are not willing to accept that maybe we are wrong in our thinking. And this shatters an internal mythos about ourselves. If so, I cannot see this avoidance behavior as being a realistic strategy for HSPs in testing our ideas, much less for anyone else.
The overwhelm, nevertheless, is very real. Overwhelm comes from within, especially for HSPs. In the heat of an argument, stressors arise that lead our minds, to recognize that in arguing with someone else, we have a situation with an unpredictable outcome. A very contentious argument is also full of raw emotion. This kindling lit with the emotion of the moment sets off a brush fire in our neural circuitry that can quickly short-circuit our minds.
Moving quickly into defensive mode, the flight or fight syndrome kicks in. Arguing for us is a runaway emotional trap. We are caught in a battle between our flee or fight instincts, mostly focused on self-preservation, and therefore we quickly shut down our brain’s effectiveness in following rational intellectual capacity which is there but cut off. The sting of defeat in an argument is deeply felt. The human brain processes emotional pain in the same way it processes physical pain. The same areas light up in the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex with physical and emotional pain, in an apparent evolutionary efficiency.
I often wonder if the amygdala in HSPs is overactive. The Deep Layer Superior Colliculus (DLSC) area of the brain works in conjunction with the amygdala to regulate emotional response in threatening situations. HSPs response to stress situations seems to predispose us to always be on high alert, based on our unique genetics and our life experiences. This constant flashing of alerts for sometimes exaggerated situations, like arguing, may, in fact, affect our hippocampus and other key areas of the brain in negative ways. This is prominent in situations where HSPs or for that matter anyone who has lived through traumatic life experiences much of which is harbored in the port of our subconscious mind.
The intensity of feeling is no doubt greater in HSPs compounding this problem. Greater feelings of anxiety in response to stress may lead to malfunction of the brain, especially in stressful argumentative situations. The repressed anger ensuing a stinging defeat may lead to increased muscular tension in the body, as we “hold within” our feelings of not being able to make ourselves heard in an argument, and can lead to later side effects within the body.
More importantly, I think this can lead HSPs towards a lifetime of argument avoidance, especially those that are conflictual and highly charged emotionally. This may lead to less expression of opinion in public forums, standing up for oneself in political or philosophical debates, or in work environment discussions. Some friends and family may even feel that we are hiding something from them and can construe negative imaginings about who we really are. Not a good situation.
The Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument defines several types of modes or styles of dealing with conflict. They range from the most aggressive to more avoidant styles, each style with a marker for assertiveness and cooperativeness. The most assertive style, competing is assertive and non-collaborative. The collaborating style is assertive, but as the name implies collaborative. Avoiding style is both non-assertive and non-collaborative. The accommodating style is non- assertive but collaborating and finally, the compromising style is right in the middle on both assertive and collaborating. It would seem that most HSPs would fall in the avoiding, accommodating or compromising style of handling conflict. With the worst case being the avoidant strategy and perhaps, the most successful being the compromising strategy or with some practice and skill, the collaborating style.
In another angle on effects of personality and arguing skills, the Myers-Briggs personality inventory, which is based on Carl Jung’s personality types, can be extrapolated on key personality functions to indicate tendencies during arguments. For example, Thinkers (T)– would no doubt focus on the facts and tangible evidence, whereas, Feelers (F)– would focus on the interpersonal dynamics of the people involved in the argument. People who are Judgers (J) – might focus on temporal issues, how the now impacts the future, where conversely, Perceivers (P) – would focus on inputs and if the conflict is being addressed. Most HSPs tend to be NFs (intuitive feelers), so according to this, sensitive folks would be more concerned with the emotional dynamics of the argument and the impacts caused to relationships, perhaps empathizing with our opponent and deferring to keep the peace.
This, in turn, may lead to internal conflict, between defending self and our position versus feeling empathy towards the person we are arguing with. The internalized stress and conflict may be a leading reason our brains shut down, scrambled by conflicting directives. How then do we slow our brains down, single thread our thoughts and think lucidly during an argument?
Interestingly, as may be noted, that the effects of alcohol and some drugs may seem to achieve this objective. These external agents do affect the inhibition systems within the brain, which, of course, affects behavior. Some of the main attributes of usage are: 1) anxiety suppression, 2) disinhibition, 3)ego inflation, 4)thought deceleration, and 5) emotional suppression. In my own experience, I have noticed this to be true. However, there is a tipping point, where the effects are counterproductive and lead to many more issues that are not productive. Let me say, that in no way am I advocating the use of these substances to enhance the ability to handle conflict. It simply illustrates that the capacity to regulate emotional throughput can be done, even if we are using an external agent.
Far better approaches are handled without introducing external chemistry. This gets back to emotional regulation, which can and should be done internally. Here are some strategies for dealing with arguments:
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.
The complications of being an HSP are already pretty demanding, but what if you added the personality type of INFJ to your identity? Yes, if you consider rare personality types as another layer of complexity. Well, actually, INFJ type is probably more common in HSPs than they would be, say in the general population.
Many of the INFJ attributes are overlapping with common HSM characteristics, so it’s possible that it really doesn’t add too much more complexity, but if you factor in the rarity of this personality – around 1-3 % percent of the world population, it is likely to be even a small subset of HSPs in the world. In males, it’s even rarer with only 1% of all males presenting as INFJ and I would guess that all of them are HSMs. So what exactly is an INFJ?
Carl Jung defined certain personality types as part of his body of work, largely based on cognitive function and style. From that seminal work psychologists Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs further developed an instrument for testing personality typology, called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
The focus is on sixteen different personality types composed of four major indicators: Extroversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling and Judgment/Perception. Each of the four elements reflects a particular style of dealing with the world, for example: Extroversion is outwardly energetic, while Introversion is inwardly energetic, the same would be true for Sensing (fact based) versus Intuition (insight). Another dichotomy would Thinking (cognitive logic) or Feeling (values and emotion), and finally the plan of attack, Judgment (structure, plan) and Perception (flow guided).
The combination of the four elements produces sixteen basic personality types, each with its own style and process for interacting with the world. If you think about this, our personality develops as we age and serves as an outward mask we present to the world. It’s hardly static and highly interactive.
If you have been following the blog for the last six months, you should be getting a pretty good handle on the HSP personality type and in particular the HSM or male version of HSP. What is interesting as of late is there has been a lot of attention on the Introvert personality type, such as in Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. What is not being talked about as much but will be, I believe, is the overlap in the HSP personality type and the Introvert personality. In fact, about seventy percent of HSPs are Introverts. What percent HSPs make of Introverts as a whole, is still unclear.
But, back to our original proposal about the combination of being HSP and being INFJ and the uniqueness of being twenty per cent of the population on one attribute and being one per cent of the population on the other. We’re talking rare air here.Let’s delve a little deeper in to the INFJ personality type.
INFJ’s are indeed rare individuals. They exhibit many of the characteristics of HSPs. They are intuition dominant, relying a great deal on this subconscious process for assessing the world. They tend to see things in patterns, big pictures, and symbolic meaning. The live largely in the abstract, are quite independent, enjoy working behind the scenes and are very private individuals. Ironically, they can seem to be extroverted and animated when engaged in passionate dialogue about something they care about and can even sport a personal charisma that is arresting, if not a bit off type.
They love to work in environments that are harmonious and if put in chaotic and hectic situations, can withdraw due to overwhelm. They have keen insight in problem solving, even though they are less rational in their thinking and rely heavily on their feelings and intuition.
Emotion, gut feel and internal sensing play a big role in how they interact with the world. There is often a strict perfectionism about them, that can seem almost snobbish as they survey their footprint in the world, conscientiousness on steroids. They are easily hurt by what they may seem is an indifferent world, which may not have time for their grandiose visions and emotionally intuitive problem solving methodology.
You can easily see why artists, creative types, activists, healers and spiritually inclined folk would be represented in this group. In part, the same types you see in HSPs. HSPs tend to be represented well in the MBTI areas that feature Introversion, Feeling and Intuition (INFJ, INFP, INTJ, INTP).
INFJ’s are caring, imaginative people. Some examples of INFJs are Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Florence Nightingale, Shirley MacLaine, Jimmy Carter and even Carl Jung. A great crowd to be running with, but INFJs have some negative baggage, too.
INFJ’s have the highest marital dissatisfaction ratings of any of the personality types, go figure. Under stress, they can act very impulsively, even destructively, make decisions without thinking or evaluating consequences. They can be hypercritical of others, finding fault everywhere and display an OCD like obsession with meaningless details. At times, INFJs can go against their own moral code and break rules, become very selfish, and display a shadow self that is really not their core values. Again, like most HSPs the INFJ needs downtime to reevaluate, re-energize and decompress.
Now does being an HSM magnify the INFJ traits, if you are both? If being an HSM is as much a physiological based (Sensory Processing Sensitivity) personality type as INFJ is a cognitive personality type, then it would seem logical that being an HSM would amplify, through heightened sensitivity, the traits inherent in being an INFJ. Of course, if all INFJs are in fact, HSPs, then there would be no other option. And I wonder if that is not a valid assumption.
Perhaps, I’m wildly speculating here about the mix, since both personality types are small populations, but not all HSPs are INFJs. Certainly too, not all HSMs are INFJs, so at the end of the day, I think when you do see this combination, you have a rare cross breeding of personality types that can make life challenging, interesting and unique.
That fact that so few men are HSM/INFJ, means that interacting in an often unsympathetic world, which reacts to rare personality types in sometimes callous or harsh ways, you can see where the problems might arise for HSM/INFJs. My conclusion is not that the personality combo is bad or maladaptive; I think it might be more problematic because of its uniqueness. In the end, being understood is a key to happiness and for HSM/INFJs that is often a hard commodity to find.
Here are a few tips if you believe you may be an HSM that is also an INFJ:
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
Passive-aggressive is a label often meted out by non-experts to cubby hole people who may be moody or not willing to talk straight talk, people who are quiet and not assertive or even as a way to manipulate someone else by placing a derogatory label on them. As an HSM, I have been called passive aggressive by those who think my thoughtful and deliberate approach on things is manipulative. Not so.
What is passive aggressive behavior anyway? The classical definitions describe this behavior as a passive group of manipulative behaviors used to provide resistance to another or others, mired in moodiness, sarcasm, stubbornness, learned helplessness, blaming, and backhanded compliments or in some way to mask hidden anger. The gist of this seems to be about an inability to process anger in a straight forward and positive, assertive way. Repressed anger, lack of assertiveness. Sound familiar, HSMs?
Passive aggressive behavior is learned at home. Children made to feel that anger is something not to be expressed, find ways to allow the inner turmoil to seep out and passive aggressive behavior is one way to do that. It also occurs in families where any honest, straight forward emotional display is discouraged, and again, the child learns coping strategies, that help relieve the internal pressure cooker.
Passive aggressive behavior in extreme is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSMxx) as a disorder, needing therapeutic treatment. In its lesser forms, passive aggressive behavior is more of a failed coping strategy that is more of a distorted approach to getting your point across. It’s a childish behavior, it’s manipulative and it’s catty.
The root of passive aggressive behavior is most often stemmed from anger or disappointment, or hurt feelings. The motive for passive aggressive behavior is a subtle type of revenge that is manipulative but not aggressive.
Not surprisingly, men and women process anger differently. Men are taught to be more visual, external and aggressive, while woman are taught to suppress their anger and to vent it in more subtle and diffused ways. You would think that the perfect candidates for passive aggressive behavior would be women. But this does not seem to be the case. Because women verbalize more than men about their emotions, they can, in fact, find suitable outlets of expression that don’t lead to aggressive behavior. Conversely, men aren’t always allowed to express aggressive anger, repress the feelings and find passive aggressiveness as way to cope with the anger.
But what about HSMs? Because we tend to be less assertive and certainly less aggressive, would this make us candidates for passive aggressive behavior? On the surface that would seem logical, but thinking about one of the hallmarks of HSPs, empathy, it would seem less likely that this behavior would be likely to be implemented.
Empathy is a powerful force in its own right. Manipulation of another stems largely from a lack of empathy towards the other. Having the sensitivity to react to our reactions, makes us more likely to consider the outcomes before implementation and our empathetic and sensitive nature makes it unlikely that we would feel good about this strategy.
Now with that said, it is not impossible to imagine an HSP using passive aggressive tactics in desperation, but as a long range strategy, it just doesn’t feel right. It does require some disconnection from the “what I say” and “what I do” of the behavior to enact passive aggressively. And this would be the point where HSMs would struggle.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the HSM personality that might lead others to label HSPs as passive aggressive. Because HSMs tend to be more connected to their emotional state and are aware of the emotions of those around them, do we tend to get more defensive when emotions run hot? The answer is a resounding yes. We are very sensitive to criticism and as a result this often leads to people pleasing behaviors, some of which are inauthentic. This becomes a point of incongruity for our internal compass.
This can be become a disconnect in our communication with others, as we pursue an often idealistic goal of continual peace and harmony with the world. As Dr. Elaine Aron states, “…(HSPs) are naturally more influenced by feedback, and it may even be why we are more emotional generally.” We take that feedback to heart, process it, and at some point take action. The time lag may appear to others to be a form of passive aggressive behavior (shutdown reaction, quiet, not saying what we feel, etc.)
We hurt more easily, too. HSPs are not angels. We do have a dark side as well. As men, we still have a drive to act aggressively, even if it is not our nature. Can we formulate strategies to react less aggressively, but still showing passivity and milder aggressiveness? Perhaps, we do show signs of hypercritical evaluation, self flagellation, indecisiveness, irritability, moodiness, need for solitude, naivete, and eccentricity, but taken as a whole is this passive aggressive? I can see where the non-HSP world could see that. But its not, and the key is the motive. Manipulation and revenge are the key motives of passive aggressive behavior and are not major drivers for HSPs.
In fact, Dr. Aron points out, “Generally, the research does not point out or show increased activation in HSPs in areas of the brain related to ‘primitive emotion’ …Rather than ‘getting all stirred up’ more than others, we tend to process emotional experiences more in ‘higher’ parts of the brain, the ones designed precisely for emotional regulation.”
Anger a swift moving emotion, helps us to set boundaries and protect our rights. For HSPs, this highly charged emotion can leave us in a processing overload. Our reaction are not often swift enough, and hence boundaries can be lost. This is upsetting even for HSPs and can lead to coping strategies that may not be best for our personality type. Sometimes, the non-HSP world see this is passive aggressive without truly understanding what that term means.
Slow to anger does not mean the anger is not present. Because we HSMs tend to suppress some of the aggressiveness of anger, we still have to process our reaction to anger. At some point, it will come out. Assertiveness training is helpful and the use of assertiveness strategies is in alignment with HSP values. Most of us never get this type of education. Unfortunate. I know for myself at some point a eruption point occurs and like a volcano the anger explodes unexpectedly. Bad strategy, and for that we get bad labeling.
So what can we do? If you show passive aggressive tendencies or what the non-HSP world describes as such, here’s some ways to deal with that:
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
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…
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…
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.