A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Charlie: I know who you are, Sam. I know I'm quiet... and, and I know I should speak more. But if you knew the things that were in my head most of the time, you'd know what it really meant. How, how much we're alike, and how we've been through the same things... and you're not small. You're beautiful.
From: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Does high sensitivity produce high insecurity in HSP males? With all that extra processing power, the more intense the emoting, the greater likelihood of high level meltdowns, and when faced with the outside world’s response or pressures, wouldn’t it make sense that with a feedback loop like that, that insecurity would flourish?
Are highly sensitive males more likely to be insecure than the larger non-HSP male population? The elements of being an HSP-- high sensitivity, deep mental processing, overwhelm and emotional reactivity might seem on the surface to contribute to insecurity, especially in HSP boys. Overstimulation, overthinking, presenting emotionally as less than the ideal masculine in dealing with emotions does not inherently lead to feelings of insecurity and lack of self-esteem. It seems other factors are more important than simply how we process emotions.
Environment plays a greater role in providing the feedback necessary from parents and friends that would reinforce feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. In other words, there is no genetic predisposition for insecurity. Insecurity is learned. If there is a tendency towards insecurity in HSP males, then that is a product of nurture and not nature. Studies suggest that when HSPs are raised in nurturing homes with understanding and supportive parents – they thrive. Conversely, as you might expect, in opposite conditions, they respond more negatively than less sensitive kids.
Where, then, does insecurity come from? There is a multitude of sources from which the seeds of insecurity are sown. As stated earlier, parental figures play an enormous shaping role in developing a child’s self-concept. Disapproving authority figures, uninvolved and disinterested caregivers, bullying parents all send the wrong types of messages to sensitive young minds. Without the benefit of adult size mental filters, kids naturally process this feedback as is and take the negative message to heart. When later in life, academic, athletic or more serious traumatic events present themselves as challenges, rigid beliefs from childhood, which have never been challenged become set. The insecure child becomes an insecure adult. Social media serves to confirm these beliefs: “I am not worthy.”
Does this become a lifelong affliction? Like cement, once set, does it become immutable? The impacts are quite clear. Low self-esteem, insecurity, and low confidence affect every aspect of life. From career choices to mate selection, academics, sports, sex performance, income potential , you name it, they all are impacted. And for men,the question of how you are viewed as a man.
The self-comparison game starts early, and so begins the insecurity. Current examples, have to include social media, where comparisons run rampant, and the unreality of reality weighs in for review. Everyone is doing better than the insecure eye would see. Filter this through the HSP lens, and you see amplification through greater self-talk, constant comparison processing, overreaching emotionally, and stoking the fires that will one day consume the fragile ego.
What can we surmise that the arc of this behavior will lead to? Is it a dark trap? Do insecure people self-sabotage to minimalize overstimulating experiences? Does this ultimately lead to withdrawal, overcompensation and self-loathing? At what point do insecure men believe there is a point of no return?Then, using insecurity as a crutch, they elicit sympathy from everyone that will listen.
People who lack self-confidence, learn early to seek approval externally. They moderate and lower positive expectations and naturally deflect compliments. Yet, somehow lack of self-confidence is not all pervasive in an individual’s personality, although it may seem that way. It’s not dependent on actual abilities, but the focus is rather on unrealistic expectations set by parents and authority figures transferred as beliefs in the individual.
Many assumptions that the insecure individual possess are: 1) that they must be loved and approved by every important person in their lives, 2) be thoroughly competent and high achieving in all aspects of their lives, and 3) their focus is always on past performance, not present or future potentials. Their thoughts are permeated with all or nothing thinking, often seeing the dark side of situations, magnifying the negative. Further, with their uncritical acceptance of runaway emotions as truth, overemphasizing “shoulds,” self-labeling, and seeing challenges through the prevailing belief of inadequacy and incompetence, they perpetuate their own self-myth.
Is it any wonder that emotional insecurity ensues. That feeling of general unease or nervousness that may be triggered by external factors, resulting in feelings of not being worthy of love, an inadequate and worthless human being.
It’s a slippery slope from childhood to manhood, an upward climb with unsteady footing for those unsure of themselves. When you’re not getting the feedback you deserve, you need, you crave the impacts are real. It’s all learned and the process, I dare say, intensifies when you are an HSP. Everything gets amplified, the internal voices are louder, the uncorrected logic, fueled by emotion, cuts a broader, wider path in your self-esteem. Who knows how prevalent it is in HSMs? We don’t all have parents that get us. How many fathers’ likely see beyond their own expectations and see their sons as the budding man, still malleable, like fresh, soft clay ready to be molded into it’s strongest, best form.
How do we prevent this from developing in our HSP boys? How do we gently bring them along, not making them dependent, yet lighting that flame of courage, independence, and self-love that will empower them throughout their lives? We, as parents, need to give the positive spin on HSP characteristics and yet instill confidence in them as people, as men, even being different men that are sometimes swimming against the cultural tide.
We need to show what a healthy, masculine role model would be like. Help them to be confident in their inherent qualities. Help them become emotionally strong men, teaching them to express the full range of human emotion. Teach them to avoid the dark trap of insecurity. Teach them confidence and self-assurance, sans the arrogance, overconfidence, and bravado of small minded men. That confidence will allow the HSP traits to grow and flourish without heavy internal conflicts. Healthier boys, make healthier men.
Here are six things that will help our HSP boys:
Aibileen Clark: You is kind. You is smart. You is important.
From: The Help.
A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
The French have a term, L’Appel Du Vide, the call of the void, to describe that intrusive call to oblivion, of self-destruction or of jumping impulsively into the abyss, that we all experience from time to time. The moment happens to most of us, in a split second, standing near a ledge, or driving in a car, wherein we contemplate cutting across the line into oncoming traffic. It is like Carlos Castaneda’s ideology of death stalking us, tempting us with a moment, where we are dared to chase the reaper. A snap inner voice that says “Jump!” and for a split second, our minds drift over into the call to nothingness. A single moment of distraction, an alternate reality, and then just as suddenly back to normalcy, with a deep sigh.
We HSPs live a lot of our lives inside of our heads. Many of our self-concepts come from the conclusions we have drawn from our own deep analysis and deep processing. Many times we don’t validate those conclusions externally, because of our sensitivity to criticism and our fragile egos. We make ourselves subject to deep hurt when our carefully considered assumptions are proven wrong by expressing them to others. Deep processing does not always mean correct conclusions. In fact, I would argue that many of our conclusions are off the mark, like computer code stuck in an endless loop.
At times this can create a bit of an existential crisis with us, causing doubt about who we are, what we are and, thoughts on the possible need to construct a new model within our egos. A very conscientious individual can be severely rattled when confronted with logical holes in their reasoning or in their emotional position.
And, at that moment, does this create a metaphorical moment of L’appel du vide? You have to love the French for taking a very serious matter and give it an élan that only they can do. L’appel du vide is not always about taking the plunge, it is though a split second of resignation, passing quickly, offering a moment of liberation at the thought of no longer existing. We briefly escape our existence, jumping headlong into a dark nothingness, where we can abandon, our emotions and our hurt. Here, when our peaceful place of refuge lets us down, we can flash think into a nonexistence.
Of course, quickly we flash back to reality, shocked for the moment that the idea of nonexistence was presented in front of us. A fantasy suicide of sorts, that never happens.
Is this real? Does this scenario happen to HSPs? Are we subject to the un petite l’appel du vide thoughts? Or are we more practical, suffer the insults, process heavily, then pop our little heads out of the hole again, no worse for the wear? Suicidal ideation, fleeting thoughts, role-playing or incompletion of actually ending it all, is not so uncommon. But, it is a serious matter. Nearly four percent of adult Americans report having these moments. The underlying causes often come from mood disorders, depression or simply by feeling alone, abandoned or the stress of life. But, what I am speaking of here, is not that.
These moments of existential crisis, a moment when the individual questions if their life has meaning, purpose or value, may lead one to conjure an l’appel du vide moment. More often popping up as a spontaneous subconscious thought. Could heavy, deep processing of a bad decision, or wrong conclusion, lead one to doubt oneself or to provide too many options to choose from, lead to this same internal crisis?
Is this just a miscalculation? Can overprocessing of highly energized emotional input cause us HSPs to over calculate causing an internal crisis? Dr. Elaine Aron acknowledges to our deep processing cycles with the acronym, D.O.E.S. The D represents the HSP depth of processing, that deep contemplation of what others might see as minutiae. The O stands for overstimulation, a common characteristic of HSPs, our world of overwhelm. The E is for emotional reactivity, our energizing quality, and finally, the S is for seeing the subtle or our high marking sensitivity. Now granted all of these qualities have and can be seen as positive in many ways, bringing us the ability to be intuitive, empathetic, cautious and careful planners. But, can too much processing be a two-edged sword?
Sometimes the pain is the lesson. Suffering through deep processing should eventually lead to some type of action, but with HSPs not always is there follow through. A constant churn of revisiting, rethinking and reevaluating conclusions may not be a great strategy for solutions. Even with our need for solitude, alone time, silent reflection – in the end, a decision or action is needed. Too much solitude can lead to a distortion of perception, increased anxiety and perhaps sensory illusions.
When a computer program goes into an endless loop, it follows the code, regardless of the flaw and loops back endlessly to the beginning, only to start again. It wastes computer time and resources, perhaps generating needless output, yet never concluding. When confronted with painful reality are HSPs subject to endless loop processing?
Then, does inaction lead us to those moments of l’appel du vide? Does our deep processing lead us to wish we could let go of the processing cycle? Do we fall into an endless loop, not deciding, not concluding, but caught, lost in too much information – and in our imaginations, staring blithely through a rain-soaked windshield at the oncoming traffic ahead and flashing a moment of nonexistence for a respite?
So, what do we do? Follow up the deep processing with some type of action. Don’t get caught in the whirlpool, getting sucked down into the vortex of overthinking. Don’t let frustration get you down, heads up, keep looking to break the trend of over processing. And, if that moment of l’appel du vide comes into conscious awareness – consider it rather as a leap of faith. Yes, process as we do, but at some point face the uncomfortableness and take action to resolve. You’ll never know if you are right or wrong until you expose your thinking to the outside. Take the leap into the void of uncertainty but leave the leap from the cliff alone.
Note: Suicide is a serious matter. If you are having recurring suicidal thoughts, please seek immediate help from a medical or mental health professional. The gist of this article was to take the French concept of “the call of the void” and use it in a metaphorical way, describing a brief mental escape. L’appel du vide in this context was also used to mean responding to the call as a mental leap of faith or better yet, taking a calculated risk towards positive action, expressed as leaping into the unknown. Breaking the habit of overthinking is probably a good thing, but don’t abandon careful, considerate deep evaluation. Consider it carefully, as I know you will.
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:
This week’s question is what is happiness? Is it static emotional state between sorrow and joy, a neutral state of contentment, or is it ephemeral and fleeting like a forest sprite, popping in and out of our lives? I know I have been pursuing this elusive butterfly for the entirety of my life, still left with questions about what I’m pursuing. I’m not sure we will figure out the correct way to find it for everyone, but I think at the very least we can attempt to define it, look at it and give it an identifying pin on the human emotional map.
Psychologists like to frame happiness as experiencing frequent positive emotions, such as joy, pride, and high interest coupled with infrequent bouts of negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety, and anger in other words a deficit of depressing feelings and a surplus of upbeat and positive feelings. I like that there is an acknowledgement of the existence of both within the definition if for no other reason than to acknowledge that there is no perpetually happy person.
Generally, though, happy people have a special penchant for processing life events with a positive spin; especially those challenging events or perceptions of such events that might take some or most of us down. I suppose it is the optimist versus pessimist viewpoint. This seems largely a perception thing, and more or less defines how individuals interpret life events.
The outcome of those perceptions could lead to a happy person viewpoint or conversely, or it could mean someone who is largely negative processes the inputs in an entirely different way leading to a neutral or sad interpretation. Hence connecting life moments dot by dot to create could either a happy life or a sad one. All in the eyes of the beholder.
Aristotle saw happiness more in the act of doing than in the being mode of perception and receiving. The Greeks believed happiness was in a life well lived -- an aspiration, not so much a state of being. Which begs the question is happiness an emotional state or is it found in a state of living or becoming, something to strive for? Nietzsche argued that the pursuit of happiness was contemptible. Instead one should endeavor to instead focus on the difficult and challenging struggles of life. Something noble in just reaching the finish line, no smiling permitted. Perhaps, Nietzsche was not a very happy person.
Modern psychology endeavors to define happiness along two lines. Both mirror some of the ancient Greek philosophy concerning happiness. One most familiar to most of the Western world is the idea of hedonia – the pleasure principle of happiness. This concept is much like the attempt often found today of connecting the dots of happiness moments to create the illusion of a continuum of happiness. It is exploited continuously by the advertising agencies to create a desire for a product, equating the acquisition of said product with a happiness moment, i.e., new car, new house, new can opener, you get the picture.
The other Greek concept copped by modern science about happiness is the notion of eudaimonia or the well lived life. This is really translated as life with meaning, living a satisfying, contented life. This idea is less focused on moment by moment acquisition of happiness, but rather a lifelong thread of aspirational living.
In reality, both of the concepts appear to live concurrently with happy people. They seem to enjoy moments more positively and over time live more satisfying happiness producing lives. This might also be described as living life in more of a flow state with more peak experiences – focused, absorbed and active. Positive Psychology even calls out the main elements associated with happiness as the pursuit of pleasure, high engagement (see flow), satisfying relationships, meaning and purpose, and accomplishments (reaching goals).
It’s no wonder that the Founding Fathers, particularly Jefferson annunciated this in the Declaration, a particularly popular notion of that time: “…of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And as the U.S. has become the poster child of capitalism, it’s fitting that Jefferson’s definition of happiness was interpreted to mean – prosperity, thriving and well being.
But what of the highly sensitive person population and happiness? Does our observant, cautious and sometimes timid natures, make us less likely to actively pursue this thing called happiness. Is it possible we are wired to be a bit more pessimistic, therefore a little less prone to the pursuit of elusive ideals? With happiness comes some of the most intense of emotions, including, love, joy, ecstasy, and are we more prone to shying away from that intensity? Does happiness create too much brain chemistry for HSPs? Yeah, I know it sounds absurd, but I wonder sometimes if we are most contented when we live in the neutral zone. I’m thinking joy suppression here to affect calm over emotional exuberance.
Positive and negative emotions have important evolutionary components. Neuroscience suggests that our proclivity towards pleasure is an important driver in survival. Our perception of pleasure which can be an affective state, essentially straddling somewhere between the lower brain/upper brain neurological connections, subliminal in nature, contrasts with the higher level state of conscious affective pleasure, which overlays conscious thought onto the neurological communication of pleasure seeking. These pleasure centers are all over the brain from limbic to cortical areas all acting in concert driving behavior. Each influencing either a “like response” or a “want (desire) response”, the former more primitive and the later more consciously influenced. Together they both move us towards the pleasure principle aspect of happiness.
So how does this filter through the HSP brain? Are we different than non-HSPs when it comes to happiness? Does our empathetic nature and deep processing of environmental inputs, put as at an advantage or disadvantage in pursuing happiness? Because of our “deep wiring” do we naturally form strong neural networks between the emotion centers and cortical regions and because we engage these almost continuously are we if given the proper environment in which to work/live are we more likely to be content, satisfied, dare I say, happier? Do HSPs live in the hedonia zone or are we more content with eudaimonia principles? If I were a betting man, I’d say the latter.
And what about being unhappy? Is it so bad not to be happy all the damn time? Does being unhappy really mean being sad or down? Can we be just as fulfilled by pursuing the neutrality of contentment? And is all this talk of happiness not especially useful for HSPs who live within the full spectrum of human emotion. Can we be condemned for not being slap happy all the time? Being more intuitive, more empathetic, more emotional and deep processors -- does that not lend us to getting stuck in one emotional state from time to time. Again, perhaps, we should strive not to connect and hold on to the happiness dots as a pleasure pastime but rather striving for a more balanced and satisfying life, with the inherent ups and downs associated with a well lived life. Wouldn’t this be a good overriding principle for HSPs?
We are at a point in human history where the idea of every human being having an inherent right to happiness is considered to be a truth. It was as if a resort somewhere in the tropics where once we visited has now become a desired destination of permanent residence, just because we were happy for a brief time there in the past. Not realizing that happiness, like resort living, comes at a price. A state of perpetual happiness is likely not possible, just like holding a moment in time, trying to make it last forever. Happiness comes and goes, flitting in our lives like the elusive butterfly. The idea of happiness as an elongated moment, that will last a lifetime is myth. We aspire to happiness as we aspire to spiritual growth. It is a journey, not a destination. Yet, all of it is good - even sadness, even the state of not happy.
I’ve been in pursuit of happiness all my life. An elusive and impossible dream. Looking outside of myself everywhere to acquire, befriend or pursuit it. I’m not sure I’ve ever found it for long. Does that mean it doesn’t exist – not likely, but maybe my personal definition is skewed? Maybe like the butterfly, happiness appears out of nowhere arriving for a fleeting moment. We that are living life, never know exactly when it will come. For the observant ones, we experience it outwardly and inwardly by a variety of uncontrollable means. Happiness is temporary, it comes and goes, just like the butterfly, it flies away again in jagged butterfly patterns. It zigs in and out of our lives, showing up like an omen, and then leaves without warning. We never catch this butterfly, for to do so will destroy it. But, maybe the illusion is that we can catch it and keep it for all time. It does seem there is a difference between pleasure and happiness. Yet, we get them confused.
Happiness is like art, we behold, enjoy it, interpret it, often misunderstand it, but somewhere within our souls we crave and appreciate it. By recognizing this, we can then quit making a living pursuing it; instead, live our lives with integrity and contentment. Know the art work of life that we are creating is flawed and gets weathered by life and yet perfect for us at a deep and soulful level. You see there are really no rules here, not for happiness. If we can say that at the end of life, that we lived a life in which happiness visited us many times, then surely we are blessed. The breadcrumbs to happiness are scattered on the ground where life was lived. Be happy to recognize when happiness finds you.
Note: It’s funny how the pronunciation of words can change over time. The word happiness is one of those words. I have noted in many films of the 30s and 40s that the word is pronounced by both American and British actors with emphasis on the “p” and the “ee” sound in the word happy is less like we pronounce it today and more flat like ”uh”, something like hap-puh-ness vs. happ-ee-ness. Every year around Christmas, I watch the Bishops Wife with David Niven, I notice this, don’t know why. Let’s just say it was an inspiration for this blog.
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
The Sensitive Man – Brain Training for HSMs
Special note: I will be relocating to Texas at the end of December. I am in process of packing up and getting ready to move. There may be some lapses in posts for the next few weeks. When I am in Texas in January, regular schedules will ensue.
What is the number one problem for HSMs/HSPs?
The number one problem for HSPs and this includes most HSMs is handling overstimulation and overwhelm. How to calm the mind effectively and quickly can be a problem in our over connected, over stimulated world. Many of the causes of overwhelm for HSMs are the usual suspects: internal sources of over analysis about things, obsessing over our internal state, making mountains out of molehills, pain, fatigue, stress, anxiety and of course adherence to an unbending perfectionism. Needless to say, dealing with overwhelm can be overwhelming. HSPs generally rely on the old tried and true methods of retreat and decompress, which sometimes work and sometimes don’t.
Most often recommended mind calming methods.
Psychologists recommend a multitude of standard remedies for overwhelm, including watching the diet (think caffeinated beverages and sugary foods), getting enough sleep, exercising, being active and of course deep breathing exercises. Some of the methods, however, can in some cases, actually be counterproductive. While it’s always good to be mindful of diet and I can’t argue with getting enough sleep, exercising can sometimes be overstimulating and just doing a few deep breaths if done incorrectly can cause us to hyperventilate. I’m joking of course.
One of our biggest problems is our own negative self-talk, arguing with ourselves over our lack of fitting in, measuring up to the norm and the like. Quieting our monkey minds can be challenging. Working with the body to calm the mind is also a good way to relax and throttle down. Getting a massage, engaging our auditory senses with music, watching a funny movie and laughing hard way down in the belly is good because laughter affects brain chemistry in positive ways. I have recently taken up the practice of gratitude. Seems too simple to work, yet, I have found that it’s subtle ways are effective in moderating negative moods. It’s easy to do and you can always find something to be grateful about.
The great Kahuna of mind calming techniques, at least for the last 30 years or so, has been meditation. There has been quite a bit of research done on its positive effects and more and more doctors and therapists are recommending it for handling stress and overload. Regardless of the flavor or your mediation, Zen, mindfulness, Transcendental Meditation or just progressive relaxation – breathing with muscle relaxation, all of these techniques have been proven to be effective, recently by evidence based research, but before that thousands of years of practice in cultures that knew the practice was the evidence.
Effectiveness and efficiency of meditation and mindfulness practice.
As someone, who practiced TM years ago, I noticed immediate benefit for short term results. I could quiet my mind and feel the alpha brainwaves kicking in with the relaxation. As long as I could find a quiet place with no disturbances and could devote twenty minutes or so, to sitting still; I found it most useful. As a spot tool, it was great.
My problem with meditation was hanging in there for the long term. The nuggets of gold in doing meditation requires a long term commitment to disciplining the mind to stay in that alpha zone. Granted as time goes by, the practice becomes easier, but for a lot of us, especially HSPs need relief fast and want it to last past the period of relaxation activity. Again, we, as HSPs often fight the battle within, our minds can be our biggest enemy and quieting that active overstimulated brain can be difficult. In other words, our conscious mind can interfere with the deep relaxation we need by short circuiting the mental discipline that meditation requires.
Is there a better, easier way?
In a word, yes. I think for relieving immediate anxiety, stress and overwhelm, it’s important to use techniques that bypass the conscious, critical mind. Although a lot of the source of overwhelm comes from external sources, our environment, our relationships, a good bit is sourced to our internal state. A good many of our real problems reside deep below in the unconscious mind. Stored memories, patterns, beliefs, pre-lingual thoughts all these contribute mightily to our mood, our thoughts and behaviors, especially in reacting to said external world.
In the past thirty years some very effective techniques have been developed to address this. Some are easily accessible, and can be used readily at home, while others require a trained professional to assist. Techniques like EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique- tapping), EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), hypnosis and neurofeedback can all reach down into that area of the brain and release material which can be a source of anxiety and stress. Some of these techniques like hypnosis and neurofeedback can also be very relaxing in and of themselves. You get the short term benefit of relaxation – changing your brainwave state, and the long term benefit of relieving the source of the anxiety deep in the unconscious mind.
Word of caution here, self-treating of serious mental health issues, or using these techniques alone for dealing with serious issues, should be avoided and treatment options should be evaluated and supervised by a trained mental health professional. Nevertheless, they are all worth exploring as ways to decompress for HSPs, who seem to benefit most readily in my experience.
Brain training with neurofeedback tools.
Brain training with neurofeedback tools is an excellent way to create a more resilient and efficient brain. I use at BrainPilots, utilizing Zengar’s Neuroptimal system for doing brain training. Notice I am not saying this is treatment, for it is not that. As a brain trainer I don’t diagnose or develop a treatment protocol, which is the beauty of using this tool. Neuroptimal simply takes data from the brain via EEG signals and runs them through a sophisticated computer software tool and then relays alerts to the brain back via a signal interrupt in an audio file listened to by the client. It alerts the brain when learning moments are optimal and the brain does the rest.
Now this is an oversimplification of how the whole process works, yet in its surface simplicity there is great benefit to allowing the brain to make its own corrections in real time, in its own way. Natural, safe, effective. Now getting back to our point about, bypassing the conscious mind, this is the perfect tool for this. The signals cannot be interpreted by the conscious mind, so at some point the CM just drifts off to sleep or into some other thought patterns. The training takes place regardless of whether the client is attentive, asleep or just thinking about lunch.
The best part about this is that most clients drift off into a deep relaxing state, while listening to the music and the entire session is over in thirty minutes. Relaxation – check, brain training- check. Mission accomplished.
There are clear short term and long term benefits, especially for HSPs. Our brains can easily be overactive, overstimulated and contaminated with excessive data that most non-HSPs never have to deal with. We talked about the benefits of this, more creative, more observant, more discerning, but we still have to deal with a great deal of garbage that can cause overwhelm.
Doing an exercise, like brain training is perfect for overstimulated HSPs. The activity is passive; it requires nothing of the client but to sit in a chair. It’s relaxing, providing short term immediate relief from stress. It’s training the brain in subtle natural ways, working directly with the unconscious mind, providing opportunities for the brain to make changes for the client's good. Since their own brain is doing the decisioning in what gets done, it works for the higher good of the central nervous system without side effects. Hence, there is a long term benefit in helping bubble up the detritus of the unconscious.
How it’s worked for me.
As a HSM, this has been amazing for me. I’m so glad I found it. I have been doing brain training with Neuroptimal for almost two years. Once a week is like doing daily meditation. It calms me in the session and later for the week, I recognize the subtle yet clear changes that occur in my CNS (central nervous system.)
I react differently to stressful events. I process things more quickly, not holding on to things forever. This is efficiency and effective use of the brain. Now, don’t misunderstand, I still have the same issues that all HSPs have, but continuing with training has helped me to navigate those with less overwhelm.
Just recently, I returned home on a flight from Houston to Bend, Oregon. I had two hops along the way in Dallas and Phoenix, each with tight connections. Throughout the entire flight, I noticed that my reaction to making those connections had changed. Ordinarily, I would have been tense and tight knowing that the slightest thing could cause me to miss the next flight. Yet, throughout, I was calm. It was a visceral calm that can only come from the unconscious mind. Body calm, mind calm. As I sat in my seat on the last connection waiting for the plane to unload, I noticed this and said to myself, “Bingo, we have a winner.” It had changed me. Anecdotal yes, but the change is real. I’m sticking with it.
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
Do sports and the HSP male mix well?
As I have gotten older, I have mellowed on my love all things related to University of North Carolina athletics. I never attended the school but was born in the state, Alumni via propinquitate. My children truly feared a Carolina loss, and often hid when they could see things going south. We laugh about it now, but I’m sure it was terrifying seeing the old man, rant at amplitude for a missed free throw or a squandered scoring opportunity.
That was about as freewheeling with my emotions as I got. And I would let loose. Today, not so much, I am more tempered by age and realize, wisely, the going ons of twenty something athletes, is nothing to get bent up about. And in my reflection, I wonder, as an older HSP male, why I allow this to happen in the first place.
After all what is a fan, but an emotional fanatic?
As sport fans, HSP or non-HSP, we are tragically tied to the fates of our teams. I mean, a fan is a fanatic and typically emotionally vested in the outcome of their favorite team’s performance. We all become emotional; we all channel the inner HSP, full of rich, deep and strong emotion viewing our sporting event of choice. Of course, fueled by alcohol or some other such social lubricant, we can intensify that emotion, making the small fan into a large and emboldened FAN.
As HSMs we can overcome our reluctance for emotional public display, by joining in with others, like minded fans, shout and scream, rant and rave and feel like part of something bigger. Perhaps for some HSMs the roar of the crowd, the rowdiness of seatmates, the blaring bands, the PA blasting is a bit much in person, but safer to follow on the big screen at home, with the touch of a remote control.
Even still, I have often found that moments of heart pounding sports action, can find me slipping into another room, waiting on the outcome, signaled by the crowds roar or silence, to clue me in on the outcome. Not being able to watch is throttling my support, I suppose, but makes it easier. Nevertheless, being a fan can be linked to feelings of well-being, happiness, less loneliness and isolation, by giving you community, a common communication language, an inner generational connection, and the freedom to express emotion in public with reckless abandon, especially for men. Maybe even more so for HSMs.
Following a team is like begin in love, n'est-ce pas?
It really is like being in love. The range of emotions is almost identical. Up and down with a team’s fortunes, heartbreak and ecstasy, winning and losing, sometimes all in a neat two hour drama or a months long season. And at the end of the season, if your team makes the final round of action, you either soar into the following year with a victory or you sink with disappointment in a loss that lingers and is re-triggered with every Sportscenter highlight or YouTube video clip. It can be agonizing.
So why would an HSM male, put themselves through this. Typically, we are not the best athletes. We are not often drawn to competitive sport, as players or as viewers (alright maybe more of the latter). Why do some of us do this?
A place to vent, be aggressive and walk out with all of your teeth / or releasing the beast within.
Like most young males, HSM males, are socialized into sport. It is the manly thing to do, to engage in competition, to test our strength against other males, to foster the warrior within and to progress towards a masculine archetype, defined by our culture. It is the staging area to grow the ambiguous boy and transform him into the man society expects him to be. Right. Sport, especially in America is a place to vent, to be aggressive and to release the inner beast within – doing it in nice timed quarters, with zebra shirted referees, and then to return to the real world as a hero, or at least role model. Again, right.
The paradox of watching violent sports and being a sensitive male.
As HSMs we generally refrain from violence as a first resort, but watching particularly violent sports, such as hockey, football and even baseball would seem to be the antithesis of what HSMs would find entertaining. But you can’t take the HSM out of the context of the culture we reside in. In America, football is religion, and no one can say this sport is not about snot knocking violence. As fans we hoot and holler about a great hit, a bone jarring tackle or a bruising run by a halfback.
And many studies have shown that violence modeled even for adults watching away from the action, can lead to violence away from the game. Where does that lead HSM sport fans? Is this some vestige of our early childhood training? Are we proving our manhood by watching or participating in such games or are we simply getting along to save face with our male cohorts? It would seem not to make sense, but I know there are many among us, myself included that pass through this ritual every Fall.
As George Orwell describes it, “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules, and sadistic pleasure in violence. In other words, it is war without shooting.”
How can we not be affected by it? Where is the balance?
Does sensitivity affect athletic ability?
As for the athletes involved, how many of them are HSMs? If HSMs are twenty percent of the population it stands to reason, that there has to be some of the college and pro athletes representing. And if so, how does that affect their sports performance? Does criticism mess with their heads, hence impacting performance? Do they get TOO emotional during losses or during stages of defeat that would impact the team? Or are they more passionate, more driven, and more conscientious about their game and tend to excel?
I can’t imagine there being any mutual exclusivity to being sensitive or highly sensing and athletic ability. In fact, many top athletes are not above showing that sensitivity in reflection of a completed game/match/meet. I would point to athletes that show a great deal of passion and compassion, as possible HSM model athletes – Michael Jordan, Tim Tebow, LeBron James, and Tiger Woods.
I still love sports.
Regardless, of where you stand on this topic, since HSM males are a wide spectrum, and yes I believe that HSPness goes from moderate sensitivity to extreme sensitivity, we males can fall out anywhere on that strata. I can’t speak for the whole, but I can say for me, I still love sports. I play less of the team variety these days, but love to participate when I can. I do watch my teams and vicariously enjoy their success and failures. I does put me in touch with something greater, a sense of belonging (even remotely), and I do relish that.
But, I do wonder sometimes, how I can be so variegated with HSM interests – art, music, writing, spirituality and enjoying the natural wonders around me; and still be drawn to combative, competitive, and yes, sometimes violent world of sports. Perhaps, it’s my blood type – type O. A friend told me that type O is an ancient hunter-gatherer blood type. Maybe that predisposes me toward some instinctive bloodletting activities.
Who knows. I know this, I’ll be tuned in this Saturday for college football, my day to raise hell and ride that wild roller coaster of emotion. As we used to say in the South, see ya’ll there. Go Heels!
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.