A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
One thing we do know about HSP males is they typically are more empathetic than most Non-HSP males. With empathy comes more emotion, more feeling, less aggressive behavior, more nurturing – all characteristics that are typically associated with females. This leads me to think that HSP males or highly sensitive males (HSMs) are more likely to rate higher on the androgynous scale (yes, there is one, more on that later).
When I speak of androgyny, I am referring to a psychological tendency to be neither strongly masculine or feminine. Perhaps a balance between gender characteristics, referring to cultural norms and the balancing between those norms. Therefore, for purposes of this article, I am not referring to physical attributes (fashion, appearance) or sexual preferences (transgender, asexual or bisexual).
Some recent examples culturally of androgynous males appear regularly through rock music history. One of the early trendsetters was Elvis Pressley. Later on, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and Prince were a few of the artists that presented to the world a mix of both male and female energy on the stage. All of these men were considered icons in music, equally attractive to both men and women. In acting, I can think of Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp, both have boyish good looks, seeming as much feminine as masculine. But, again, not to dwell on the physical attributes, it is projected energy or emotional processing that I want to consider.
In the arts, androgynous behavior is quite prevalent, in fashion, theater, music and other artistic endeavors. The history of androgyny goes back into ancient times, but I found it remarkable that it was even promoted by early Christian fathers, such as Origen, as a noble, spiritual balance between masculine and feminine. In the middle ages, androgynous individuals were seen as the perfect human configuration. A perfect balance between both male and female characteristics, this balanced identity was seen to be an efficient means to deal with situational issues. Here, by ignoring social convention, adaptability is considered to be paramount to solving a problem.
Dr. Sandra Bem, the developer of the BEM scale of Androgyny, has done quite a bit or research on androgyny. She asserts that androgens are more socially and behaviorally flexible and because of that can be more mentally healthy. In recent years we have seen the rise of the metrosexual, males that embrace their inner peacock, and more men are spending more time on fashion, appearance and embracing grooming in ways that in years past would be seen as effeminate.
This balancing of male/female characteristics reminds me of Carl Jung’s dichotomy of the anima (female) and animus (male) within each individual. This no doubt reflects back to the ancient Taoist ideas of Yin and Yang, the male and female energy, balanced and in harmony swirling around inside every male and female.
Bringing this back home to Western, and specifically American culture, what characteristics would make a man seem more feminine? We all have heard about the characteristics and roles we as a society expect from men and women. Most researchers would agree norms are a consequence of social rules and values. An individual’s disposition on where they fit on the cultural spectrum is largely based either on genetics, unconscious or conscious identity, and social pressures from external sources.
In the 1950s, Talcott Parsons proposed a model of family roles in which he stated that feminine behavior was summarized by the term, expressive (internal), while male behaviors were considered more instrumental (external). His subsequent list of behaviors associated with females and males is now long since been refuted and seems archaic and quaint. Everything from education, work, housework, and child care, to decision making, were all delineated by this expressive versus instrumental parameters.
One can easily surmise that internal, expressive roles, were code for emotional behavior and external, instrumental roles were code for logical and rational behavior. With women now taking a more active role in work, education, and decision making these archaic role models now seem comical. This is both liberating for women, but also, presents a liberation possibility for men.
With societal norms being more amorphous and porous these days, the roles that men play in a more generic sense are starting to blend, bend and balance out of necessity. Through continued socialization, our behaviors become molded via shifting family, spiritual, and school values that in many cases are changing due to increasing economic factors. We are seeing more trends towards less restrictive male/female models.
Yet, are we still holding on to old masculine modeling in our culture? Are we still adhering to the age-old characteristics of “me, Tarzan, you, Jane” in which male physical dominance, hair-brained risk-taking behavior, suppression of emotional response (and I would add – tender emotion), rational and logical thinking stifling intuition, rewarding aggressive behaviors, and the mindless accumulation of wealth at the expense of the greater common good, continuing to be the norm for our young boys and men? In a word, yes! This is the hegemonic masculinity that we portray in our movies, novels and other modeling forms that we illuminate and elevate as our masculine heroes. No weakness allowed here, grasshopper.
That is a helluva a lot to expect from any one person. And, although, I would never discount the pressures on women, especially single mothers, there is enormous pressure on men to live up to an archaic role model that is literally killing us. The number of males over 50 committing suicide is increasing yearly. We lock men into unrealistic expectations and then give them no outlet to release this pressure. I still believe that a boy called a “sissy” is under incrementally more pressure than a girl labeled a “tomboy”. I’m not saying that it’s always easier for females displaying male characteristics, but the pressure for boys to conform, which is mighty, comes smack down on their little heads to drop their gentle ways and man up. Often this comes from the father, typically the stern disciplinarian in the family, who expects the son to live up to his own manly definitions of what a boy is supposed to be. For girls, I would argue that their tomboyish ways are considered a passing phase and seems to be more tolerated. Hence, the pressures start early for boys and lay with this in our conscious awareness and buried deep in our unconscious.
If we are seeing more androgynous behavior, is this tendency towards moving to the middle (balanced characteristics) within an individual’s personality a genetic trait? Is there a genetic predisposition towards this? Do HSMs have by nature that trait, by virtue of our gentler, more empathetic ways? Is it a bits on, bits off configuration in our genes that make us seem more androgynous?
At the core of our personalities are HSMs a combination of both male and female attributes that allow us to be more empathetic, more nurturing, more emotionally driven? And if so, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Does it make us more vulnerable? Or, can we argue, as Bem said, that we are more flexible and stronger because of it?
Should we as HSMs, see ourselves as the new model for males in a society that is changing for both male and females. The rapid technological changes in our society must be moderated by human adaptations that continue to emphasize the human characteristics that focus on sensitivity and empathy. Culturally we need to show clear sensitivity to our effects on the environment, on society, on perpetuating the population and to emphasize equality.
I would argue that there is a shift in energy going on now. A world too dominated by Yang energy is breaking down to allow the Yin energy to bring in balance. This may seem troublesome for some men, but HSM men will lead this effort and embrace the change. We are perfectly suited to this task, although we need to recognize opportunities when we see them.
Now as I say this, ironically, I am finding that as I get older, I seem to become more anchored in masculine energy. I don’t know if it’s a function of age, resignation or just my comfort level with more balance in my personality, which would allow more of my masculine side to come through. Nevertheless, I do embrace the changes ahead as I imagine the yin/yang fish endlessly chasing each other’s tails, striving for perfect balance, that constant motion, melting into perfect harmony.
P.S. I took the Bem Androgynous Scale test. My score was a 12, which according to Bem is Nearly Masculine. If you think of this as a continuum, then that would sound about right for an HSM male. I do think it shows an evolving balance between Yin and Yang in my own personal growth. Here’s the link if you want to try it: http://www.bemedialiterate.com/uploads/1/7/2/2/1722523/bem_androgyny_test.pdf
You hear this a lot lately, people describing themselves as being spiritual, but not religious. This familiar moniker is on online dating profiles, overheard at meetups, gatherings and is a general verbal calling card when dealing with people, perhaps, ones you don’t want to deep dive with.
More and more people are distancing a bit from traditional religious affiliations and preferring the, oh, yeah, I’m spiritual, but not assigned to a church, synagogue or mosque. It’s a safe parking space for most folks who are leaning towards the abstract meme “there’s more to life than what we see”, but not quite at the “everything is random and you are a happy accident” polar opposite. It’s a broad spectrum. I’m not sure we even know what spirituality means anymore.
But, where do highly sensitive people tend to congregate? Because of our sensitivity we are more likely to be more spiritual (inwardly focused) and due to our heightened sensory awareness we gravitate towards spiritual ritual for some peace and quiet. Let’s do a little exploring on this spirituality thing for HSMs.
As a species we have always strived to connect with the cosmic thread, driving the urge to connect with something greater than ourselves. From an instinctual, survival perspective, I’m not even sure this urge is essential to continuation of our tribe, but, nevertheless it still persists almost universally.
At its essence, it’s not even about connecting with other souls, but rather a connection with the infinite, tethered at one by our longing to connect and at the other to the omniscient and infinite -- a lifelong path that ends in our reconnection to the infinite.
So, we create religions, a man made construct, and embrace philosophies to help us obtain this link with the dimension of spirit. As humans we look for connection and confirmation to our abandoned status in the physical arena we call life. We reach out to our “good books” and religious leaders and institutions for that guidance. They sometimes help, sometimes deflect, and sometime obfuscate the matter. But do we really need them?
HSPs, we know, are always turning inward for guidance, rest and regrouping. We are naturally drawn to the contemplative life, but does that make us more prone to being spiritually attuned? We seem more intuitive and are more open to internal inspiration than most and rely more heavily on our own internal receivers to drive our thoughts and behaviors. Does that deep connection create the environment for a richer spiritual life? And if so, are HSPs also likely to be spiritual leaders?
How many of the great spiritual teachers were HSPs? If you look at the big three, Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad, examine their lives and read their philosophies, you will see elements of what one would consider to be thoughts similar to what one would expect from a sensitive, compassionate, and contemplative individual. There was also an emphasis away from the teacher and more focus on the teachings. Each came to bring the fold pack into the spiritual pen, so to speak.
Looking at today’s spiritual landscape, it would seem that some of the most profound spiritual teachers are men and women of high sensitivity. Some of these spiritual leaders move towards the more esoteric and often borrow from multiple doctrines with an emphasis on loving compassion, acceptance, tolerance and hope. These are all principles that resonate with HSPs, which is not to say that all HSPs are potential great spiritual leaders or that all HSPs are further along the spiritual path than others, but as a whole we tend to lean into spirituality naturally.
We are made and equipped for spiritual journeys. We as HSMs are looking for our path to follow, maybe more so than other non-HSP men. It may be a trait more than a calling. With that said, being able to easily look into the spiritual mirror does not always mean the image is any clearer for us. We need to be seekers and acknowledge that quest for meaning.
Starting a spiritual path, if you haven’t already done so, is an important step for HSMs. The path is of your choosing, whether a strict religious path or a loose and evolving spiritual path, addressing this element in your life, complements the other work we HSMs need to do (body, mind, etc.).
What can HSMs do to explore their spirituality?
Thanks for dropping by, until next week…
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.