A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Ennis Del Mar: This is a one-shot thing we got goin' on here.
Jack Twist: It's nobody's business but ours.
Ennis Del Mar: You know I ain't queer.
Jack Twist: Me neither.
From Brokeback Mountain
It dawned on me recently that many of the gay men, I’ve met over the years had a certain sensibility about them; a wit and intelligence that suggested an awareness of things, things that are not just physical, but things that were just lying beneath the surface in a different realm. I’ve been thinking that its intuition or emotional intelligence qualities that they might share with highly sensitive people. Being men, perhaps there was a common link with highly sensitive men that we as humans might share. A quality more developed in HSMs and gay men. Something decidedly non-sexual, like how our brains might be wired for processing emotional content.
Writing a blog article about gay men or gay culture and being a straight man has some inherent issues. It’s kind of like a white male writer, penning a novel from a black males POV. You can read all you want, do your research, make generalizations, but you will never be sure if you’ve nailed it because it is not your experience. Nevertheless, pushing on bravely, I have a sense, that as a highly sensitive man, that there may be some characteristics that gay men and HSMs do share. And, you have to believe there are intersections between the two groups – such as gay men who are also HSMs. Both groups suffer from some of the same issues with the current prevailing paradigm on masculinity. Both groups know there need to be changes made with our culture’s definition of masculinity.
As an HSP male, I have found myself sometimes balking at the idea of comparing high sensitivity with being a quality associated with females or gay men. It always hits a core issue on internalizing what masculinity is to me. Not easily fitting into the idealized American masculine model, basically means you are either all man and all in, or you are effeminate (acting like a woman) or gay (which by that definition is not a real man).
This disregards the notion that sensitivity is a human characteristic and not a sexually derived or gender trait. We as HSP males need to recognize that in ourselves. We are part of a toxic masculine culture by proximity that downplays sensitivity in males. This definition is narrow and exclusive. Being something by association is not a true definition and fails to understand the complex nature of human personality, which is so nuanced, so wide-ranging, so infinitely complex that simplistic definitions are beyond utility. Individuals want to be recognized for their uniqueness. And so I say, damn the tiny and rigid boundaries of small boxes that small box people want to place people in.
Are there perceived characteristics among many straight HSMs that are shared with gay men? The idea that men of different sexual preferences could share other qualities, such as sensitivity, a difficult quality for many men to absorb about themselves, makes comparisons seem problematic --like if we share one thing, we must share all things. This flies in the face of science, which has over the years expanded the notions about what the human genome is capable of producing. The diversity of humanity where bits on, bits off, in gene expression is mind-boggling. For straight men, the notion that being gay is a contagious condition that too close of an association could make you gay by contact is ludicrous – yet, it makes the simple discussion about shared characteristics almost taboo for straight men in the larger context of masculinity. This could explain why I have hardly found anything online about this topic.
How is sensitivity in men perceived in the gay community in lieu of the traditional American masculine definition, which would include sensitivity as a primary feminine trait? From a straight male’s point of view, I would have thought it would have been highly prized, but perhaps, not as much as I would have imagined.
Traditional masculine values affect how many gay men feel about themselves and their same-sex relationships. These rules include: 1) men should not be feminine, 2) men must be respected and admired, 3) men should never show fear, 4) and, men should seek out risk and adventure. In addition, 5) men should be successful, 6) achieve power and status, 7) compete with other men, 8) restrict their emotions, 9) restrict affectionate behavior with other men and, finally, 10) men should be work and career driven. Sound familiar?
Since all men raised in our culture are subject to the “boy or man” code, we are all influenced by the biases of this masculine codex. Some gay men embrace these very same masculine values. Therefore, there are some gay men who prefer themselves and their partners be “manly” men, causing some to have biases against potential partners because they display traditional female traits, i.e., sensitivity. This may affect the perception of the characteristic of sensitivity as a pejorative trait for those gay men who are attempting to live up to the same masculine role model that highly sensitive straight men struggle with. Now, this might not be true for all gay men, but the effects of these man rules affect at some level all men.
Studies show that men, who have issues with living the traditional male role model, tend to have insecurities, shame and psychological issues in interpersonal relationships (gay and straight). Why? Largely, because, there is a failure to live up to internalizing this value of masculinity, most men don’t see themselves measuring up. Add in persistence in dysfunctional behaviors due to these masculine values or even worse some carry trauma experienced early in life during masculine role socialization. With these cumulative effects damaging psychological wellbeing; you have the making of our current toxic stew.
Many gay men in these studies hardly found any positive characteristics associated with masculine characteristics but, found adverse effects in not living up to the masculine ideals. The subsequent results found that these same men had to “butch” it up to feel adequate. Many gay men feel traditional male role models forced them to objectify their bodies and found a conflict of being masculine enough due to their sexual preferences. Imagine being the subject and object of this idealized masculine role model.
To add further complexity, some studies suggest that gay men have many common biological traits with heterosexual women: spatial reasoning, hearing and voice cadence and tone, finger length (index and ring finger) and other biological markers. Many gay men prefer female-oriented occupations (this may include teaching, counseling, fashion, etc.).
Gay men’s brains are more like straight women’s in that they have common wiring. The anterior commissure is bigger in gay men’s brains versus straight men’s. This serves as a link between the temporal lobes and with a more active amygdala, produces more intuitive, empathetic and spiritual natures, not to mention more emotional processing. In addition, gay men and straight women may have more symmetrical shaped brains than straight men and lesbians.
What does this mean? Are gay men, masculine versions of the feminine? Of course not. None of this is to suggest that gay men are not masculine or should be perceived to be more feminine. My point in bringing this to light is actually looking at commonalities and shared problems with highly sensitive men, who are often seen because of their sensitivity as being more feminine. Frankly, I wonder if the characteristics of sensitivity, truly a non-gender characteristic, may have found through genetic expression, more ways to express itself in the population. Brain wiring for sensitivity maybe something that needs to be further explored.
Some of the biological markers gay men share with straight women are flipped in lesbian women. Lesbians have more in common with straight men. These biological anomalies are just another example of how nature creates diversity by the expression of utilizing a rich palette of human genes. It should be noted, that all HSPs have the characteristic of a hyper-responsive amygdala. Incidentally, there is no research that suggests that there are higher incidences of HSMs that are gay than there are in the general population, although you would think there might be. Although I don’t know that studies are now available determining the brain differences between HSP males and non-HSP males, it would be interesting to see, what if any there are in the wiring of the brains.
If you have been following this blog, you can clearly see that some of the highlighted characteristics that are often associated with women (intuition, empathy, and sensitivity), gay men (in a general sense) and highly sensitive males are quite striking. These are higher levels of emotional processing, greater intuition, higher empathy and a greater level of spiritual focus.
Now granted, none of this is evidenced-based or backed by studies, but I would suspect that a population of HSPs, gay men, and straight women, would be a significant amount of humans sharing these common characteristics of empathy, intuition, compassion, and emotional processing. This would also be a group of individuals that would have been impacted greatly by the current masculine role models espoused by the U.S. and the U.K.
Why is this significant? We are all subject to and live within the domain of the current toxic masculine milieu, which has been tolerated by all of the aforementioned communities. At the root of this is the idea of hegemonic masculinity, which legitimizes, white male dominance and justifies the subjugation of women and minorities of all stripes. This would include the gay and lesbian communities. This has been the role model for centuries with its characteristics of violence and aggression, stoicism, risk-taking, emotional suppression, lack of empathy, competitiveness and subjugation of women, gays, and people of color.
This toxic masculinity views gender roles as binary with no grey areas. Gender roles or for that matter sexual preference, as we now know are not polar, but rather lay along a continuum with much diversity and variation. Role models for men need to reflect that. Hegemonic masculinity is not a reality for most modern men, and the consequences of continuing to follow this paradigm are to risk physical and mental health for a large swath of men.
Since gene expression influences so much of our personality and preferences and the emerging science of epigenetics tells us that expression can be influenced by environment, we are going to continue to see the expression of a variety of male/female roles elaborated as our culture’s needs dictate and as we evolve as humans. Rigidity is not the answer.
These stereotypical labels we associate with feminity, sexual preference behaviors, masculinity and gender roles are almost becoming archaic. The labels have been defined by historical and sometimes religious rules and should now be seen as the variegated expressions of the human genome. What is it mean to be human -- is the question we should be asking.
How can gay men and HSP straight males ally to help redefine masculinity in a new way that is relevant to our world? We could start with new boy codes for our young men. One in which we allow them to tell us where they fall on the continuum. No shame, no guilt, no fitting into narrow boxes. Let them grow into what they are. Some will be traditional; others will not. But let them find themselves with wise guidance from parents and responsible feeling adults. By doing this can we aid women, and others that have been victimized by this toxic masculinity, by allowing boys and men to choose a more beneficial form of masculinity. By eliminating toxic patriarchal masculinity to free men from a role model that chokes us all, would allow us as men to be more empathetic, less hung up on dominance and focus on cooperation and rejuvenation.
In the end, it is all about power. Your power comes from within you. You express it with your life. However, to use that power to squelch someone else’s power is toxic, not only to them but to you as well. Men, we need to wake up to this. We can brand a new type of masculinity, a masculinity that expresses the male energy (yang), but recognizes and embraces the balancing female energy (yin) within us. It is not weakness, but strength. Our innate human strength.
Jack Twist: You know friend, this is a god damn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation.
From Brokeback Mountain.
A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Alex: What we were after now was the old surprise visit. That was a real kick and good for laughs and lashings of the old ultraviolent.
From: A Clockwork Orange
Somewhere along the way as I was growing, violence took a wrong turn in the media. Movies, TV, print; all began to show more graphic violence. I don’t know what the starting point was, or when; I just know that it started getting more detailed, more bloody. Of course, there were horror movies, slasher types that were full of gaudy special effects and makeup, but somewhere along the way, the technology got really good, and bloodletting began in full swing. For a highly sensing boy, I saw this is as a turnoff. What happened to the days, when a gunshot went off, there was a quick cut and a dead body laid on the ground? Sometimes with blood, sometimes without. I got the message; the character was dead, I didn’t need to see him bleed out, to make that point. The excessive reliance on violence for dramatic conflict seems like lazy writing to me. The subtlety of death and dying died, and so did a certain naivete upon the viewing public.
Modeling of violence in the media can desensitize us all into the acceptance of violence or at least aggression as an acceptable method for resolving egregious problems or for seeking justice. Whether it is an endless war against perceived enemies, capital punishment as a means of justice or at a personal level arming oneself to the teeth, to protect against “bad guys.”
I’m not interested in playing video games, but nowadays watching almost any historical drama on television or in films is rife with realistic and I could argue hyper-real blood and guts, as villains are slain to exact justice. One can simply no longer turn away from the violence and even as adults, the visceral and subtle unconscious effects alter all of us.
There have been many studies over the years vilifying the effects of passively watching violence in the media. The National Institute of Mental Health found that children watching violent media may become desensitized to other’s pain and suffering , may become more fearful and may be more likely to behave in aggressive and harmful ways to others. It has even been suggested that this learned behavior may follow into adulthood. Violent video games have a similar effect. Ninety-eight percent of video games contain violence and since 97% of adolescents play video games the reach of violent modeling goes way beyond Saturday morning cartoons.
Violence is found in music, YouTube, radio, on cell phones, the internet and now especially in social media. This constant exposure to aggression creates aggressive thoughts and can produce less empathy towards others. The focus of aggression is the intent to harm another, where the other is looking to avoid this harm. It takes many forms: relational aggression, i.e., spreading harmful rumors; cyber-aggression via electronic messages; and, verbal aggression. With over 42.5 aggressive acts per hour on television and with a clear increase in violence in movies over the last 40 years, it is no wonder that the effect culturally on children is growing. These children, of course, grow up to be adults. When these acts of aggression take a more severe form, we are looking at violent actions.
Now, I know many of you may be saying, well, all these studies have not been able to prove long-term effects or that many of the studies are flawed or invalid. Some would even argue that viewing violence has a cathartic effect on aggression. Yet, there are no studies showing this to be true. It is very difficult, if not ethically impossible to construct a study in which a cause and effect relationship can be established by watching violent media with behavior in which murder or violence is the end result of the study.
Yet, it is clear we can measure arousal rates when watching violent media, heart rate, respiration, and higher blood pressure. In fact, there have been MRI (magnetic resonance imagery) studies where noticeable differences in brain activity have been shown after just one week of watching violent video games. Other studies have noted short and long-term effects associated with this video violence. Primary among the short-term effects have been the arousal via emotional stimulation, which causes a visceral response. And, of course, mimicry, which causes the viewer to imitate behavior watched, in a less violent, but nonetheless aggressive way – generally more aggressive thoughts.
The long-term effects may affect observational learning skills and alter emotional state, thought schemas, normative beliefs about violence and executable behavior scripts. It may cause desensitization with increased exposure, aggressive behavior, bullying, increased fears, depression, nightmares, and other sleep disturbances. The key to all of this is repetition. Repeating the viewing, especially with video gaming, where repetition increases skill level, increases the retention and acceptance of violence as a means to an end.
This clearly affects children and adults. The continuous bombardment of violence or aggressive behavior, especially with the actions of hero characters, models that the world is a dangerous place and that justice is only served by righteous indignation, often in violent form. Because this is constantly presented as reality via the media, the unconscious mind, not the greatest at distinguishing reality from fiction learns that violence, if not honorable, is at least tolerable to settle injustices.
How does violence in the media effect HSPs and in particular HSMs? Why would we watch it, if it is offensive and abhorrent to our sensibilities? I personally find excessive violence in film or television to be distracting to the story. It creates a strong visceral reaction, a shock if you will, that I feel in my body. I never get sick to the stomach, but feel a slight, steady revulsion to excessive violence, even knowing that it’s not real. If it is severe enough, I will turn my head, but as of late, I force myself to bear through it. It’s over soon enough, but the story is altered for me. Even with plot justification for the violence, I tend to be tenser watching the remainder, as if waiting for someone to jump out from behind me, to startle me. Gratuitous violence is just that – plugged into storylines at regular intervals to give the mind and body a shock. It sells tickets.
My larger concern is what is all of this violence doing to us as a culture? Is it altering the way our brains perceive violence? I mean, one could argue that we have always been violent, aggressive creatures. But, at what point do we rise above our baser instincts and evolve, moving past violence. If it is affecting us all, does it mean we HSPs are being altered along with the rest of humanity?
Why does violence appeal to us? Is it like sex, just a primal force of nature that our higher level cognitive powers haven’t learned to deal with. It seems that we crave violence, like sex, drugs and rock and roll. But, unlike sex, aggression is not a drive in humans. Sure there might have been evolutionary reasons for aggressive behavior to protect territory, but is it really necessary now? Perhaps, we see violence as a prelude to death. Pushed and pulled, drawing us in towards our warlike nature.
In the U.S. alone child abuse occurs about every 10 seconds. We have the highest rates of youth homicides and suicides in the industrialized world. School shootings and mass shootings have sadly become commonplace. Americans are more than seven times as likely to be murdered than in the largest industrialized countries. We spend more of our tax revenue on defense, weapons, and wars than all countries combined. We spend more on prisons than on education, emphasizing the punishment instead of the cause. See the patterns?
And I don’t know if there is a violence watching threshold. Are we getting close to the point where we have no reaction to watched violence? Denial of the effects of media violence is partly due to psychological reactance, which states that the more forbidden the fruit, the more attractive it is, the more we seek it, and the angrier we get towards those that would deny it.
I’m not about censorship or restricting artistic freedom. But to what detail do we need to see death, to get the point. We are a violent and bloodthirsty people. We justify the bloodbath, by some type of screwed up divine sanction. Manifest destiny, or preservers of freedom, vindication or justice, sanctimonious crusades, we take our wrath out in blood. And we model it in our art. Then we wonder about violence in our world. Violence in our words, our actions, we eat drink and sleep violence. Our heroes are vampire sucking, life-destroying robots of violence. In fact, we equate good with righteous violence.
As HSMs we need to aid in tamping down the violence in our sphere of influence. Perhaps, taking more care with our children in monitoring or sanctioning violent media viewing. If you are teachers, counselors, therapist, ministers or others in the helping professions, use your opportunities wisely to offer suggestions to caregivers and parents about the effects of violent media watching on children and adults. We can lead efforts to offer guidelines, based in part on our sensibilities to the media themselves for acceptable levels of dramatic aggression that serves a dramatic purpose without sensationalizing extreme blood, mutilation or gore. This should be gentle guidance, not out and out restrictive suggestions. We react differently to violence than non-HSPs, we do more feeling, thinking, recounting and I would say more reviewing with emotion and arousal. Maybe some throttling is in order to offer our wise counsel. Others may enjoy or thrill to the exploitative violence in the media, much like a teenager thrills at a joy ride in a stolen car. But repeated exposure, with the consequences sinking unconscious and manifesting in unsavory ways, is something that we as a society must guard against.
Watch the news, read a paper, listen to the radio. It’s already happening.
Alex: It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.
From: A Clockwork Orange
A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Clarence: You see, George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?
George Bailey: Dear Father in heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if you're up there and you can hear me
George Bailey: show me the way... show me the way.
From: It’s a Wonderful Life
Lately, I’ve been talking about the intense feelings that HSPs can have. Part of that is developing healthy coping skills in dealing with these strong feelings. Men, especially in this country have been socialized to suppress their feelings in order to appear more “manly.” Yet, contrary to all evidence, suppressing feelings is not healthy at all. In fact, it may be contributing to the leading cause of suicide among middle-aged and older men.
It had me thinking that there could be an intersection between some men, who are HSP, that are also older and have been socialized to keep feelings under wrap that may be contributing to an unhealthy sense of hopelessness or helplessness. Learned helplessness is a learned behavior to act or behave helplessly even when there is power to change the harmful or unpleasant circumstance. This behavior contributes to depression and depression, in turn, contributes to suicide.
Depression is the leading cause of suicide. With ten percent of the population reporting feelings of sadness, six percent reporting feelings of hopelessness and five percent reporting a sense of worthlessness, it can easily seem like these factors are contributing to our nation’s depression epidemic. Women are more likely to be sad than men and singles more so than those that are partnered. Women have a two to one ratio for depression in most developing countries, although research shows that men and women have comparable levels of depression, but express it differently.
Nevertheless, men’s suicide rates are higher than women. In spite of the fact that 70% of suicides are caused by the wide umbrella of depression and that women report higher incidences of depression, actual suicides are a staggering 4: 1 in favor of men. This rate of suicide in men increases with age.
It’s worth noting, yet not surprising, that men seldom seek help for depression. Women are more likely to seek help. Women tend to ruminate on depression, holding it inward, whereas men tend to act (externalize) depression with drink and risky behavior. Suicide rates are higher with men over 50. Interestingly, low population states show higher suicide rates as do military personnel, LGBTQ communities and those suffering in chronic pain.
There is some genetic tendency toward suicidal behavior, i.e., the Hemingways. Whether there is genetics at play or that this is learned behavior seems debatable. Edwin Schneidman, a noted psychologist, proposed a suicide model in which the victims tend towards unbearable psychological pain, isolation and a persistent perception that death is the only solution. Of course, there are other contributing factors – loneliness, bullying, discrimination, and separation from family, especially men as non-custodial parents. The upshot of all of this is that depression, helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness contribute to feelings which might lead to suicide. And, men who are desperate are often the ones who act on this.
And what about us highly sensitive people?Would it seem HSPs, and in particular, highly sensitive men, are any more likely to reach that tipping point, born out of desperation? Is there any evidence that would suggest that due to intense emotional processing, and or with the added factor of additional mental health issues, that HSMs are at a higher risk for suicide?
According to Dr. Tracy Cooper, HSPs are prone to depressive and anxious thinking due to a more elaborate depth of processing in their thinking. This thinking can lead to bouts of depression and sadness. But does that put HSMs at more risk of suicidal behavior? In Dr. Cooper’s blog, he references Dr. Thomas Joiner who has reformulated the major causes of suicide for predictive purposes. These causes are framed to highlight the weighted burden men often experience when helplessness and hopelessness set in. It is many ways a reflection of the unrealistic expectations men often shoulder in silence.
Dr. Joiner’s list of criteria consists of the following: 1) a sense of not belonging or being alone, possibly because men often fear ridicule or shame for sharing feelings considered unmanly, 2) a sense of not contributing or of being a burden. In our current economic climate, men can feel as though they do not contribute as much financially as in previous eras creating a sense of guilt, and 3) finally, Dr. Joiner suggests that one must have the capability for suicide, the will to die, to override the evolutionary urge to survive, and the willingness to act. Even as research shows that the suicidal intention is transient and fleeting, there may be that moment in time, as Dr. Elaine Aron says, that the thought, played with, becomes an accidental action, and one breaches the portal of death.
Dr. Aron, speaking specifically to HSPs shows some optimism for the HSP population in regard to suicide. She suggests because of the HSP depth of processing of feelings, our sometimes rampant perfectionism, the fact that HSPs are often bullied because of our uniqueness, and at some level can build a fed up attitude we harbor towards our sensitivity, causes that would otherwise turn others towards dark depression. This may be thwarted in HSPs due to our natural empathy, caution and willingness to think things through before acting. This may keep HSPs from following through on such a permanent and drastic measure.
Yet, I wonder, does Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), the prominent trait of HSPs, create opportunities for HSPs to experience difficulties in processing deep-seeded or highly emotional trauma, i.e., PTSD? Conversely are HSPs any better suited to handle the emotional overwhelm , something that we routinely experience, and are we more likely to share the deep, dark feelings with others? Do HSPs, perhaps, more so than the general population seek out help, including highly sensitive men, when needed to avert something catastrophic like suicide. I have not been able to find specific research supporting this, but feel comfortable assuming there is some degree of truth to that.
What could be a soft crack in the above resilience hypothesis of sensitive men, might be where HSM men over sixty suffering traits suggested by Dr. Joiner, who may not be aware of their SPS traits and may labor with archaic male role models. Regardless of their awareness of their sensitivity, and by that, I mean acceptance of it, they may hold their feelings in private to seem more masculine and yet suffer deeply within and not connect with others. As research has shown, if they had been raised in negative environments as children, the overall effect could be compounded. With negative copings skills and low self-esteem, this could dovetail quickly into a serious situation.
While acknowledging the seriousness of talk about suicide, which may seem like attention seeking behavior, you cannot assume that the individual is not capable of the act. If you know of someone that is showing these behaviors listed below, or if you are displaying these, get help immediately:
Suicide is always a failed strategy in lieu of better coping skills. A fatalistic approach to life is a failure to comprehend, the value of every life. It is failed thinking, spurred by deep and often unconscious programming, the result of unfortunate learning or experiences. These can be remedied with professional help. Seek out help if you are even contemplating suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
In recent times, we have just witnessed two high profile over 60 males who committed suicide. Robin Williams suffered from Lewy Body Dementia, a disease that causes multiple perplexing physical and psychological problems. The net result of confusion, helplessness, and depression led to his actions. I suspect that Mr. Williams was an HSP, but I have no way of verifying that. He was a thoughtful, sensitive, and gentle man-- that could easily be observed. I can’t imagine his suffering, the consternation of watching his world crumble before him and dealing with those complex feelings of helplessness. Like many, I do miss his brilliance and his talent.
Anthony Bourdain was suffering from depression, according to accounts, with a reported desire to die. Yet, he shouldered a “strong man” mentality, never asking for help. He suffered in many ways, alone, as many men do. Suicide is largely a male problem. Without knowing him, despite his caustic and street tough exterior, I suspect he was at his core a gentle, thoughtful man. His support of the #MeToo movement would suggest great empathy. I will also, miss his lusty appreciation of great food and great culture and his dry wit.
Perhaps, as we begin to redefine what maleness means, we can open doors to those who unwittingly lock themselves behind the dungeon doors of an old archaic definition of masculinity. We are not stoics; we are not Spartans, nor Samurai – death by the blade or poison or violent leaps is not an honorable death. Our wrongful thoughts and concepts, fueled by emotion kill us. They can be changed but must be brought to the surface. By coming clean with our deepest emotions, we can then define who we are and what we wish to be. Let the movement begin.
Clarence: Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?
From: It’s a Wonderful Life
A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Clementine: You don't tell me things, Joel. I'm an open book. I tell you everything... every damn embarrassing thing. You don't trust me.
Joel: Constantly talking isn't necessarily communicating.
Clementine: I don't do that. I want to know you.
Clementine: I don't constantly talk! Jesus! People have to share things, Joel...
Clementine: That's what intimacy is. I'm really pissed that you said that to me!
Joel: I'm sorry... I just, my life isn't that interesting.
Clementine: I want to read some of those journals you're constantly scribbling in. What do you write in there if you don't have any thoughts or passions or... love?
From: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
One of the main characteristics associated with Sensory Processing Sensitivity is a propensity for emotional overwhelm. This applies to both male and female HSPs. Overwhelm is the tidal wave of emotion HSPs experience when bombarded with highly charged sensations or feelings. Emotional overwhelm is a state of being brought on by intense emotion that is difficult to manage and can have effects on thinking and functioning.
Common causes of emotional overwhelm are relationship issues, underlying physical and mental conditions, career demands, financial difficulties, unexpected life transitions, loss of a loved one, sleep deprivation, trauma, and poor diet. This can sometimes lead to depression, anxiety, anger, panic, and guilt.
Dr. Elaine Aron points out that emotional overwhelm is a key characteristic of the HSP personality trait. One of her strategies to highly sensitive people in dealing with overwhelm is the idea of emotional regulation. Emotional regulation can be a conscious or unconscious behavior that influences what emotions we have when we have them and how we experience and express them. The importance of this tactic should not be lost on most HSPs. It’s no secret that negative feelings last longer for highly sensitive people.
Dr. Aron recommends emotional regulation follow acceptance of feelings and not being ashamed of having these feelings. It is her suggestion to HSPs to believe that they can cope with their feelings, equally as well as others do. This helps prevent the feeling of helplessness when overwhelm kicks in. She urges the recognition to trust that these feelings will not last and to assure that there is always hope that eventually you can do something to ameliorate strong emotions.
Psychologists refer to feelings as affect. Affect includes feelings and mood. Emotions tend to be briefer than moods. Emotions are more specific , precipitated by a situation or event, whereas moods are broader and have a tendency to linger beyond the triggering events. Feelings are measured by a scale of high or low pleasure and high or low activation. An example might be, anxiety with a low pleasure rating, but a high activation score.
There is some variability in the ability of people to regulate emotion. We all could use this approach at times. Some generally accepted strategies are changing our thoughts, reappraisal – thinking about different things, distraction – doing something different and surface acting (change expressions) or conversely deep acting (regulating feelings). Developing coping skills is important when dealing with overwhelming emotions. However, it is not the same as emotional regulation, although, coping does involve the use of emotional regulation among other actions.
Regulating feelings is not easy or straightforward. There is some automatic regulation that does take place using unconscious learned behavior. For example, a lot of our social behaviors are learned and acted upon without much thought. And, we all know that feelings can be contagious, so others can affect our emotions by simple proximity. For HSPs self-control of emotions can be an exhausting exercise.
Emotional culture and emotional exhaustion are correlated. Those cultures that favor an institutional approach to emotional regulation tend to express more stress and emotional exhaustion. These cultures provide more pressure for cultural norms and conformity. The United States is one such culture. Emotional exhaustion, also known as burnout, creates a chronic state of physical and emotional depletion resulting from excessive environmental and internal demands. This can lead to numerous health issues and can be mentally debilitating.
Stress releases cortisol into the body, and immune systems can be suppressed during stressful times leading to disease and systems shut down in the body. This is not good for HSPs or anyone for that matter. And, although this happens to all humans, HSPs are particularly vulnerable. It is just our nature to process emotions at such a high rate, with a higher influx of sensory information, creating a perfect storm for overwhelm, both emotionally and physically.
Does that make HSPs hypersensitive or prone to histrionic personality disorder (read: you’re getting hysterical)? Some people may think that, but actually, hypersensitivity, a part of Sensory Processing Disorder (not Sensory Processing Sensitivity), is about unusually high reactions to sensory stimulus. This can be a single sense or multiple senses, and in and of itself can be debilitating. Histrionic personality disorder (hysterical), a condition that occurs mostly in women is an excessive expression of emotion used to drive attention seeking behavior. A manipulative behavior typically learned early in life and manifesting in young adulthood. Neither of these should be confused with emotional overwhelm or as causes for emotional overwhelm in HSPs.
For most HSPs shutting down and getting away to solitude is the most typical response. But, is this always practical? At work or in public emotional self-regulation is an expected cultural norm. In fact, one definition of emotional regulation espouses dealing with life experiences with socially acceptable levels of emotion, modifying, evaluating and moderating reactions via extrinsic and intrinsic means. General advice from most authorities leans towards an exercise in thought sculpting these eruptive emotions to control the response.
But can this be controlled like a tap? Can it be throttled down situationally? Or do we only have the ability to control the aftermath? What are the warning signs, signals that help warn of an impending dam blast of emotion? Should the focus rather be on moderating the emotions or modulating them? As I am using the terms, moderating is more about changing emotions as they arise, whereas, modulating would focus on controlling emotions at the source.
Moderation techniques would include the thought sculpting mentioned previously or simply as Dr. Aron suggests waiting and allowing the emotional wave to subside and then sharing with a trusted confidant. By sharing, the emotion is released of additional internal processing by talking it through. There is an interesting process model for emotional regulation, which includes a feedback loop to repeat the process if necessary. It consists of four components, 1) the situation or event, 2) giving attention to the situation, 3) appraising, evaluating and interpreting the situation, and 4) formulating a response – then if necessary looping back to the beginning.
Some additional strategies with this method would include, remove yourself from the situation, modifying the situation, redirecting your attention from the situation, cognitive change, and moderating the response to fit the situation.
Modulation techniques would be those techniques that mostly focus on relaxation strategies to gear the nervous system to a state of emotional calm and training the brain to respond to highly emotional situations in a calmer manner. It is in many ways, training the brain to stay calm under fire. Some of these techniques I have been advocating in other blog posts. They include autogenic training, bio/neurofeedback, deep breathing exercises, hypnotherapy, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, exercise, massage, yoga, Qigong, meditation, EFT, prayer or intention training. All of these methods help by creating internal peace and calm as a steady state. This does not prevent emotional events from triggering familiar responses, but rather helps the experiencer return to a calmer state faster.
Yes, there are actions you can take to prevent or ameliorate emotional overwhelm, but they do involve practice and control. It may be best to find one that best fits you and then stick with it. Overtime, with repeated effort, it will help in some ways rewire your brain for handling intense emotion.
Here are some further suggestions:
Clementine: I apply my personality in a paste.
From: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
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
John Keating: Now we all have a great need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique, your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go,
[imitating a goat]
John Keating: "that's baaaaad." Robert Frost said, "Two roads diverged in the wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
From: Dead Poet’s Society.
It seems highly sensitive men are asked from an early age to always “man up” or “get tougher.” Of course, almost all boys are told the same thing, most will take it to heart and comply, but HSP males have to struggle with what their internal workings are telling them. The request is essentially asking that HSMs override their sensitive nature to present a culturally acceptable mask of what a man should be. Understand that this is not really about manhood or being a man, but rather following a prescribed definition of gender role, that probably traces its roots too deep in our ancestral past.
The focus of “manning up” is to suppress emotional response in males. I am talking about a full spectrum of emotion. The logic states that less emotion means more logical, more rational thoughts and behaviors. But looking around at the current male-dominated world in which we live, you can see that this clearly does not pass muster.The inconsistencies are legion.
Asking HSP males to be less emotional, less prone to deep processing and thoughtfulness, so as to fit neatly into a cultural norm that is archaic at best, and destructive at its worse is an epochal calamity waiting to happen. The question among all HSP males is should I or can I even change my personality enough to fit into that mold comfortably. Can I become something that I am not?
The teaching to HSP men and boys is to simply apply one’s willpower to suppress feelings, thoughts, behaviors that are products of our unique genetic trait. Can one apply willful change for the long term, to change fundamental characteristics of our personalities? Is this just a matter of self-control, when self-control is control over one’s behavior, actions, thoughts, and emotions – a herculean effort at self-regulation. And, what would be the benefit – delaying display of emotion in order to appear to be unaffected and dispassionate? Is this masculinity? To meet an expectation of manhood that would deny a fundamental expression of something human and completely normal.
And, what about our deep processing? Can sheer willpower control that? Would exercising quick decision making make us think less deliberately and appear to be more forceful or aggressive? Can we turn off the mechanism that calls us to deeply process on an event or action that occurred in the past, causing us to retreat to a quiet place and examine all possible outcomes? Or do our emotions impact our decision making to the extent that we always run with our feelings, our gut, our intuition?
One of the reasons our deep processing capability is so valuable is that it allows us to reflect before we take action. In a reactive world, this is refreshing to know that there are those that do think before acting. According to Dr. Elaine Aron, this does produce a benefit for the larger group, as long as the deep thinking HSPs are in the minority, which we typically are. The logic is that if the larger group is more non-HSP inclined, then the unique insights of HSPs will be useful and appreciated more. In other words, our difference is our value.
Chinese researchers studying HSP characteristics have found that our deep processing, reflecting in the high availability of dopamine in our brains, a hormone that facilitates the deep processing, suggests that our trait of deep processing sensory data is a genetic one, one not likely to be altered easily. In addition, a lot of deep processing may go on outside of conscious awareness, which produces many insights that we attribute to our keen intuition.
Couple that with strong emotions and associate that with our depth of processing can lead to stronger encoding and insight with that information. Pairing our high emotion with thinking enhances memory and facilitates lessons learned, perhaps producing wisdom. Another benefit of our emotional nature. And, if some of the deep processing is potentially unconscious, how could we control that aspect? So much of what our brains do happens below or at near threshold of awareness. The idea that we could control this consciously seems unrealistic and impractical and only as an afterthought.
So much of emotional reaction seems nearly involuntary. Think of a time when something affected you very deeply. Perhaps, something touched you unexpectedly, or a trusted friend unjustly criticized you or betrayed you. The emotional machinery deep within triggers at neuronic speed a series of physiological and emotional responses reflexively. Often too fast to stop. And this happens to everyone at some point.
To me, the answer is clearly no: no to change and no to self-control. While I realize that some adaptation may benefit us, the wholesale dismissal of who we are is not only unrealistic; it’s impossible to do as a long-term strategy. We can no more turn off our deep sensing nature any more than we can turn off our deep processing – the two are polar ends of a singular trait, we call SPS, sensory processing sensitivity. That makes us different and unique, and I might add useful.
We are what we are because SPS is a deeply ingrained inherent quality within us. Our SPS trait uniquely influences our cognitions, motivations, and behaviors. It is a primary filter in our lives, coloring our experiences and shaping us. It is a fundamentally genetic trait that couples with our environments, upbringing influences, tendencies, potentials, adaptability, and self-induced moderations to create the HSP influenced, yet unique individual that we are.
The question remains can we steer these fundamental and inherent qualities and factors that can be unconscious, yet influence our thoughts and behaviors? Can we change our configuration of traits (even if we truly desired to make this change) to mold ourselves into something that is not us? To conform to an arbitrary set of standards, that we are inherently designed to buck? Is this just an exercise in thought control?
So many rational materialists put such emphasis these days on thinking our way out of problems. And, by thinking, I mean thought sculpting our way out of our problems, our issues and especially our feelings, some of which originate in our unconscious. To believe that we as HSMs can think our way out of being “sensitive” (as if that is a problem) so that we can follow the norm is ludicrous. You can no more think your way out of being blue or brown eyed than to think your way out of being an HSP.
Within this expectation of change is an unrealistic emphasis on what the conscious critical mind can achieve when in reality much of the processing including motivation, self-image, and confidence has roots in the unconscious patterns that require much effort to change. This part of personality that forms self-image becomes the sum total of one’s knowledge and understanding of self. Some of this is learned, some of it is traits influenced, organized along the lines of beliefs, thoughts, and self-perception. A self-concept once cemented may serve to preserve a view of self to protect that self-image and rarely yields to outside influence.
The prevailing wisdom, for men, is get in line or go home. Falling in line to please people is a lame and counterproductive strategy. I know, I’ve done it enough in my life. You cease to be authentic when you place yourself in compromised positions, vis-à-vis your HSP traits.
Masculinity in the modern world is past due for some needed major revisions. Current expectations are out of reach even for many non-HSP men. Moving the bar over towards a more human model serves both men and women. There is no need to abandon healthy male expectations, which may underlie our peculiar evolutionary roles, but note we don’t live in caves anymore. So, put aside the club and bearskins.
The upshot of all of this is to accept and embrace our sensitivity or more specifically our SPS qualities. It is indeed a gift, but like all gifts comes with some strings attached. You are more aware, more empathetic, more sensitive to nuance. Emotions often rush to the surface without much control. That’s fine, but remember others may be put off by your handling of things. Just be prepared for some pushback.
As always, educate others when you can. Educate yourself and find others of our tribe for fellowship. Recognize that you are not alone, no matter how you have felt in the past. Remember, too, where you may have been called to self-restraint or chastised for these qualities previously, self-control and willpower will not change you. Nor should it. You are what you are, and regardless of how you look at it as fate, by design, by nature or some type of cosmic tuning, you are here for a reason -- just as you are.
Neil Perry: I just talked to my father. He's making me quit the play at Henley Hall. Acting's everything to me. I- But he doesn't know! He- I can see his point; we're not a rich family, like Charlie's. We- But he's planning the rest of my life for me, and I- He's never asked me what I want!
John Keating: Have you ever told your father what you just told me? About your passion for acting? You ever showed him that?
Neil Perry: I can't.
John Keating: Why not?
Neil Perry: I can't talk to him this way.
John Keating: Then you're acting for him, too. You're playing the part of the dutiful son. Now, I know this sounds impossible, but you have to talk to him. You have to show him who you are, what your heart is!
Neil Perry: I know what he'll say! He'll tell me that acting's a whim and I should forget it. They're counting on me; he'll just tell me to put it out of my mind for my own good.
John Keating: You are not an indentured servant! It's not a whim for you, you prove it to him by your conviction and your passion! You show that to him, and if he still doesn't believe you - well, by then, you'll be out of school and can do anything you want.
Neil Perry: No. What about the play? The show's tomorrow night!
John Keating: Then you have to talk to him before tomorrow night.
Neil Perry: Isn't there an easier way?
John Keating: No.
Neil Perry: [laughs] I'm trapped!
John Keating: No, you're not.
From: Dead Poet’s Society.
A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Pee-wee: There's a lotta things about me you don't know anything about, Dottie. Things you wouldn't understand. Things you couldn't understand. Things you shouldn't understand.
Dottie: I don't understand.
Pee-wee: You don't wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel. So long, Dott.
From: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.
The idea of thrill-seeking highly sensitive people may seem a bit out of character. The notion of nice, quiet, pensive, peace-loving individuals, taking off on wild adventures as novelty seeking daredevils just doesn’t match up with the stereotype of HSPs. Believe or not, there is a subset of HSPs, that do fit that profile and are high sensation seeking (HSS) folks or to spell it out, High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive People HSS/HSP.
Dr. Tracy Cooper reports that there is about thirty percent of the HSP population that fits this label. Most of them are male. There are four primary traits that high sensation seeking people display. One, they are thrill and adventure seekers, i.e., drawn to adrenaline-pumping risky sports and activities like mountain climbing, bungee jumping, motocross, etc. These are the kind of activities you would most expect from a daredevil. Two, they are experience seekers – looking for novel mind-bending mental sensations-- think of psychoactive substances or sensory bending experiences. Three, they display moments of disinhibition, mostly in the realm of social or sexual activities (wild parties, inebriation, or multiple sexual partners) Hence, a relaxation of social boundaries and the willingness to cross them. Finally, they are prone to boredom susceptibility, the tendency towards aversion of repetitious activity and seeking novelty as stimulation. HSS/HSP’s tend to fall mainly in the last three traits, granted, with some caveats.
In describing this trait, especially in HSPs, it might seem that we could describe this as reckless behavior, uncharacteristic of traditional HSP traits. However, because of the dual nature of HSS/HSP individuals, they tend not to be at the extremes. This duality presents many internal conflicts working both sides of the caution versus novelty endpoints. This conflict is a classic one foot on the gas, one on the brake scenario, which I suppose creates some novel forward motion, but doesn’t test the boundaries of thrill-seeking to its limits.
For most HSS/HSPs, high sensation seeking is about the novelty of the experience. Changing the landscape for a new view seems a bit more modest and a controlled method of allowing for a taste of what might seem dangerous, without risking life or limb. We HSPs tend to have a more pronounced Behavioral Inhibition System. Thus brakes get applied when the ride gets too dangerous. Although some of this behavior does border on impulsivity (taken from my own experience), it is not unguided by a more cautious retracting or overriding behavior reigning in, when the drift is too uncomfortable.
What is the balance between walking the high wire and resting safely in the net? How much and what type of sensation is necessary to overtake the underlying boredom of being quiet and reflective? Since most HSPs are introverted, seems a far cry from living in the cocoon of the internal world, which is already being bombarded by a greater amount of sensory data. Why fetch more sensation, even when bored, if the idea is to overstimulate?
It seems almost a cruel hoax to possess these two opposing characteristics. One pushing inward, one pulling outward, one processing experience, one seeking experience, teasing the limits of an already sensitive system. Can this sensation seeking be controlled; throttled pleasure, with none of the irresponsibility of reckless and dangerous impulse? It seems at times to be like an unconscious draw to seek overstimulation, an addiction to adrenaline, however modest, only to offset quickly with reflection and solitude.
And, what of this cycle? To what extreme can it go? Are some of us HSPs, sensation seekers, walking as it were without a net? Making bad decisions, knowing the consequences, yet yielding to some inner drive for increased sensation. Like diving headlong into a freezing pool, only to jump out and run back inside by the crackling fire. An odd balance of fire and ice, throttling between the two, just enough to keep the fire hot and the ice cold.
Can any of this be self-destructive? Is the impulsivity of taking risks for the novel sensation balanced by a keen sense of risk perception? Are HSS/HSPs more likely to access the reward/gamble ratio and to step out of a typical HSP cautionary personality to seek novel experiences, just to keep from being bored? The answer is yes and no. Perhaps, there is a deeper drive to create, that motivates seeking out novel experience to be able to fashion something new and useful. The motivator is boredom; the outcome is creativity with reward and stimulation.
With a third of the HSP population showing this trait of novelty seeking – it certainly would explain the high level of creativity the emerges from the HSP community. To be creative, one must be willing to seek new ways of looking at things, to put parts together in unusual ways and to be willing to risk criticism for your creations. The reward of success is a big rush of dopamine for having braved and crafted one’s indulgences. The added splash of adrenaline doesn’t hurt either.
How do you tell if you are an HSS/HSP? Yes, there is a test for that, too. Dr. Elaine Aron has constructed a test that was designed for HSPs to determine if you are a high sensation seeking individual. Here’s the link: https://hsperson.com/test/high-sensation-seeking-test/ .
I scored high enough on the test to be considered an HSS/HSP.
My experiences as an HSS/HSP follow a familiar pattern. Always seeking some secure situation, a job, a marriage, a relationship, a life, then abruptly leaving, almost at a whim, when boredom kicks in. Then being lost for a period, seeking, looking sometimes recklessly, then finding a new novel situation to anchor me. Only to leave again, a drifter on the run. Sometimes, doing stupid things or taking risky gambles, zigging and zagging off the path gets added in the mix, then getting comfortable for stretches. Then, again, boredom sets in, creating changes that have consequences and require remediation.
The boredom is not what you might think of as boredom. It’s unsettling, restless, not like a little kid or a too bright child unable to find the creative ability to stay active. It’s like an internal clock that says, “enough, time to move on.” A prompting, a calling to change venues. I hardly understand it, others never understand it. A neutral, unemotional epiphany that says it’s time to seek other sensations.
I’d like to think that this process is all trending upward, a giant learning process, like climbing the tread of larger than life wheel. But, who knows? In the end, it is always looking for that balance between boredom and overstimulation. A good, and sensitive man, who sometimes makes perplexing decisions.
Ray Kinsella: I'm 36 years old, I love my family, I love baseball, and I'm about to become a farmer. But until I heard the voice, I'd never done a crazy thing in my whole life.
From: Field of Dreams.
A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going.” – Forrest Gump
I have been on a physical journey and a spiritual quest for the past six years. I left a good corporate job, a good secure marriage and a comfortable life to pursue the elusive unicorn of happiness, right livelihood and to fulfill what destiny I had left in life. It has been full of painful lessons, foolish turns, odd shifts of fate, and serendipity, with long pauses of loneliness and seemingly empty space.
I once took a vacation to Eastern Oregon a few years back. A part of the trip was to climb a very narrow, washboarded dirt road up a sheer hillside. Driving it was scary, hardly room for two cars to pass and in some places only room for one car. Even in a four-wheel drive vehicle, the sheer drop-offs were intimidating and nerve-wracking. The first few miles were filled with anxious caution, and I knew without turnouts that there was no turning back.
Once we leveled out on the plateau above, the road widened, making the remainder of the journey a wonderful excursion. At the summit, we were just over a mile above the meandering Snake River, far down below. It was a beautiful and awe-inspiring site, well worth the heart-pounding ascent.
Such is life. Tolkien once remarked in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, “not all those who wander are lost.” I hold this thought close to me when all seems murky and unclear. Sometimes its not about finding the path, but rather allowing the path to find you.
No trail taken is ever wasted, even those that lead us on dead ends. There is truth in every turn. Just like small trail flowers along the way, easy to overlook or step down with heavy beating feet, but each a small bundle of beauty to behold, and a valued treasure if one examines closely. One need only look up and around to grasp a view so beautiful that it hurts to leave, like a view that can only be appreciated from a distance. Once seen is then sealed in the heart forever.
However, any trail can be a trial. As an HSP male, I have often wondered how well suited I am for this journey. Is it harder for me because of my inherent HSP characteristics? Am I just prone to taking these side treks or does life have to force me into these non-linear loops?
Being sensitive and a gypsy seems odd cohabitants in my personality. Or does that make me well suited for this journey? With positive HSP qualities such as awareness, creativity, empathy, appreciation, intuition, and passion, does it not seem to make me a better observer and chronicler of all that I take in? The important question is how well can I integrate, process and assimilate the lessons of the trip.
We, HSPs are complex creatures. Our life journeys often test our strength and courage. We are strong but strong like water, not like rock. Our strength is pliable, amorphous and fluid, and what seems soft, is powerfully persistent. A knife can scratch a rock, yet does nothing to water. Water, given time can erode even the hardest, most immobile and immutable rock. So, which is the stronger? The silent rock edifice standing on the shore, or the crashing, relentless wave?
Finding the nuggets on our journey is what makes life worthwhile. We are both sensitive and highly sensing which makes these shiny chunks easier to spot, but harder to process. Emotionally charged events can leave the heart heavy with doubt, remorse or sorrow. Key stressors for us on the journey are crazy zigs and zags in life when our journey deviates from the plan, and our expectations drop. Challenges tax us and having to put up with less than desired outcomes when we make personal wrong turns add to our rumination. We then ride the tidal waves of immense highs and lows. Finding the secret treasures in our journey, can rejuvenate and enlighten us, especially when we need that lift.
Allowing that mash-up of good and bad, to mix and ferment, can make the sum of the journey something to savor, a deep reflective lesson, one for growth.
Doing this with complex emotions, crammed life lessons, solitary journeys, all allowed without the ability to see far down the road, or where the path leads. You still need to step forward, one foot leading the other, not always knowing where the trail leads – bending around a broad tree, descending into a deep, dark glen. We never know for sure. The existence of the trail is a testament to the fact that others have preceded you, no braver than you. You must trust the instincts and history of the trail. Relishing every moment, fighting back the doubt, knowing that the trail is not always the destination, but the path wherein the journey lies. As Lao-Tzu, the Chinese philosopher expressed, “What is beyond, is also here.”
As for me, faith, trust, and anticipation of my destination keep me boot bound to the ground ahead of me. The power to imagine getting back home to familiar faces and longed-for places is what sustains me. Wasted and tired, beat down, but inspired, I keep looking to find my way home again. No longer the same man that left. Soon, I will know, like Forrest Gump – “I’m tired now. I think I’ll go home.”
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.
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
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.