A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Peter Klaven: So what do i do? How do i make friends?
Robbie Klaven: If you see a cool looking guy, strike up a conversation and ask him on a man date.
Peter Klaven: Ok.
Robbie Klaven: You know what i mean?
Peter Klaven: No.
Robbie Klaven: Casual lunch or after work drinks. You're not taking these boys to see The Devil Wears Prada.
Peter Klaven: Ohhhh god i love that movie. No I wont.
From I Love You, Man
Every man needs friends. Males need a network of people that can serve social purposes, act as confidantes, and as a peer feedback group, providing emotional support. Highly sensitive people often are perceived as quiet loners that draw strength from their own company. That downtime, the alone time and the time to process the day are important to all HSPs, and in the context of the HSP behavioral model, it’s a necessary health consideration.
But having a male counterpart to share with and experience life in close proximity is as important as having a partner for romance and companionship. For Highly Sensitive Males, who are typically a little different than other males, finding the right guys to hang out with might be challenging. Being an HSM means it’s important to find peers that we can identify with, and it’s important to find men who share or appreciate our unique qualities.
First, it’s important that all men have male friends who can be your touchpoint for sharing feelings, concerns, and issues. Not just for watching a football game or playing golf, or going fishing or camping or partying. Men need male bonding experiences complete with emotions.
Social interaction is critically important to men’s health and longevity. Strong social networks correlate positively with overall health and long life. You are more likely to die earlier if you remain solitary and isolated, all things considered, such as health habits, lifestyles, etc. Social isolation ranks with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise, and smoking as a high health risk factor. To be blunt, the consequences of not being at least somewhat social may be heart disease, autoimmune issues, high blood pressure, and cancer. Social interaction also means lower levels of depression and anxiety.
The upshot of all of this social interaction is the support network that humans need contributes to overall wellbeing and contributes to health. We are pack animals. Social connection is a fundamental human characteristic. Under stressful conditions, it even aids in emotional recovery, which benefits the body.
The key to good social interaction is allowing a certain degree of vulnerability for social bonding to take place. The recognition that one can’t always do it alone is a difficult concept for some men and often prevents them from attaching themselves to other males. Their fear is that they will be perceived as dependent and weak. Ironically, the more social interaction, the more oxytocin is released to create the bonds, which in turn produces a certain resiliency to stressors in the environment. The very thing men need is to be able to bond to others to make them stronger.
It’s also important for HSMs to bond with non-HSP men, this is a networking opportunity to reach out to the other side and interact. Mutual influence is a good thing. It’s also a good opportunity for educating other men about what sensitivity really means and correcting the perjorative narrative about what it doesn’t mean, i.e., weakness, frailty, emasculating. There then would be more opportunities for teaching other men how to express feelings in a meaningful way and for teaching non-HSP males in the finer points of raising HSM sons.
Men natively interact with other men, based in large part on social conventions and activities like sports, fraternities, veteran’s groups and competitive venues, which are more active than intimate, more casual than deep, more transactional than emotional and more side by side than face to face. Perhaps, some of the lack of attachment comes from a homophobic fear of close connection with another male. This often gets discussed in the recent spate of Bromance movies, which seem to have replaced the older genre buddy movie.
Recent notions becoming radicalized by extreme male groups promote fearfulness about the increased feminization of men. Modeling female like friendships between men fly in the face of western traditional male values. Yet, male bonding is simply the actualization of a human social interconnection that leads to the formation of personal relationships between males. Perhaps, the more recognized ideal of camaraderie suggested in the military, of bonding under mutually egregious conditions, make it more palatable for some men to embrace this concept. Nevertheless, all men need allies.
The male bonding dynamic has been observed and studied for years, yet culturally we struggle with this idea of the need for male bonding at an intimate and emotional level. Are men really solitary creatures? When given the opportunity, would they prefer to go it alone? Are men less communicative and only band together for tribal and communal purposes? Is this trait amplified in HSP males? Do HSP males have more difficulty in bonding with other men?
Because HSMs are different and know our differences -- by associating with other males, do those differences stand out and make us uncomfortable? Do HSP men find it easier to bond/ befriend females for close personal friendships just for the intimate emotional contact?
How do we overcome this? Why is it imperative for HSP males to form a “bro” network? While there is nothing inherently wrong with males having platonic friendships with females, the age-old question posed by the movie When Harry Met Sally, suggests that true friendship, without the romantic element, is nearly impossible to achieve between males and females. These types of relationships have been studied, and that question has been asked, “Can men and women have non-sexual friendships?”
What we have learned is that men and women have somewhat opposite views on platonic relationships. Surprisingly, the men tend to screw this up, more than the women. Men overrate romantic involvement in platonic relationships more so than women. Women, once it’s established that the relationship is platonic there is not a romantic shift seen in the female friend, whereas, the male begins to drift into a more romantic appraisal of the relationship more often. This, of course, leads to more complications and if there is an incongruity in the assessment of the relationship may end the friendship in disappointment.
Perhaps this is because men are less familiar with forming close personal, non-sexual relationships, and when presented with an attractive female friend, the dictates of sexual attraction blur the lines between friendship and something else. Interestingly, there are others studies that suggest certain intimidation of males, when around women. In one particular study, men appeared to be cognitively impaired in doing a mental task, when they were told they were being observed by a female. Perhaps, there was more pressure, when trying to please the female observer, but the point being that men find it difficult to be more relaxed and themselves, when around females.
Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that men and women cannot or should not be friends. I have many female friends, where the relationship is platonic, and the boundaries of interaction are very clear. Some of these friendships have been spawned from failed romantic attempts, but now, have found a comfortable and rightful place in each of our lives as friendships. The overall view, however, is that men can often be more comfortable and open with male friends and it is this openness that promotes well-being and should be encouraged.
So, how to build your bro network? Reaching out is important, even when it’s uncomfortable. It’s important to have a confidante this is the same sex as yourself. It helps in my mind, to promote the yang energy within your psyche. It is important, however, to find those men that are supportive of your nature and appreciate your insights and intuition. Perhaps, to begin, we need to find like-minded HSP males. This isn’t just about joining online groups but keeping your eye out for men that share HSP characteristics. Some may be the same age; some may be younger or older, so it may require the stretching of your normal social circles. Engage them in conversation and let the process of getting acquainted be organic.
Once established with some HSP bros, then reach out to other men, those that share a common value or activity and allow friendships to grow. Be discerning for sure, but don’t make the mistake of picking only friends that are exactly like you. Growth takes place when we expand our outreach. Consider them to be like your council of advisors, your board of directors, people that you trust and will give you honest and useful feedback. I like the way the author Napoleon Hill described his coterie of advisors as his Mastermind. Your bro network can serve a similar function but in a more intimate and emotional way. For most HSM’s I suspect that a few good friends are all that is needed, so this shouldn’t be a ponderous task, but maybe a lifelong endeavor.
On a personal note, I recently reconnected with an old high school friend. We were the best of friends back in the day. When we reunited a few months ago, we literally picked up where we left off forty years ago. It’s been a great experience to have him back in my life. While we were sharing, I told him about my blog and about the characteristics of highly sensitive people. After some quick evaluation, we determined he was an HSP, too. Amazing. No wonder we have been such great friends and allies.
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.