Have you noticed lately, that we have a label for everything and anyone these days? We have become acronym obsessed. Our acronyms have become our new coat of arms. Every disenfranchised group, every subset of a group, now has their own special alphabet soup label to identify themselves.
But really, what does labeling each other really do? Is it to say, “I’m included in this group and your not” or “let’s form a new group, find an unused label or string of all caps letters and band together to become a group.” Then followed by starting a website, printing some signs, scheduling a protest, raising awareness, gain recognition, then what? All this just to point out how different we are from everyone else, how special we are, rules for how to engage us, how to deal with us, and how we deal with you. I understand that this sounds a bit cynical, because I really do believe in diversity and inclusion and celebrating our uniqueness, but I wonder, are we all getting a little bit overboard here? Let’s dig into this some.
Some of the labels that get handed out are pejorative labels that are meant to hurt, segregate and outcast a group. These type of labels are generally all bad, and so, I don’t want to focus on that today. What I am more curious about is self-assigned labels, labels that groups of people place on themselves. By creating our own labels, are we intending to identify who we are by separating ourselves from a larger group, putting a fine point on why we are different and should be recognized. However, doesn’t that create animosity, does it promote diversity or bitterness, resentment, and hatred. Some would argue that it’s divisive, and frankly many are getting tired of the long and growing list of social labels. I’m not sure that rejecting diversity is the answer, but I do think maybe we could all be a little more judicious about adding to this growing list. So where does all this labeling come from?
Labeling theory promotes the idea that self identity can be formed or influenced by or determined by the terms we use to describe or classify ourselves. There are lots of elements at play with this theory including the effects of stigmatization attached to the label and how that effects identity or the effects of feedback from the labeled group regarding group norms and conformity and self-policing standards regarding deviation from the label norms and how that influences behavior.
Labeling can lead to self fulfilling prophecies for the labeler and the labelee. Labels categorize sets of characteristics and sometimes may seem arbitrary, yet can carry much power over the individual because of the perceptions associated with the labels. Joining certain labeled groups, in some cases, can even carry some cache. In other words, it’s the “fit in” mojo that drives us to either create or join labeled groups.
Our self-identity is heavily influenced by feedback from others. The ego identifies with the labels and the labels become our perimeter boundaries wherein we live our lives. This over identification with labels can inhibit us from living life fully and freely. Our true self, the essence beneath the subjugating ego, is in a constant state of flux through out our lives. It is not static. Yet the ego clings to the labels it self identifies with and confines us and forces us to remain with the labels we create and accept as us. We do have a level of awareness that can rise above the labels, letting go of the incessant feedback loop of opinions, boundaries and herd mentality that keeps us from experiencing our uniqueness, nested and protected within a labeled group. No one is immune from this.
We are all searching for individual congruence. Constantly trying to match our changing identity to our long held labeled identity and trying to find resonance and authenticity. Being aware of our own personal evolution can help make the trap of overidentification with a label, less of a sticking point, and recognizing some labels we accumulate are temporary and more importantly are not who we are as individuals.
So what about HSPs and HSMs? With so many underrepresented groups of people, race, gender, sexual preference, and religious groups out there, does it help our cause to educate about being an HSP individual by choosing to jump into the alphabet soup, holding our three letter acronym up proudly? And, are we really a minority group? Even though our numbers are smaller than the population at large, does this qualify us for protected group status? Since we have relatively recently just been labeled and are just now beginning to get some traction on being recognized as a personality group, what can we expect as far as empathy from the larger population?
I think we are a unique case. HSPs have been around as long as humans have been around. We are not something recently evolved. We show up culturally, ethnically, racially, and evenly along gender lines, so we may have smaller numbers but our reach is quite extensive. If you ask people and explain what it is to be sensitive in personality terms, everyone seems to know someone that is an HSP. I have often found that when asked about the HSP in their lives most people recall qualities that are often seen in a favorable light. You see, we don’t buck religious beliefs, we don’t offend sexual tastes, we don’t have our own unique physical characteristics, and we straddle all cultures. To be sure, we actually fit in nicely, even though we feel we are not fitting in sometimes, we as a group are quite adept at fitting in. Not making waves, getting along helping others. Sound familiar?
Yet, I have noticed myself that I am beginning to identify with the label: HSP. It gets broached more and more in conversation, especially when I sense another HSP is present. Within minutes, if they are not aware of the label, they begin to identify with it via the conversation with me. I have become an evangelist for high sensitivity, a recruiter if you will, of those that can identify with the characteristics of the group. I’m doing my part in educating others, even non-HSPs who seem to either want mightily to correct this “condition” at one extreme or at least understand it at the other extreme. Perhaps, the folly of this is that like any personality characteristic, it is imperative to recognize that individuals are all different and can broadly represent along that spectrum.
Being HSP is more trait than type. A trait is a broader continuum versus the more specific nature of typing. There is much diversity with the HSP community and with our heightened sensitivity the variations are large and wide. Like sexual preferences, we cover a large territory and a broad range on the sensitivity map.
One of my commenters on this blog seemed to be all flushed about the need to even add another group acronym to the alphabet soup bowl. “Why can’t we just all get along,” the reader commented. Well, although in principle I agreed with them, we should all get along, sometimes theory is harder in practice. What can we do then to promote awareness of high sensitivity without creating a victim stigma to our community and to the world? Although we have nothing to apologize about, by creating more dialogue about it, I think we all win. Especially amongst HSPs who are not yet aware of the gift they possess.
Here’s some tips for recognition and integration:
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.