A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
In the sixties and seventies, a slew of movies depicted the disaffected American male anti-hero - Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry or the High Plains Drifter, Charles Bronson in Death Wish, Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack, Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, to name a few.
These idealized males were seen as lone enforcers and protectors unfettered by convention, the law, or society. They were motivated by righteous indignation seeking vengeance who would break the law to enforce it. The history of these anti-heroes goes back to the stories of Robin Hood and Don Quixote and goes back even further to classic Greek drama.
What makes these characters enticing is that there generally is an inciting event, usually a death, murder, or some severe wrong perpetrated by the villain against the anti-hero or something seen as valuable to the protagonist, and the remainder of the story is the ruthless pursuit of justice by the anti-hero. Of course, we know that the anti-hero follows a path of moral ambiguity. Still,the emotion of vengeance is the justification for the punishment meted out by our hero.
Whether the codification of males as protectors influenced these stories or a preexisting code always has existed that informed the stories is debatable. Nevertheless, this model of men as overprotectors, wielding violence and lawlessness to justify the ends, needs to be revisited. It may make for great drama, a two-hour festival of schadenfreude, but is this model a model for boys and men to aspire to?
Is there anything wrong with men wanting to be protectors?
No, not necessarily. It is instinctive to want to protect the people you love and who are under your care. Therefore, it is natural to invoke protector mode when circumstances warrant this behavior.
However, vigilantism is another matter. Vigilantism is when someone breaks the law to pursue their own version of personal justice. Taking the law into your own hands to promote violence to seek vengeance is a form of dominance and forced submission. Creating your personal justice to quell a surge of emotional vindictiveness is just plain wrong and, when acted upon by men, gives the masculine instincts to protect a bad name. This attitude translates heavily into other areas, such as politics, religion, and even corporate retaliatory actions, often spurred by egoistic individuals.
A world of wrong-headed emotionalism about a perceived wrong leads to irrational actions that can have terrible consequences for all parties involved. Movies may popularize this notion of rightful vigilantism, but nowhere does humane and just law support it. Instead, our continued worship of anti-heroes and superheroes seems to perpetuate the myth of male exceptionalism, which sometimes requires men to disregard the law and preserve some mythical higher truth or justice.
It’s an embarrassing truth that many American men have adopted this attitude. It traced its roots to the Dark Ages when the medieval aristocratic gentry waged private wars and feuds to exact revenge above and beyond the law. This notion of authority outside of the law created antecedents to what we now term hegemonic masculinity.
When protectiveness goes wrong.
If you have viewed the movie heroes, I listed above, you will note that they take vengeance to another level. It’s not always tit for tat but sometimes goes toward righteous indignation, where the anti-hero is judge and jury meting out punishment often above and beyond the crime.
This type of protectionism illustrates a kind of ownership and dominance that many men feel they must provide for their loved ones. It is often about power and control. For example, the exuberant father who escorts his daughter on her first date, spies on her date, or worse, threatens the young suiter if he broaches the deadline to have her home.
This is not about acknowledging the underlying anger that may accompany a wrong but the controlled behavior needed to remain calm and civilized. Regardless of the perceived wrongdoing, it is not about an individual’s justice but law and order. For too long, we have worshipped the hero that determines the crime and the punishment, the vigilante as the maverick hero.
What is a better model for protecting one’s interests?
For one, you can stop assuming that everyone is out to get your loved ones or you. But, on the other hand, it is not blithely ignoring the reality of crime in our society either. With all things, a sense of balanced vigilance will suit the purpose.
As a protector, your role is to define the boundaries which you will defend if necessary. Boundaries provide a sense of identity and trust, safety, and security. Your job is to protect, not to control. Therefore, consider a measured approach that does not exceed the law.
Learning to control explosive emotions such as anger or rage is important. Emotional regulation is difficult when events seem threatening but remaining calm gives you an advantage even if you are called into an active posture. Not only over your assailant but over your instinctive emotions. Channel as much into legal remedies as possible.
In an emergency situation where life and death decisions are needed, protecting oneself and loved ones is paramount. Be skilled in delivering that protection, don’t go beyond the law, and don’t always feel you are vindicated by invoking violence.
Are anti-heroes a valid model for men?
Why are they so popular in movies? The American mythos of the lone gunman, the maverick vigilante, the expedient dispenser of justice, the fearless warrior, mighty and strong, not asking for help from the law but taking it upon himself to exact revenge. The notion that there is a noble purpose in their vengeance, a special holy mission to provide payback and enact this in an efficient and unobstructed way, appeals to our cultural definition of the ideal male. Much of this cultural iconography comes from our romanticized views of the American West, where miles of lawless territory presided by distant circuit judges far away and the idea that swift popular justice superseded the law—allowed for vigilantism to permeate our mindset.
The appeal is palpable. It’s an emotional roller coaster. First, shock at the perpetuating event, then riding the emotional high to action (fight mode), and then completion at defeating the enemy, nicely wrapped up in two hours of celluloid emotional payoff.
The problem with this model, although perfect for movies, is that it often plays out in real life. We see it in politics, social media, sports, and now sadly and ironically, at the Academy Awards.
This model is not about balance. And, it doesn’t work for most men.
Now, I know that I had experienced anger and rage when one of my loved ones was threatened. But unfortunately, I didn’t find out until after the fact, too late to do anything. As an HSP male, I often wonder what emotions would play out for me under some of these circumstances. We all have hot buttons and can be moved to action by uncontrolled rage or anger. However, as HSP males, we need to learn to regulate our emotions to use emotional energy for constructive purposes. I doubt that HSP males would make good vigilantes, but can we make good role models for calm and controlled defensive action.
We, like all men, must learn to control our rage, anger, and fears. Channel the emotional energy into finding justice under the law. We should and must protect, as would any parent, the family or loved ones, and those we care for without submitting to raging violence and vigilantism.
Please comment with your thoughts.
A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
In the early seventies, when I was in college, a group of my friends and myself decided to signup for Transcendental Meditation training. It all seemed so cool and trendy to learn meditation. There was a student meditation society that trained us in the meditation technique that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had taught the Beatles. Later on, that same group became part of the Maharishi University based in Iowa.
One of the intriguing ideas they suggested was that Maharishi had said that it only would take about one percent of a target population to meditate on topics like peace and affect change. For example, the target population (a city) would note a decrease in violent crime. Later, it was changed to become the square root of one percent, but the point was that a small group of people with focused intent could change the world. I never forgot that.
Over the past few years, I have stated that HSPs can have that same effect – The Maharishi Effect, if you will. We are a small number of people worldwide by percentages, but still, our numbers are significant. Dr. Aron has stated, as have other researchers, that the HSP characteristic is an evolutionary adaptation to aid the larger population of humans. The fact that the size of our community is small is also scientifically significant and makes are role to humanity clear.
There has never been a time in human history when we need HSPs more to take on advisory and leadership roles to keep self-destructive human behaviors from destroying our species. I believe one of the drivers for this behavior is the long-held attachment to toxic masculinity. As I have stated before, masculinity is largely a cultural construct. Yet there is a form of masculinity that many men have adopted to represent their manhood that is toxic not only to women and children but also to men themselves. It is restrictive, non-inclusive, and goes against many fundamental human behaviors.
HSP men can take a role in reshaping the distortion of masculinity by modeling behaviors that seem natural to us: empathy, emotional expressiveness, nurturing, intuition, and deep, careful thought. In effect, we can be role models for a new definition of what men can become. I have a three-pronged approach that I believe most HSP men can adopt to keep it simple.
Become Knowledgeable About the Trait of Sensitivity
First, we need to ensure that HSPs and particularly HSP men become more knowledgeable about the trait of sensitivity. Knowledge and understanding lead to acceptance. Many HSP men are reluctant to admit that they are sensitive. They have bought into or have been indoctrinated into the traditional male role model and feel that accepting sensitivity is a weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We should focus on several items, which I think paint the trait more positively. One, look to the trait's origin as part of the Environmental Sensitivity Theory, which describes an organism's interaction and reaction to its environment. This leads to the idea that sensitivity is a basic human quality and falls on a spectrum from low to high. The adaptation characteristics fall across the human population. The high end is where the HSP community is found. Being sensitive is normal.
Two, understanding the traits of high sensitivity, following the D.O.E.S. model that Dr. Aron has proposed. Some of the four characteristics (O & E) are external manifestations of the other largely internal characteristics (D & S). For example, deep processing and sensory acuity often contribute to emotional reactivity and overwhelm. These traits do not make you a freak or less of a man.
Three, know that the HSP trait is evolutionary and is designed by nature. It is a safeguard to the species and is necessary. That makes you essential. Let that sink in.
Finally, think of this trait as a human specialization. That makes you a specialist human. You're different, yes, but you were designed that way. So, learn and grow into the trait.
Know the sources where you can learn more about the trait. Google high sensitivity, and you will find many sites to learn more. Stay with the reputable ones. Dr. Aron's would be a good place to start www.hsperson.com . In addition, you can join social media groups such as Facebook to learn and share with other HSPs and search for highly sensitive terms. Understand the traits' positives and challenges, realize what challenges are most vexing to you, and learn to ameliorate them or modulate them. Most of this might be simply learning how to regulate your emotions or calm your mind during overwhelm. Finally, see the trait as a gift, it may be a stretch at first, but with open eyes, you will see it eventually.
Embrace and Be Proud of Who You Are
Once you have learned the qualities, challenges, and gifts of the trait, begin reevaluating your life through your new knowledge and the prism of high sensitivity. When you understand the difficulties you experience are shared by millions of people worldwide, the feelings of isolation you may have had begin to dissipate. Be proud of who you are, part of an elite corps of individuals with purpose, meaning, and mission. Walk with confidence as a sensitive person, no matter what you call it or how you describe it to others. Remember the DOES model to aid you in being clear, accurate, and concise. No need to apologize, nor should you.
Act by Modeling the Trait to Other Men and Boys
I believe that all sensitive people have the capacity to affect change in the world, either small and local or large and global. So you can start now impacting the lives of all the people you contact, especially other HSPs, HSP children, young adults, and other men who may not be HSPs.
Model the qualities you inherently know that are positive: kindness, compassion, empathy, nurturance, and intuitive thinking. Let your empathy be your compass; let your inner knowledge and intuition be your guide. You can impact the places you are at - work, your community, your family, your spiritual community, your friends, and your neighbors. We don't have to carry banners, protest, march or even organize. We can do this the HSP way, quietly, shifting minds with our actions and creativity.
How HSP Men Can Change the World
One major way HSP men can affect the world is by helping redefine how masculinity looks, feels, and acts. Begin discussing with other males and, when appropriate, the need for change, especially in how we behave like men. Show other men how emotional expression and sensitivity can be cathartic and useful tools in everyday life.
Be the trail guide many men are looking for, especially younger men. You've walked the path before them; share your experience and knowledge with them. You don't need a PH.D. to do that. It is a time-honored tradition, the wisdom of the tribe you are sharing. And most of all, model the behaviors that are natural and easy for you more often than not.
Lasting impactful change often takes years to manifest. Be patient; chip away like ocean water against the rocks. Understand that change is already occurring. Embrace the younger generations that are already cutting the path for this change. The shift will most impact them that many of them see as needed. Remember that we are all in this together, men, women, and children, HSP and non-HSP.
The world is at a critical juncture right now. To course-correct for the massive ship of humanity is an enormous effort. Our children and grandchildren are counting on our counsel and support. Be an early adopter of the new man. You may be the prototype.
Please comment with your thoughts.
Bill Allen currently 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.