The Sensitive Man - When Dark Gets Desperate: Suicide, Men, and High Sensitivity
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.
Bill Allen currently lives in Lutz, Florida. He previously lived 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.