A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
Chuck Noland: We both had done the math. Kelly added it all up, and... knew she had to let me go. I added it up and knew that I had... lost her. 'cos I was never gonna get off that island. I was gonna die there, totally alone. I was gonna get sick, or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when, and how, and where it was going to happen. So... I made a rope, and I went up to the summit, to hang myself. I had to test it, you know? Of course. You know me. And the weight of the log snapped the limb of the tree, so I-I - , I couldn't even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over *nothing*. And that's when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that's what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I'm back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass... And I've lost her all over again. I'm so sad that I don't have Kelly. But I'm so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?
From Cast Away
I think it’s about time we HSPs and in particular HSMs stop complaining about our sensitivities and start living with it and learning from it, exploiting the advantages and looking for best strategies to thrive within the framework of Sensory Processing Sensitivity. That may sound harsh, but, as men, we need to explore our options on how we can best deal with SPS and then take that knowledge and share it with our HSM brothers and young men and boys. We might even consider sharing it with our non-HSP male counterparts to help them explore other aspects of their personalities they probably have veered away from.
I have talked a lot about our culture’s boy and man code, toxic masculinity and living our own protective denial about who we are and covering up our differences. The world, for now, may not get us-- our moods, the tendency towards overwhelm, the depth of processing emotions and stuff, that many label “over-thinking,” --because this all spells drama to outsiders. Drama in familiar parlance is any kind of intense emotion that doesn’t fit the circumstance according to the labeler.
They don’t get our quiet ways, sometimes think we are conspiring against them. They never understand our need to process to infinity and beyond on what they usually consider trivial matters, until, of course, they need to pick our brains on advice for one of their vexing problems. When you consider it, work, relationships, friendships, activities, social life – all are impacted by our high sensitivity and how we deal and cope.
Nothing about our living goes unaffected by our SPS trait. Part of the overwhelms of life for most of us comes from not having effective coping skills to deal with the extra sensitivity. This is consternating for us HSP adults but is profoundly confusing for HSP kids. Many parents of HSP kids, some of which are not themselves HSPs are confused, embarrassed, frustrated and sometimes plain angry with their HSP offspring. They struggle because they don’t know of, or can teach the coping skills these children need.
Although I am grateful at the growing acknowledgment and work about SPS from the likes of Dr. Elaine Aron, Dr. Tracy Cooper, Dr. Ted Zeff, and many others, we are far from universal awareness and understanding about how to cope, strategize, raise and bring up healthy HSP children.
As many of us adults acknowledge our shortcomings or the lack of tools to help in this undertaking, we as HSPs must all band together to share our insights and teach each other those coping skills that have worked for us as individuals and to share the experiences we have had that might be useful to parents, teachers, and others that interface with HSP children.
This is true especially for HSP boys that are not only up against one size fits all societal norms for masculine expectancy but the general bias against HSPs as a whole. This is hard for young HSP boys, because not only do they not match up with what is expected from most boys, but are often sensitive about this disparity. This disconnect contributes to self-esteem and self-confidence issues that will affect them as men and as adults. So what do we do?
Let me talk first about some of our tendencies when confronting life’s conflicts. Our instincts generally lead us always to go within, retreat or isolate when we reach these obstacles. It just seems normal for us to withdraw at the first sign of resistance. We almost universally process in this way, or some close variant. For HSPs this may be to allow for more processing or rumination on the issue or for soothing purposes. To quiet down, rest on the problem. Yes, we all nod in an agreement that this is a good thing, but is it always a good strategy? For sure, it is a natural strategy for HSPs, no one has to teach an HSP to do this, but following our natural tendencies – does this make for best practices? Could it lead to passivity, inaction, and avoidance?
I think about this a lot when I contemplate the idea of teaching proactive coaching strategies to young HSP men or boys. I often ask myself – what could have been taught to me as a boy, that would have made my life better, more fulfilling and instilled a higher degree of confidence in my ability to navigate the world. Instead, like many highly sensitive men, I just figured out on my own by trial and error, a cobbled together strategy.
What we need are tools to teach ourselves and our young men how to take our gifts and our challenges as HSPs and use them to better ourselves and for that matter, the world. These tools would instill confidence and teach us how to use our unique voices. We could stand to learn more precise skills to regulate our emotions or how to throttle them when they are overwhelming or inappropriate. We need to learn how to communicate our needs to others, without sounding whiny or complaining.
There should be a method that would be equivalent to mental aikido when we are attacked or feel that way, that would allow us to calmly use our opponent's negativity to flow through us, as opposed to draining us or hurting us. This could be a method to protect us. We need to understand our dark selves, too, those moods that might arise from negative upbringings or from other’s insensitive treatment and learn to show love to all those that don’t understand us. Most importantly, we need to learn the fundamentals of self-love, how to find and nurture it within ourselves.
We need good roadmaps for finding our best career options and accelerate the proliferation of good tools for HSPs for identifying the HSP trait early on, either by testing (thanks Dr. Aron) or by trained observation. We need to cultivate how to guide our young HSP children towards careers that would allow them to prosper and thrive, helping them to get in touch with their life spark (read: passion) and show them how to map it out into an awesome life.
We need career coaches and counselors to provide career “clouds,” which are general guidelines for options for broad occupation categories that HSPs can match to their individual personalities and characteristics. We need to match our young ones to mentors that can help them at schools and medical facilities, that understand them, and can encourage them in ways that stimulate HSPs in gentle ways.
As an HSP male, I can’t emphasize enough, how important it is to identify and outreach HSP boys early on in life. A great deal of their socialization as males takes place early in life, from both males and females. Self-esteem and self-confidence begin here, and no one, HSP or not, is born with the means to self-confidence. It is all learned.
Some of the coping strategies out there from a variety of sources, speak to the special needs of HSPs without really talking about the proactive tools approach. It’s almost a stimulus => response approach, that is most often offered. Nevertheless, not criticizing these approaches, they are coming from great sources, but still seem lacking in providing a walk out the door and into life approach, which anticipates challenges and provides a means to let life flow through us. I do believe as SPS gathers more research these tools will appear.
Now, I am going to share a broad stroke of these ideas, a sampling of the advice for HSP coping. More detail can be found by linking on the references. In addition, at the end of the article, I have listed a few of the essential HSP books, that every HSM should have on their bookshelves or on their Kindles.
Most authorities on HSPs speak to the need for HSP emotional regulation. This is very important. Like most HSPs, no one ever taught me about how to deal with the onslaught of heavy emotion I would deal with in my life. It’s easy to get addicted to the highs and lows, and without a good strategy, the roller coaster analogy really begins to take shape in your life. Dr. Aron speaks of acceptance of your feelings, being with them, realizing they are transient and will pass. She advocates remaining hopeful, realizing you can cope and with practice can receive the experience that allows you to feel that you are in control. This is the mindful thought sculpting approach many therapists utilize. She acknowledges that body matters are important too, such as sleep, diet, and exercise. How and where you spend your time will aid in dealing with overwhelm so keep matters of association and isolation in mind.
Dr. Ted Zeff talks about raising HSP boys, in a gentle way, acknowledging their nature, being extra cautious to be mindful of bullying in and around their lives, and being cautious about placing them unprepared in stressful circumstances, where they may be humiliated or overly embarrassed. He emphasizes the importance of a strong, leader male – a father figure to guide them in finding their way. This is imperative to HSP boys to receive recognition from a respected male to aid them in developing confidence in themselves. HSP boys need to be engaged in physical activities that will help them be physically fit. Many HSP boys lack a positive body image and exercise and movement are key to improving that image.
HSP boys need help in developing critical thinking skills to abate the tendency towards runaway emotions. A great skill for young men, HSP or not, is to learn meditation skills for relaxation and to increase mind calming. We need to teach them to regulate self-criticism, which often takes an emotional tone. We often suffer from recursive intrusive thinking. Critical thinking coupled with mindfulness and self-awareness can help tremendously here.
I envision here a kind of Shaolin priest training program that balances both body and mind. For those of you who remember, the TV show, Kung-Fu, offers the character Kwai Chang Caine, who is a sensitive, spiritual and thoughtful man who walks with mindfulness and confidence in the world and I think a kind of cool role model for HSP boys.
All of these activities should have a goal of increased self-esteem, via awareness and use of a variety of tools, many of which, are free, and only need to be taught. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or tapping is a great example of one of the tools. I would also recommend working with a therapist that knows EMDR (a tool that releases unconscious material quickly) or that offers some type of neurofeedback training. I personally, use Neuroptimal, to help calm my mind and build resiliency.
All of this advice suggests some of the tools that, although not necessarily developed for HSPs, can be modified or adapted to be used for HSPs. We do need to stop treating SPS as if it were a disease. It's not. I am not above my own advice. I am still struggling with the idea of this trait as being a gift at times. I often let unknowing, sometimes well-meaning people frame my experience as being a liability or that I must make draconian changes in my personality. We all need to start looking at ways /strategies for being more proactive with our trait. Getting out from underneath the confusion about the trait, examining what’s good about it, and teaching ourselves and others how we can best use it to thrive makes sense now.
I would welcome hearing about strategies that you may have tried to aid yourself in your life. Good or bad, they all bear mentioning.
Chuck Noland: [to Wilson] We might just make it. Did that thought ever cross your brain? Well, regardless, I would rather take my chance out there on the ocean than to stay here and die on this shithole island, spending the rest of my life talking...
Chuck Noland: ...TO A GODDAMN VOLLEYBALL!
From Cast Away
Books You Must Have or Read:
Dr. Tracy Cooper – Thrive!
Dr. Elaine Aron –Highly Sensitive Person
Dr. Ted Zeff – Strong Sensitive Boy
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.