A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High-Sensing Male
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Note: Romantic love can be one of humans' most enjoyable and satisfying experiences. However, navigation to that end is often fraught with challenges and pitfalls. I believe HSPs are naturally more romantic or at least drawn to matters of the heart, and yet, we don't always reach our objective: to love and be loved. High emotion for us often seems to be leavened with naivety and idealization. It may be the price we pay for being so intensely emotional. We love more deeply, and sometimes we hurt more profoundly. Learning to be present in our emotions may help.
In the complex landscape of love and relationships, idealizing love interests can be a tempting pitfall for Highly Sensitive Men (HSP). This blog explores the alluring world of idealization and its dangers, contrasting it with the key to healthier love expectations.
The Allure of Idealizing Love Interests
Why HSP Men Are Prone to Idealizing Love Interests
Highly Sensitive Men possess a heightened emotional awareness, which can make them more susceptible to idealizing love interests. Research has shown that HSP individuals often have deeper emotional experiences and are more likely to attach intense emotions to people they are attracted to (Aron & Aron, 1997). But we know that.
The Allure of Creating a Perfect Image
Creating an idealized image of a love interest is appealing because it provides a temporary escape from the complexities and imperfections of real life. It also plays right into our fantasies about love, sometimes deviating from reality. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Fletcher et al., 1999) suggests that idealization can be a form of self-protection, shielding individuals from potential disappointments. And yet, we are the co-creators of that gambit and the authors of possible heartbreak.
Dangers of Idealizing Love Interests
Idealizing love interests often leads to unrealistic emotional attachment. Research (Birnbaum, 2019) highlights how this emotional intensity can lead to heightened anxiety, jealousy, and a fear of rejection, resulting in emotional upset. It's as if we are stirring our emotional cauldron. I once wrote that I sometimes believe that HSPs are addicted to emotion. We complain about the highs and lows even while we position ourselves for emotional rollercoasters. Our search for the emotional charge stimulates us with emotional current.
Unfulfilled or Unhealthy Love Relationships
Idealization can lead to rushing into relationships, ignoring red flags or incompatibilities. Individuals who idealize their partners may find themselves in relationships marked by poor communication and unrealistic expectations. When translated into an emotional interaction, our unrealistic expectations may hit a wall surrounding our love interest, preventing real love from prospering. We immediately jump the shark diving into the emotional pool and immediately release rational and critical thought from the process. Can you imagine anything going wrong here?
The Risk of Embarrassment
Building excessively high expectations that may not be met can lead to embarrassment. Fletcher et al., 2001 found that idealization often results in disillusionment when reality falls short of the imagined perfection. Running the risk of showing your hand too soon in the buildup of a relationship can often lead to awkward moments, which may expose your miscalculations and interpretations of your love interest's gestures. Nothing is more sad or embarrassing than unrequited love or misinterpretation of a potential lover's offering of friendship.
Idealizing love interests can lead to patterns of misjudgment, clouding one's perception and making it difficult to read the signs of affection or disinterest accurately. A study in the Journal of Research in Personality (Reis et al., 2015) indicates that individuals who idealize their partners are more likely to misinterpret their actions and intentions. Seeking love in all the wrong places leads to frustration, sometimes anger, and compounds feelings of loneliness. Seeing love where there is none, expecting that your HSP observation and awareness skills are always accurate, and failing to properly test your assumptions as you get to know a potential lover leads to disappointment.
Disappointment and Heartbreak
The ultimate consequence of idealization is disappointment and heartbreak. Pistole & Roberts, 2018 found that idealization was linked to higher levels of relationship dissatisfaction and breakups. It kind of supports the notion of a hopeless romantic, in love with the high created by the chase but unprepared for the disappointing trough of rejection.
Healthy Love Expectations
Getting to Know Someone Slowly
Research in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (O'Sullivan et al., 2018) suggests that taking time to understand a potential partner leads to more successful and satisfying relationships. Building a strong foundation is essential for long-term happiness. Slow wins the race, but our idealization of romantic love stories, often seen within a TV or movie timeframe of two hours or less (read: Immediate gratification), makes us believe that love happens with lightning speed. Getting to know anyone takes time - months or even years. Idealization in love is like a match tip: burns bright, lights up the room for a second, then flames out, leaving nothing but the acrid smell of smoke. Not built to last.
Addressing loneliness without idealizing someone is crucial for HSP men. Loneliness is the HSP two-edged sword. We crave our private time, but at some point, we recognize our social selves need to be fed. What better connection for an HSP to enter than an intimate one-on-one relationship? Often, we have less experience than other outgoing individuals in making these bonds. We often fail to field test our social theories and make naïve assumptions about other's responses to us. Yet, we must. Practice is in the doing. Research published in Health Psychology (Cacioppo et al., 2006) indicates that finding ways to connect with friends, engage in hobbies, and create a fulfilling life outside of a romantic relationship is important for overall well-being. Building the skills that many of us lack.
Watching for Red Flags or Disinterest
We tend to be good at observational details. However, projecting externally strong emotions doesn't always allow us to be objective. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (Fletcher & Simpson, 2017) shows that paying attention to red flags and addressing incompatibilities early can lead to more stable and satisfying relationships. It is important to know your relationship's red flags. More importantly, you must know what action to take when a red flag appears. Failure to do so, from my personal experience, is a failed strategy. And, wallpapering those red flags with idealization does not make them disappear.
Avoiding Direct Conversation and Truthfulness
It is important to emphasize the importance of open and honest communication in relationships. Addressing concerns and initiating difficult conversations is vital to foster understanding and connection. Better sooner than later. In love, we often try to present our best selves and may avoid addressing pitfalls in the relationship that may stand out, even in the very beginning. By not committing too early, we can be cautious and let the slow reveal occur without pressure and pumped-up expectations.
Knowing When to Move Forward
Recognizing when a relationship is progressing positively and taking things at a comfortable pace is vital. Individuals in balanced and healthy relationships tend to be more satisfied and content. Perhaps formulating milestones for yourself and between you and your partner can make the thousand-mile journey seem more palatable. Each milestone may correspond with an emotional release correlating with a growing love and commitment. Not to be robotic in this endeavor, but present and aware of the relationship as it is at a point in time.
Idealizing love interests may seem enticing, but it often leads to emotional upset, unfulfilled relationships, embarrassment, misreading signs, and heartbreak. Highly Sensitive Men can find a more fulfilling path by adopting healthier love expectations, building strong foundations, managing loneliness, staying vigilant for red flags, communicating openly, and recognizing when to move forward. By embracing a balanced and realistic perspective, HSP men can forge happier, more authentic relationships, ultimately leading to a more satisfying love life.
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.