A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
As much as we try to portray in the most positive of lights the trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), there is a dark side of the trait that those with SPS are very familiar with. No, it’s not sinister nor evil in that sense of darkness, but it does often cast some shade into the lives of highly sensitive people. Sensitivity is not all about goodness and light. HSPs cannot always be about accommodating the needs of others, being kind, thoughtful, and unselfish. Sometimes we need to be selfish, and sometimes that can be confounding to others, and some might say, ugly.
Most HSPs know the side of which I am speaking. The darkness of mood, an almost self-indulgent need to be alone, can sometimes make us appear as prima donnas or divas or just plain arses. This can materialize when emotions go unregulated and allowed to manifest, like bats on the wing.
As people who live a considerable amount of time inside our mental worlds, we often leave the outside world out on what is happening deep within. As a result, complex emotions, deep thinking, sometimes rumination can leave us depleted, confused, angry, or bitter, and the world sees the worst side of us.
What is the dark side of high sensitivity?
It has been noted that HSPs are prone to depression. We are inclined to this in both mild and extreme forms. The way we perceive things, process too much sensory data inputs, and sometimes overstimulation coupled with our ability to deep process this data can lead us to some pretty dark places within our psyche. Our need to be alone often can reinforce this darkness in the absence of reliable external sources to refute the thoughts that carry us downward. Our need to think ourselves through this, make it right, and often go it alone. We can be pretty selfish with our alone time, sometimes even being negligent to others or allowing it to get ugly with those who don’t understand. This leaves us isolated, frustrated, not fitting in, and feeling misunderstood.
Very often, we suppress normal but uncomfortable emotions to please others. If the emotions are conflictual or confusing, we can bury them to get along. Unfortunately, this suppression of emotion can lead to a host of other mental health issues: depression, anxiety, stress, and physical health-related problems. Many HSPs have been socialized to believe that strong emotion is not appropriate behavior and that dealing with emotion should remain stoic and hidden. All this does is negate our true selves, repress our strong feelings, and destroy confidence and self-esteem. This also can lead to resentment.
One of the most common HSP emotions is that of anxiety. Not sure of who we are or how we fit in, HSPs can become overly anxious about everything from physical appearance, to performance, to social activity and anything that puts our often-hidden selves front and center to the world. We can become anxious about how the world perceives us and how we best function in it. Social anxiety is a real thing for us. And can affect profoundly if and how we interact with the world.
Moodiness, ah, moodiness. Because we often hide our real feelings until we can’t, the change in mood leaves many surprised, hurt, or angered by our sea change of emotions. To the outside world, this is the dark, mysterious world of sensitivity. The world sees this as problematic, leaving us to feel guilty for finally expressing our deepest emotions. This guilt has a dark side to it because we feel disconnected and abnormal. The world sees us a drama kings or queens.
Then there is repressed anger, then explosiveness- perhaps, one of the most noticeable emotions is anger suppressed, then released explosively. It catches others off guard, usually unprepared for such an outburst. Usually seen by the world as meek and mild, an HSP who has reached a boiling point can be quite surprising when anger is unleashed. It surprises us HSPs, too. Not always cathartic, it can leave us embarrassed, apologetic, and feeling guilty for showering the stored anger at an unsuspecting recipient. Showing our human side, good and bad, can be troublesome for introspective HSPs.
How we see it.
We often see our moodiness or feelings as defects- because of the external negative feedback we get from our family, friends, and peers. It can be embarrassing to watch our moods change like floodwaters sweeping down across our life’s landscape.
The anxiety we experience can be a roadblock to our growth. In the absence of externalizing our feelings, thoughts, and ideas, we miss the opportunity to share our deep thoughts. But, fear of criticism or non-reciprocation leaves us suspicious of fully participating in life. This fear is very real and is our invisible barrier towards the outside world. Our anxiety is our signal, our warning to be cautious in the extreme.
We feel guilty about the moodiness once it has passed, but it may make us wary about expressing emotion later for fear of alienating others. As a result, society disfavors those with mood swings.
The anger, once surfaced, leaves us feeling incompetent and apologetic for having expressed such intense feelings. This creates a loop of further suppression, which is not healthy.
How the world sees us.
Let’s face it, sometimes the world sees us as perpetrators of drama because of the cycle of on and off again emotion. But, unfortunately, in our culture, intense feeling is equated with manipulation or lack of discipline.
Our need for decompression is seen as being socially dysfunctional. We are seen as social snobs or, worse, weird isolates who shun human contact. When told about our need for downtime, we are just told to soldier on.
The world is confused about who we are and why we function the way we do. Perhaps, rightfully so. The word needs to get out wide and far about high sensitivity – the obvious gifts and the sometimes unfortunate drawbacks.
Because the outside world cannot see our internal workings, they often try to control us or fix us.
Dealing with the dark side.
Emotional suppression is seldom a winning strategy. Learning to regulate emotions appropriately for the moment is the name of the game. Regulation is not suppression. Channeling the emotions, dealing with the intensity, calming the mind and body will go a long way to helping HSP emotional draws.
Be more transparent to the extent that you allow the outside world to know what you are dealing with on the inside. Find sympathetic companions who understand. Stand unafraid in your sensitivity.
Learning to deal with your comfort zone is very important and can be useful in coping with anxiety. The work is expansion, not jettisoning your ego to far-off worlds outside of your protective bubble. It’s there for a reason, but not to cage you. Grow it, and your life will grow, and the anxiety will drop.
Learn to retreat for downtime gracefully. Explain to family, friends, and those around you the physiological and constitutional reasons you need rest. There is no need to apologize for this; it’s who you are and what you need. Do it without apology.
Follow up and learn as much about SPS as possible to help educate others and create a welcoming environment for you and other HSPs.
Remember, all emotions/moods will pass. Ride the wave like a surfer. It may be uncomfortable, but you can get the hang of it. Learn to eat the right way for HSPs, for your body. Rest (whatever your requirements are), learn brain training, mindfulness, or meditation to help your brain be more resilient. Take care of your body as well as your mind.
Finally, if you are depressed or if anxiety is debilitating, seek out professional help. Some things are bigger than you. Do not be ashamed of getting the assistance you need.
There is a duality with high sensitivity. With the intensity of sensory data, emotion, and passion comes the darkness of overstimulation, overwhelm, moodiness, and emotional reactivity.
Do not despair; the trait is nonetheless a great gift that nature has outfitted you with. Regardless of the hazards and obstacles we encounter, the darkness will always fade into the light with care.
Unfortunately, we are never taught early enough in life to regulate our feelings, but there are many techniques, tools, and practices that can help with the roller coaster life sometimes places us upon. Learn them and apply them and teach them to other HSPs.
Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
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.