- Mental Health
HSP Topics: Gatherings, Groups and Workshops for the Highly Sensitive Person
This article is part of an ongoing series about the ins and outs, joys and challenges of living life as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). For more background information about HSPs please read my introductory article The Highly Sensitive Person: An Introduction which also contains an index of all my HSP-related articles. If you're uncertain what an "HSP" is, or whether you are one, you can also visit Dr. Elaine Aron's web site and take her brief free "self-test for sensitivity."
The Book Every HSP Must Read!
This is Dr. Elaine Aron's original book on High Sensitivity, written in 1996, based on her years of research. If you are an HSP-- or even think you might be an HSP-- this book is a "must read." Almost all who read it feel like the author is "speaking directly TO them," and I personally had lots of "aha moments" when I read this book. It has changed the lives of millions of people-- HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The Importance of connecting with other Highly Sensitive People
It often amazes people who have recently discovered that they are HSPs that 15-20% of the overall population is highly sensitive. If you live in the US, that could mean 47 million HSPs!
For many, this statistic offers a sense of relief, at the realization that these "strange feelings" you've had all your life aren't some "weirdness" that's specific to you. For a moment, you relax a bit, as you think "Oh. There are others like me."
When I first learned about the trait, I was also amazed by this statistic-- but at the same time, I was too busy reading-- and trying to understand-- how all the different facets of sensitivity applied to me. After a while, however, I paused and wondered "But where are all these other HSPs?"
It seemed reasonable to me that a good way to learn more would be to talk to someone else who was a lot "like me."
At the time I stared my HSP learning process (1997), the Internet was still a fairly limited place. Sure, there were a few web sites that mentioned "High Sensitivity" or "hypersensitivity," but I was unable to find any references to support groups or workshops where I could learn more.
Fortunately, things have changed considerably, since 1997. There is now a wealth of resources for HSPs-- both online, and off-- allowing us to find peers, groups and workshops and other forms of information and support. In this article, I'd like to share just a few options, along with some tips on how and where to expand your search.
So why does connecting matter? Well, because nobody understands what it's like to be an HSP... more than another HSP.
Connection Approaches for HSPs
There are basically two primary ways to connect with other HSPs:
Online, through discussion groups, forums, web sites and listservs, and Offline, through meetings, support groups, workshops and retreats.
There's no "right" or "wrong" way to go about finding fellow HSPs, although many feel most comfortable taking their first steps through Internet groups. After all, you can be a member of such groups from the comfort and safety of your living room.
The rest of this article will explore some options from each category.
Many HSPs are concerned about feeling overstimulated in social settings, so it's important to note that groups of HSPs are not like other groups of people-- there's a tremendous sense of welcoming and understanding.
HSP Gathering Retreats
"HSP Gathering Retreats" started in 2001 as a way for HSPs to come together for learning, personal development and fellowship. The name "Gathering" was coined as a result of the fact that these events are neither entirely "workshops" nor "conventions" nor specifically a "social group." In more recent years, they have more often become referred to as "Gathering Retreats."
So what exactly are they? In the broadest sense, they could be described as "a self-exploration retreat for HSPs." Typically, an HSP Gathering is a 4-5 day event held at retreat center venues around the US, Canada and Europe, and they typically take place two or three times each year. As of this writing, more than 30 Gatherings have taken place!
As implied by the name, attendees are all HSPs, and the events offer a mixture of learning through workshops, structured activities and small workgroups, as well as social events. Unlike many self-growth retreats which focus on one particular topic, the workshops at HSP Gatherings can be quite diverse, and are usually taught by a variety of guest presenters. Most Gatherings include a "keynote presentation" by Dr. Elaine Aron or another key author/expert on High Sensitivity.
As a tool to help an HSP both learn and feel more connected to the greater global HSP "Community," HSP Gatherings are an excellent option. Although many HSPs are introverts-- and thus often uncomfortable with groups-- the atmosphere at these events tends to be very low key, inclusive and accepting. The upsides include the learning, and the chance to spend a full four days with all HSPs, allowing attendees to gain insights, validation and new friends. The downsides might be considered cost and travel distance, as well as the fact that most fellow attendees will likely live far from your home, unless the event takes place near you.Thus, you may make friends, but many will become long-distance connections.
Would You Attend an HSP Gathering?
As an HSP, does the idea of attending an HSP Gathering Retreat with other HSPs sound appealing?
Where to look for Information about HSP Gatherings
- HSP Gathering Creator and Organizer Jacquelyn Strickland
Jacquelyn Strickland-- in cooperation with Elaine Aron-- is the creator and lead organizer of HSP Gatherings worldwide. Her site lists current HSP Gathering schedules, and has registration information.
- Dr. Elaine Aron's HSP Events page
Dr. Elaine Aron's web site often has a list of upcoming HSP Gatherings listed on her events page. Listings will also include information about Elaine Aron's own workshops.
- The Inner Reflections HSP Gathering Reports
The Inner Reflections web site has a couple of nice "photo journals" describing one HSP's experiences attending past HSP Gatherings-- well worth a visit.
- The HSP Notes blog
Published since 2002, this is the web's oldest "all HSP" blog where you can typically find posts with updates and news about current and upcoming HSP Gatherings.
Online Groups for HSPs
If the idea of spending five days at an HSP Gathering sounds a bit daunting, another option is to join a group for highly sensitive people. Such groups typically come in two different "flavors:" Online and offline.
Well... most of the time. There are also a few "combination" and "hybrid" groups out there, and I'll talk a bit about those, too.
Part of the beauty of the Internet is that you can find an interest group to fit your needs, almost no matter how odd or esoteric that interest may be. And with the knowledge that being a highly sensitive person affects 15-20% of the population, it should come as no surprise that "groups for HSPs" abound, on the Internet. The first web group for HSPs was started less than a year after the publication of the book "The Highly Sensitive Person," and its successor is still going strong today with a membership approaching 2000 people.
In addition to "general" web groups for HSPs, there is also a wide range of "interest based" groups, covering topics from parenting, work and raising HS children, to HSP writers' groups, HS singles groups and groups discussing HSPs and sexuality.
Finally, there is a wealth of regional and international groups, catering to HSPs in areas ranging from a single city (Chicago, San Francisco) to an international region (Australia & New Zealand).
Another helpful book for the Highly Sensitive Person
Elaine Aron's follow-up book to "The Highly Sensitive Person," this book takes on the often difficult issue of relationships for HSPs. It examines both relationships between two HSPs and between an HSP and a non-HSP, with the unique challenges each present.
Major online groups for HSPs
- Yahoo! Groups
Active since 1999, this is both the oldest and currently largest all-HSP discussion group on the web. Has approximately 1950 members; moderated membership; members must have read at least one book about high sensitivity.
- Yahoo! Groups
An online discussion group focused on highly sensitive people and work, loosely based on the book "Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person" by Dr. Barrie Jaeger.
- Yahoo! Groups
A "special interest" group for HSPs, with a focus on parenting a highly sensitive child. Active since 2003; has about 1250 members.
- The HSP Dimension
One of the few "Independent" forums for HSPs that has stood the test of time; has over 500 members with often lively discussions about a wide range of topics relevant to HSPs.
- Tribe Magazine's Online HSP Community
This is a rapidly growing forum with messageboards for HSPs, attached to the "Tribe" Magazine for HSPs. Currently has about 650 members.
Groups for HSPs on Facebook
These days, it seems like almost everyone we know is "on Facebook."
The giant social network is also home to a multitude of interest groups-- including several dozen groups for HSPs. Here are some of the more significant ones:
- The Highly Sensitive Person (Global) Group
With over 6600 members, this is currently the largest group for HSPs on Facebook. This is a "closed" group, meaning that ONLY members can see what is posted.
- Highly Sensitive Souls Group
Another large (over 3200 members) and active Facebook group for HSPs. This one is also a "closed" group, meaning that only members can see posts, and the group is fairly actively "moderated" by a team of volunteers.
- Highly Sensitive People
Currently with about 3800 members, this is another of the large "general interest" groups for HSPs on Facebook.
- Highly Sensitive Souls and Empaths
A large (about 2200 members) and active Facebook group for HSPs and empaths. This group also focuses on sensitivity as it applies to being an empath and supernatural awareness. Closed group-- membership required to see posts.
In-Depth Learning about Being an HSP
The companion workbook to "The Highly Sensitive Person" is highly recommended for those who want to explore the meaning of being highly sensitive, in greater depth. Also an excellent workbook to use as a group exercise.
Regional and Local Online HSP Groups
- The Boston and New England states HSP Group
An online discussion group for HSPs in Boston and around the New England states. Discussions based on YahooGroups; also has independent web site and blog.
- The Denver and Colorado HSP Group
A group for HSPs in the Denver area and around the state of Colorado. Online discussion forum, web site, blog.
- HSP New York
Online group for HSPs in New York (city and state), with message board on YahooGroups, web site and blog. Occasional local meetings organized, mostly in NYC area.
- Northeastern US HSP Group Online
This is a local and regional discussion group and "contact point" for the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) in Northeastern USA, including (but not limited to) DE, MD, NJ, PA and the Washington DC area. Message board, web site, blog.
- The Pacific Northwest HSP Network
The Pacific Northwest HSP Network is a social & support group system for Highly Sensitive People living in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Alaska & Idaho. Informational web site and online social network.
- The Texas HSP Group
Online discussion group and meeting point for HSPs in the Lone Star State. Discussion group is on YahooGroups; there is also a separate web site about the HSP trait, as well as a group blog.
Offline Groups for HSPs
Groups for HSPs are fairly easy to find on the Internet, but a little harder to find "out there" in the real world. Whereas there are certain websites that exist to help create real-life groups, most local "in the flesh" HSP support and social groups are either run through a local counselor who specializes in working with HSPs, or pehaps by an individual, getting organized through a local holistic health center or learning annex. Finding them might require a little research, although announcements typically can be found in the "events" area of local newspapers, on bulletin boards in food coops or health food stores, or in "alternative" weekly newspapers.You might also check the public posting board at your local library.
Please keep in mind that many HSP "Support Groups" are offered through-- and run by-- therapists whose interest is ultimately to find new clients. Hence, such groups are not always free, and often involve paying an ongoing membership or workshop fee.
I also mentioned that there are "hybrids" out there. The web site meetup.com has successfully established itself as an Internet "gateway" for people to establish and participate in local area activity groups through online membership signups. There are currently a number of fairly large meetup groups for HSPs, although these do tend to be centered around larger metropolitan areas
Another type of hybrid combines the benefits of "web groups" with a social networking utlility (for HSPs) that includes a framework for managing local groups.
Finding other HSPs through the Meetup web site
- Elaine Aron and Highly Sensitive Persons Meetup Groups
The main page showing all HSP groups on the meetup.com web site. If you cannot find an active group in your area, why not start one? Otherwise, there is also a place where you can list yourself as "interested" and get notified if a group starts.
Workshops for HSPs-- specifically about high sensitivity-- come in two basic formats (beyond the "HSP Gathering Retreats," which have already been covered): There is the large scale workshop, usually taught at a major retreat center like the Esalen Institute in California, or the Omega Center in Rhinebeck, NY, and then there are "local" workshops, often taught by a local therapist or life coach, perhaps at a venue such as a learning annex or holistic health center.
The large events tend to be quite broadly publicized by both the teacher and the retreat centers offering them, and thus are not difficult to locate with a bit of searching on google. They often are 2-3 day events, and they can be fairly costly, by the time you add in travel, workshop fees, and room & board. As of this writing (Early-2015) most of these workshops in the US are still taught by Dr. Elaine Aron, herself, although others are starting to teach about the trait.
The smaller local events are often offered by a local counselor or life coach as a free lecture about high sensitivity, commonly used as a tool to make contact with new potential clients. That said, there is nothing wrong with attending, even if you're not looking for a therapist. Attendees often end up making new friends in their local community.
Places where Dr. Elaine Aron teaches HSP workshops
Dr. Ted Zeff's book has many helpful tips for HSPs looking for ways to cope more easily with the stresses and "noise" of everyday life.
This is only PART of the picture!
Hopefully you've found something of use in this article!
This is-- in no way-- intended to be an exhaustive guide to connecting with fellow HSPs. Such a guide would require an entire book, as there are literally thousands of groups for HSPs, across the globe.
However, the intent here was to guide you towards general categories to examine and perhaps "sample," which hopefully will help you do more research on your own.
As more and new resources of note become available, they will be added here.
Please help spread awareness of the HSP trait!
If you enjoyed this article, or got something useful from it, please help help spread the word! The more people who know what it means to be an HSP, the better off we all are.
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© 2008 Peter Messerschmidt