HSP Topics: Understanding The Highly Sensitive Man
Highly Sensitive Men: The "Hidden" HSPs
Are you a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP?
Are you a highly sensitive MAN?
If you are reading these words, there's a good chance that you are, or you know someone who's an HSP, or you're at least curious about what high sensitivity is.
In the briefest possible summary, a highly sensitive person-- or "HSP"-- is someone with a more "finely tuned" central nervous system than the majority of the population. It is NOT-- by definition-- someone who's a "tender flower" or emotionally fragile, or likely to get their feelings hurt at the drop of a hat.
High Sensitivity is an inborn genetic trait, not a behavioral choice, illness or "condition." The concept was initially explored by research and clinical psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron during the early to mid-1990s, and was shown to apply to approximately 15-20% of the population. Furthermore, Aron discovered that roughly equal numbers of men and women are highly sensitive. The concept has since seen considerable scientific study, and is today also known by the more scientific name Sensory Processing Sensitivity.
High sensitivity is a fairly complex topic that extends far beyond the traditional interpretation of either "getting your feelings hurt really easily" or being "a tender fussy flower." If you'd like to learn more about the HSP trait, I recommend reading this extensive introductory article, which hopefully will answer most of your questions about the basics of what it means to be an HSP.
The above linked article covers being an HSP from a very general perspective; this article takes on the more specific topic of exploring the ins and outs of being highly sensitive and male, a combination that isn't always regarded kindly-- or seriously-- by most Western cultures, but especially by US culture.
Why a separate article about sensitive men? Statistics tell us that high sensitivity occurs equally between men and women, but although they account for half the "HSP population," most HS men remain "hidden from view." In addition, they face a number of specific challenges that often make their lives quite difficult. The material in this article is based on 15-odd years of studying the trait, participating in groups, forums and lectures, as well as from workshops I teach for-- and about-- HS Men, both to men and the women know them, live with them, love them and care about them.
Think About THIS!
Research has shown that 15-20% of the population fits the definition of a Highly Sensitive Person. 50% of HSPs are men. If we just go with the conservative 15% estimate, there are almost TWENTY FOUR MILLION highly sensitive men in the US, alone.
Might YOU be one of them?
But Men Aren't SUPPOSED to be Sensitive: A few words about men, maleness and cultural stereotyping
We may be living in "enlightened times," but the above is still the most common thing I hear, when I speak about being a man and highly sensitive.
In most western societies-- and especially in the US-- we have some fairly fixed definitions of what men are "supposed to be." Thus, one of the most common responses I hear when I talk about men being "highly sensitive" is that men aren't supposed to be sensitive. Ironically, some of these voices belong to men who actually are highly sensitive... but actively choose to ignore it.
The "Women's Movement" and a certain acceptance of "soft values" notwithstanding, we still largely reject the idea of men as "feeling" and potentially "sensitive" beings. The self-actualization and self-development industries may be telling us that we must "feel free to be our authentic selves," but that generally doesn't apply if you're a sensitive male... unless you want to risk being the subject of ridicule among your peers.
So why is it that we feel this way about men?
Reading Recommendation: The Highly Sensitive Person - A book that has helped 100,000's of men change their self-perception
Written by research and clinical psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron in 1996, this book offers an introduction to the concept of being a Highly Sensitive Person, as a physiological trait. Although not specifically written for men, this book completely changed how I viewed myself and helped me understand that my difficulties in "fitting in" in conventional male culture was not because I was "weird," but because I was simply wired a little differently. I highly recommend this book to ANYone who's considering even the possibility that they might be a highly sensitive person.
We have to examine what we "value" and idealize in men, in our society. It's easy to simply look at rhetoric (like "oh, but we're much more tolerant of such differences than we used to be"), but we really need to look deeper at behavior patterns and where we give-- and withhold-- positive reinforcement for the way we are and present ourselves to the world. Yes, we may have "come a long way" but we still idealize the "tough guy" who's basically a "badass" and fits a 21st century model of the "Alpha Male." Even though it may be subtle, those who fall short of this ideal tend to be judged as somehow inferior or "less than."
On the whole a very high emphasis-- if not "value"-- is placed on "problem solving by FORCE." It pervasively runs through every aspect of our culture from video games and role playing to entertainment and a news media that brings the world to your living rooms through an unwritten but widely followed policy of "if it BLEEDS, it LEADS."
Although there's nothing inherently bad about the tough-guy model of maleness, there is something bad about the way we tend to be closed off to-- and judgmental of-- other possible approaches to being "a man."
As a sidebar note, the "tough guy" is an increasingly "outmoded" ideal. Let's face it, today's "hero" doesn't typically ride into town on a powerful stallion, waving guns and fists around to save the heroine from marauders, he most likely rides into town on a 10-speed bike, waving a keyboard and anti-virus software around, as he saves the computer network from a malicious DNS attack. And yet? The old stereotypes persist.
The most important thing to remember here is that when I talk about "sensitivity" I'm not talking about it by the typical definitions people think of. What we're dealing with here is a physiological trait, not a form of behavior.
Some basic terminology
I use some abbreviations in this article:
HSP = Highly Sensitive Person
HSM or HS Man = Highly Sensitive Man (or Men)
HSW or HS Woman = Highly Sensitive Woman (or Women)
SPS = Sensory Processing Sensitivity
A High Sensitivity Self-Test
OK, so let's take a break for a moment and get a better sense of the nature of this whole "sensitivity" business.
This is a link to a free sensitivity self-test on Dr. Elaine Aron's web site. Dr. Aron was the research psychologist who originally studied sensitivity in the early 1990s and concluded that a significant portion of the population was genetically hard wired to be more sensitive than others.
Please keep an open mind and remember that "sensitivity" may not be what you believe it is... don't focus on preconceived notions about "hurt feelings" and "softness."
The quiz is free; takes five minutes to complete, tops.
What did you learn or discover?
Welcome back! I'm hoping you took a moment to take Dr. Aron's self test. Please take a moment share where you stand, with respect to being-- or possibly being-- a highly sensitive person. Hopefully one of the poll options fits you. Otherwise, you are also welcome to leave a comment, WAY down at the bottom!
Which of the following fits you best?
"Sensitive New Age Guy"-- NOT! Let's just throw away that useless pop culture stereotype...
The idea of a "sensitive man" isn't entirely new to the world.
From time to time we come across a frequently ridiculed cultural stereotype referred to as the "Sensitive New Age Guy," sometimes abbreviated "SNAG" by modern urban dictionaries. Originally coined in the 1970s, this man is generally regarded as a strange milquetoast many people make fun of, behind his back. He was perhaps a precursor to what is now known as a "metrosexual," except he was typically more sensitive, hesitant and timid. His friends were far more likely to be women than men, and you'd more likely find him at a women's rights rally than at a football game.
Is this even a remotely accurate characterization of the seemingly elusive HSP male?
No. Not at all. Or certainly relatively little. The preceding is more of a cultural caricature, based on someone who-- by choice-- actively rejects his masculine side. Sometimes this is done out of fear, sometimes as a manipulation-- either way, it is not what being a highly sensitive man is about. Being highly sensitive-- as a man-- has nothing to do with rejecting masculinity, or being effeminate. It has everything to do with being... well... sensitive, simply because you are wired that way.
Herein, however, we encounter another of our cultural biases-- namely, that "being sensitive" is equated with femininity and with weakness. There's also an implication that sensitivity is a "behavior" you get to choose.
Common Characteristics of Highly Sensitive Men - Or... "You might be a highly sensitive man IF..."
So far we've mostly covered some basics about high sensitivity, along with examining some of the ways sensitivity in men can be challenging, and is often suppressed.
So let's take a look at some commonly shared characteristics, specific to HS men. After all, there's only so much you can learn from taking test. The following attributes have been shared with me through my interaction with dozens-- if not 100s-- of HS men in the course of the past 15 years. Quite a few of them apply to me, as well. You may find yourself reading this list and "recognizing yourself" in many of these.
You might be a highly sensitive man IF:
- You tend to spend more time in solitary pursuits than most of the guys you know.
- You weren't particularly interested in, and/or good at, team sports when you were in school... but might have excelled at individual sports like cross country, golf or tennis.
- You have more (platonic) female friends than male... and (if you're heterosexual) really don't think about these female friends from a sexual perspective.
- You were frequently told that you needed to be "more assertive" and/or "more aggressive" when you were a kid.
- Your friends see you as highly intelligent, conscientious and hard working, yet you tend to underachieve or be underutilized at work, considering your skill set and education.
- You have a general orientation towards solving problems in a "cooperative" manner, rather than a "competitive" manner.
- It seemed like you started dating and relationships later in life than most of your peers.
- You tend to be more intuitive (or "right brained") in your decision making and general approach to life, as opposed to logical (or "left brained"), which is typical of about 75% of the male population.
- You are usually more interested in things like culture, the arts, museums and creative expression than "traditional" male interests like hunting, watching sports on TV, working on cars or building things.
- You are generally considered soft-spoken, agreeable and compliant, rather than forceful, aggressive and assertive. This doesn't imply you can't stand your ground, merely that you aren't driven by "being in charge."
- You are more likely than your male peers to be interested in things like self-help, personal development seminars, psychology and "seeking enlightenment."
- If you were bullied during your school years, the focus of the bullying included terms like "cry baby," "girly," "sissy," and "fag."
- It seems likely that you had fewer relationships and/or sexual partners than your peers, by the time you reached age 30.
- If you are heterosexual, you have sometimes been thought "effeminate" because of your interests (but not necessarily your mannerisms), and may have been mistaken for gay on more than one occasion.
- On the whole, you don't tend to get involved in or participate in typical "male posturing" or "territoriality" behaviors.
The companion workbook offers many self-exploration exercises when you want to do some more "in-depth" learning about high sensitivity. It can be a particularly useful book to work with a friend, or as part of a support group.
Men, Sensitivity and Cultural Biases: The ways our cultural norms force a large number of HS men to "hide" their true selves
Here's another statistic for you, based on about 15 years of research, observation and involvement in the global HSP "community:"
Although equal numbers of men and women fit the description of a highly sensitive person, it generally appears that HS women outnumber HS men by a factor of about 5-to-1. If you look at workshops, lectures, online forums, meetup groups, retreats or any other kind of venue tailored specifically to HSPs, the women typically outnumber the men by about that margin.
So what are these "cultural biases" I'm talking about?
For example, men aren't "supposed to" be interested in such things as self-development and self-help. "Self-development" for most men is a physical thing-- like working out or jogging-- not a thing of the psyche and spirit.
In a competitive world, the word "sensitivity" typically implies "weakness" and "femininity." Men typically avoid associating themselves with anything they feel might lead to them being perceived as weak and "less than."
Sensitivity gets a bad rap because it commonly gets used in contexts that often result in anger. Men may have been forced to undergo "sensitivity training" at work, as a result of using inappropriate racial or sexual innuendo... making sensitivity a "bad word" in their vocabulary.
As a result of these fairly tight "boxes" wrapped around the definitions of "men" and "maleness," those men who are highly sensitive often feel compelled to either hide their sensitivity as a "survival tool," or they remain in outright denial... even though they suffer extensive and constant discomfort as a consequence.
Highly Sensitive Men may be "Hiding"... BUT
(They are out there, looking for information!)
I have been keeping a number of web sites about highly sensitive people for a long time-- going back almost to when the book "The Highly Sensitive Person" was first published.
As a webmaster, one of the things I get to look at on a regular basis is my visitor logs. Not only do I get to see which pages on my web sites are the initial "landing points" for visitors, but which pages are read most... and which search engine queries bring people to my sites and blogs.
For several years now, my pages about highly sensitive men have been the most visited! Not only that, the most common queries getting people to my web properties are some variation of "sensitive men," "highly sensitive man" or something along those lines. In fact, a large part of my motivation for writing this article is the fact that the most common search term leading people to my "general" article about HSPs is... "Highly sensitive men."
A quick look at Google Trends suggests that interest in HS Men is sharply on the rise: Search volume for the phrase "Highly Sensitive Person" has increased by about 90% between 2005 and 2015. Search volume for the phrase "Highly Sensitive MAN" has increased 220% during the same time period!
So even though it may appear to be true that highly sensitive men are few and far between-- and greatly outnumbered by their female counterparts-- somebody is doing an awful lot of looking for information about this topic!
This book explores HSPs in relationships, and how sensitivity affects our love connections. Dr. Aron and her husband's specialty area of psychology is actually the psychology of love and how we form connections, so this is a very well-researched book.
This is an excellent book, both for parents of HS children, as well as for highly sensitive parents. The book also offers interesting insights into our OWN childhoods, as sensitive children.
Recommended Reading - Books by Dr. Elaine Aron, the person who coined the term "Highly Sensitive Person"
Learning as much as possible about high sensitivity as you can is the cornerstone of finding easier, less emotionally painful ways to navigate life.
I personally have each of these books in my personal library, and recommend them to anyone who's trying to learn about and come to terms with being a Highly Sensitive Person.
No, none of them are specifically about being a male HSP, but they are still very worthwhile-- and should be on every HSP's reading list. All the comments next to the books are my own, not "publisher text."
The fact that there still (as of this writing-- early 2015) are no books specifically about HS men is another reflection that the trait is neither well understood, nor widely discussed among men in our culture. For the time being, all HS men have available as resources are articles like this one, and a small handful of web sites and online groups-- more about these in the "resources" area, further down the page.
Dr. Elaine Aron's books are good resources for HS men, and she does repeatedly emphasize that there are equal numbers of men and women HSPs. The only thing "lacking" is coverage of the "unique twists" male HSPs often have to deal with, in life.
Memories: Growing Up With The Boys Club
Perhaps we all struggle, when we're kids growing up-- I never seemed to fit in, anywhere. Of course, neither I nor my parents knew hat there was such as thing as "being highly sensitive" when I was a kid, so my original experience was simply that I was a "freak" who most of the time needed to hide how he felt because it felt like "feeling ANYthing" was inappropriate behavior. I wasn't necessarily a "crybaby" but I was quite finicky, fussy and particular, as a kid... and easily upset and thrown off track by a wide range of things.
My first "sensitivity" memory came from when I was perhaps four or five. I recall thinking about how incredibly LOUD the world was, and how VIOLENT people seemed. I couldn't figure out why adults-- and other kids-- always seemed to SHOUT everything, and then would be so incredibly rough with each other... often causing pain and tears. I was well aware that it hurt when you fell down and banged your knees on the pavement and I would cry just like anyone else when that happened, but these people seemed to me like they deliberately wanted to hurt and make others hurt and sad. It made no sense to me.
This is Zeff's first book about the male side of being highly sensitive. Although the title suggests this is about "boys" it's also a useful book for adult HS men, as a tool to help them better understand the dynamics and struggles of their childhood.
Some years later, I became more aware that I was a bit of a "weirdo" because I had very little interest in "territorial competitiveness" on the school playground, and very little interest in the ongoing fights other boys always seemed to be part of. It wasn't that I was afraid of them... it was just that I wasn't interested in them. I was big and strong and tall for my age... and I could never figure out why so many other boys "wanted to fight" with me, just like (I suppose) they were baffled that I didn't want to fight with them..
Throughout my childhood and youth, I faced a lot of inner turmoil-- which I have since learned is quite common among HS men.
I felt things very deeply, and was very emotionally driven (in a non-histrionic sort of way). How I "felt" about things was often more meaningful to me than the "logic" or "sense" of them. Seemingly small things-- like a dead bird that had flown into the window or a hungry kitten outside-- would move me to tears my parents (and peers) didn't really understand. Loud noises literally felt hurtful, as did bright lights... like someone was "beating" my psyche. My mom cleaning something with ammonia would give me a pounding headache in 20 seconds. Tiny repetitive noises drove me crazy. I based many of my choices on what "felt right," and seldom on what "made sense" or was "the done thing."
However, my environment-- that is, the people in it-- soon taught me what it teaches most sensitive boys: I'd best forget all that "feeling stuff" or suffer the consequences, in terms of bullying, ridicule and alienation. It felt like case of "conform, or perish."
Part of what I was taught by the older males in my life was how to "get ahead," as a member of this "Boys Club." If you're a guy, you may have heard some these things like "boys don't cry" and "feelings are for sissies and girly-men." I was also taught to "Stand tall, look 'em in the eye, and tell 'em what you know." I was told that wearing your emotions on your sleeve was "something GIRLS do," and that competition was good and it was OK to push others out of the way in order to get what I wanted. And I was taught how there were things "boys do" and "boys are interested in," and that it really was not OK for me to prefer things that seemed more like they were "for girls."
It definitely wasn't that I wanted to play with dolls... but I was often drawn to "family and community" thinking... and really wasn't very interested in "playing war."
STUFF Those Feelings, Boys!
It's a cold harsh world, out there...
Sensitive boys are often easy prey for bullies. Although I was bullied from grade school till I left high school, I probably got off more lightly than many HS boys. As I mentioned before, I was tall, and large and strong for my age... and I succeeded in keeping a certain "mystery" about me, so many would-be bullies were never quite sure whether I'd turn from them and cry... or turn on them and beat the hell out of them.
As it were, I did neither. It soon became obvious to me that my sensitivity was some kind of "defect," but I was also at a loss for how to change it... so I learned to "fake it" really well. But I always felt like a fraud, playing a "role" I never could relate to.
Perhaps Europe is a little different from the US, in how people view sensitivity. One of my earliest memories after arriving in Texas for University-- at age 20-- was sitting with a group of fellow students, talking about this and that-- interests, what we liked to do. This large awkward "kid" (who was an 18-year old freshman) suddenly said "Are you some kind of weird European faggit?" Whereas I had been bullied and picked on on account of being sensitive before, it was the first time hints of sensitivity had been equated with sexual preference.
Although I felt miserable and lapsed into periods of depression, I continued to "stuff" my sensitivity during the rest of my 20's and into my 30's. I worked in very extraverted and competitive fields like sales, marketing and advertising, and ignored my long-time dreams of being a writer. But beyond merely feeling miserable, I also felt a growing irritation at not being able to "be myself." This is also a common pattern among HS men... and this bottled up anger tends to manifest inappropriately through unpredictable outbursts. And it can be very confusing to those around us when someone otherwise mild-mannered suddenly blows up, over seemingly minor issues.
Men, Emotions and... Anger: The heavy price we pay for "not feeling."
During the past couple of decades, a number of studies have been done on the behaviors of boys and men... and how those behaviors affect their general health. On several occasions, it has been shown that male infants actually display an equal-- or possibly wider-- range of emotions than female infants. What's more, there are ways in which male infants are actually more emotional than their female counterparts.
But that doesn't last long.
As part of our "socialization process" as boys and men, we soon learn what is acceptable behavior and acceptable ways to express ourselves... and what is not. Studies have also shown that-- by age 18-- the majority of males have learned that the only "socially acceptable" way for them to demonstrate an emotion is in the form of anger. All other forms of emotion have largely been suppressed by social conditioning.
"And that's a bad thing... how?" you might be asking, especially if you're male and having your doubts that I have any idea what I'm talking about.
Back in the early 1900s, psychologist C.G.Jung extensively studied personality and the psychological effects of behavior. One of the things he studied was a phenomenon subsequently named "Falsification of Type." What IS that? The shortest explanation of this is that it's "pretending to be, and acting like you are, a particular way that's actually counter to your nature."
Although this was primarily studied in the context of temperament, the conclusions of several studies have been rather startling: Falsifying "who you are" for a prolonged period of time can have a profound negative impact on both your physical and mental health... leading to depression, illness, anxiety, sleep disorders, addictions and even suicidal ideation.
For highly sensitive boys and adolescents, "falsification of type" generally takes on the form of simply "suppressing emotions" and "acting like a tough guy" even though neither feels "right" or natural.
One of Zeff's newer books, this continues the examination of males and sensitivity. Although this book is not specifically about HSPs, most of the guidance offered has the HSP in mind.
Dr. Ted Zeff, Author & HSP Expert
Dr. Ted Zeff is currently the only writer and HSP researcher to specifically focus on the male side of being an HSP.
Although not all his books are about HS males-- and he generally focuses more on boys than men-- they are all highly recommended. I do personally own all of Ted's books, and I have found his wisdom and perspectives very helpful.
One of the reasons I like to recommend his books about boys is that they can offer HS men some valuable insights into their childhoods, and the difficulties they faced while growing up. Gaining this understanding, alone, can be an important part of healing personal wounds.
Highly Sensitive Men and Gender Bias
In addition to the various cultural biases with respect to high sensitivity-- in general-- HS men also have to deal with certain gender biases.
Let's face it, it may not be easier to live as a woman with the high sensitivity trait, but women are less likely to be judged negatively for it. Although generalities are dangerous, on the whole if someone talks about a woman being "a delicate flower" it may not be a positive attribute, but it still falls within the realm of "acceptable statements" about being a woman. For a man? Not so much.
In addition, HS men are not just judged by other men-- they are (to some degree) judged by women. Not implying that women are actively judgmental of HS men, but they do tend to "vote with their actions," especially in the course of the "dating and mating game," where HS Men find themselves "sidelined" more frequently as a result of their more deliberate and cautious approach to life. Interestingly enough, I spoken to several HS men in truly amazing relationships that resulted because the women broke with tradition and approached the man first, rather than the more traditional vice versa.
Lest the above sounds too much like the classic "whine" from some men that "nice guys can't ever get a date," let me assure you it's not. Rather, it's a reflection of the fact that many women may say they prefer "sensitive" men, their eventual actions don't necessarily match their intent. If this puzzles you, remember that we are all "judged" for our choices... and it requires a solid "sense of self" to face people who question the wisdom of our decisions-- especially if they seem a little non-conformist. Simply put, there are women who may genuinely lean towards relationships with HS men, yet are "talked out of it" by their friends who pressure them to look for someone "more assertive."
So Where ARE these "Hidden" HSPs?
Different approaches... different lives
In my 18-odd years of trying to learn everything I could about being a highly sensitive person, I have discovered that there are basically three different approaches HS Men take in life-- regardless of whether they acknowledge their sensitivities, or not.
As of this writing, by far the largest group is made up of those who may display all the characteristics that go with being an HSP... and yet will forcefully deny that they are sensitive. There may be a few among them who are "secretly aware" that they are highly sensitive, but treat their sensitivity as a dangerous "affliction" they can't tell anyone else about. They seem to fully embrace "conventional" malehood... and sometimes even seem like they are going a little overboard in their efforts to "not show any kind of sensitivity, because that's for sissies!"
So how do we know that they're HSPs? Well, since we don't get to see their actual sensitive sides, we have to look for the "side effects" of someone deep down is a very sensitive person, but is acting like they are not. We know that HSPs inevitably get overstimulated and overwhelmed from time to time... and a great many of those "in denial" HSPs deal with such feelings by self-narcoticizing through drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling or anything else they can use to dull their senses.
You'll also often find that they are the men most likely to have "long fuses" yet sudden and surprising short tempers that result in unexpected outbursts followed by a need to "be alone" in their workshops, sheds or wherever else they feel they have privacy... to basically get some "HSP Alone time," without actually being aware that it is what they are seeking.
As I think back on my childhood, I sometimes think my father was such an HSP. He was a powerful and very assertive CEO of a manufacturing company, often dealing with a very "short fuse" under stress. To me, he seemed like a "scary thundercloud" of a man... yet he had these happy moments, which inevitably happened when he was alone growing roses, or working alone in his study, cleaning and restoring antique paintings. Only my mom and I ever got glimpses of that side of him.
Do you tend to cooperate, or compete? Are you more oriented towards "connecting" with people, or finding your "rank" within a group? Do you rank yourself "up" or "down" in social situations? This book explores the many strategies we use to navigate life.
Insights, from a Favorite Book - "The Undervalued Self" by Dr. Elaine Aron
This is a top reading recommendation from my personal library. Written by Dr. Elaine Aron-- author of "The Highly Sensitive Person" and several other books about sensitivity-- this book is not specifically about being an HSP, but the lessons within offer a LOT of insight into the way people "navigate" the world, and I feel it is a must read for HSPs.
I probably learned as much from it as I learned from any book I've read about being a highly sensitive person. Originally titled "At the Crossroads of Power and Love" during its planning stages, the book explores HOW we either connect and compete as a life strategy, along with the benefits and drawbacks of each approach... and explanations of why HSPs MUST learn to be comfortable in the "competitive" world.
Public vs. Private Persona
Being one person at home, and another out in the world
There is another group-- of a fair size-- consisting of Highly Sensitive Men who DO have some degree of awareness that they are "highly sensitive," but that is strictly a private issue for them. Some of them may simply accept that the people who have been telling them that they are "too sensitive" all their lives are right, while others may have come across "The Highly Sensitive Person" on their own, or as a result of counseling work, or perhaps because a loved on told them "you know, this seems a LOT like you."
Often they will let their sensitivity show when at home, but will continue to put on a fake facade when they are in public, or at work.
One of the difficulties they face is staying ever vigilant that nobody outside their "inner circle" should ever find out they are an HSP. Along with that comes the difficulty that they get "lured into" lots of activities they perhaps don't really enjoy... but feel obligated to participate in simply to "keep up appearances." Much like the previous point about the dangers of "falsifying type," keeping up these appearances can become very tiresome, and are often a source of stress and possible depression.
The Empowered Sensitive Man: Accepting and making the most of who you ARE...
Last but not least, there is a small-- but growing-- group of HS men who have studied and understand what it means to be a highly sensitive person, and have embraced and incorporated the trait into their lives.
"Embracing," of course, doesn't mean they walk around telling everyone about their HSP-ness... just that they have a good understanding of the trait and how it impacts their life, and they have typically made adjustments based on this understanding.
For some, these adjustments sometimes come in the form of career changes-- perhaps from high stress corporate jobs to self-employment-- sometimes come in the form of relationship and friendship changes-- leaving behind connections that really don't fit them well.
Many HS men are part of the "Cultural Creative" demographic, and have found good ways to be open about their sensitivity without wearing it as a "banner of pride" or a label to hide behind. They may even be leaders-- in their own way-- typically through jobs and occupations that allow them to make significant contributions from "behind the scenes."
The transition from "discovery" to "embracing" sensitivity doesn't come overnight. When I learned about the HSP trait, I was very skeptical... wondering if it was just another New Age "trendy' description to allow the socially inept to not deal with their deeper issues.
For a while, I outright rejected the idea-- even though I identified strongly with the description-- I just couldn't let go of the imprinted belief that I was "broken," somehow. As I kept learning... and got to know a few other HS men... I started to embrace the idea. For a while, I actually was a bit of an insufferable "ambassador" for HSPs, constantly talking about sensitivity at any opportunity I could find. In recent years, however, I have reached a point where I have finally settled into being "a man, who just HAPPENS to be highly sensitive." The trait doesn't define me, but it does help me have deeper self-understanding.
You might be thinking "If it doesn't DEFINE you, what's with all this writing?"
I believe in helping people reach their highest potential self... and information is always the greatest asset on our path to self-understanding. I'm a writer, and if I can share experiences and information that helps make someone else's path a little easier to walk, then that's great. If you DO want to talk about sensitivity with me, that's great--but I'd just as well talk about other things. I'm an HSP. That's a fact about me. But the "label" is not who I am.
Highly Sensitive Men on the Web - Men who are open about being an HSP, and who are sharing their voices
These guys are all "making a difference" for highly sensitive men everywhere... by letting their voices be heard, and sharing their experiences.
Here's a mixture of articles and web sites.
- I Am A Highly Sensitive Man
Writer and poet Rick Belden's article for The Good Men Project tells a story similar to what many sensitive men face. The article went on to become one of the MOST read in the site's history, and has since been syndicated by other web sites.
- Healing the Highly Sensitive Male
Guest article by Dr. Ted Zeff in Elaine Aron's "Comfort Zone" newsletter for HSPs.
- Dr. Ted Zeff's web site
Dr. Ted Zeff is a highly sensitive person as well of author of a number of books about high sensitivity. Although his web site isn't specifically about HS men, a couple of his books are about highly sensitive boys.
- The Highly Sensitive Men web site
Chrisi Brand and Stevie Jamieson's web site and blog about highly sensitive men-- currently the only site on the web that's full time dedicated to HS male content.
- Michael Parise's Man's Blog
Michael is an HS Man and life coach primarily for men-- his blog takes on a variety of difficult issues many men face, always approached from the perspective of being an HSP.
- The Highly Sensitive Men page on Facebook
The facebook page attached to the Highly Sensitive Men web site.
- Don Shetterly on being a Highly Sensitive Man
Inspired by Rick Belden, this is another man's take on what it was like to grown up as a highly sensitive boy, to become a highly sensitive man.
- A Love Letter to Highly Sensitive Men
A reprint of an article from Dr. Elaine Aron's "Comfort Zone" newsletter for HSPs, along with commentary from the (female) blog owner where this is posted.
Finding personal peace and balance through learning...
If you're a man and reading this... and have a "sneaking suspicion" that you are a highly sensitive person... but really are at a loss for what you are going to-- or supposed to-- "do" with that, there's good news!
It may seem a bit daunting, right now, but it doesn't have to be complicated to get from this moment of realization (and possibly some "confusuion") to simply making peace with being an HSP, and getting on with your life.
Something important to remember is that the vast majority of highly sensitive people-- men and women-- aren't out there being "torch bearers" for high sensitivity, spreading the word to the world. They just learn, make the necessary changes to make their lives easier and more manageable, and then go about their lives.
As I often say in my workshops "I feel like I have succeeded when you DON'T come back to see me, because that suggests you figured things out and don't require ongoing hand-holding."
Although this book is primarily intended for mental health professionals, it is also a very useful book for any HSP who's considering going into therapy. A bit "clinical" in language, however, filled with good information on how the therapeutic process if different for HSPs than for the rest of the world.
The first step is to stop being in denial about being highly sensitive. You ARE a highly sensitive man-- don't fight it. You don't need to tell anyone-- just accept it for yourself.
Next, learn all you can! There are a lot of good books available now-- there are also lots of informative web sites and blogs. Learn to know when, how and where your sensitivities affect your life-- know your "triggers" to becoming overwhelmed. Learn what IS, and is NOT part of your sensitivity. Learn where your boundaries and limits are... and learn to use the word "no," when it feels right. Don't allow "conventional" values to buffalo you into doing things that really don't fit you.
Then adjust your life in such a way that it incorporates your sensitivity. USE that sensitivity, rather than suppress it. Work at something that does allow intuition and empathy to be part of the picture. Perhaps you'll have to "reinvent yourself," as part of the process.
If you DO decide you can't do it alone, make sure you find a counselor or coach who's well versed on the ins and outs of high sensitivity. Having your trait "devalued" by your mental health expert is NOT going to help. To gain a better understanding, consider reading Dr. Aron's book about HSPs and psychotherapy.
If nothing else, at least be aware that being highly sensitive is a real thing, and you can't "fix" it... so please stop trying!
A Final Question, Before We End
So, now that you have read all these things about being a Highly Sensitive Man, what are your feelings about the topic?
Please feel free to leave a comment, after voting.
Which answer fits you best?
Talk Back... Comments, Please!
Woo-hoo! You've made it all the way to the end!
Please leave a comment and share your impressions and experiences. The comment area is all the way down at the bottom ▼
If you're not sure what to say, maybe answer one or more of the questions.
Are you a highly sensitive man? Do you suspect you might be one, but have always ignored it? Are you one of the "hidden" HSPs? Do you know you're an HSP, but never admit it, for fear of what others might think? Did you have a difficult upbringing, as a highly sensitive boy? Are you somebody who knows a highly sensitive man?
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