Trust And The Highly Sensitive Person

Because we are all vulnerable, trust is one of the most important issues for human beings and especially for highly sensitive people who have a lot of awareness from all of the energy they take in.

What Is Trust?

According to the Free Dictionary, trust has many different faces. It is:

  • about individual behavior and character as in the reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
  • about expectations: confident expectation of something or confidence in the certainty of future payment for property or goods received
  • about beliefs: one upon which a person relies: God is my trust.
  • about keeping confidences: being entrusted with information, or valuables of some kind
  • about position: the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed: a position of trust.
  • a position in which trust is necessary and assumed: the fiduciary relationship of trustee or the legal structure that protects property of some kind.
  • commercial organizations set up to create monopolies (now illegal).
Trust, therefore, serves many functions:
  • it is an act of friendship. When we consider the needs of others we are acting to create social trust through friendship.
  • it means we can be accepted and heard. Trust is a vote for the good in ourselves, others and life. When we see and believe in the good we are more open to ourselves and others.
  • trust helps us develop confidence in ourselves. When we learn we develop skills and as a result are able to believe in ourselves. When we discover that we can learn one skill, we know that we can learn another skill and so our confidence grows.
  • it is social glue that makes it easier for people to work and live together
  • it can promote prosperity when institutions and businesses are trustworthy because it means people feel comfortable making investments in their communities.

Trust is the foundation of all healthy people, relationships and cultures. Without it no one can really thrive. So why is it such a challenge and even a problem?

Challenges To Trust

The lists above about trust also help us understand why trust can be a challenge:

  • expectations and trust are highly correlated. When expectations are not met people lose trust.
  • beliefs and trust are highly correlated. When people subscribe to the same beliefs there tends to be trust between them.
  • similarity creates trust because we have some confidence about what to expect. It is the basis of conformity and the feelings of safety that come with it. It also means that being different can call up feelings of distrust.

All of these things, expectations, beliefs and conformity are ways to create experiences that give people a feeling of safety. They are not intrinsically “bad” or “wrong”; however in a world that is ever changing and where diversity is reality they can be maladaptive and create problems.

How Trust Can Create Distrust

All social systems create values and goals. They are generally fixed and are like marching orders for everyone. When people conform they feel successful and are appreciated. When they do not they feel like failures and can be marginalized.

What happens when conditions change? It may seem obvious that when conditions change people change with them but that is not always the case and if some adapt and others do not that can be a source of friction. Here is an example.

If you are living in a place where people make a living growing olives and over time the climate conditions make olive growing difficult then you need to find a new occupation. If your family has an olive farm then that might be difficult since there is a huge investment in making olives. Some member of the family will want to find ways to continue with olive farming, others may want to switch crops and others may leave to do something else.

In this case olive farming has been the social and economic family glue. It is what everyone knows and trusts. Change over which no one had any control has destabilized what was a comfortable life. Some will feel that those who do not continue with olive farming are abandoning their family. Those that change may feel held back by those who are invested in maintaining the olive farming business.

The trust in the land, the farming business, the skills that everyone had to work in olive farming, and the ability to depend on each other has been eroded.

Trust when it is attached to a fixed idea is going to be challenged when conditions change. It does not matter what the situation is – change is inevitable as is the requirement that we adapt.

Trust And The Highly Sensitive Person

Highly sensitive people pick up on all of the energy around them and that includes all the discord and trust issues that are expressing themselves in the energy around them. In addition because they are outsiders, they often feel the distrust of people who live from a different set of values or identity. Trust issues, however, are great food for thought. They are like the loose thread on a sweater that if we pull it we can discover a whole lot of things about ourselves and others.

We all want to feel safe. There is nothing wrong with that. However what do we do when the price of that safety is too high? Do we give up too much of ourselves for a safety that is a fiction? Do we give even if we cannot afford to? What do we do when in order to be trusted by someone or a group we have to make huge sacrifices of ourselves?

Where do you draw the line? I would love to hear your strategies and answers.

 

Does Ghosting Apply To Sensitive People?

Ghosting is a relatively new term that is applied primarily to dating. However, it is applicable to many areas of life including families.

Ghosting is actually a complex subject which means it can be easy to oversimplify it. This is the Urban Dictionary definition:

The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date. This is done in hopes that the ghostee will just “get the hint” and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested. Ghosting is not specific to a certain gender and is closely related to the subject’s maturity and communication skills. Many attempt to justify ghosting as a way to cease dating the ghostee without hurting their feelings, but it in fact proves the subject is thinking more of themselves, as ghosting often creates more confusion for the ghostee than if the subject kindly stated how he/she feels.

This is an additional definition:

1.) The act of disappering on your friends without notice.
2.) Cancelling plans with little or no notice.

Essentially it is a form of abandonment. It used to be called abandonment and also shunning and is not actually a new phenomenon among humans. However, the term is an interesting one and I thought it could be a useful one for exploring taking our place in the world. Note: when we discuss abandonment here it is not referring to the self-protection of leaving an abusive relationship.

Can You Ghost A Trait?

Human societies have been encouraging individuals to behave a certain way or conform for as long as we have been around. In order to encourage conformity, cultures reward some behaviors and discourage others. Each culture will elevate some behaviors as desirable and others as undesirable. They then reward the behaviors they seek which means that there is a direct correlation between conforming and your survival and quality of life. This has been a successful process for thousands of years.

As a result, men have been taught to ghost their feelings except for anger for the most part, and women to ghost their strength and sensitive people their sensitivity. It is fair to say that we are all encouraged to ghost certain aspects of ourselves.

Ghosting Is Not Always Innocent

One of the most difficult challenges in dealing with stereotypes is that in fact some of the truth about a group of people is hidden. You can usually tell because ghosting often is presented as a simple generalization which is a tip-off that some ghosting is going on.  It is one thing not to know, but persisting in ghosting the attributes of others is harmful to them and a loss to all of us. Being female, I have had the experience many times.

When a group is ghosted they live with the perceptions that ghosting creates including the incorrect ones. That can be quite a burden and the damage can be hard to repair. The burden of repair usually falls to those being ghosted but if perceptions are considered true or the facts then one can feel like one is fighting a never-ending uphill battle. What a difficult burden to carry! It is difficult to convince people to change their perceptions.

Ghosting And Marginalization

One of the challenges of ghosting for groups is that when marginalized people in those groups often miss out on experiences that can help them become more effective in life. As a result, there can be a need to “catch up” in some areas and with some skills. Furthermore, when you have the experience of being ghosted, you can lose confidence in yourself. Your own perceptions that you are defective or that there is something wrong with you can grow.

That is why when you want to make changes from being marginalized to taking your place in the world, it is helpful to do so gradually with full understanding about what you are doing. It is important to learn what is valued and devalued in different cultures so that you do not take personally the misperceptions of others. It helps to take your place in the world intentionally. We take you on that journey in The Emerging Sensitive Program starting in January 2018. You can learn more about it here. It may help you as it has helped others.

 

 

 

The Othering Of The Highly Sensitive Person

The highly sensitive person is different.

Being different means that they often live in the shadows.

I thought about this today when I was reading an article about feminism in Great Britain, written by Anna Ford, a respected British journalist.

What struck me about the article was her wonderful description about the marginalisation of women, an endlessly repeating story that she has experienced her whole life.

The wonderful qualities that women bring to the table are mostly devalued.

Isn’t that also true of highly sensitive people?

The Marginalization Of The Highly Sensitive Person

Marginalization is an interesting and recurring experience for many people.

It manifests in the process of othering.

Othering is nasty.

It is a way of relating to someone as if they really do not have the same right to be here on the planet, that in being different there is something wrong with them.

Are there any HSPs who haven’t had that experience?

As a highly sensitive person, I have been othered my whole life.

Othering can be subtle or overt.

It is often patronizing or condescending.

When being othered you are often invisible.

What Is Othering?

According to Advanced Apes:

the othering process is the human tendency to believe that the group (race, religion, ethnicity, culture, gender, country, sexual orientation, species etc.) that they are a part of is inherently the ‘right’ way to be human.  As a consequence of this, people who other consciously, or subconsciously, believe that anyone who is not apart of their group is a threat, an enemy or a liability that must be converted to conform immediately to the norms and standards of their group, subjugated permanently, or eradicated completely…

The phenomenon of othering has its roots in our evolutionary history.  We know from primatological studies that group solidarity is exceptionally important in all of the African apes.  Knowing who is, and who isn’t a member of your group is exceptionally important for reasons intimately connected to survival.  And basic evolution theory states that any behaviour or trait that confers a survival advantage will be selected for; and the stronger the survival advantage, the stronger it will be selected for.  In the case of ‘othering’ behaviour, it probably became an extremely valuable behaviour that would have become permanently fixed within our lineage millions of years ago.  Whenever territory, food, and mates were scarce (which would have been frequently, and in most cases permanently), intra-species competition would have been strong and othering behaviour would have been selected for.  Forming a group can allow you to align yourself with other individuals altruistically to maximize your own (and everyone else in the groups) ability to acquire territory, food and mating opportunities.

The Experience Of Othering For The Highly Sensitive Person

Many highly sensitive people are very uncomfortable socially. They experience themselves as different and unwelcome in the world.

They may also be subject to bullying, taunts and social rejection.

Highly sensitive people are in the minority in the world since only 15-20% of the world’s population is highly sensitive.

Their different biology means that they do not share the interest in competitiveness and aggression that unites the non-HSP population.

HSPs offer wisdom, perspective, compassion and empathy to those around them, but those traits are not as valued as competitive skills.

As a result, many highly sensitive people, experience themselves being excluded, treated with condescension and even blamed for their different nature.

When we are othered, we are treated as not normal, and not right. People around us including our families often try to change us into a “normal” person, someone who is right by their standard of normalcy.

They are wrong to do so.

There is nothing wrong with the highly sensitive person. HSPs are simply different.

 

 

 

Rocking The Boat: An Important Life Skill

Do you want to rock the boat?

Make abstract art!

Abstract art does many things but it is best at rocking the boat and causing us to see things in a new way. Rocking the boat is an important life skill, and one that highly sensitive people should embrace.

Mindless Activity

Currently, we are besieged by change. Given the endless activity of novelty and new “trends” you would think that we allow and accept rocking the boat. In reality, we are probably not that open and accepting. Mindless activity is not change. Mindless activity can stop change because it invites shallow activity and serious change requires a deeper commitment of time and attention. Mindless activity is activity for activities sake; it is not purposeful and well thought out.

Another way to limit change is by creating chaos in the form of constant emergencies. Evolutionary psychology points out that the easiest way to stop growth and development is to have a war – which is a form of aggressive chaos.  Chaos is limiting because each moment is divorced from the next so that sustained activity becomes impossible. Under chaotic conditions, time and continuity are under siege; in war, people are, too.

The Serious Business Of Rocking The Boat

When you are serious about anything, you have to invest time and energy. Serious intention requires a lot of thinking, experimentation, testing of the waters, mistakes, and creativity. Serious intention means you have to slow down enough to make the necessary investment in what you are trying to accomplish.

Working fast reduces investments of time and energy which creates shallow results. One way to keep people from rocking the boat is to have them fixate on a lot of ever-changing novelty. It keeps people busy and creates illusions of change. The phrase, “The more things change, the more they say the same,” applies to these conditions.

Serious lasting change, then, requires a considerable amount of sustained effort. It has to be well thought out because that is the need for long-term commitment. Chaotic conditions keep people fixated on the short-term.

Rocking the boat is not the same thing as being challenging or provocative. It is relatively easy to be provocative but not easy to take a new idea from conception to reality. That is hard work!

When we deeply rock the boat we are changing ourselves and developing strength. In doing so we are changing relationships and power structures. Not everyone welcomes this.

Rocking The Boat May Mean A Fight

HSPs are natural although often inadvertent boat rockers. Being compassionate and empathetic are two reasons – they are culturally different values. Being creative and energy aware are others because these characteristics are not present in everyone. Our very natures, being different from non-HSPs, cause us to create conflict just by being ourselves. However,  it takes more than creating conflict to rock the boat or tip it over – in other words, to create lasting change.

Seriously rocking the boat takes sustained work and focus, something that HSPs may not be good at because of our tendency to be overstimulated and therefore have our attention fragmented. Serious boat rocking also may mean a fight although I mean fight in the sense of constructive engagement. To create any lasting change the old and new engage in a struggle over the merits of their positions and contributions. The necessity for change, the comfort of the old and the dangers of complacency, the skills that we know and the ones we have yet to learn all are weighed as we decide how to move forward into something new.

It is only in the struggle that the merits can be known, and strengths and weaknesses of anything assessed.

HSPs are good at grappling with the merits but not with the fight. We may be good grapplers but we often do it in private because our grappling may not be welcome. We may also avoid fights because they often seem like a smoke screen or a distraction used to obscure the necessity of change or to hold us back. Fights often seem to be more like resistance to change so we may resist the fight.

HSPs Can Become Great Advocates For Change

Rocking the boat should not be thought of as a reckless activity. You could make the case that the best people to rock the boat and create change are empathetic HSPs. However, we also have to be willing to fight. Fighting does not have to be fighting against, which is often how we think of it. Fighting can be the activity of bringing our hearts to a conflict. It can be a form of open-hearted grappling with the factors involved in the need for change.

Bringing our hearts, sensitivity, creativity and seriousness to change gives HSPs the potential to be great agents of change. We need change and we need HSPs to embrace it and become part of leading it.

 

HSP Identity: A Plant In The Right Place

My name is Lisa McLoughlin and I am from Green Alder coaching, based in the UK.

I would like to share a personal account of my journey to discover that I am an HSP.

Is There Something Wrong With Me?

Most of my life I felt like a weed— not belonging to my environment. Being a weed was a bad thing and needed to be fixed, eradicated, changed, and just a blot on the landscape.

I often wondered, “If only I could be like all the others…the ornamental and outrageously colorful, extravagant man-made plants (people)…perhaps my life would be easier on me?”

Well, what is a weed? ‘A plant growing in the wrong place’ is the commonly accepted description. But wait a moment, how are we to know it is in the wrong place?

The war on weeds began with the coming of intense farming and public opinion. Who’s to judge a plant and name it a weed when all it is doing is trying to survive? Surely, a weed is entitled to the same life as any other plant?

Despite mans’ persistence to eradicate weeds by hand and chemical weed killers (like the Extrovert Ideal), the war has never been won. The same old weeds show up in the same spots, demonstrating gritty resistance, and persisting through centuries of persecution.

You have to admire their tenacity!

It’s only recently that I have come to respect the weed and understand that it is a plant, that might not fit in with expectations of its environment, but it has just as many rights to thrive and flourish as any plant—often with useful properties and benefits to the environment. So, I am left asking, “What if a weed is entirely normal and just needs to stand proud and comfortably in its environment—room for us all?”

Harsh Words

So, my life—to date—has been built on the sense that I was flawed or damaged in some way and that my purpose in life was to fix myself and fit in with others around me.

“You will never set the world on fire…you are so quiet…you are boring…you are a swot…you are too sensitive….stop crying…toughen up…you have the McLoughlin bad luck…you are self-absorbed…you don’t contribute” were some of the general comments I received through my childhood and adulthood.

I noticed the harsh words struck deep into my heart and I felt myself shrink into melancholy instead of flourishing in spite of them. The comments were like chemicals trying to eradicate the weed so that an outgoing and colorful ornamental pansy would grow in its place—just like all the rest of the ornamentals’ in the garden.

How I Came To Feel Damaged

Deep down I quite liked myself. I loved my ability to paint & draw and my creative drive and imagination, my spirit, and the rich texture of my internal world.

I could quite easily entertain myself for hours and I thrived when my environment was nurturing and supportive of the unique me. I had an internal warrior-like fire of passion and persistence.

Why didn’t my inner brilliance show in my external world? Why couldn’t I shine and show who I really was?

Unfortunately, I had a tricky upbringing with a mixture of overprotective love from a mum wracked with anxiety and guilt, and a father who had a severe form of Multiple Sclerosis (since I was two-years-old). Boy, did my mum and dad struggle. But, they did the best that they could at the time.

My mum was cautious and my father was a gentle giant of a man (an angel from heaven). My sister and I willingly tried to please them both; to make them proud, to soothe them, and make them happy. Due to our difficult circumstances, my sister and I were forced to grow-up before we were ready. I remember wrestling with my desperate need to stay as an imaginative child playing with my dolls, against the pull to be a responsible adult for my mum and dad’s sake. My sister and I were pulled into situations such as mopping my mother’s brow as she cried herself to sleep (when my father was placed in a nursing home), or, at the age of ten, dragging my father from the front door to the living room chair—he crashed out of his wheelchair trying to let the dog in, whilst my mum was at an evening class. She found the three of us laid out exhausted on the living room floor.

It kind of deeply affects an HSP as you grow up. It blossoms and develops your kindness and empathy, but also caustically hurts to the point of feeling ‘damaged’ in some way.

The HSP Career Challenge

During my childhood and early adult life, I looked to external guidance on what I should do as a career— I just wanted to paint and draw. But I was gifted in school with regular ‘A’ grades. I confused everyone with my hard efforts to please, often waking at 4 am just to revise and get better grades; to make my mum and dad proud.

My internal compass went awry, and I reluctantly agreed to pursue the sciences which eventually led me to physiotherapy (a role that required extroversion, ability to be with many people and groups for long periods of time and constant interruptions from junior staff and NHS bureaucracy). This career was not right for this HSP.

The whole of my physiotherapy career was a private hell. I tried self-improvement courses, numerous physiotherapy courses, and general soul-searching to see if I could change myself and grow into the role—it never happened. I was glad to eventually find some peace with regular mindfulness meditation and yoga since 2008.

In my personal life, I was naturally gravitating towards caring for the planet, positive news and healthy and nutritious food. Something inside of me was starting to take control and gain momentum—I liked the feeling. I became a voluntary Director of a Community Supported Agriculture Scheme (CSA) and trained in permaculture design.

I was instinctively averse to the regular negative news; depressing soap operas; seeing cruelty to humans, plants, and animals; I even struggled to watch the harsh realities of a wildlife program. There was a continued tendency to feel overwhelmed in work (seeking solitude at lunchtimes), in my personal life, and I became frustrated that I did not seem to have the robustness as others did around me.

The Beginnings Of Change

As a misfit in my personal and work life, I eventually burned-out with a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder. It’s no surprise I was anxious, I had increasing pressures in a career I disliked, and my marriage was imploding.

I did not resonate with the label of social anxiety disorder, but it was a start for healing. I noticed myself shrinking and struggling with a husband who, although extremely supportive, did not know how to nurture me gently. He too saw me as broken; just like my family and me.

With a call to adventure and internally growing courage and inner trust, I had no choice but to follow my deep-down instincts—I realized that external advice and manipulation had not worked and was actually harming me.

I left my old life and gradually grew into myself.

My inner guidance led me to coach the quiet person, painting, drawing, Susan Cain, Elaine Aron, writing and to a beautiful replenishing and nurturing experience—my new life.  On this journey, I serendipitously discovered I have been normal all the time—an introverted HSP. The power of knowing and feeling this label is immense.

I stand tall as a unique plant in exactly the right place! – a happy HSP!!

Emotional Empaths And Overactive Empathy

For HSPs and emotional empaths like me, your challenges with your sensitivity lie within the watery realm of emotions. As emotional empaths, there have often been times in my life where I have felt like a porous being, open to being invaded by whatever everyone else is feeling. Their sadness, worry or frustration jumps out at me, asking me to pay attention to it, asking me to take care of it. This makes it hard to demarcate a boundary between where I end and someone else begins.

It’s easy to get carried away by this ability to resonate with the energy around you. Sometimes, I have been like a bell, only ringing out the feelings of others. This is where empathy crosses over into unhealthy territory. Instead of being life-affirming, it becomes something that drains our energy.

Can Empathy Be Inappropriate?

It’s taken me decades to realize that there really is such a thing as inappropriate empathy. Over the past few years, I have come across ideas that cast a different light on empathy. Some of these ideas and questions might resonate with you:

Are you telling yourself a story about others that evokes inappropriate empathy?

There are two ways in which I empathize. One is a purely physical feeling, where I tend to experience what someone else is feeling. The other is putting myself in other people’s shoes and thinking of how I would react and sympathize with them.

In the past few years, I have started seeing how I can sometimes create entire story-lines about someone without really knowing them very well. For example, I might come to know of a traumatic incident in someone’s life by chance. I still don’t know this person very well. All I know is this one thing about them. But in my mind, I have often jumped many steps ahead and created a story about how this incident has affected them. I empathize and sympathize with them. The story resonates with my own wounds and with my own sense of wanting to root for the underdog. But later on, I see that this trauma did not affect this person in this exact way. Just the fact of that trauma does not make that person a certain kind of person, or even more empathetic to other’s who might have their own wounds.

Emotional Empaths And Narcissists

Haven’t we all heard of those theories that say that an empath and a narcissist often have similar childhood wounds? The fact of the wound might be the same, but the way that we have dealt with them, the paths we might have taken, can be completely opposite. One person might deal with a wound by becoming so sensitive to the world around them that they pick up on even any minor signs of distress. Another might feel as if the world is out to get them and feel a sense of entitlement as if the world owes them something. Both these people see the world differently.

In short, similar experiences don’t mean that our journeys have been the same.

So, I am learning to fact check the stories that my mind spins, that makes me extend empathy to an imaginary story and an imaginary person. Maybe, it’s the shadow side of my creativity. I am an INFP, which means I live in the world of feeling and imagination. My feelings color my inner and outer world. But there are certain places in which imagination can serve us ill. It can make us too open when we should we discerning. It can make us fall for sob stories that we might later realize don’t hold up in the light of the day. It can cause us to over-identify and over-empathize.

Distinguishing Empathy And Resonance

It was in Dave Markowitz’s book Self-Care for the Self-Aware that I came across the idea that empathy and compassion are two different things. I had never thought about these words and often used them interchangeably. Of course, sympathy was different. It is easy to sympathize with someone whose experiences or hurts might be similar. But I could put myself in different people’s shoes and feel their feelings. That was empathy. Wasn’t that always a higher feeling? Shouldn’t that lead to a better way of relating to others?

Reading Self-Care for the Self-Aware made me think about these questions. To me, it almost felt like empathy had a bigger second chakra component while compassion related to the heart chakra. It was possible to be compassionate without completely taking on the feelings of another. Of course, empathy was still required. How could you be compassionate without getting a taste of someone else’s experience? But there was more of an opening of the heart, less of the churning of emotions. You identified enough, but not more than enough.

So, empathy was necessary, but then you moved into action and you could do something about it. If I over-empathized, it seemed to me, there was something in the other person’s experience that was hooking something unresolved inside me. Maybe, what I was feeling wasn’t empathy at all, but actually sympathy, even if our outside experiences or personalities were different.

I am still thinking about these questions, about how these feelings tie in with each other, how they segue into one another. When is it empathy? When is it empathy in which I resonate with a hidden kernel inside the other person’s experiences? When am I over-empathizing with them instead of seeing that something inside me has been activated? When is it pure sympathy, masking as empathy?

Am I getting taken in by a momentary feeling?

Owning The Challenge Of Being Emotional Empaths

It was a few years ago that I started owning the word empath. Before that, it had felt too woo-woo, too alternative, even for an admittedly alternative person like me. But as I read more and more descriptions of what it meant to be one of the emotional empaths, I saw that while the words that some people were using didn’t resonate with me, the experience they were describing was mine.

I felt other people’s emotions in my own body.

As I started owning this term, it was as if my numbed down parts came back to life. After years, I again had that experience of feeling open, sensitive to everything around me. When I saw a movie in which someone fell or had an accident, it was as if I felt that pain. No wonder people online talked about how hard it was for them to see horror movies or shows with violence.

But as I thought about this, I realized that I was feeling something so intense in reaction to a made-up feeling on screen. Obviously, the people in the movie or the T.V. show were not really hurt. They were acting.

This was problematic. This meant that anyone who was affecting a feeling could con me. Being emotional empaths does not mean that one lives in another person’s body or could pull back the layers and see their intention, their beliefs or what they valued. I was just hyper-sensitive to changes in feeling, a feeling that might be the result of a value-system I did not believe in, or a feeling that might be completely put on. Haven’t we all met those people who try to intimidate others by appearing more angry and forceful on the outside than they are on the inside about their position?

This meant that registering feelings so immediately did not always serve you well. They were not an accurate map of what someone really felt all the time. It also meant that even when the feelings were real, the person behind them had reached them through a very different process. I over-identified with their feeling, responding to it because it felt uncomfortable even though I did not resonate with their ideas or their value system. Feelings are just one part of understanding someone.

This question has brought me a little more awareness of the problematic ways in which I use my empathy. Sometimes, it’s not empathy at all. It’s enmeshment. Sometimes, I am listening to people go “poor-me” and venting even though I am hurting inside. Then, I need to turn some of that empathy to myself instead of always giving it to others. It is showing me that while I am sometimes (not always) over-empathetic with others, I often don’t have enough compassion and empathy for my own hurt parts.

Do you consider yourself one of the emotional empaths? Did any of these questions resonate with you? Did they maybe give you some ideas about why empathy can become so problematic? When is your empathy helpful and when does it become something that drains you? 

The Special Value Of The Outsider

Outsiders have been shunned by many societies for a long time. They have a special value for their cultures that is often unrecognized and overlooked.

Outsiders are the guardians of authenticity.

Outsiders And Authenticity

Outsiders live on the edge in a way which provides them with a particular vantage point on life. They tend to have one foot in the conventional world and one foot outside of it. They stay in the world in order to earn a living but are usually not part of the striving energy of the culture. They are usually interesting people.

Outsiders live at the intersection of form and space but their hearts are in space; the place where all creativity and authenticity are possible. There is a reason for this.

Much of human life is sculpted by the social and economic structures that have been created by prior generations and they serve us in many ways. As much as they provide us with support to make life work, they are usually rigid. So they have the downside of being inflexible and not responsive to the needs of an ever changing world.

Inevitably they become burdensome and restrictive. When social structures are unrelentingly inflexible, they invite rebellion and sometimes revolution.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Outsiders have the ability to be the eyes for much needed adaptability and flexibility for existing social structures.

What The Outsider Sees

The outsider notices the disconnects, the holes, the places where existing social and economic structure does not meet the present. In essence it notices when culture is out of step with reality or the truth. Another way of looking at it is that societal structures tend not to have their feet on the ground much the way the head of a corporation does not have the experience of the people in the field or the factory. They tend to be too removed often intentionally so.

Outsiders are interested in discovering what is true as part of their path. It is not a rigid ideological idea of truth. You know – TRUTH.

When outsiders seek the truth they are interested in what is real. What is real is never fixed which is the opposite of the fixed cultural structures that we live with. What is real is ever changing, as is the breath and what we breathe in and out. Each moment is a specific place with its own conditions, constraints, and requirements. Societal structures do not deal well with them and as a result, often fail. Outsiders are often curious about what is happening and why from their unique vantage point. This makes them great detectives as well as observers. They then can provide the rest of the world with their observations to the benefit of all. They have the potential to help fixed structures be more flexible and responsive to ever-changing conditions.

HSPs As Valuable Outsiders

Highly sensitive people usually think of themselves as outsiders. They also, by virtue of their natures, have a lot of insight about what is going on around them. They have the ability because of their nuanced perceptions to notice the disconnects, gaps and other ways in which existing structures fail to meet reality in an appropriate way.

Nuance is the home of highly sensitive people. You can only notice it if you are open to it. By virtue of their open nervous systems, highly sensitive people have a special window on the every changing nature or reality. They have the potential to offer this precious knowledge to the world.

It’s just a matter of connecting the worlds of HSPs and non-HSPs, outsider and insiders.

The Social Challenge Of Highly Sensitive People

Highly sensitive people are known for being independent and able to be alone.However, that does not mean that we necessarily are happy and comfortable with it.

Recently I have been asking myself why being alone is considered, “bad” or a sign of a problem.

Do I need to be herded into a group, an identity, or a cause?

Why Is Being Alone Stigmatized?

Have you ever noticed that being alone carries a stigma?

Why do we disparage the “crazy cat lady”, or the “poor” bachelor?

It amazes me that to this day the early definitions of being human still apply. You are to be married, have children, women should be mothers and men should be warriors.

These are important and valued roles. They are the subject of most social discourse. Succeeding at them is gives us status which gives us social protection.

Does Popularity Protect Us?

Acquiescing to and succeeding at these roles also give us popularity.

That is a lot of social incentive to conform!

Does popularity protect us?

Popularity may have had important survival implications in the past.  Consider an old civilization having food shortages. Who would eat and who would not? Certainly the least popular would be less likely to be saved.

The popular social roles once had serious survival implications. People did not live long, so we continually need new ones. War was common and soldiers were needed. War, disease and short life spans meant that only certain roles were supported, roles that affected the ability of the group to survive.

Those days may be over. However, they still seem to live in our minds.

We have certainly developed a lot of skills around coercing people to be a certain way. And the stories that we tell are often around our survival story.

Saving ourselves is a popular story and popularity is like social grease in a complicated world of many differences and agendas.

Ostracism As Punishment

Being alone is often used as a punishment.

It is the basis of shunning and ostracism and designed to engender conformity.

Being alone or the threat of abandonment is a great way to enforce loyalty to a group. Since we need others to survive, ostracism is a serious threat. It does not matter whether you are an adult or child unless you have independent resources, ostracism can be very harmful to your health and well-being.

However, it is often more of a social game than anything else in modern society – the game of who is in and who is out. A game with consequences.

Social Rejection

For me and from other highly sensitive people, social rejection is a greater concern than being alone.

Social rejection for many highly sensitive people comes from being different, something over which they have no control.

Being holistic and inclusive thinkers, we do not naturally see the divisions, rules, and roles that others may call reality. The survival game that engages so many people is not a natural conversation for highly sensitive people.

The problem can also be a sensitive one since highly sensitive people are outnumbered and will be unlikely to have a significant voice in many social situations.

Highly sensitive people are good at seeing beyond social and cultural drama, so when they are being rejected it can be because they see life and what is important differently. The value of highly sensitive people does not lie in the survival drama, it lies in the manifestation of our higher selves which we need to do more of.

Finding Social Value For Highly Sensitive People

The Dalai Lama made the observation that we do not need more successful people, we need more healers and peacemakers. We need more people to lay down their weapons, give up chasing trophies. We need more people to become grounded in the reality that we are not really adversaries and there is no prize to be had. There is no one to beat.

Highly sensitive people offer a lot to a world that sorely needs their holistic brains in order to detach from the human survival story so that something new can emerge.

Our social value comes from our wisdom and insights, our knowledge of the pain caused by repeating the survival drama with each new generation.

We can question, offer new ideas, encourage new thinking, offer our creative prowess and friendship.

This are important social contributions that make highly sensitive people valuable and worth having around.

The Mistake Of Identity

 

Identity is an anchor in most of our lives.

It is usually derived from a combination of our own experiences, our family and school feedback and our culture.

Identities can feel wonderful if we have positive feedback or it can feel like a ball and chain if we do not.

The more important question is, “Is it real?”

What Is Identity Anyway?

I have always thought that identity was a little bit strange. OK, a lot strange.

Why do I even need one?

Here are some ways that Merriam-Webster defines identity as

: who someone is : the name of a person

: the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others

:  sameness of essential or generic character in different instances

:  sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing :  oneness

:  the distinguishing character or personality of an individual :individuality

:  the relation established by psychological identification

Of course, identity – and we mean social identity – is largely based on what we can see. If someone spends time by themselves we call them antisocial. If someone is lively, we often call them fun. This means that we define the identities of others in terms of what we experience, want and need.  So we often define others in relation to ourselves which invalidates them as someone unique and on their own journey. Therefore, identity can be an exploitive construct. Ask any disenfranchised person and group!

How Identity Gets Us In Trouble

Identity gets us in trouble with others in a number of ways:

  • it causes us to think we know something when we do not. Being able to identity a koala in a picture does not mean that I know anything about koalas.
  • it causes us to think that we have the lay of the land, the map of reality. When we define others and groups even nations as “good “and “bad” we may think we are dealing with reality but actually we are not. We are working from an interpretation.
  • when we put someone into a box of identity and they object we may feel justified in our negative reaction but we are not. Everyone has a right to be who they are and everyone is more than their social identity.
  • when we treat someone as if they are there to serve our agenda and they object, who has the problem?
  • when we ascribe negative attributes to those who disagree are we right? Sometimes, but sometimes we are also missing something and need to be open to that possibility.

Identity also gets us in trouble with ourselves:

  • we may believe that our social identity, whether it is family, peer based or national is really us.
  • we may compare our inner nature to our social feedback and think that there is something wrong with us.
  • we may start to believe that we have an obligation to be what others want us to be.
  • we may start to shrink ourselves so that others will be comfortable with us and then stop liking ourselves.
  • we may stop believing in ourselves.
  • we may receive feedback as a report card on ourselves that has nothing to do really with who we are.
  • we may stop listening to our intuitive, whole self and deny it the voice it needs.

Taking Back Your Identity

Our real identity is nothing more than the inner part of us that does not change throughout our lives. It is the part of us that is universal and yet also seems particular and specific to us at the same time. It is the part of us that people often love even though we are usually taught to keep it hidden.

Although we have to live in the human world we nonetheless need to be true to ourselves. Taking the messages we have received and examining them, discarding the one’s that are wrong or do not fit us is the first step to reclaiming our best selves. It is a step worth taking.

In Search Of A Real Conversation

I like a real conversation.

I do not like a faux conversation.

I do not like pretend conversations.

I do not like manipulative conversations.

It can be quiet around me.

What Is A Real Conversation, Anyway?

It probably sounds silly and perhaps a little whiney – but what is a real conversation? It may be easier to talk about what it is not.

I have no trouble with people being pleasant with each other except when it becomes so rigid that real issues and problems cannot be discussed. A real conversation talks about what is and needs to be.

When I see conversations that are stiffly pleasant, I often think people are talking about what they want life to be like rather than what is. I don’t want conversations that feel like some sort of weird dream. I prefer a conversation that feels robust and timely. It should be present.

A real conversation is present. It doesn’t need to manipulate. I have enough going on, I don’t really have the time. This kind of conversation does not demand a big acting job on the part of others. There is nothing to gain or lose. There is just the getting on with it.

Real Conversation Is Slow

Real conversation is slow. It starts but does not necessarily end at the same time. I like the kind of conversations that feel like a kind of weaving of information, thoughts, and feelings. The results are not the primary concern, the exchange is.

It makes the conversation less about an agenda or result and more about groundedness.

Conversation can be a way to ground. It does not have winners or losers. It doesn’t have rules or authority. What is is the authority.

A Real Conversation Is Lighter

A real conversation is lighter because it doesn’t need rules, roles, poses, and agendas.

It is grounded in the present and stays there. There is no place to go. Just a place to be.

It’s also a place here anyone can be. There is no exclusion because we are all here in this present.

So a real conversation can make life easier and more enjoyable.

I also think it makes life more companionable since there is no competition.

A real conversation is a place for friends.