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.

 

Identity And Thoughts: Changing The Cultural Narrative For Highly Sensitive People

Do your thoughts drive you crazy?

Do you ruminate a lot and feel that you are going around in circles?

Do you think that your thoughts control you?

What Are Our Thoughts?

Our thoughts are mental pictures that we create.  They often seem automatic and out-of-control. They are a natural consequence of our interaction with daily life and are your way of processing and dealing with what is happening around you and to you.

Our thoughts are our mind’s desire to take care of us. They also are a way of our dealing with the unknown and unknowable. Our thoughts support our assumed identities and try to identify our place in the world. They help us to belong.

Unfortunately, our thoughts often seem to be running our lives.

Why Are Our Thoughts So Painful?

For many thoughts can be very painful because through our thoughts we determine here we stand in life. Our thoughts are essentially left brained operating in a linear way and aligned with the manifested world. They are mathematical and materialistic.

If we identify with our left brained thoughts then we are only looking at a small part of reality and not necessarily what is true.

One of the reasons thoughts can be painful is because they attempt to place us in an identity that works in a world that often has preconceived ideas about who we are and should be.

Our Thoughts And The Cultural Narrative

Our thoughts can be a lot of things. They can be about personal aspects of our lives as well as the public aspects. Sometimes they have a short term focus. Sometimes not.

Most often they seem to be a way of interpreting and dealing with the cultural narrative around us. The problem with continually engaging in this way is that the cultural narrative usually has a life of its own. For highly sensitive people, the cultural narrative is usually about non-HSP life and lifestyles so it is basically not about them.

We can, therefore, feel left out and our thoughts do not necessarily help us with that.

However, we are not here to serve a social structure. We are here to become our best self. Sometimes the social structure and our evolution are at odds and we are not suppose to fit in.

Reclaiming Your Narrative

It is important to have a sense of yourself separate from the narrative around you.

Narratives about life are just stories as the research on human evolution in Spiral Dynamics show. Narratives are the social structure created to support and justify a particular cultural embodiment. They change when we need to change. They are not sacred. One person’s narrative is not necessarily another person’s narrative.

Narratives are not necessarily the TRUTH.

When you try to be a part of the cultural narrative and take your identity from it, you may be creating problems for yourself.

Identifying with the cultural narrative works for many non-HSPs since the narrative usually reflects them.  It may feel wrong that they can be so comfortable in the cultural narrative when as a highly sensitive person you feel like an outsider.

For that reason, you have to identify a narrative for yourself or your thoughts will be dominated by ideas related to a narrative that doesn’t suit you and only causes you mental frustration.

Creating Your Own Narrative

Highly sensitive people need to create their own narrative.

We need to separate ourselves from the dominant narrative. To do so we need to make some mental adjustments:

  • see the existing cultural narrative as changing rather than fixed.
  • align your narrative with the evolutionary process going on around you. That way you support improvements in life and are not simply fighting the existing cultural narrative.
  • notice how your narrative can be helpful to others as a way to help you maintain your ability to connect with others.

When you take back your narrative, you can eliminate a lot of the thoughts you have about your place in the existing system and let your thoughts now serve where you are going and what you are becoming.

It is a great way to stop ruminating and start creating the life you deserve.

What Time Pressure Costs Us

How do you feel about the time pressure of this impatient world we live in?

Personally, I hate it, yet I often feel that slow is “wrong”.

Slow means getting run off the road by someone faster.

Slow means “missing the boat” because you can only miss it by being slow.

The fast pace of our society has a life of its own. It feels like “reality” and when we drop out of the high speed movement of our economic culture it can seem like a form of death.

But if you look at it another way, our fast paced system can feel like a form of death as well.

It seems like a catch-22.

What Time Pressure Costs Us

When you have to work fast, in my experience you also have to focus. Focus is great, but under conditions of pressure, that focus becomes narrowed to whatever will enable us to create a quick result and move on to the next action or decision.

Essentially the demand for speed forces us to be short-sighted.

There is a paradox in this: being short-sighted and fast forces us to make a lot of changes, but it also forces us to seek solutions that are “accessible”, that in effect, keep us where we are, that are not really innovative or difficult. So the project that takes longer, the relationship that requires cultivation – these things often do not happen.

What does happen is actions, decision, and people that fit our time constraints but not necessarily our needs. This is one of the reasons we feel we are in a rat race or running fast on a treadmill going nowhere. Time pressure forces us into choices that keep us stuck.

The Bigger Loss

Time pressure costs us more than we realize. While we are getting through the day, the kinds of connections, moments and observations that come with engaging with each moment often elude us. We are too busy.

There are many big consequences of time pressure:

  • we live in our heads. We make decisions based on what is expedient. Our bodies and hearts do not get a voice in what we are doing. The system, after all, has its prerogatives and its demands which must be honored.
  • we lose the mind-body connection which is an important foundation of living and also of our health. Everything in our lives and experience is processed in our minds AND bodies. There is no escape. So when we live in our heads, we do not process all of our feelings through our bodies and become stuck and sick. Our bodies feel dragged down and we feel that we are dragging them along with us rather than living fully from them.
  • we are unable to really connect. Do you ever wonder why ideology is so entrenched? When people live in their heads and go too fast, they do not have time for human connection. So they relate from political ideas or entertainments or recreational activities but not usually to each other.
  • we lose our creativity. A fast time-based system particularly a mechanistic one prefers continuity and consistency to creativity. Novelty and some innovation that serves the system are allowed but not the full-bodied creativity of an awake human being.
  • we lose our part and place in the universe. We are creative human beings. So when we cannot rock the boat by being creative then we lose our basic nature to a cultural and economic construct.
  • we lose our common ground because we are each of us competing cogs in a machine rather than collaborating co-creators of our world, a way of thinking that honors us better.

Letting Go Of Time Pressure

Letting go of time pressure is hard to do. Slowing down can seem like a luxury.

However, particularly for highly sensitive people it is a necessity because it is the only way we can give rein to our creative natures. It is also the only way we can minimize the stress that comes from being highly sensitive and taking in all of the stimulus that we take in.

So embrace the eternal present! Luxuriate in it and honor your creative talents for the benefit of all.

Our High Sensitivity: Both A Gift and Vulnerability to Anxieties

Along with the many benefits of our high sensitivity trait, we may also be especially susceptible to anxieties.

One aspect of a highly sensitive nervous system can be a strong startle response, as noted in an item on the Self-Test on the site of Psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD: “I startle easily.”

Of course, just being easily startled, at any age, is not by itself an indicator of high sensitivity or a ‘symptom’ of anxieties – but there is some research that people who carry a gene that regulates the neurotransmitter dopamine in a certain way have an exaggerated “startle” reflex. Researchers concluded this sensitivity “may, in combination with other hereditary and environmental factors, make them more prone to anxiety disorders.”

From the article: Genes affect anxiety and startle response, American Psychological Association press release.

Dr. Aron writes, “The sensitive types in any species tend to freeze and hide rather than fight or fly in the face of danger. Any of these reactions to danger is all right, but involve different ‘costs’ or put different stress on the individual. Research on other species as well as on humans, including my own research, suggests that the cost for this strategy is being more prone to develop chronic anxiety and depression when exposed to danger generally or to threats from aggressive others.”

From her Comfort Zone newsletter post: A Future Headline: “HSPs, the Key to Human Survival”?

Author Susan Cain notes many ‘shy’ people seek “refuge from the socializing that causes them anxieties. And many introverts are shy, partly as a result of receiving the message that there’s something wrong with their preference for reflection, and partly because their physiologies compel them to withdraw from high-stimulation environments.”

From her book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Dr. Aron thinks this is “an enormously entertaining book” but that Cain’s discussion of ‘introversion’ throughout “is almost identical to what has become the standard definition of high sensitivity—deep thinkers, preferring to process slowly, sensitive to stimuli, emotionally reactive, needing time alone, and so forth…”

From my Creative Mind post Are Introverts More Creative?

This brings up the issue of labeling. Many actors, for example, say they are ‘shy’ or ‘sensitive’ or ‘introverted’ and many writers and others use these terms as more or less synonymous; they aren’t, of course.

Dr. Aron, for example, says “Because HSPs prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called ‘shy.’ But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, 30% of HSPs are extraverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion.”

From my post: Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference?

What wrong with anxiety?

Ordinary living provides us with many reasons to feel anxious – and anxiety can be a way to protect us from dangers, both physical and emotional.

But mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem can interfere with anyone expressing their talents, perhaps especially for those with a “finely tuned” nervous system.

Therapist and creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD thinks “Only a small percentage of creative people work as often or as deeply as, by all rights, they might be expected to work. What stops them? Anxiety or some face of anxiety like doubt, worry, or fear… anxiety is the great silencer of the creative person.”

From post: Eric Maisel on anxiety and developing creativity.

Dealing with our anxieties

How we think about and label our physical, cognitive and emotional responses can have a strong impact on our acceptance of those responses, versus thinking we need to “do something” about them. Of course, some people have levels of anxiety that may need medical help.

But feelings such as a rapid heart rate, shallow breathing or racing thoughts can be confused with anxiety, and may just be a form of arousal, or excitement. Or too much caffeine: Dr. Aron notes HSPs are very sensitive to it.

She also points out that some items on an anxiety scale or test will sometimes be true for all HSPs, “since we do all avoid risks, which is something like being anxious or worried about outcomes.”

From her Comfort Zone newsletter post: A Letter from Elaine, Happy Summer to HSPs.

In her book “Emotional Freedom” Psychiatrist Judith Orloff, MD writes, “Since emotions such as fear, anger, and frustration are energies, you can potentially ‘catch’ them from people without realizing it.

“If you tend to be an emotional sponge, it’s vital to know how to avoid taking on an individual’s negative emotions or the free-floating kind in crowds. Another twist is that chronic anxiety, depression, or stress can turn you into an emotional sponge by wearing down your defenses. Suddenly, you become hyper-attuned to others, especially those with similar pain.”

From post: Psychiatrist Judith Orloff on coping with emotional overload.

She also gives specific suggestions in her book, and article How To Stop Absorbing Other People’s Negative Emotions.

It can be helpful to acknowledge that our trait of high sensitivity may include vulnerabilities to anxiety and overwhelm, but also offers many ‘gifts’ – such as enhanced creativity, greater empathy with others, deeper appreciation of the sensations of life, and more.

No Need To Rush: The Special Gift Of Slow

I have always been expected to operate at lightening speed.

And it has never worked for me.

I need to process…and process…and process…

I LOVE to process.

It is my idea of a good time!

What’s The Rush!

I have never understood the need to rush. In my experience, the easiest way to have problems is to rush.

However, from a very young age, I have noticed that people around me were aways in a rush for something. A rush to judgment, to get something, be somewhere or do something.

I always felt “wrong” because it always seemed so silly to me.

It also seemed to me that something terribly important was missing.

Is Anybody Home?

I felt alone in all of the rushing. Rushing felt so escapist, and I did not understand what everyone was trying to escape? I felt stupid for not really wanting to join in.

Escaping was not compelling to me. It did not attract me and still doesn’t.

All of the rushing and escaping feels sad.

It feels like we are afraid to take a chance.

It feels like we are here but no one is home.

Speed Can Be Dangerous

In school, we are rewarded for getting answers not for asking questions. So often we continue that pattern in our daily lives.

Not to have an answer os a failing, a way of losing a competitive battle for survival, a risk we are afraid of.

But answers are not necessarily simple and they can only evolve by engaging with a set of circumstances or conditions. It is through that process that answers come.

When we fail to honor the process of engagement and deliberation we are plagued with the kind of ideological substitute for problem-solving that plagues our society right now. We have packaged answers that fail to solve anything while the real problems seeking our attention remain ignored.

And so we run around each one of us with our bandaids unable to really solve our problems.

No wonder so many people feel frustrated and depressed.

They have every reason to.

Slow Is About Respect

When you approach anything in a slow careful manner you are paying a very basic kind of respect. You are paying attention to people, place and things. You are paying attention to process. You pay attention to current reality as a starting point for moving forward. You give everything the attention it deserves.

Slow is about paying attention. Fast is about escaping.

That is true both in our work and in our relationships.

I am sure how you have experienced the awful feeling when someone rushes you because they do not want to be bothered.

I am sure you have also experienced what it is like when someone takes the time to talk with you.

The rushed experience closes you down; the slower, more thoughtful interaction opens you up.

Does The World Belong To The Takers?

When people rush as their primary way of relating, all interactions become superficial and transactional. Speed does not really allow for anything else.

So when we slow down, we open the door to more give and take which is a more satisfactory arrangement for everyone, in reality. We also honor each other and the value in each other when we slow down. We honor each person’s uniqueness, gifts, and limits as part of the whole.

We can then give ourselves the opportunity to be with what is instead of demanding that everyone be something else to meet our demands and requirements.

Life Is Not Just A Shopping Trip

Too often we relate to each other as consumers looking for something pleasurable from others.

Pleasure is great but seeking or demanding it as a constant in our lives keeps us in the role of shoppers rather than creators. As a result we miss out on ourselves as much as everyone else.

Slowing down gives us not only our time back but also our friendship and respect.

It gives a more natural place in the universe. It lets us be both more humble and more creative at the same time.

Slow is a gentle place.

Slow lets us open up more.

It frees us from our demands and lets us join into the world rather than bearing down on it oppressively with our need for continual self-indulgence.

Slow lets us be human and humane.

Slow gives us a much-needed break and everyone else, too.

It is worth embracing.

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!!

The Special Challenge Of The Outsider

To be an outsider is not an easy task. It is a special role that has great potential for personal transformation.

Who Is The Outsider?

The outsider is the person who departs their existing cultural home for a new unknown destination.

People do not become outsiders accidentally. It is a path that is deliberately chosen because it is necessary, important and valuable:

  • stage of life – the transition from adolescence to adulthood is one
  • issues within the culture that makes life their untenable
  • life changes like divorce that cause a person to leave a social system.
  • the search for the soul’s purpose

The outsider is the person who brings a fresh perspective to others, a new way of proceeding, valuing, or synthesizing information.

The outsider’s journey is the beginning of the process of transformation. It starts with an awareness that something is not right or that something needs to change. According to the book, Dharma Types by Simon Tony Chokoisky:

Anything that requires radical re-thinking, leaps of imagination, and creative synthesis of many elements is the Outsider’s purview. Ruled by the Space Element, there is no ‘where’ Outsiders cannot travel, just as there is no experience they cannot have. From the highest of the high to the lowest of the low, Outsiders trek the terrains of the wild and the inner spaces of the soul,reaching to depths and heights that no one else dares to follow. Laws and morals hold little power to obstruct their need for experience, and Outsiders are most creative in their interpretation of social strictures. As a result, they can just as easily fall into depravity, as soar to the heights of purity: such is the razor’s edge that defines the Outsider’s path. However, just as it is easy to fall off track, it is also simple for Outsiders to get back on, for they are never far removed from Redemption, though it may not seem that way to them. Examples of criminals-turned-saints abound in sacred literature, illustrating the Outsider’s roller-coaster journey from truth to error… and back again.

What Simon Chokoisky is talking about is that outsiders rethink the rules and what is considered conventional thinking. They are questioners and seekers of truth and in doing so can investigate anything and make many mistakes. Being an outsider carries the pitfalls of openness.

HSPs As The Outsider

Highly sensitive people are outsiders just because of their difference and because they are in the minority. Does that make them outsiders in spirit? Are we the adventurous outsider that Simon Chokoisky talks about?

HSPs in some ways are reluctant adventurers. Our nervous systems take in everything and we cannot escape that. Our sensitivity also means that we cannot escape consequences. It causes us usually to be cautious and conscientious because when you take in everything you cannot be in denial.

When you take in and process everything around you develop the ability to look at the world from multiple perspectives. Highly sensitive people are very much outsiders in that they are the integrators and synthesizers of the human race reworking and reweaving the human story into one that seems more authentic to them. The range afforded the highly sensitive person is offset by the values that come from having an empathetic nature. Thank goodness! It will cause us to reweave the human experience into one that is healthier and more compassionate.

We humans are creative people. However, creativity is not always constructive. HSPs have the chance to make creativity something positive by applying their empathetic values to the open experience of the outsider in a way that serves us all well.

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.