Masking Our Intuitive Sensitivity

 

It’s two days before Halloween as my wife and I head to our favorite Italian restaurant in the city.  Entering the foyer of the restaurant, I notice a message written on the chalkboard listing the night’s specials. In addition to mussels with plenty of garlic and Venetian zuppa de peoci soup, a psychic is also on the menu tonight. “This should be good”, I tell my wife as we walk through the dimly lit dining room to a booth along the far wall.

I had recognized the psychic’s name written on the chalkboard; a local woman named Carol well-known in the area for her accurate readings on a local radio show. Our antipasto has just been served as the night’s entertainment begins. Sitting on a stool in the front of the room, I notice as Carol politely refuses an appetizer brought over by the owner stating that she doesn’t eat before reading for people.

Noticing the owner’s surprise she explains that the food will make her sleepy and affect her energy. It was an awkward moment; the food in this restaurant was some of the best in the area and I don’t think the owner ever had one of his dishes refused especially when he decides to serve it to her personally. But she stayed true to herself; not letting social pressures distract her from the job at hand. Taking note of her behavior, I was pleased to see her actions embrace her identity.

Our main course was served as Carol began to walk around the room, stopping at each table. Since we were sitting over by a far wall, we had pretty well finished our meal by the time she arrived. Talking to my wife first, she addressed some health and career concerns my wife had before turning to me and studying my face for a moment. “You do some really good work with people” she commented; “But in public, you keep that side of yourself so hidden; why is that?”

Still studying my face, she raised her eyebrows urging me to say something. There wasn’t much I could say; the fact that she knew that I always kept my intuitive sensitivity hidden around strangers without having ever met me was a testament to her psychic sensitivity. Perhaps, in response to my startled expression, she gave me kind smile and moved on to the next table. Watching her walk away, I knew without a doubt that she had just shown me how I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin.

Still studying my face, she raised her eyebrows urging me to say something. There wasn’t much I could say; the fact that she knew that I always kept my intuitive sensitivity hidden around strangers without having ever met me was a testament to her psychic and intuitive sensitivity. Perhaps, in response to my startled expression, she gave me kind smile and moved on to the next table. Watching her walk away, I knew without a doubt that she had just shown me how I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin.

Being Comfortable In Your Own Skin

For highly sensitive people, it is very easy for us to feel the emotions and unspoken attitudes of those around us.  During our interactions with others, if our intuitive sensitivity prompts a negative reaction from them, we are painfully aware of it. And, if over time this pattern repeats on an ongoing basis, we can become very hesitant to show our sensitivity at all.

In my own life, as a child raised in a household where I was taught that men didn’t cry or show much emotion, I could feel my father’s disapproval whenever I got too emotional. There was always that unspoken judgment hanging in the air between us. Being that I could sense the emotions of the people around me very easily, this mindset created a conflict with my sensitivity when I was growing up. Funerals were especially difficult where I would feel overwhelmed by the mourner’s emotional energy circulating within the room. Taught that crying in public was taboo, I would fight my sensitivity to keep my emotions in check.

Now sitting in a restaurant many years later, I found it ironic that right around Halloween when it is tradition to don a mask in order to elicit a specific response from those around you, I realized that I had been following that pattern most of my life; hiding my sensitivity behind a mask of acceptable social behavior.

Learning To Accept Our Intuitive Sensitivity

To be comfortable in our own skin means we have to be accepting and nurturing to the gifts our sensitivity bestows us in the face of a culture where being highly sensitive with intuitive sensitivity may not generate a favorable response. The key here is to stay focused on our values; following our values keeps us authentic which in turn allows us to acknowledge, and work with the gift of our sensitivity.

Living A Meaningful Life

In his Extraordinary Living Program, author Stephen Cope points out that in order to live a meaningful life requires we not only work with our gift but acknowledge the sacrifice which often accompanies it. For Highly Sensitive People, working with the gift of our sensitivity may require us to sacrifice the emotional need to fit in by not attracting unwanted attention. I find it interesting that Cope also states that most gifts are borne from a background of suffering at some level. Like myself, the majority of highly sensitive people I have met raised in dysfunctional family’s dealing with alcoholism or addiction issues also battle the “Don’t ask / Don’t tell”  syndrome of putting up a false front  in order to not attract attention to your family. Learned at an early age, we blend into our environments like a chameleon in order to avoid the predatory eye of judgment.

The Gift And Its Sacrifice

For the highly sensitive it’s not always easy. Recently, I spent an afternoon hiking with a friend who was grieving the death of a family member. Although I didn’t feel it at the time, the energy of her shared grief affected me on an emotional and physical level. Days later feeling moody and morose, I decided to take an early morning jog alone along the Mohawk River rather than meet up later that morning with my running partners Linda and Shelley. I simply did not have the energy to pretend that everything was OK with me and didn’t want my mood to bring them down.

However, in response to my text declining participation in our usual Sunday run along the river, I was surprised when both texted me back stating they would be on their way shortly and would meet me by my car. Shelley was the first to arrive. A highly sensitive person herself, as she got out of the car she immediately sensed my emotional state. As I spoke about my hike with our mutual friend earlier that week and its effect on my emotions, I saw her eyes tear up a bit as she went to hug me. My stammered apology wasn’t necessary. Shelley knew of my sensitivity and saw it hiding behind the mask of self-reliance I was trying to present.  “You need us right now” was all she would say.

When Conformity And Stewardship Collide

Do you ever feel that inner conflicts can’t be resolved?

Does your desire to belong and be accepted conflict with other desires?

Does your higher self ever feel left out?

Conflicts About Conformity

Conformity and stewardship: sometimes they work in harmony and other times they collide.

All societies create structures and norms that define daily life and the predominant mission of the society. Generally the predominant mission which is another way of saying values, is driven by some type of necessity.

Our earliest ancestors were hunter gatherers. When humans discovered how to grow crops, our ancestors shifted to a more agricultural way of life. It was certainly less life threatening than wrestling with dangerous animals to get food. However, food needed to be stored and then protected from other humans who preferred to steal rather than farm.

So a new way of life came into being that supported that agricultural economic system. This is goodness. Who wants to be wrestling with dinosaurs or other predators every day? However there is a down side.

How Structure Helps And Hurts Us

We create structures to support us, which is an example of stewardship, and then create the mindset and practices that support the structure, which is conformity.

Spiral Dynamics, the book by Chris Cowan and Don Beck, calls the situation that gives rise to a particular economic and social system as “life conditions.” This is the reality or real problems that drive the creation of a societal structure.

Once a particular structure with all of its institutions, rituals, mores and values is in place it become the “reality” for the people of that society. After some generations have passed, no one will remember the prior social structure. Daily life, purpose and problem solving all take place within the framework of the existing cultural dynamics, which will seem like life itself.

Cultures Have Life Cycles

There is a problem, though. Many people do not realize that like each one of us, a societal structure has a lifecycle. It comes into being to solve a problem, succeeds and then creates the conditions for a need for change which ushers in a new system with new values and purpose.

A perfect example is the current systemic change going on in the world. The existing system came into being to create a better life for human being though innovation and human initiative. It was created when people were few and resources were plentiful and has succeeded admirably in its mission. Now its success has sown the seeds of change because of our dwindling natural resources.

When To Conform And When Not To

Most individuals, when a society is in a advanced state like ours, try to solve the problems they are facing by using the tools of the existing system. So if the existing system used growth to solve problems, growth is the assumed solution, when in fact a new solution, new structure and new values are required. This is where conformity and stewardship collide.

When a system is in its prime, the society functions well, and conformity to the system makes sense and feels coherent. When it has passed its prime that is no longer the case. Stewardship at different stages of the system lifecycle has different requirements; sometimes conformity is good stewardship and sometimes not.

Conformity And HSPs

HSPs are very sensitive to the conflicts around them at any stage of the life cycle of a society. They will pick up a sense of where the society is in its development, and notice when the practices of a particular cultural structure have become more destructive than constructive.

Highly sensitive people can be the canaries in the coal mine. They are in touch with the present, but usually ahead of the prevailing mindset. It can make them appear to be ahead of their time when they are really very in touch with the present.

HSPs can be very useful to a society that wants to be smart about managing its change. We humans have not managed change well in the past. Valuing our sensitive geniuses could make it much easier to know when to conform or not, when to change, and when we are being good stewards. HSP’s are worth embracing for this reason.

For More Information: Dr. Clare Graves Site

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.

 

 

 

Why Conformity Is About Group Norms

Have you ever thought one thing and done another? Have you ever changed your mind when in a group that had different ideas?

I know I have and it made me feel like a wimp.

Being an HSP means that my positions are not the norm, and I am always seeking ways to bridge the difference. Often that cannot be done and I feel bad when that is the case.

I am an introvert but I still care about people and relationships. So where does the need to conform against our best instincts come from?

Our Brains Help Us Cop Out

According to an article in Spero Forum, researcher Vasily Klucharev of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, conducted a study which demonstrated that

“when people hold an opinion differing from others in a group, their brains produce an error signal.”

“If you make an error, if means that something [wrong is going on]. And, whenever we experience an error, it means this error signal pushes us to change behavior,” Klucharev said. “And, we see it looks like we quite automatically produce this signal when our opinion is quite different from other people.”

“The researcher examined two brain areas,” said Klucharev. “The first, a zone of the brain popularly called the ‘oops area,’  becomes extra active signaling an error; while the ‘reward area”‘is less active, making people think they made a mistake.”

This explains why people are likely to conform and why in doing so they are responding to what their brain is telling them even if their instincts or “better nature” tells them something else.

This research tells us a lot.  It explains why:

  • people act against their better judgment
  • people are afraid of differences
  • people are afraid of what they perceive to be dangerous mindsets
  • people are more afraid of being different that the pain of giving up their authenticity.

Conformity’s Survival Value

Conformity has been necessary for us to survive. The human race would not have developed without the willingness of individuals to sacrifice their differences to create cultures that supported their survival need. You can say therefore that conformity has served our survival.

Our brains have developed in a way that supports our survival as well. As a result it has supported our conforming to group norms because groups have been the basis of an individual’s survival. Children know only too well how they must conform if they are to survive since they are unable to survive on their own.

The Down Side Of Conformity And Group Norms

This research also suggests that we can have difficulty when our brain’s error signals conflict with a need for change. Our brains may fight our intentions even when they serve our best interests. We may then suffer from ambivalence and procrastination.

Sometimes when we do not understand what is going on, we will feel bad about ourselves when in fact there is nothing wrong with us. Our brain is supporting our survival among others whether those others are right or not. Our group is our group.

Can We Become Mindful About Conformity?

It is not helpful to fight our brain’s attempts to protect us, not is it helpful to fight necessary change. Therefore we need to become extremely mindful about what we allow group norms to become because there are serious consequences if those norms are destructive.

Whatever group norms we choose need to be considered temporary to allow for changing circumstances. When group norms can become flexible as needed then our brain’s desire to protect us will not fight our needs for change.

Is that too much to ask for?

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.

Overcoming The Need To Please

Highly sensitive people have many ways of handling their nature and the overwhelm that they experience. Being different means that relationships are often difficult for us. We often feel at a disadvantage in relationships feeling one down because we feel disrespected.

There are many reasons for this. Our compassionate non-competitive natures seek mutuality in a one-upsmanship world which does not respect our kindness. So we often want the respect we deserve but cannot claim. So we seek ways to achieve social acceptance. Pleasing is one of those ways.

Do You Feel The Need To Please?

The need to please comes from our need to establish and maintain the interpersonal bridge with others. there are many ways that the interpersonal bridge is created and sustained. Most of the time there is some kind of shared experience or another kind of bond created through:

  • blood relationships
  • being neighbors
  • school and school activities
  • shared interests
  • work
  • community activities
  • shared values
  • shared life experiences

Highly sensitive people have trouble with the interpersonal bridge because often their values are different from those around them and also because they are different and experience most things differently it is hard for them to bond over shared experiences. Many times HSPs are loners but not by choice.

The weakness of the interpersonal bridge is something that we live with each day and it is often a source of feelings of vulnerability. We do not fit in and know it. We suspect therefore that we are unwelcome.

Coming To Terms With The Challenges Of Being Different

Being different does not necessarily mean that we are unwelcome. Humans are notorious for comparing themselves to each other so we may remind others of undeveloped aspects of themselves and in that way create feelings of discomfort. That is not our fault but something to be aware of.

However, if we expect to be close with people whose values are radically different then we are probably inviting some hurt into our lives. There are many people who do not and will not “get” HSPs and that is something that we have to accept.

We can improve our social life if we reserve our serious social investments to those where our values are compatible.

When Do We Start To Please?

The need to please will surface when we are trying to fit in with a group that is different from us where we would like to have some social standing. It could be a work environment or family group. Whatever the situation, pleasing comes from thinking that the burden of the interpersonal bridge is primarily ours and that unless we make a special effort there may not be a relationship and we may be harmed in some way.

In these situations being ourselves is something we think will harm us or cause us to be rejected. We have to be someone else in order to survive socially.

Overcoming The Need To Please

The need to please is above and beyond doing one’s part in a relationship. The need to please is a function of being made inferior in some way. It is an outcome of trying to survive in a social structure where you are disfavored. It is a way of trying to cover up your differentness so that you can acquire needed resources. Pleasing is a social strategy of minorities and social outsiders throughout history.

So what can you do?

Here are some questions to ask about how you are living to see if you can make some changes that will provide you with more social safety:

  • what relationships do I have where I feel a need to please?
  • in what way am I dependent on others for supplies (of any kind) that cause me to be in relationships where I need to please?
  • what changes can I make to reduce my needs so that I have fewer relationships that require unnatural pleasing?
  • if I cannot reduce my needs can I find alternatives that are more supportive of my self-respect?
  • can I create what I need?
  • can you ask for more of what you need from relationships that are one-sided to make them feel more mutual?

Sometimes a little strategy can make all the difference in helping us rebalance our relationships and make them more mutual.

The Many Purposes Of Hate

 

Hate is complicated and it arises on many levels and has many purposes. We can have a complicated relationship to it. According to Dictionary, to hate means “to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest.” One way of describing hate is to say it is the part of us that says no.

So if you eat some food and hate it, you may do so for any number of reasons. Perhaps it does not taste good to you or your body is telling you that it is not good for you. So hating something can provide you with information about what is good for you and what is not.

Hating And Getting Along With Others

Hating also has a social purpose. It is a tool used to teach us what is socially acceptable behavior and what is not. As children, we experience the revulsion of others to varying degrees when we act in a way that is not approved. Those experiences are often combined with rewards and punishments to direct our behavior in a certain way. Unfortunately, they can cause us to suppress important and valuable parts of ourselves. Two common forms of self-rejection are crying in boys and intelligence in girls. When we suppress the good in ourselves to be accepted and survive, which is necessary to some degree for all of us, we often begin hating ourselves. Our identities have been formed around acceptance, which means giving up our true self to get along with others.

Hate also extends to attitudes. Because it can be self-protective, it is sometimes used at a group level to insulate people from perceived threats to survival. This is where hate turns into group prejudice. No longer a tool to identify what is healthy or unhealthy group identity becomes a codified set of attributes that support the identity and experience of group members. Violating these codes means you can be ostracized from a group even permanently. Hate can go even further. Cultural narratives define what a culture works towards – its beliefs and goals. Not to go along can engender hate as can changing the narrative.

How Hate Harms

Unfortunately, hate can be used to manipulate us and others. The fear of being hated, the fear of being left out or blamed, all of these manifestations of hate can influence our choices.

Hate has some additional destructive aspects. It can

  • shut down social discourse by making people feel unwelcome. Keeping social space healthy (non-toxic) is necessary for people to be able to listen to each other constructively.
  • reduces the motivation of others to engage and participate in the social space. It is a way of marginalizing others by raising the stakes of engagement. If you are afraid for your safety it is hard to want to participate with others in life.
  • raise living costs as people try to meet the demands of inclusion. What happens when one cannot afford it?

Benefits And Disadvantages of Hate

Hate can help us understand ourselves better but can also be used to create distance from others. It can be used to increase empathy or reduce it. Hating can be used to establish social norms and demand certain behaviors – both constructive and destructive. It can act as a barrier to social mobility, as a tool of social ranking. At its best, it can inform us about what is in our best interest. At its worst, it creates untold harm.

Can You Identify These 5 Different Types of Loyalty in Your Life Or Our World?

Loyalty is one of those complicated subjects that can touch a nerve. It is like a two-edged sword; it can help us and make life worthwhile and also hurt us.   Loyalty is an important subject that is worth thinking about because issues around different types of loyalty are part of our basic social fabric and always have been.

Loyalty comes in many flavors and means different things to different people. Ideas about loyalty have changed as we humans have changed. Here are five different types of loyalty used in human culture:

  1. for some, loyalty is an absolute whether it is loyalty to a tribe or religion. Loyalty under these circumstances means loyalty not only overtly to the group, but also the beliefs, practices and expected behaviors. Since groups that seek absolute loyalty create dependency in their members, escape can be difficult.
  2. loyalty demands can manifest in rules and role requirements that have nothing to do with the individual’s abilities. These kinds of demands can feel like a kind of rejection of the individual, a yoke of slavery to group norms.
  3. for others, loyalty is extremely conditional. This is the type of person who operates on the “what have you done for me lately?” premise. The point of view of this kind of loyalty is economic rather than institutional.
  4. others think everyone deserves at least some loyalty since we are all “in this” together. The point of view of this person is universal.
  5. another type of loyalty is loyalty based on the inherent dignity of all living creatures, a kind of transcendent and transpersonal loyalty. This is the most spiritual kind of loyalty.

Getting A Handle On Different Types Of Loyalty

Loyalty on a one-on-one basis isn’t too difficult and is sometimes straightforward and based on the quality of the relationship. However, when you add the complex expectations of societal structures it can become messy. In all kinds of loyalty expectations, there are values underlying them that are often tied to the identities of people. This is why changing the values in an individual or a society can be difficult.  People create lives around our values and identities.

Highly sensitive people have a challenge with loyalty that others may not have. Since HSPs love very deeply, it causes them to act on values that others may not have. If I were to characterize HSP loyalty, it would be of the universal and spiritual kind. Unfortunately, this brand of loyalty may not be valued or reciprocated by others causing an HSP serious emotional pain.

It is very important for highly sensitive people to recognize the type of loyalty in those around them so that they form realistic expectations about their relationships with others. Errors in expectations can create a lot of hurt for HSPs, which they do not recover from easily.  As part of your self-care program, you need to take care of your relationship expectations.