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

Social Habits And Sensitive People: The Four Tendencies

Once in a while, we come across concepts that are game changers for us as HSPs. This month, I would like to share something that has helped me in my own journey as an artistic HSP and might help you too. It comes from the work of New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, The Four Tendencies, one of several books she has written on happiness and habits.

Have you ever felt that you are hyper-aware of others’ expectations as an HSP and that it is easy for you to fulfill these outer expectations but somehow very difficult to fulfill your own inner expectations? While this can stem from many different and complex reasons (such as people pleasing), those reasons are not the whole story. It turns out that people have an innate, hardwired tendency that determines how they respond to different kinds of expectations. Learning about these can help us answer that frustrating question: Why am I so good at meeting other people’s expectations but not so good at fulfilling my own?

The Four Tendencies

In her latest book The Four Tendencies, Rubin talks about how different people respond differently to expectations. The seed of the book came in a conversation that Gretchen Rubin had with a friend. Rubin says:

“As I bit into my cheeseburger and my friend picked at her salad, she made a comment that would occupy my mind for years. In an offhand way, she mentioned, “I want to get myself in the habit of running, but I can’t, and it really bothers me.” Then she added, in a crucial observation, “When I was on the high school track team, I never missed track practice, so why can’t I go running now?”

“Why?” I echoed.

“Well, you know, it’s so hard to make time for ourselves.”

“Hmmm,” I said.”

Rubin and her friend then started talking about other things, but even after they’d said goodbye, she couldn’t stop thinking about their exchange. Why was it that it had been easy for her friend to go running in the past but that wasn’t the case anymore? Was it her age, her motivation, her family situation or something else?

Explorations About Social Habits

Although her friend had assumed that everyone had “trouble making time for themselves,” that wasn’t true for Rubin. She did not have any trouble making time for herself. So, what was the difference between them? Rubin would spend the next few years trying to answer this question.

This search led to Rubin asking some preliminary questions to readers of her website. She found, weirdly enough, that groups of people answered the same question in 4 identical ways, almost down to the words they were using. To the simple question of “How do you feel about New Year resolution?” a subset of people gave this almost identical answer: “I’ll keep a resolution if it’s useful, but I won’t start on New Year’s Day, because January 1 is an arbitrary date.” Rubin was intrigued by the use of this specific word because the arbitrariness of the January 1 date had never bothered her. But so many people gave the same answer; what did they have in common?

In a similar way, another group answered: “I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore because I never manage to keep them—I never make time for myself.”

Another group said: “I never make resolutions because I don’t like to bind myself.”

It was after a lot of this give and take on her blog and people naturally dividing themselves up into 4 distinct groups that Rubin had her eureka moment. She had found the key! The underlying question was: “How do you respond to expectations?” Answering this question led to her book, The Four Tendencies.

Expectations And The Four Tendencies

In fact, we all face two kinds of expectations: inner and outer. An inner expectation is something we place on ourselves, like a New Year’s resolution, while an outer expectation is something like a work deadline. Depending on how you respond to these expectations, Rubin found that people fell into one of these four types or four tendencies:

  1. Upholders respond to both outer expectations and inner expectations.
  2. Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect, they respond only to inner expectations
  3. Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.
  4. Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

Guess where I fell on this framework? I was an Obliger. If something was imposed from the outside, like a work deadline, I usually met it. But for years, I could not figure out why I wasn’t able to do enough on the side (like some people I knew were able to do), to switch careers or work on my writing. It turns out that Obligers need outer accountability. So, if you have an inner expectation, you have to, in a sense, turn it into an outer expectation and then, you will likely complete it.

Looking back, I saw that I had only written consistently and been most productive when I had been part of writing workshops. Here, I was expected to write, and I did. But left on my own, time would trickle down and I wouldn’t get to doing something that I, personally, wanted to do. Instead, I was getting caught up in other people’s agendas and running around helping (or unhealthily rescuing) first this person and then another.

It was after I let myself practice this concept (instead of thinking that I “should” be able to motivate myself on my own (something that Upholders, for example, find easy to do), that I finally got a writing coach. This turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have made in a long time. I have written more, more consistently than I have ever before in my life. I have applied for a writing grant that took months of work. For the first time in my life, I have felt that I am finally on my path.

What it took was re-framing something basic about me. This is similar to the kind of re-framing we often have to do as HSPs. An Obliger wrote something to Gretchen Rubin that I resonate with:

“As a TV writer, I’ve struggled miserably with my inability to stick to any kind of personal deadline, yet I’ve always been a dutiful employee who submits scripts on time to my boss. I’ve given this tendency many names: laziness, being irresponsible, being a child in grown-up clothes, and many terms that wouldn’t get past your spam filter. By giving me a new name—Obliger—you’ve given me a way to accept myself. I can put the self-loathing aside and concentrate on devising clever ways to trick myself into doing stuff. It’s already made me more productive, but more importantly, it’s made me much happier.”  

Are You An Obliger?

Of course, as an HSP, you might not fall into the Obliger category. But considering that it is the largest category (Rubin’s study found that 41% of the sample were Obligers), I think there are many HSPs who are also Obligers. Maybe you, like me, have gone for years meeting other people’s expectations, and then suddenly, everything becomes all too much and you say a big No. Obligers are often prone to burnout and at certain points in their lives, to what Rubin calls Obliger rebellion. Suddenly, or so it seems to other people, we have had enough and we won’t take anymore. Then, we walk out, literally or metaphorically. So, learning about how we are wired and how to make that work for us can be crucial in keeping our resentment stores down.

Also, understanding the different categories can help us understand the people around us. For example: Although Upholders and Obligers both want to meet outer expectations, Obligers are much more prone to burnout because Upholders also hold themselves to their inner expectations. Upholders might also be dismissive of other tendencies who need different things than they do. Rebels (only 17% in the sample, with the fewest members) resist expectations and can get into all kinds of tussles with people who expect them to comply with outer expectations (like Upholders). A Questioner child who has to be given a reason to do every little thing might be trying for a parent who is an Upholder or Obliger. But getting a whole picture and seeing the strengths and weaknesses of each type might help us relate better to different people. It can also give us a perspective on how different social contexts might work or not work for a particular type. Rubin gives an example of how a Questioner might be highly valued in a place like Silicon Valley but get into trouble in a place like North Korea. A Rebel, if they become a rebel without a cause, might just be highly annoying. But rebels are also the ones who question existing systems and can help bring about change. As always, the context as well as the other qualities of that person matter.

Like me, you might have several “ahas”  if you read The Four Tendencies and come to see that we often see the people around us as very similar to ourselves. Sometimes, we think that they should be motivated by the same things as ourselves. We think that what works for us is what works for them. But that’s not true. Like Rubin tells us in this and other books, often diametrically different things are the keys to different people’s happiness and success. The question is: What specifically works for you as an individual? What is your own nature?

This is, of course, a bare-bones portrait of Rubin’s four tendencies. But like me, maybe figuring out your own tendency might provide as an essential missing piece for you as an HSP and help you in your own journey.   

10 Ways Highly Sensitive People Turn Sensitivities Into Advantages

 

It can take years to figure out if we are a highly sensitive person. The world doesn’t talk much about this type of person. There isn’t a lot of information out there on the topic. Even when discovering helpful information, we often have to be really suffering before profound and life changing information can sink in deeply. There is no need for suffering though. We can learn how to turn our sensitivities into advantages and live the life that we have always wanted.

Equal Opportunity Emotions

Being highly sensitive doesn’t just mean that our feelings get hurt very easily, though majority of the population would define or explain highly sensitive people that way. It does mean that sensitive people experience emotion on a very deep level, with more intensity than the average person. Not just negative emotions such as sadness or anger, but also amazing emotions like joy and happiness. We don’t just experience emotion as a state of mind either. We feel specific emotions in specific parts of their bodies. For instance, anger can feel like a tight knot in our solar plexus. Love can make our chest open up like a flower. Feeling scared can make our root chakra constrict and close up. How’s that for sensitive? It can definitely be overwhelming at times. Not only is emotion felt more intensely as a highly sensitive person, but the whole world is perceived and processed on a deeper level.

Going through the world as a highly sensitive person can be very challenging. Especially if we haven’t figured out that we are in fact a highly sensitive person. We might wonder why it seems that other people have an easier time than us. Or wonder why we seem to be more emotional than most. Perhaps we feel fatigued or overwhelmed by things that others are unaffected by. This world is not built for sensitive people. In fact, our world is designed perfectly for those who are detached. This is a problem for highly sensitive people.

Picking up on other people’s emotions easily can be a major challenge for us. It is especially confusing for a sensitive child who is unaware of clairsentience and it’s attributes. It can even remain confusing for adults who know they are clairsentient but have not learned how to hold awareness of their emotions versus other’s. Another challenge for us is how draining it can feel…all the time. Particularly after being around a lot of people or environments. We may be the type of person who needs to withdraw from everyone (including our children) on a regular basis, in order to recharge. Do you remember feeling tired or drained a lot as a teenager or young child? Parents of sensitive children are often unable to help because they do not understand the special needs of highly sensitive people. Do you ever wonder how your life would be different now if you were given helpful information about being highly sensitive when you were a child? There is no doubt that raising awareness of high sensitivity is beneficial for everyone. We can always remember we are meant to go through our challenges. We can trust in the path we have taken and feel empowered knowing we are learning how to cope. We are learning how to thrive. We can finally turning our sensitivities into empowering life changing advantages.

Highly Sensitive As An Advantage

Really, it all comes down to this;

Every highly sensitive person can use their sensitivities as an advantage in this world.

Guess what? Being highly sensitive means having access to more information than most other people! Approximately 15%-20% of the population are HSPs. In other words, we have a leg up. We have an advantage over others in many areas of our lives. Why wouldn’t we use this and take advantage of the situation? We certainly have to deal with all the negative side effects from being sensitive, effects that can range from annoying quirks to all consuming phobias. So I say it’s about time we start turning our sensitivities into assets. Using our traits and our emotions to create the exact life we were meant to live! Are you wondering what these advantages are?

10 Benefits Of Sensitivity

10 ways sensitive people use their sensitivities to their advantage:

  1. Being highly liked by most people because of our easy ability to be empathetic towards other’s emotional states, and being good listeners
  2. Knowing right away whether new people in our lives are a good fit for us
  3. Ability to easily sense when people are not being authentic, strong “phony” radar
  4. Lean towards healthy foods/products because we have problems tolerating toxic substances
  5. Understand relationships in our lives on a deeper level, ability to see the big picture easily
  6. Access to higher creativity from being profoundly moved by music, nature and art
  7. Ability to inspire and influence others easily by our experiencing emotions (such as happiness, 7.joy, peace, excitement, etc.) so intensely that it is felt by others
  8. Strong intuition for knowing the right decision to make in new situations or opportunities/circumstances
  9. Entering a room, building, or environment and knowing whether it is a positive place to be
  10. Ability to feel bodily sensations and functions easily and can take action quickly when something is wrong, know the body intimately.

These are just a few of the advantages we can come to enjoy from being a highly sensitive person. They, along with many others, literally help us shape and create the life we want to live. It’s important to note that these sensitivities may not always be assets in the beginning. There is often a steep learning curve when discovering how to turn sensitivities into advantages. And that’s okay. We all at times allow our circumstances to control us, and inhibit or impede our progress. But we don’t have to suffer for years before learning how to use these traits to create our best possible selves. We can fast track. We can listen to our sensitivities and create the life we were meant to live.

The Illusion Of Answers

Recently I disappointed someone who was seeking answers from me. It raised an interesting introspection for me about the idea of answers and I think it bears discussing.

Why Seek Answers?

I remember when I was quite young – perhaps 6 – being at dinner with my family. At the time my brothers had small cars made of plastic with the name of a brand or model printed on the back although the plastic cars were all the same except for random changes in color. I was expected to stand at one end of the room and when my father held up the small toy at the other end of the room I was expected to say what make or model the car was. I usually guessed correctly – so much so that it became a form of entertainment for visitors to our house.

I remember being terrified of the whole exercise because I was only guessing and I really did not know the answer. However, it was just one example of many instances where being right and mirroring “rightness” so often is more important than being present and living our truth.

Living From Answers

When we live from answers we have a predefined objective and an expectation. That may seem to make sense but there is an inherent problem with it:

No two people, moments or contexts are the same.

So when we attempt to obtain an objective or expectation we are essentially using force on people, places and situations. Not only is it disempowering for us but it is for others as well because no one can know 100% what someone else wants or needs.

Living from answers gives us feelings of control and temporary feelings of security and even pleasure but we give up our power and adaptability which is a lot to give up.

Answers And Choices Are Different

Answers and choices are not the same thing. Living from answers means imposing a predetermined idea on the present. Making a choice is always living in the present within the realities of individuals, contexts and possibilities.

Choices are a living thing. Answers are not.

Choices are about the unfolding of life and answers are about living from the past.

Choices let us offer our gifts to the moment; answers cause us to hide in favor of what is accepted by others.

Choices let us contribute, answers force us to please.

The Peril Of Fixed Goals

Fixed goals and objectives do not allow for course corrections, new information, and better solutions. They may have negative consequences and be inefficient. But we follow them anyway.

It is a curious thing but we seem to have a psychology around not changing that is very strong that prevent us from embracing alternatives. Ideas like:

  • nobody likes a quitter
  • persevere
  • never give up on your dreams
  • when the going get tough, the tough get going

are ideas that cause us to stay the course.

The Price Of Loyalty

These ideas about quitting and perseverance are ideas that value loyalty over intelligence and creativity. We are taught to be loyal to certain ideas, ways of being and identities. We are expected to “make life work” by adhering to rules and roles whether they work for us or not. So what is really being valued is loyalty. Is that the most important value? Where does it stack up against health and quality of life?

Living from answers means living from a loyalty of some kind. Often the loyalty is unquestioned and so we do not understand why with the best of intentions something does not work out for us.

So loosen up the conformity without needed to be rebellious for rebellion’s sake. Give what you can to each moment. Give up answers and ask what each moment needs and you will be more on target more of the time.

 

Embrace Your Wildish Nature

The wild feminine is on the rise and that is good news for highly sensitive people.

The wild feminine is about embracing our wildish natures, the ones that are at home in the energy that embraces us all.

The wild feminine is the part of us that has been demoted by left brained culture and ideas that act as yokes for the aliveness of the universe.

What Is Wildish Nature?

Wildish nature is the nature we have abandoned on our quest to conquer nature.

Wild nature is. It is what we come from, it is ancient wisdom.

Wildish nature is what ancient tribes connected with as their true homes.

Wildish nature is safe, it is on our side. It is all of natural intelligence ready to help us live in our authenticity.

Wildish nature has all in it, so it can be what it needs to be:

  • quiet and still to listen 
  • curious about anything that doesn’t make sense
  • open to all forms in information that is relevant in an situation
  • strategic as called for
  • aggressive when necessary

Wildish is our wholeness interacting with and supported by the universal life force.

Wildish nature is our creativity, our innocence and resourcefulness.

It is our spirits made manifest.

It’s our intuition at work.

Wildish Nature Cannot Be Controlled

One of the things I love about wildish nature is that it cannot be controlled.

In fact the minute you try to control it you have lost it.

As Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in her fabulous book, Women Who Run With Wolves, wildish nature is like a river. It is subject to itself and not any man made laws. It is life itself. It just is.

Wildness isn’t tame but it isn’t pseudo wildness either. It isn’t a pose we put on for others or dressing in a wild way as a defense. There is no one to please, no orders to take. There is only what is and seeing it.

Wildness is honest.

As Dr. Estes writes, wildish nature lives in the life/death/life cycle. Not the product cycle, not the marketing cycle, not the election cycle.

Wildish nature is not organized or compartmentalized. It is receptive and responsive to what is.

Your Wildish Nature Is Your Empowerment

Your wildish nature embraces all aspects of yourself in engaging with life. There is no society to belong to, so class structure, no gold stars and perfect grades, no competitions, and no beauty contests.

Your wildness uses all of your senses, not in the service of self indulgence or consumerism, but as sources of intelligence and information.

There are no targets to hit. There is no growth for growth’s sake. There are no mansions needed.

Your wildish nature embraces the unfolding of all life. It only needs to be with it rather than over or under it.

The left-brained world buts you off from what does not suit it. whatever it deems ugly. So do not grunt or growl. Too ugly!

The left-brained world wants you chasing approval and prizes, while your life’s energy becomes sicker and sicker with the striving.

The left brained world  has its order, and the full river of life is not welcome.

So leave your real Self at the door if you must and sacrifice it for the ordeals of empty achievement.

Or try letting go of it so that you can allow your whole self to breathe again free of the corsets of cultural customs and requirements.

Your Wildish Nature Is Your Friend

Our wildness is a friend. It is a friend to us and lets us be a friend to the other wild things we live with.

Your wildness is all of you including the parts you do not like generally because you have been taught that those parts are ugly: like softness and leaning and relaxing.

Wild nature is  our natural curiosity at home in the real world.

Wildish nature is our intelligence st play.

We really don’t need anything else.

HSPs And The Struggle With Body Image

Growing up highly sensitive can have its disadvantages, for sure. You already know that, and it’s different for each and every HSP. There’s a lot of crossover between us, but we each get to have our very own unique experience. It’s such a journey, right?

What I want to talk to you about today is what I would consider one of the more common “crossover” themes that we experience as HSPs: poor body image.

More specifically—working on perfecting your body.

Self Acceptance And Body Image

As an HSP, I have a strong tendency to want to be in control. This way I am not so overwhelmed. A certain degree of control is healthy and good. The control I’m talking about today is when the control goes to a place where we are sacrificing health to be perfect.

I’m talking about those of us who feel we need to be a different weight to fit in. I’m talking about the ones who feel like they are struggling on a daily basis with loving their bodies, just as they are.

Years ago, before I knew anything about my HSP trait, I was always trying to “get better.” Somehow I landed on using my body image as a way to improve myself. I could not see what was right with me. When I looked in the mirror I focused on every ounce that needed improvement: the scars on my face, the cellulite on my thighs, the bloat in my belly. I set out on a journey to get better quick—because once I got to that magical place surely I would feel less overwhelmed.

I truly felt like people were fixated on my every flaw, just as I was. I believed my thoughts (a dangerous habit for HSPs) and even got into the habit of creating other people’s thoughts for them. My thoughts were so loud, I felt that other people could hear them and were saying things like, “Yes,” in agreement, “you need to lose a few pounds.”

I often joked around that when I grew up I wanted to be somebody. I lived life from that place of not having enough and not being enough. Happiness was surely on the other side of having attained firmer thighs and a flatter tummy – the elusive perfect body image.

So in the midst of working out and trying to control my every bite with food, tirelessly creating my “perfect body” so that I could finally feel free in my own skin and love myself, my therapist at the time had other ideas. She burst right through my perfect bubble when she said something to me that stung hard.

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

Um, excuse me?

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

Speechless.

How dare she! Couldn’t she see that my body wasn’t perfect yet? Did she not see how hard I was working?

“Maybe you’re supposed to be a different size.”

It stayed with me like an echo. I couldn’t shake it.

And she wasn’t talking about a smaller size.

Reframing My Body Image

At the time, I was nowhere close to being overweight. But the thing was—I had never (ever!) considered gaining weight. Why would I do that? It went against everything I had ever learned. I needed to control my weight, right? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do so that I can feel good about myself?

I felt so found out. Did I need to gain weight? It didn’t matter. I was put face to face with a new possibility, which was exactly where I needed to be. Somebody saw me, really saw me, and let me know about something new. The rest was up to me to figure out.

We are saturated with images—daily. We see how we are “supposed” to look, what we are “supposed” to eat, how we are “supposed” to be. The message is seemingly simple: if we succeed—if we become more and more “perfect”—we are granted access to happiness, feeling amazing in our bodies, and feeling loved by everyone around us.

Let me tell you—that is one hard path for anyone to follow, especially if you are an HSP. So why would you want to? It leads to more suffering and more overwhelm. The very things we already often have plenty of in our lives.

Of course, I didn’t get what my therapist said right away. I just took offense to it. I internalized it as I do with most everything and eventually came out on the other side having finally heard what I needed to hear. The message that came through for me was that I get to love myself NOW. In this body. And that I get to love myself in the future—at whatever size body I become.

Somewhere in between now and the future is some “bettering” myself, sure. But the self love can start right now. There’s no need to wait for my thighs to become “bikini ready” (they’re ready NOW when I put on my bathing suit, thanks!)

What do you think? Do you struggle with body image and how do you deal? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

HSPs And Self-Care: Putting Yourself First Is Not Selfish

Highly Sensitive Persons– as a group– tend to be very giving individuals, often putting the needs of others ahead of their own.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a giving nature, but the issue many HSPs end up facing is that they “give and give and give” and end up burning out, at which point there’s nothing left for them to give to the people who are– perhaps– dependent on them.

Is Saying “No” Selfish?

Over the years I’ve met a number of HSPs suffering from such burnout. After a brief conversation, it becomes evident that they may be excellent at caring for everyone else, but they are utterly clueless when it comes to taking care of themselves. In fact they would rather just ignore their own needs altogether.

The conversation might continue for a bit, and we discuss how they have to “take care of Bob’s dogs while he’s away,” and are “doing Susan’s overtime at work while she’s recovering from surgery,” and “helping the neighborhood association with their fundraiser,” and then there’s “this and that family event” involving some family members it turns out this particular HSP doesn’t even like.  It quickly becomes quite evident that they are overloaded, overstimulated and frustrated by the sheer load they are carrying, as a result of caring for the rest of the world.

Have you ever considered simply saying no to some of these people?” I will ask.

Oh, no, no… I couldn’t do that!” comes the reply, “they are depending on me. They need me. Besides, that would be very selfish of me!

Respecting Limits Is Not Selfish

HSPs often struggle with poor or “soft” personal boundaries. They especially struggle with taking on too many things in service of being helpful, and fear using the word “no,” even when it is perfectly appropriate to do so.

One of the most pervasive issues we face as HSPs is how to manage overstimulation; how to deal with a life that simply has “too much stuff” in it. There’s lots of advice out there– seminars, workshops, and guidebooks on how to better manage time, and how to “have it all” through any number of time management systems. For an HSP, however, the problem with all these systems is that their focus is on how to juggle “too many balls,” rather than on how to avoid overextending yourself, in the first place– i.e. how to not pick up too many balls to juggle. This is problematic because a central part of healthy self-care for HSPs is about keeping our load down to a manageable size.

When I mention “taking care of yourself” to an overburdened  HSP, the response I often get is that I am asking them to be “selfish.” And that saying no to someone who’s asking for help just can’t– and shouldn’t– be done. Regardless of whether such a response is the result of a helping and idealistic nature or questionable self-esteem, fact remains that we need to take care of ourselves!

Bottom line: What good are you to ANYone, if you’re too exhausted to keep your promises?

It’s Not Selfish To Be At Your Best For Others

Putting yourself first– when it comes to staying balanced and healthy– is not selfish. This may sound painfully obvious, but when I make that observation I am often facing an assortment of protests. So, when I do point out to someone that they must focus on themselves— and objections arise– I like to distinguish between the words “selfish” (as in, someone who is self-absorbed and self-involved) and “self-ish” (meaning someone who takes healthy care of themselves). I also like to use another metaphor, for illustration purposes. Most of us have been on an airplane. Before the flight starts the flight attendants will go through their “safety on board” demonstration. This includes how to use the oxygen masks, in case of a high altitude decompression. The key element to remember, which they always say: “If you are traveling with a child or someone else who needs your help, please put on your OWN mask before helping the other person.

It’s an important reminder that we HSPs must take care of ourselves before we get too busy taking care of others. And if staying healthy requires it, we must be willing to say “no” to the next person or project clamoring for our attention, if that’s what’s required of us!

How Highly Sensitive People Can Prevent Burnout

If you feel stretched beyond your limit you are not alone. The crushing workloads and stress of so many highly sensitive people  are a prescription for burnout.

You would think that avoiding burnout would simply be a matter of not crossing a threshold of fatigue.

Burnout is not that simple.

Many people in our fast-paced world burn out from the daily demands even if they are not highly sensitive.

For highly sensitive people the problem of burnout is amplified by their naturally higher stress levels caused. The overstimulation we experience is caused by a fast paced, noisy and sensory intense world.

Sources Of Burnout For Highly Sensitive People

Burnout can come from many sources for highly sensitive people:

  • work because we are increasingly expected to be as highly productive and fast-paced as our economic system demands
  • creative burnout since HSPs tend to be highly creative. Creativity does not follow a rigid schedule. However,  the expectation is that it will. Creativity can create pressure all by itself, but with time pressures added, creative burnout can be a result.
  • high empathy can result in serious burnout problems. Our empathy may cause us to dig deep and be extremely conscientious which is an added demand that we place on ourselves. It may not be rewarded, but is something we do to be at peace with ourselves.
  • too much sensory stimulation from all forms of noise, light, chemicals, and electronics to name a few can add also to our burnout potential.
  • toxic relationships, at home and at work are contributing factors as well.

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is not just an emotional problem. Merriam-Webster  defines burnout as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.”

These factors sound simple and probably reflect the reality of non=HSPs. However that does not mean that they do not apply equally to highly sensitive people.

In the case of HSPs, both can be serious factors because our need for rest is high and frequent and because many forms of work do not suit us, in particular all forms of drudgery.

But there are additional factors for highly sensitive people:

  • the rest we need from being around people too much
  • the rest we need from all forms of excessive stimulation:
    • light
    • sound
    • fabric and touch
    • entertainment
    • crowds
    • high pressure situations
    • competitive situations
    • toxic social environments

Work burnout can also occur

  1. when the work we are doing doesn’t suit our skills or interests.
  2. when we know we are not interested in a particular job or task and force ourselves to do it too often
  3. when our work environment is fear-based and highly political
  4. when we have too many emergencies, both at work and at home
  5. when we are sick or a family member is sick causing us to burn the candle at both ends.

Work is a particularly challenging subject for highly sensitive people since we have the need for work that is meaningful, self-paced and our “calling.”

All these factors – the presence of some or absence of others create stress for highly sensitive people. Since our systems are so sensitive, poor health habits will only make all of the potential burnout factors worse.

When we are well we can withstand some turbulence in our lives. When rough spots last too long they start to debilitate us. Life is not meant to be a long emergency.

Assessing Burnout Potential In Your Life

To assess burnout potential in your life, evaluate each aspect of your life below on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being low in stress and burnout potential and 10 being extreme burnout potential.

  1. consider your physical condition:
    • if you are strong and have physical reserves, you may be an HSP who has the ability to withstand long-term stressful situations.
    • if you are an HSP with lower resilience, you need to be careful about how much stress you tolerate and make adjustments to prevent physical burnout.
    • you become fatigued easily
    • you are sick or get sick easily
  2. consider your work situation.
    • are you valued?
    • are you doing work you love r is a lot of it drudgery?
    • do you have the skills you need to succeed in your field?
    • do you work with people who are good for you including taking your sensitivity into account?
    • is the organization well managed so that you are not affected by constant emergencies?
    • do you have to overwork too much?
    • are you compensated well? Are your benefits good?
  3. consider your relationships.
    • start with your family. Is it a warm, loving and supportive family? Are you accepted or are you generally frustrated by the disregard and unhappiness in your family?
    • do you have close supportive friends who accept and understand your sensitivity?
    • do you have a community you are a part of that is also supportive of your HSP trait?
    • are you happy with your social life?
    • are your work relationships good and productive?
  4. consider the time of year.
    • are there certain times when you are more overloaded than others and at risk of burnout?
    • are there times when the people around you are overloaded and your responsibilities increase as a result?
  5. consider the overall stress conditions in your life?
    • do you have burnout in some or two area spilling over into others and are you able to take time to heal?
    • do you see the potential for burnout to develop in any area in the future?
    • when you look at your burnout assessment how does it look to you? piece of cake? manageable? serious burnout potential?

There are no right answers and no score to determine your burnout potential. Your assessment is a map of your current situation so that you can easily get a high level view of your current situation.

With your assessment in hand, it might be useful to consider whether your burnout challenges are people challenges, time management challenges, or a need to develop skills. Sometimes we lack a skill set that could make our life easier, save time and reduce stress.

Steps To Prevent Burnout

Anyone can suffer from burnout. Highly sensitive people are likely to be more quickly affected than others by a high demand culture. But there are some steps you can take to insulate from the worst effects of burnout.

Here are 9 things you can do to prevent your sensitivity from turning into full blown burnout:

  1. strengthen your body first.  Improve your energy by getting a great night’s sleep, exercising, keeping hydrated and eating well.  Detox your body since toxins can build up causing debility over time. Take herbs to support your nervous system and defuse the impact of stress on your body.
  2. learn to meditate to relieve stress and help you with emotional balance. A long term meditation practice can help you detach from toxic people and helps restore your nervous system.
  3. make a list of all the areas of your health that you need to work on and set priorities for them.
  4. research on the internet about areas of your life that need significant improvement. Do not be afraid to tackle large issues like career choices and family problems.
  5. do not be afraid to cut back on commitments that are too draining.  Your other commitments will benefit from your improved attention. You are not responsible for others expectations.
  6. upgrade your skills to keep yourself marketable and functioning well and minimize job stress.
  7. for the tasks you hate, you have several options: drop them if they are really unimportant, break them up into small bite size work units so that you only have to so it for a short time, delegate them, or trade your undesired task with someone else’s undesired task. Avoid drudgery. It is notoriously draining for HSPs.
  8. determine what is most important to you so that you increase your time spent on your high value activities and therefore increase your satisfaction. It will cushion you from less pleasant experiences.
  9. treat burnout as a life-time concern that you can eliminate but taking good care of your life. It is a serious challenge for HSPs but one worth taking on.

Everyone’s life matters and everyone deserves to enjoy their life.

HSPs need to learn to say no. You do not have to carry the world on your shoulders.

When you are flexible, mindful about commitments and your highly sensitive nature and take excellent care of yourself you are doing what is necessary to beat burnout.

Preventing burnout is one of the most important things a highly sensitive person can do.

It is worth the effort.

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.

Why HSPs Need To Reclaim The Creative Process

 

Most people think the creative process is just about coming up with ideas. Our culture separates ideas from making things, but treats even the process of generating ideas as something to be manufactured. As a result, our relationship to our creativity is affected by our cultural model.

Manufacturing is not a natural HSP energy and can cause a feeling of disconnection in highly sensitive people who are more creative and holistic. One way highly sensitive people can embrace their natural energies and creativity is by reclaiming the creative process.

How Culture Can Affect The Creative Process

The Industrial Age brought with it a huge change in how things are made. Machines became the go-to resource for making the things we use in our lives.

At the time it was a great idea, because machines were able to produce in large quantities and therefore meet large unmet needs of the human population. The Industrial Age, through the combination of carbon energy sources and new engineering skills, was a dream come true as a way to make life finally livable.

There was a cost, however. We started delegating the making of things, and we humans became administrators, strategists and accumulators. We stopped making as individuals and lost the skills that go with that.

When we changed we also began to see creativity differently. Manufacturing became the dominant activity for us and we translated the manufacturing process into every aspect of human life. We manufactured goods, lifestyles, identities, legacies, memes and cultural myths, and, of course, ideas.

Ideas and the making of what an idea proposed became distinct realms governed by different people, systems  and authorities.

Creativity And The Creative Process Suffers

Creativity never dies – it is a natural and fundamental part of life. However, it has suffered under materialism. Conformity to materialistic ideals was an expectation of the age. How else do you pay for all those factories, buildings and other products?

Although our standard of living improved, to get there, creativity was discouraged in schools and elsewhere. It left creative people feeling starved for a place in the world. Art and art making were relegated to the sidelines and creative people treated as flakes. Serious people were materialistic achievers, not creatives.

Nothing and no one escape the age they live in and art was as affected by the materialistic age as were all other spheres of life. Art adapted in some ways. Art making became art production. Art adopted the language of the age and some artists even achieved stardom.

The Split

Nowadays we think of creativity as the manufacture of ideas. Creativity is just something else we produce like widgets. It is an activity when it needs to be a way of being.

When you learn about Ayurveda, the holistic health system, you discover that all aspects of nature are intelligent. Therefore, all aspects of nature are part of the ongoing creation we call life.

In the materialistic age, we have been dominated by the idea that the mind and brain are where intelligence resides. The rest of us is just plumbing. The reason this is important is because the “mind over matter” idea objectifies everything. There really is no creativity. There is only the manipulation of what exists.

Materialism, however, is not an accurate picture of the world. Whether your point of view is spiritual, creative or holistic healing, life and creativity are not just about what we see. The world is not divided into material and not material, mind, and matter, responsible people and creatives.

Why HSPs Need To Reclaim The Whole Creative Process

The current age has made life difficult for highly sensitive people for many reasons. One of those reasons is living with and trying to survive in a culture whose energy is inimical to them. The cultural model is a compartmentalized one, and HSPs are holistic people.

Embracing all aspects of the creative process: the idea, the process of making the idea real and releasing it to the world, means that you now have a way of engaging that your nature can support. You are no longer at odds with yourself in order to survive.

That is a great place for HSPs to be, because so often our being different is a barrier to our development and progress. Embracing the creative process puts your life back under your control.

It may feel strange but eventually it will feel great.