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.

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.   

4 Ways To Stop Absorbing Other People’s Energies

Learning to stop absorbing other people’s energies could be the biggest challenge facing highly sensitive people and empaths. We easily feel what other people feel, whether it is a family member, the grocery store clerk, a co-worker, or a stranger. Going through our day to day life requires a certain awareness in order to distinguish between our feelings and others. This ability to recognize what we are taking on allows us to make a conscious choice about what to do next. Though we gain a lot from this unique ability, we often pay a hefty price for it. We can feel controlled by this trait and allow it to influence where we go and who we see. But there is another way to live. We can learn to thrive in the world with this special gift, we just need the right tools.

Tools To Stop Absorbing Other People’s Energies

  1. Get Grounded – this is the most important thing we can do in the morning, or anytime.  It’s no secret highly sensitive people have trouble staying grounded because we feel everything so intensely and live in our heads. But grounding ourselves is the first step to take if we don’t want to carry around other’s emotions and energies as if they were our own. In 5 minutes or less, you can do the following;
    • Visualize roots growing out of the bottom of the feet, reaching deep into the ground. Picture this until the feet feel weighed down.
    • Run cool water on the wrists, or bring the wrists together, one on top of the other, with the hands going in opposite directions. Hold for 5 minutes. Take    a shower or bath. 
    • Spend 5 minutes meditating, focusing on deep inhalations and exhalations.
    • Say the word OM, drawing out the word slowly and repeat it for 5 minutes. Feel the vibration of the word in the body.
    • Sit on or touch the earth/ground. Walk on the ground in bare feet. Hug a tree.
  2. Visualize – visualization is very effective for keeping other people’s energy separate from our own. To do this we can visualize ourselves in a personal box. This box has four walls surrounding us, with a lid on top of our head. This box is designed for positive energies to enter, but repels energies we don’t want. People can’t tell we put it there. We still sense what others are feeling and thinking, however, once we have recognized their energies it stays with them. The energy does not become entangled in ours and it does not stay in our box.
  3. Clear – this is highly useful after we have absorbed unwanted energy. While alone and in a quiet place, we start to swipe away the energy surrounding the body. We cup the hands and start above our head. Using both hands, we cut through the energy in a quick, swiping action, pushing it away. Our hands are clearing our head area, then move down to the neck, chest, abdomen and so on. Continue all the way down to the feet. When we are done, we picture ourselves in a white bubble. We have effectively cleared stored energy from other people out of our personal area.
  4. Do The Work – this step is more complex than the others but cannot be ignored. We take on other people’s emotions, thoughts, and sensations easily but have we ever stopped and questioned why? There is a tendency for us to be unconsciously attracted to helping and healing others. One way we do this is by adsorbing other people’s toxic energy and letting them feed off of our higher vibrations. Whether we are aware or not, we are getting something out of this transaction. This is where we need to do some inner work. We must examine our core beliefs and honestly question ourselves about what the pay off is. Who would we be without this trait? What could we do with our lives? How do we feel when we help to heal others? How do we help heal ourselves? How do we feel about boundaries? Does worthiness play a role? These are all questions we can explore while doing our inner work. When we uncover outdated hidden beliefs, we can let them go and replace them with new ones. How about this one;

“I am worthy of a happy life, filled with thoughts, emotions, and sensations that I choose.”

By using these four powerful techniques to stop absorbing unwanted energy, we are free to focus on other things. We can use our new found energy to accomplish the dreams and goals we set out for ourselves. We are free to move through the world in a new, empowering way. A way that allows us to use this unique gift to our benefit, and to the benefit of the world.

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.

Creating Harmony: When Not To Try And Make It Work

I like harmony.

I suspect that many HSPs do.

Harmony to me is important because at its best it tells us that we are making effective choices.

At its worst, we are keeping a destructive peace.

Which is operating in your life?

Why Is Harmony So Elusive?

I have often wondered why harmony is so elusive.

As a young girl, there was so much acrimony around me that I would scratch my head until it bled. I found it so upsetting.

All the conflict and misery also seemed very unnecessary.

I did not get it.

My parents grew up during the depression and World War II, so perhaps that explains some of it. If you grow up during a war, war can become your reality and it certainly seemed that war was their reality.

But I ended up thinking that their childhood spent in war was not the total answer.

Sensitivity And Conflict

I pick up on conflict easily.

I also find it uncomfortable since often what causes conflict are unresolved past issues, denial, expectations – in other words, the issues and problems people do not want to see or engage about.

Like many HSPs, I can absorb the unhappiness around me, and it brings me down.

I often do not know what to do with my awareness but know I do not want to cause harm. That is important to me.

However, if I encounter a conflict or unresolved problem and say nothing then I have a problem with myself. At the end of the day I have to be able to feel that I have made good choices to be square with myself.

Being sensitive sometimes means that I feel caught between a rock and a hard place. I live in the spaces between thoughts and actions, intentions and results, wishes and realizations, ideas and reality. It’s a place where non HSPs do not see. It creates our disconnect, our disharmony. I would love for it to be different so we could share a similar space to work from.

Sensitivity And The Big Picture

Sensitives notice the disconnects the places where something does not work. It is also part of our natures to be conscientious so we can be very uncomfortable with all of the loose ends, that are left to be taken are of. Guess who usually does that.

In our zeal to promote well-being and good will we can be the ones who do the little things that get overlooked, fix the places were denial left a gap, and extend ourselves beyond our breaking point to keep things working when those around us don’t care about it so much.

But we do.

Sometimes we are the ones who care too much.

It can not only exhaust us but also break us.

It can cause us to feel lonely, neglected and cheated.

We need a better way.

How Capitalistic Thinking Hurts HSPs

Capitalism is essentially an acquisitive, exploitive system.

Its drive for profit means that people may skim for the good and leave whatever is “unprofitable” to them. Taking care of loose ends is often considered unprofitable activity even if having things run smoothly makes life better and more enjoyable.

The demand for profit skews the way people invest their time. It forces people to be opportunistic. It also means that people may want benefits without incurring the costs – something for nothing.

The point is that our system is not communitarian, but HSPs often are and therefore may spend time serving that which is overlooked in the service of profit causing us to feel taken advantage of.

Service and exploitation are not the same thing.

HSPs Need For Self Protection

We HSPs need to consider how we are using our time.

Are we doing other people’s work?

Are we fixing things for others but not ourselves?

Are people taking our time with problems that are not our own?

Are we being “delegated to” and taken for granted?

Are we expected to clean up after others?

How To Own Your Time

The easiest way to limit being taken advantage of is to get a handle on certain realities:

  • you only have so much time as does everyone else and you need to respect your limits
  • you are not responsible for the excesses of other people
  • you have a right to set your priorities and a responsibility to make sure you are taken care of.
  • it is good to let others solve their own problem
  • people become more responsible when they clean up after themselves.

Taking back your time is a great way to rebalance your life and make sure that you are taking care of yourself, and not just keeping the peace at your expense.

We HSPs are precious and need to treat our time and energy as important.

When we do, interpersonal conflicts can diminish and we can let go of taking care of everyone else at our expense.

Then we can flourish and thrive.

Sounds good to me.

In Search Of A Real Conversation

I like a real conversation.

I do not like a faux conversation.

I do not like pretend conversations.

I do not like manipulative conversations.

It can be quiet around me.

What Is A Real Conversation, Anyway?

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

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

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

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

Real Conversation Is Slow

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

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

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

A Real Conversation Is Lighter

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

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

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

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

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

A real conversation is a place for friends.

Those Pesky Boundaries

Fuzzy boundaries?

Boundaries are one of the biggest challenges facing highly sensitive people.

They can be a source of aggravation and unhappiness.

There are many reason why boundary issues are a problem for us, some having to do with us and others having to do with the world.

It would help if we could get a handle on them.

Why Boundary Issues Are Different For Highly Sensitive People

Boundaries are personal and impersonal.

When we stop eating because we are full, we are responding to a natural boundary.

When we are on time for an appointment we are respecting a social boundary.

When we stop our car at a stop sign we are responding to a societal boundary.

Those boundaries are fairly easy to deal with.

Then there are the others.

These are values and identity boundaries that create all sorts of problems.

An identity boundary would be the one on same sex marriage that is being challenged and overturned.

A values boundary would be one about war, or greed. Values boundaries show up in the priorities we set.

Setting boundaries is different for HSPs. Highly sensitive people often have humanitarian and compassionate values that conflict with the world around them. Their physical needs are greater and therefore they will have situational challenges in setting boundaries.

So what can we do about this?

Step 1: Know Yourself And Your Needs As A Highly Sensitive Person

This first step in creating boundaries is to make some time to consider your needs and ideas.

You need to create a way to confidently handle boundary issues. When you have that map in your mind, you will be able to handle conflict in a way that works for you and hopefully the other person, whether they are highly sensitive or not.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. what are my most cherished and essential values? Being clear about your values helps you identify good choices which is important for HSPs. Values are the core of your boundary strategy and what you most need to honor.
  2. what are my most important priorities, including the priorities you have to have because you are highly sensitive? It is easier to respond effectively to others, when you are respecting your most important priorities.
  3. what is non-negotiable for me? Non-negotiable items are related to your values or conditions in your life like your health. For highly sensitive people, their need for frequent breaks to manage stress is critical.
  4. what can I be flexible about?  This can be a difficult question for HSPs. When we are too flexible we run the risk of wearing ourselves out.
  5. how do I typically handle trade-offs? Do they usually work for me or not? There is nothing wrong with making sacrifices, but if they are too frequent they can leave you feeling resentful and burned out.

When considering how you want to handle boundary issues, think about all aspects of your life and your needs. Then consider your environment to create the most workable solutions for yourself and others.

Step 2: Plan Strategies For Difficult Situations

We all have challenging boundary situations.  When you are highly sensitive your different values can make boundary issues more uncomfortable. However, you can help yourself a lot if you do your homework and some planning. Here are some planning considerations:

  1. identify the boundary situations that are most difficult for you.
  2. notice when you feel you have no ground to stand on during a conflict. Is it because your values are different? Is it because you feel disrespected? Do you have trouble with someone else’s sense of entitlement?
  3. notice when empathy is a problem for you.
  4. when you start to feel manipulated? Is it when someone is unhappy? or complaining? Is it when someone makes decisions for you? or has expectations that are never discussed or explicitly agreed to? Does someone take your things without asking? Notice when you are being treated dismissively.
  5. when you are uncomfortable taking action? Is it when someone is very sarcastic, dismissive, or contemptuous? Who do you have a hard time challenging?
  6. do you have challenging situations that lend themselves to a direct one-on-one approach or perhaps more indirect strategy where you need to have a group on your side to effect change.
  7. identify when you need to treat yourself as important as everyone else and may not.

Step 3: Develop Your Strategy

As a general rule, most people want good relationships as much as you do. Most people are not looking for unnecessary conflicts.

If you respect others and their concerns, they will likely do the same. Therefore when you are willing to listen to the another person, it is common courtesy that do the same, and you are entitled to expect the same in return.

It also helps to be in a constructive frame of mind. When you ask questions of the other person you can then offer suggestions, alternatives or even substitutes for what is being asked of you.

If I were to create a formula for a boundary setting process it would be:

  1. establish a positive intent. “I love how my blouse looks on you…”
  2. state a concern.  “That blouse was a gift and is important to me.”
  3. ask questions if necessary. “We need to figure out a holiday schedule.  What is your situation and do you have any ideas?”
  4. ask for what you need in a way that respects the other person.  “I like to help when I can but I need for you to ask if you want to borrow my things.”
  5. get agreement. ” Does that work for you?”

Successful problem solving is a combination of respect and creativity.  When you combine both, your chances of a positive outcome increase.

Step 4: The Tough Cases For Highly Sensitive People

When you have a difficult or stubborn situation, it can help to come up with way to change the existing dynamic. This can be challenging for highly sensitive people because we are often seeking results that are not the norm.

Here are some possibilities:

  1. change the other person’s perception of your value. Most HSPs are devalued so you may need to develop some skill in promoting your interesting ideas.
  2. change the social dynamic. Sometime you can ignore someone who is being difficult. In some situations you may need to insist that someone become more reasonable.You can also use humor to loosen people up when they have dug in their heels. Laughter works wonders.
  3. you may need to throw in the towel. Perhaps you have heard the story about the villagers who caught a monkey by putting peanuts inside a coconut shell. The monkey found and grabbed the peanuts in the shell. He wanted to hold onto the peanuts but could not run away from the villagers at the same time. All he had to do was let go and he would have escaped. Sometime letting go is best. It creates space for new ideas to develop and head to cool.

Step 6: The Key To Boundary Happiness

I believe that the key to boundaries and good relationships lies in being in a constructive frame of mind. When the people around feel valued and appreciated, they will be in a positive frame of mind when working with you.

It also helps to have a sense of humor and to be creative.

Highly sensitive people can have a tough time with boundaries. Our empathy can make us too helpful, and stress and fatigue can overtake us easily. We have to take our natures into account but we also can be afraid that we will then be rejected. Sometimes we have to stick our toe in the water a little at a time to find arrangements that work for us.

When you are willing to do so, you are not just taking from others, but you are enabling yourself to be at your best which is a way of giving to others. Hopefully thinking that way will make the risk seem worth it.

 

 

An Easy Way To Handle Differences

Do you have difficulty handling differences? All of us do to a degree. For highly sensitive people, however, differences can seem dangerous because we have usually experienced so much invalidation that we can become afraid of differences. I know I have. So what can we do?

Why Differences Become A Problem

Differences become a problem because of three important factors:

  1. how we relate to our perceptions
  2. how we relate to our experiences
  3. how we define ourselves

All of these factors have one thing in common: we are making ourselves the basis of reality. Once we do that we are opening the door to lots of problems for ourselves and others.

How Perceptions Create Differences?

For many decades since the Marketing Age began, we have been told that “perception is reality.” Many if not most people have accepted that as truth. At one time, this new idea about perception was probably a welcome relief to people because for so long, individual perceptions had to conform to prevailing dogma – or else. The idea of perception being a reality rather than ideology loosened us up. The world started to make room for different points of view. Even if we were still constricted in many ways, we could have every flavor of ice cream imaginable! It was a new age. The “perception is reality” idea had other benefits:

  • we could now make changes
  • we could take greater ownership of our lives
  • we could develop skills
  • we could flex our creativity muscles

In opening the door for the individual, however, we left community behind in our quest for improved living conditions and personal achievements. What we did is create a distortion to create a culture of the individual, a culture that let us develop as never before. Although personal development was long overdue, we nonetheless went overboard in emphasizing the individual and forgot about our commonality. We oversimplified reality as we also increased our receptivity to different points of view. It was an achievement but not necessarily an accurate depiction of reality.

How Experiences Create Differences

In a competitive consumer based culture, experience matters and has economic consequences. I have absolutely nothing against good experiences, however, sometimes they have the unpleasant tendency to become hardened into entitlements, rights or expectations. We all like to enjoy life, however, there is so much that is beyond our control. In a hyper-individualized society, we expect the individual to have full control over their lives even if they do not. It is an oversimplification that harms us all. As a result, many of us have learned to judge ourselves and others on the basis of our experiences.

People who have provided good experiences are supposedly good people and people who have provided bad experiences are bad people. Our individual focused society has resulted in our turning experience into a marker of identity, social desirability, and status: a trophy of sorts. It can sometimes make up self-serving. At the personal level, many of us identify with our experiences.We or others may think that our experiences are a reflection on us. If we identify with our experiences we may also seek to perpetuate them and lose our ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Most importantly we are in conflict with the reality that we are not in control of so much and so we are creating conflict within ourselves and with others by misperceiving reality.

How Identity Creates Differences

I am what I define myself to be and everything else is not me. Often when we create an identity we then need to maintain it; it becomes our suit of armor in everyday life. Identities are usually but not always a social construct. They are often an organizing point for our perceptions and experiences. This collaboration of identity, perception, and experiences is often what we use to define ourselves and life. That means that anyone who does conform to our definition is essentially threatening our cherished life view and our personal identity.

How Can We Solve The Problem Of Differences?

The way to solve the problem of differences is with a dose of reality. We need to remind ourselves that:

  • nothing in life is fixed: our feelings, perceptions, experiences and identities.
  • if we have a fixed view, others are not obligated to uphold them.
  • each of us has limited knowledge. No matter how much time we spend learning, there is no way that we can have all knowledge. No one can and so we are limited by our own ignorance as is everyone else. All perceptions will, therefore, be incomplete.
  • each of us has a limited number of experiences in life. We all have limitations based on our experiences.

Embracing our incompleteness as well as the incompleteness of others as we grapple with the amazing experience of living is a great way to not only be more accurate but also to be kinder and more compassionate. It is a better way to live. It also helps us to avoid unnecessary differences and enjoy our experiences of other people. It helps us to relax in our differences and not take them so seriously. It makes it easier for us to friends with others who are different. For highly sensitive people, being able to relax around other people who are different is an important need. Reminding ourselves of the limitations and transience of everything can be a big relief.

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.

Criticism Is Not Problem Solving

Much has been written about criticism and the inner critic.

So why another article?

It seems to me that we take criticism for granted as an OK thing to do.

Perhaps it is our consumer culture run amok. Isn’t complaining how you get something done?

Maybe to some but I think we need a rethink about this topic.

Is Criticism Really Problem Solving?

I don’t think so.

Criticism is not problem solving. Criticism often feels intense, but criticism can be deceptive because it feels as if we are doing something when we are criticizing someone or something. However, more often than not we are not really doing anything when we criticize except putting our displeasure on someone else.

I am not suggesting that all criticism is a mistake – far from it. Without displeasure and criticism we could not improve and progress.

However, all criticism is not equal. In our consumer culture, convenience is an expectation and the absence of it often treated as a problem. This is one  kind of criticism that deserves questioning. Were we promised a convenient world?

Criticism And The Need To Be Right

Criticism can often feel strange or a little bit unreal. After all, the sun does not rise and judge us. The wind does not criticize us. A red light will not mouth off at us when we are driving through it. So criticism is our personal expression of some sort of disharmony, dissonance or displeasure.

Implicit in any criticism or judgment is the thinking that there is a right way to think, be, or do something. This is another form of criticism that deserves questioning.

One of the biggest difficulties people have in relinquishing their critical views is that they may feel that their point of view is perfectly reasonable – and they may be right. However, the result of being right and reasonable creates an obstacle to problem solving. Instead of seeking solutions to problems by opening themselves to ideas, many people turn others into the “problem” and are off and running trying to fix their identified “problem”.

Curiosity: The Missing Link

So what is wrong with this picture?  For starters, something is missing.

One thing that is missing is curiosity. Curiosity is a wonderful way to find a bridge between perceptual differences. Curiosity is about possibility whereas criticism is often about lack.  Curiosity can help us see better when we are willing to learn.

Curiosity takes a fixed position and opens it up to new ideas. It enables an individual to engage a conflict with a beginners mind and find a solution to whatever the problem is. Being curious softens self-righteous and entrenched positions.

Criticism often comes from a fixed perspective because it assumes that a “right” answer in advance so most differences will be seen as wrong.

A fixed position is often outcome oriented so an individual with a fixed perspective will have more difficulty understanding an unexpected result than someone who recognizes the fluid nature of processes and the potential and likelihood of different outcomes.

HSPs And Criticism

Highly sensitive people are frequently faced with many critics because of their different perceptions, talents, and processing capabilities.  They will often be misunderstood.  By trying to shift the interpersonal ground from criticism to problem-solving  by inviting curiosity they have a greater chance of improved outcomes for themselves and others.

For Additional Information:

Toxic Criticism

Toxic Criticism and Developing Creativity