How To Embrace What You Are Feeling

Reconnecting With Your Feelings - HSP Health Blog
Reconnecting With Your Feelings - HSP Health Blog

Source: r faria 100

You need to be able to identify what you are feeling.

There really aren’t any good or bad emotions—they all carry a valuable message—even hatred and fear. Feelings bear important news; tell us what we thrive on and what we don’t, what energizes us and what drains us. They troubleshoot by showing us where to tweak; like a game of hide and seek they say cold, warmer, hot.

A Feeling Is A Messenger

The first step then is to be aware of what you are feeling. Step two is to interpret the feeling; ask “what is this feeling trying to tell me?”

Often our feelings are just telling us we need to nurture ourselves back into a state of strength and alignment—be kinder and more compassionate toward our selves or re-arrange our priorities.

The trick is to embrace and practice positive feeling patterns, so they become dominant—our default program. As we become increasingly aware of how we’re feeling from moment to moment, we become more adept at consciously creating our emotional climate, independent of other people and outside influences.

Powerful! Handle With Care

Emotional energy is one of the greatest powers on earth, a force of nature—capable of creating life and wreaking untold destruction.

Learning to manage your emotions is a bit like learning to drive a Ferrari—beyond exhilarating done with expertise, but potentially lethal if you’re not aware of what you’re doing. Speed and momentum builds exceptionally quickly. Slamming it into drive and flooring the accelerator without checking whether there’s a wall in front of you is not smart!

It’s advisable with emotions—and Ferraris to put them in park, pay attention to what’s going on around you, in which direction you’re pointing and then accelerate—gradually….

Choosing Emotional Responses

Imagine you are walking toward a dangerous or destructive experience, like lurching into the jaws of a hungry lion—and you’re thinking oh crap, I know how this story ends and I really don’t want to be lion lunch! Because you are now more aware of your emotional direction; more attuned to how they make you feel, you are in charge of where your emotions take you. You are no longer helplessly propelled by them.

So you stop, check your emotional pulse, do a mental pirouette and reach for a thought that takes you in the opposite direction, followed by another similar thought, and another, and another—that gradually lead you away from being sucked into a feeling you don’t want.

For instance why the hell does he always say that? Why does he always know best, tell me what to do, treat me like a child? It’s not as though his life is such a shining example of success and happiness. I hate it when he does this. What right has he got….and so the momentum builds.

Stop! Take your emotional pulse. Do a mental pirouette and start a new thought thread like, I’m not sure of his motivation for saying these things. Maybe he means well, maybe he doesn’t but I will not allow his words to catapult me into feeling angry and resentful. I can choose how I feel and I choose right now to ignore his comments. I choose to think of something that makes me feel confident about my abilities, something that makes me smile….and so that momentum builds.

Your Emotions Are Too Powerful To Use Irresponsibly

How about reclaiming ownership of them now:

  • Hug someone—your self first
  • Regularly list all the things you’ve achieved, overcome and excelled at—notice how this makes you feel
  • Make a list of all you appreciate in your life—it will show you what is most meaningful to you
  • Get to know your self—reflect, do self hypnosis or meditate for ten minutes today
  • Support or praise someone who needs it—your self first
  • Remind your self how valuable you are—often
  • Decide as soon as you open your eyes that this is going to be a magnificent day and everything is going to go your way
  • Anytime you feel yourself slipping out of alignment, pivot and get right back on track
  • Laugh often—and take note of what makes you laugh
  • Evaluate whether your goals are really in alignment with your self. If they’re not, change them—or your perception of them
  • See the best in everyone and everything—especially your self
  • Find solutions—don’t dwell on problems
  • Read, listen to, interact with and watch only stuff that lifts you up
  • Honor your feelings. They are valuable messengers and will keep you in alignment, even when life tries to push you off your perch

Just like our biological immune system, when our emotional immune system is strong, balanced and healthy, opportunistic emotional saboteurs cannot hijack how we feel.

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Feelings—A Sensory Tracking Device For An Overstimulated World

Feelings—A Sensory Tracking Device For An Overstimulated World - HSP Health Blog

Feelings are our sensory feedback system. They provide us with vital information that we need to take care of ourselves and keep ourselves on track. But we’re trapped in a blizzard of ever increasing stimuli.

The sensory pressures many of us are exposed to on a daily basis are enough to kill a cage full of lab rats. Sensory overload is becoming a way of life—but are our biological systems designed for this kind of sensory terrorism?

Overstimulation Affects Sensory Processing

Over stimulation occurs when exposure to sensory experiences is too overwhelming for our nervous systems to successfully process.

Picture a busy street, shopping mall or club where the smell of exhaust fumes, smoke, perfume, sweat, food and ‘fresheners’ compete for air space;voices talking, singing or shouting, screaming children, car engines revving, horns blaring, sirens wailing, the crescendo of jet engines, electronic screeches, burps and beeps, mobile ring tones, the drone of television commentaries and public address systems, deafening music, being pummeled, jostled and pushed in a crowd; the visual impact of blinking lights, rapid video sound bites, speeding vehicles, billboard advertisements, a chaotic kaleidoscope of colors, movement and flashing lights, people dancing or running or vehicles roaring by in a blur.

A relentless flood of sensory experiences like these overwhelming our nervous systems can lead to sensory shut down, angry outbursts or irrational behavior, because we cannot efficiently process this level of conflicting stimuli.

Media And Social Stress Add To Overstimulation

Added to this, the daily news media’s drip feed of tragedy and chaos, destruction, deprivation or looming disasters create a palpable level of mass anxiety.

Now pile more bricks onto this relentless load—intense personal challenges like job loss, financial debt, divorce, abuse, disease or death of a loved one. Add the burden of personal trauma, loss or low self esteem and we have a recipe for emotional disaster. We are creating a culture dominated by stress, tension, and fear—a response pattern characterized by high frequency brain waves termed beta waves. We are functioning on high alert all the time. Our senses are in danger of disintegrating in a sea of excess stimulation, while our emotions become mired in confusion, pain and powerlessness.

No wonder many of us have lost contact with our feelings—a vital feedback system.

Because it’s a way of life, these pressures are incremental and cumulative. They build up over time until we’re caught in a spiral of emotional turbulence—or shut down. And since our feedback system has been disabled, we don’t realize how deeply we’ve been sucked into this destructive vortex.

The advertising media then swamps us with a smorgasbord of chemical quick fixes, to further shut down our sensory alarm system! Unsurprisingly, when greeted with the traditional how are you—we respond robotically, fine—even if we’re in the middle of a meltdown or have succumbed to emotional paralysis!

The truth is many of us no longer know how we feel. We’ve just resigned ourselves to being victims of our environment.

In the next installment of this blog we’ll talk about Reconnecting with your Feelings.

 

Tips For The Urban HSP

Tips For Urban HSPs

As an HSP, I sometimes think I must be truly nuts to be living in New York City, a place that seems like the very embodiment of the word “overstimulation.”

Crowded, loud, bright and always on, it can be a nightmare for the senses.

If you let it.

I’ve lived here for nearly 15 years now, and I’ve found ways to make it work. (I have a bit of a dream writing job, and this is one of the only places I can really do it, which is why I don’t leave, in case you’re wondering. Also, nearly everyone I love is here, which adds weight to the case for sticking around.)

 Attitude For An Urban HSP

I think the lessons I’ve learned as a Big Apple HSP can be helpful for all, particularly those who might be living in other, smaller urban environments. I think you have to start by just seeing city life slightly differently than many. Here, I think there’s often a default attitude of, “Only in New York! Gotta love it!” when, for example, you’re on a crowded train at 9 a.m. and all of a sudden theres’s a mariachi band furiously playing, mere inches away from your face.

No.

You actually don’t have to love it. (I suspect very few people love it, but I applaud their generally optimistic ability to pretend that they do.)

So here are a few of the survival tips I’ve come up with to make being an NYC urban HSP work for me.

Protect Your Hearing

1) Get good headphones, and don’t be afraid to use them.
I’ve always been shocked that so many people are willing to put up with the crappy white headphones that come with an Apple product. They make my ears sore after only a few minutes of listening, and they don’t fit well enough to filter out ambient noise (nor do they stop everyone around you from hearing your music, one of my big pet peeves about public transportation these days: if you’re not wearing headphones yourself, you are more often than not subjected to the contents of someone else’s).

No, I’m talking about getting some of those little rubbery ear buds, or, if you’re loaded, a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones (they’re on my wish list). A little of your own curated music can radically change a walk through a chaotic city street, a subway car filled with yammering people and blaring conductor announcements, or a store where four overly cheerful salespeople come up to you within the span of a minute and say, “How ARE you today? Can I help you find anything?” Just point sheepishly to your headphones, as if they are surgically implanted in your head and totally beyond your control, and move away.

2) If you’ve got a smartphone, get a white noise app.
Music is good in many situations, but I find that when I need to really concentrate on reading or writing something, it’s too distracting. My white noise app is the best thing about my iPhone by far. Mine lets me create my own mixes of soothing sounds: beach waves crashing and light rain! Tree frogs and oscillating fan! Or just plain old white noise. Actually, brown noise, which is softer than white noise. Check it out, you’ll see what I mean. Any of these will instantly reduce my HSP stress by half. It’s also genius for hotel rooms while traveling (more on this in my upcoming sleep tips post).

Protect Your Boundaries

3) Make subway rides work for you. As Elaine Aron might put it, use your boundaries. Don’t worry about everyone else’s feelings so much. My instinct is generally to try to make other people feel good, so I’m not all that comfortable saying no or shutting things down even when I really need a break from human beings (which is pretty often).

But I’ve found that in order to stay sane, you have to just power through that instinct and be a little protective of yourself. For example: when riding on the train, someone sits down next to me eating an egg sandwich. She seems perfectly nice otherwise and part of me doesn’t want her to feel like a leper if I get up and move. But you know what? An egg sandwich smells disgusting, and it’s ruining the precious half-hour of down time I have in the morning. So I’m gone.

Ditto someone who’s having a loud, laughing cell phone conversation next to me. Or twitching just slightly oddly in a way that suggests they might be a bit off. Or wearing pungent perfume. Just get up and move. You’ll feel so much better when you do.

Similarly, when I’m leaving work and someone tries to catch me and take the train with me, I generally come up with a reason to split off (“I have to make a call first,” or “I have to run an errand”). I find that when my subway ride gets diverted into chitchat or small talk, I tend to reach my destination feeling depleted and annoyed, which reduces my ability to be present for whatever my next activity was. So I just find non-mean ways of getting out of the shared subway ride.

It’s best for everyone.

The Challenge Of Smelly Air

4) Get an air filter
One of my least favorite things about New York is the smells. And I’m not even talking about the stereotypical pee and garbage aromas, which tend, in my experience, to be a bit overstated. No, it’s the cooking smells that really do me in.

Apartment building living just inevitably comes with having to share the air with other people who like different food than you, and if you’re an HSP, those odors can feel like a punch in the face. Someone down the hall from me must, I think, own a deep fryer, because nearly every night it smells like Popeye’s in the hallway. This is not OK. This smell makes me deeply sad. But I can deal with it, because I have a pretty decent air filter going in my apartment’s entryway. It also just offers some psychological support, knowing I have a little mechanical sentry between me and the olfactory chaos going on outside my door. (In a pinch, I find that a Yankee Candle also works pretty well. Who knew? But it’s nothing compared to an air filter.)

Bottom line, just because you live surrounded by other people doesn’t mean you have to feel violated by their ill-advised culinary choices.

Create Your Own Lifestyle

5) Get a dog
In a way, this might seem odd advice, because a dog does come with its own set of stressors: they cost money, they require lots of attention, they may wake you up barking at absolutely nothing in the middle of the night. But if you get a good one, they can also offer a brilliantly convenient excuse for getting out of things and living a lower-key life than you might otherwise be expected to do as a city-dweller.

Everyone in your office going out for happy hour, and you’re sort of expected to go, even though the thought of being stuck in a noisy bar making small talk makes you want to bang your head against a wall? Don’t sweat it, you have to go home and walk the dog. Sorry! Additionally, your dog will ensure that you must go on multiple rambles around the neighborhood daily, which is a practice that’s highly beneficial for soothing the HSP’s system. Which brings me to my next tip.

6) Live near a park
It doesn’t have to be Central Park (or your city’s version of Central Park). But if you have someplace you can get to reasonably easily where you can be among trees instead of human beings, that’s going to increase your quality of life a whole lot. (As well as your dog’s.) Go regularly. Go every day. Take deep breaths and always know, when you’re in the midst of the urban circus, that this will always be here waiting for you. Don’t live near a park? Make it a habit to walk through one on your way to work, if you can. Get off the train a few stops early and incorporate a park walk into your commute.

7) Get plants
Plants! It’s like having a mini park in your apartment.

8) When all else fails, Xanax.
Just kidding. (Not really.)

Stuck In The Spider Web Of Approval?

Are You Caught In The SpiderWeb Of Approval? - HSP Health Blog
Are You Caught In The SpiderWeb Of Approval? - HSP Health Blog

Source: Morguefiles

I like getting approval. I suspect we all do. Yet I hate wanting or needing it.

I hate all the games that go with approval:

  • the withholding of it – treating it like it is a prize or a weapon.
  • the distortion of information to manipulate approval
  • the overvaluation of approval when we are really all in this together.

We are social creatures, so social issues are important to us. Since none of us survive alone, our social life has great weight and can cause us pain or provide us  with immense joy. Often we personalize social issues and judge each other, while disregarding the toxic social climate that can create many behavioral challenges. So many issues that are labelled emotional and are assumed to be simple but are really anything but. Approval is one of them and it is one of our biggest challenges.

What Is Approval?

Approval is a kind of social stake in the ground. A position, if you will, with group force behind it. That is why we take it so seriously and should.

Approval is the manifestation of group structures, an expected allegiance. The viability of any and all social arrangements require allegiances. Approval is a way of enforcing allegiances.
So it often feels as if we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t and there is some truth to that. We cannot simply ignore the group structures that we need to negotiate. We also cannot let destructive groups totally control us either.

One way to think of approval is  to consider it an initiation into human social culture. Of course, it occurs in our childhoods, and if unexamined rules our entire life. Approval is a handed down formula for how to be, how to behave and who to be courtesy of those around us especially our families.

Approval: The Spider’s Web That Claims Us

It is impossible to escape the wounds of our social structures. The best we can hope to do is do our healing work, find our integrity, our calling and make our contribution to the world.

We need to be kind to ourselves about approval because it is such an important part of our lives. Approval can be very seductive and cause us to feel safe. It is a false security but can cause us to give up opportunities to learn and grow.

One of the reasons we need to be kind to ourselves about our susceptibility to approval is that approval is an important tool for learning. When we are young we are learning and do so in a number of ways:

  1. trial and error as when we learn to walk
  2. imitating others or approval based learning.

Imitation is more than peer pressure or conformity. It is actually a way to learn skills. Neuroscientist David Eagleman, who has investigated conscious awareness, memory and unconscious mental processing, demonstrates how imitation is an important form of learning. In this article, he shows how approval was used to teach chicken sexing in Japan in the 1930′s and plane spotting in World War II in Great Britain.

It may seem like a reach, but the point is that much of our learning is absorbed through imitation, and cues from our environment from approval. We store the learning in our brains and draw on it in the future from our memories.

Therefore, it is inevitable that approval will play a role in how we learn. In fact, according to the article it can be the most effective way to learn some things. Unfortunately, we may also naturally develop the bad habit of starting to judge ourselves on the basis of the approval or disapproval that we receive.

The Application Of Approval

Approval may be used to teach us many things:

  • group values to promote social cohesion
  • how we are expected to demonstrate loyalty
  • our “identity”
  • how to be in relationship
  • what are acceptable behaviors and boundaries
  • what group customs are important
  • how we are to contribute to group stability and often therefore what change is likely to be rejected.

Approval is the past carried forward. It is a kind of solidified social opinion.

Often when we are making decisions we take the temperature of the social circumstances around us. That is not necessarily bad, however, it means that we will be constrained by the approval of others. If we are in a supportive, benevolent and constructive environment, we can easily make decisions that support us. If our environment is not so benign, our self affirming choices will likely generate a backlash.

Group norms which are supported through approval and disapproval play a huge role in the ability of a group and its members to embrace change and personal growth. For many, abiding by group norms is fine and comfortable. What do you do, however, when those group norms are toxic and resistance to change is high? What do you do when group norms become a kind of sleepwalking so that the groups members are really not engaging with reality and potentially risking the well-being of the group?

The big problem with approval is that we and other can become ossified by sticking to what is approved and what is not. What can be a useful learning method can come to block our ability to fully engage with life and our development.

Highly Sensitive People And Approval

Highly sensitive people have trouble fooling themselves about what they are experiencing because our nervous systems are like an ever present alarm system. So if the approved method of doing things is not working or even dangerous, we will likely become aware of it. As a result, we may not be able to go along with what is approved. Our awareness carries social risks. So we always have to make a decision about our awareness: to follow it, reject it, postpone it, tell others about it. It can feel like a tremendous social burden and it is. It can also help us develop our wisdom and serve others.

Self Pity And Grieving: 6 Ways To Feel Better

Army Photography Contest – 2007 – FMWRC – Arts and Crafts – Fallin

Self pity and grieving are very different.  Self pity is the stuckness of despair. It can be a bitter feeling of longing for something you cannot have but need. Often what we want does not seem like too much to ask, which is why self pity can be so painful. Sometimes it feels like the end of the world.

Self Pity And The Loss Of The Self

Self pity can be very difficult to handle not only because it can be tied to our dreams but also because it can be tied to the expression of the good in ourselves and our natural drive toward self actualization. So when our dreams – even the simple ones –  do not come true a part of us often loses its optimism and resilience. Self pity is often the loss of our idea of our best self.  Self pity is also funny in a way. No matter how worked up we get about how the world has done us wrong, and often it has, it always makes us feel worse. Whatever the problem is does not get better with self pity, so hurting ourselves or someone else never helps. Self pity can cause a lot of harm and often feels as if it simply adds to our loss.

Differences Between Self Pity And Grieving

Grieving is different. Grieving is about the loss of something or someone we have had. When we grieve we feel the absence of something that lived in our hearts and lives. Grieving is often about a passing of someone or something from our lives as a chapter ends and another begins.

Grieving is sad but does not come with the same desperation of self pity. Self pity can occur when we lose something we never had a chance to have. An example would be the person who lost their parents very early in life, and who feels sorry for themselves because their life has been such a struggle because not having parents does in fact make life more difficult. That experience is quantitatively and qualitatively different from the person who loses parents as an adult which causes grief but the loss is an ending. In the former case, the lost parents live in the imagination and in a dream; in the latter case, the lost parents live in experience and the heart.

Self pity and grief are both natural feelings. One is not more justified than the other. Self pity comes with a perception of damage to ourselves and our lives and the wistfulness of what might have been. Self pity is a hurt to our willingness to be a part of life in a positive way, because there is a feeling of not getting the chance at something.  Often the reasons are beyond our control. Grief can come at a more natural ending point of a phase of life or of a relationship. Grief accepts the transience of life and as such has a more graceful attitude toward change and loss. Grief has its pain but also its dignity. Self pity and grief may be different but that does not mean that they are mutually exclusive. But grief at some point diminishes. Because self pity often comes with a lot of anger, it may not end until we let go of one dream and replace it with another. It can take a long time.

Handling Feelings Of Loss

We live in a culture with few skills for handling negative feelings.  When our unhappy feelings are invalidated they go underground but are still there to be processed. When individuals cannot release those feelings, they may turn to “acceptable” forms of expressing their pain like alcohol and drugs. All feelings including negative ones run their natural course and need to be accepted.  Here are a few techniques for providing for your self pity and grief feelings whether your companions in life accept your feelings or not:

  • a journal can work wonders.  Of course, it should remain private.  I had one at one point, and scribbled my feelings in it which was a more energetic discharge of the feelings that also made my writing unintelligible. That worked for me!
  • meditation will help and I highly recommend making time every day for meditation.
  • embrace whatever you are grieving.  Can you make a shrine that you spend time with to honor your feelings and loss?
  • seek out a therapy group so that you can receive some compassionate care from others.
  • do not relinquish your idea of your best self because you are going through a tough time.  Often in our success driven society it can be hard to appreciate ourselves when we have a setback.  Your best self may have nothing to do with fame or social approval. Framing your journey as part of a larger human story can make acceptance easier.
  • good food and sleep are small acts of caring which do wonders.  Try to care of yourself.
We all deserve the best life we can have.  Part of life is handling our painful feelings. Hopefully this list will help you find a graceful path through sad moments by dignifying your experience and your life.

Tyranny of the Clock

 

Clock © by Earls37a Flickr

People in an economic system based on production learn to live with the tyranny of the clock.  Although people have been tracking time since the early days of humans, our relationship with time has become different.

Time used to be related to something going on in nature.  People measured the hours of sunshine, the seasons, and how long crops took to grow.  The day began when the sun came up and ended when it set. Our survival was directly related to what nature offered us and so our relationship to time was related to nature also.

Since the Industrial Revolution, we have changed our relationship to time and nature. We treat nature as something we control.  It is understandable that we sought to control nature because we felt so out of control in relation in nature: weather was so unpredictable, the basic needs of people were not being met, and disease was rampant.  At the time, natural resources were so plentiful. So we created machines and production processes to harness natural resources to take care of our basic needs and kept on going.  Now we do not seem to be able to stop.

There were understandable reasons for the economic system that we have created.  Human society at the time of the Industrial Revolution was saddled with all sorts of limits that needed to be challenged. Some of these limits were based on belief systems. Some limits were geographical, others political.

Even time felt limiting because we were limited by the amount that each person could accomplish which in tern limited our ability to meet our needs. Since the Industrial Revolution, the clock has been used as a tool for challenging limits through productivity measurements which evaluate how well we produce in a specific period of time.  Our educational system is organized around time.  We have a certain period of time to learn a given amount of material, whether we learn or not is often irrelevant, when time is up, time is up.

When the clock controls how much attention we give to something or someone, we relinquish control over our lives because we are not really engaging with life and the realities around us.  If it takes two years to learn a subject that is allotted only six months time, then essentially one’s learning is controlled by the demand for speed. If it takes 2 hours to accomplish a task well and one hour is all that is allowed, again we relinquish control over our lives, and the quality we are able to bring to it by the demand for speed.  If it takes a year to grieve the loss of a friend, and the people around you demand that you grieve quicker, then your life is diminished by the demand for speed.

The demand for speed is a serious issue for highly sensitive people since creativity, deep listening, and serious problem solving do not lend themselves to time pressure. HSP’s inevitably suffer from distracting and unhelpful conflicts when they are expected to work under artificial, and unnecessarily restrictive time schedules. To the highly sensitive person production is not the end and be all of one’s work life. Qualitative considerations are more important than quantitative ones – within reason of course.

Being sensitive means that we notice the cost of our highly competitive and highly demanding capitalistic system. We notice that stress in ourselves and others, the loss of time for connection and the kind of deep teamwork that is satisfying and inclusive. We see the loss of our cherished natural environment and all the cost to animals and humans. I suspect that to most HSPs the cost-benefit analysis does not read that way it does to a corporate accountant. As a result, how we use time will also be different.

The tyranny of the clock does not allow for the freely engaged way of relating to living and problem solving that results in deep satisfaction. It does a lot of damage so create more problems than it solves. There is such a need for healing caused by the destructive shortsightedness of the economic machine.  As a result it is bound to be unsatisfying to highly sensitive people.

Time is precious; a high pressure system is not very appealing to highly sensitive people who will treat time as they treat other things with regard and diligence.

Love Your Defenses!

Love Your Defenses - HSP Health Blog
Love Your Defenses - HSP Health Blog

Source: Morguefiles

So many defenses. I feel like my life is often about bumping into defenses of one kind or another. Dealing with defenses feels like walking through a field of hay.  With each step you meet  a new stalk(defense) that obscures your vision and parts as you walk only to reveal a new defense.

Often the defenses I bump into are the defenses of other people. I dislike bumping into them because in doing so the relationships changes – often not for the better.

When defenses show themselves, the relationship door usually closes even if only for a moment and we realize we are not welcome. That happens to highly sensitive people a lot.

Of course, sometime defenses are our own because we get hurt and our healing is not easy.

What Are Defense Mechanisms?

According to Dictionary, a defense mechanism is:

an unconscious process, as denial, that protects an individual from unacceptable or painful ideas or impulses.

Defenses are a way for us to:

  • like ourselves in painful circumstances
  • make sense of something that does not work for us
  •  taking care of ourselves.

Defenses can sometime be a kind of denial. Denial has a bad reputation because it is interpreted to mean that there is something wrong with you, that your are too weak to face the truth about something. Denial like all defenses are often meant to protect us from a shock to our systems, and sense of loss that we are unable to process and handle.

Defenses Can Create A Healing Space

I respect defenses even if I consider them to be toxic sometimes; I understand that they have a purpose.

In the case of people who have suffered a serious trauma they can be life saving by creating a space for the healing process. I don’t think anyone should be denied their healing space. We highly sensitive people are often harmed, sometimes seriously. Our ranks have many who have suffered serious child abuse. We can have defenses as a way of protecting ourselves from further harm.

Often however, we know that our healing takes a lot of time and the world has little patience with our healing needs. So our defenses can protect us from intolerance that only makes our pain greater. At least that has been my experience.

Sometimes Defenses Do Not Help

Sometimes our defenses may create a healing space for us but not necessarily help us heal.

It could be that in spite of ourselves we are reinjuring. It could be that we have been and are subjected to the wound of prejudice and it does not heal. It could be that our injuries are so serious and grave that we need a lot of time for healing. Then we need to be kind to ourselves.

It could be that we are in a situation that causes us ongoing pain. Perhaps for some reason we are unable to make a change that will make the situation better. Sometimes we have to accept the world as it is – with all its faults, let go of it, and make the life we deserve.

What Our Defenses Are Missing

Sometimes our defenses miss a lot.

They can miss our deservingness. They can miss the generosity we receive. They can miss our creative gifts. Sometimes our defenses want something that is not there and will not be. As long as we seek what we are missing we will not have a better life that we can create.

I admit it is hard to let go.

Handling Your Defenses

Defenses deserve to be taken seriously.

We can use them as clues that we are missing something and often not what we think. We can use them to be good detectives for our well being and the well being of those around us.

We can get that denial out on the table and ask it to help us see what needs to be seen. We can appreciate ourselves for caring about ourselves and each other. We can let our defenses lead us to something better, kinder, and more rewarding.

 But first we have to open the door and go wading in the field of our pain to hear what it is telling us. When we do we will be greeted by a breeze of relief, and healing.

The Othering Of The Highly Sensitive Person

HSPs: The Shadow People - HSP Health Blog

The highly sensitive person is different.

Being different means that they often live in the shadows.

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

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

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

Isn’t that also true of highly sensitive people?

The Marginalization Of The Highly Sensitive Person

Marginalization is an interesting and recurring experience for many people.

It manifests in the process of othering.

Othering is nasty.

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

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

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

Othering can be subtle or overt.

It is often patronizing or condescending.

When being othered you are often invisible.

What Is Othering?

According to Advanced Apes:

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

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

The Experience Of Othering For The Highly Sensitive Person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are wrong to do so.

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

 

 

 

Human Identity At A Crossroads

Do You Need An Identity?

Masks of animals © by Kevin Hutchinson

Do you need an identity?

I ask myself this question all of the time. I find identity to be such a nuisance and I often wonder if I am alone.

Why do we need one anyway?

Is Identity Only A Social Convenience?

I think so.

It never ceases to amaze me how often people relate to me according to a perception about my identity that has nothing to do with me at all. I am sure I am not alone in that experience either.

It changes the interaction. Instead of two people being with each other having a conversation, when someone relates to you from a perceived identity, they are talking at you and so the interpersonal bridge becomes damaged. Identity may be a social convenience, but it can also be a trust destroyer.

Myths And Identity

Identity wasn’t always like it is today.

Many early human societies organized their communities around myths. Their stories were often promoted some aspect of human development. You could call them the human development industries of their times.

Some myths were created to describe challenges on our path from childhood to maturity. They became a form of communal glue that helped elders shepherd the next generation from dependency to roles of stewardship. Rites of passage were considered important and essential in earlier human societies since they depended greatly on the maturation of the individual.

Survival needs and shorter lifespans made individual maturation an imperative not an option. The result was that:

  • they ensured the survival of the group
  • they ensured the individual’s survival
  • identity was not simply a personal matter
  • identity had a reality basis that anchored each individual and the social group in nature
  • maturation was a process that helped the group and provided each individual with a way to develop skills and receive validation from the group.

Of course this is an oversimplification. Many early societies practiced different forms of identity discrimination and other practices that we find inhumane today. Nonetheless, there was still a relationship between reality and identity in earlier human societies that provided a groundedness that we have trouble finding today.

The Evolution Of Identity

It is not the purpose here to romanticize early societies but to notice how disconnected our identities can often be from a sense of reality.

Our modern consumer society ties identity to cultural rather than natural markers. In our zeal to conquer nature we have lost our connection to it and our grounding.

We have also lost our rites of passage and our connection to natural processes.There is no passing of the torch from one generation to the next.

When our connection is to nature, we have a identity formed around something dynamic. Product lifecycles, stock market movement and annual entertainment schedules are not the same thing.

Mass culture has a defiant relationship with nature. Since our survival depends on earning a living in the existing system, we will as well.

That means:

  • natural cycles are ignored, abandoned, and disrespected. We routinely ignore sleep needs which naturally restore us. Our schedules are determined mostly by work and entertainment schedules.
  • health practices which require that we respect nature in order to be healthy are routinely ignored. Our bodies are built to live in tune with the seasons. We are meant to eat differently during each season. In the spring, for instance, the foods that are naturally available then, will help us detox.
  • ignoring the deeper processes of human maturation. We have many smart people and successful people. We celebrate them. Do we celebrate mature people? In our youth oriented culture, not so much.
  • ignore needs for serious mastery. Grades may signify a type of progress but development is more than passing though a classroom and performing on a test. As Malcolm Gladwell points out convincingly in his book, The Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. Do we provide our young people with a foundation that lets them achieve that?
  • ignore self actualization needs. Are people allowed to form their identities based on their talents and natural relating to the processes of life or do we expect them to have identities that only serve the cultural and economic system? Can we see beyond the existing system to the stewardship needs that we are missing?

The Birth Of Stewardship

Out of necessity we are beginning to evolve a new human skill: the skill of stewardship. Human society up until now has been very survival oriented. Now we have to change and with it our notions of identity have to change as well.

What does an identity forged around a groundedness in earth and based on sustainability look like? How do we create identities that have nothing to do with survival when that is what we have known up until now?

What does it do for the interpersonal bridge that is so often broken in human relations when we are in a human culture where we all share the responsibility for sustainability?

Stewardship requires maturity. Can we give up our youth oriented cultures? Can we recreate deeper human development processes that support mastery and maturity? Can we become longsighted rather than shortsighted? Can we create cultures of trust?

I do not know the answers, but we will need to find them and I am hoping we will enjoy doing so, because they will bring an improved quality of life for many people.

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HSP Identity: A Plant In The Right Place

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

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

Is There Something Wrong With Me?

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

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

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

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

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

You have to admire their tenacity!

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

Harsh Words

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

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

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

How I Came To Feel Damaged

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

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

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

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

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

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

The HSP Career Challenge

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

My internal compass went awry, and I reluctantly agreed to pursue the sciences which eventually led me to physiotherapy (a role that required extroversion, ability to be with many people and groups for long periods of time and constant interruptions from junior staff and NHS bureaucracy).

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

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

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

The Beginnings Of Change

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

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

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

I left my old life and gradually grew into myself.

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

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

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