Bullies And Introverts: How HSP’s Can Help Themselves

Bullies And Introverts - HSP Health
Creative Commons License photo credit: thienzieyung

Bullies and introverts do not mix.

How Bullies And Introverts Are Different

Bullies and bullying can be a troublesome challenge for highly sensitive people, who are most often introverts and there are many reasons why that is the case:

  1. HSP’s are usually not very aggressive and usually do not have an aggressive agenda. Bullies often have an aggressive agenda.  So the goals of bullies and introverts are usually in conflict and they often lack common ground in their interactions.
  2. Bullies are very territorial; HSP’s not so much – they are more holistic and complex.
  3. HSP’s are not necessarily the greatest fighters. Bullies may sense that and that may be one reason that bullies go after them. HSP’s have a more poetic nature which bullies may not be able to relate to.
  4. HSP’s are not the fastest people at most activities. Because of the volume of information that highly sensitive people process, they cannot be fast.  It takes time for HSP’s to arrive at opinions and conclusions. Conscientiousness is one of an HSP’s best qualities, but it means that they can be taken advantage of  by an aggressive person.
  5. Bullies often use pressure to obtain a result; introverts do not respond well to pressure.
  6. HSP’s tend to have a holistic and sometime fairly complex worldview which is the antithesis of a bully’s us vs. them thinking.
  7. HSP’s often dislike competition because they are less adversarial in their viewpoint; a bully may see life on more competitive terms.
  8. HSP’s tend to be introverted by nature and for self protection.  As a result, they may not be well known to their social peers, and may even seem standoffish. Therefore, their social support may be weak and it may make it harder to obtain assistance when dealing with a bully.

How HSP’s Can Handle Bullies

Handling bullies is a difficult challenge for highly sensitive people. Assuming you need to put up with a bully in your life, here are some things you can do to make your life easier in dealing with the bully:
  • don’t expect to change a bully. They are not likely to appreciate your sensitive nature.
  • let your sensitivity help you by enabling it to increase your perceived value in others. High perceived value will translate into greater respect and make you less of a target for bullies.
  • bullies often look for easy targets. So make it hard for them to see you as a target. You may not be friends but you don’y necessarily have to be enemies.
  • if a bully is hard for you to handle  directly, try interacting with associates and developing your relationships among people who interact with the bully. A bully will not attack someone if in doing so they lose face.
  • make your perceived value as public as possible. The less visible and known your value is the easier it is for a bully to take advantage of you.
It is extremely important for highly sensitive people to attempt to create a social presence and counteract the isolation that can make them vulnerable.  Cultivating a social role that creates the perception of value among peers can be great insurance.  Bullies and introverts may not make great natural friends, so social self protection can be a good investment.
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Quiet by Susan Cain: Book Review

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If you haven’t read Susan Cain‘s fabulous book, the bestseller Quiet The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, you are missing out.

Susan’s light approachable style takes a challenging subject and makes it accessible. Susan’s book not only explores introversion but also questions the extrovert ideal that dominates the Western world.

Quiet is extremely well researched. Susan Cain draws on medical experts, sociological researchers and experts in the field of introversion and high sensitivity. She also does a masterful job of illuminating the experience and reality of many introverted people including herself to demonstrate the value they offer society.

Most books on the subject of introversion or high sensitivity focus primarily on the psychology of the introvert. The needs of introverts have been under addressed in our culture and many introverts have felt like aliens from another planet unable to navigate the challenges of extrovert values and expectations.

Susan’s book does a wonderful job of juxtapositioning the extrovert and introvert natures and offering perspective on the differences. Although extroverts are more visible in the public domain, it is amazing how many great advances for the human race come from introverts:

  • Rosa Parks
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Bill Gates
  • Warren Buffett
  • Einstein
  • many artists
  • many of the strongest and most effective CEO’s.

Introverts are often the creators and agents of change through their combination of compassion and creativity. They see what others do not which is why an introvert is known for being insightful. Introverts operate deeply and multidimensionally which makes the high pressure, high-speed competitive economy of Western capitalism antithetical to their natures.

As Susan points out, introverts need to be careful about their career and social choices because their nervous systems require considerable rest. However she also describes many situations where introverts are able to adopt some extrovert traits when working in a job that they consider a calling. Interestingly introverts make better leaders of self motivated people.

Susan Cain does a wonderful job of mapping the introvert/extrovert territory giving us the big picture, the research, the wisdom of experts like Dr. Elaine Aron and many examples of people who have successfully mastered the art of living as an introvert in an extrovert world.

As a lifelong introvert, I consider Quiet a must read who anyone wanting insights into introverts, their challenges and value whether you are an introvert, a family member, or a colleague. As many as 1 out of 2 people qualifies as an introvert. Knowing about them is wise. Quiet can only help improve your relationships with these special people.

Causes Of Social Phobia

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Creative Commons License photo credit: CMMooney

It is useful for highly sensitive people to understand the causes of social phobia which often result in the crippling self consciousness and which can contribute to the HSP tendency to have an introverted personality.

Social Phobia is sometimes referred to either as Generalized Social Phobia, which NIMH states is the most common anxiety disorder, or Social Anxiety Disorder.

In 2008, The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) released the results of a study: Social Phobia Patients Have Heightened Reactions to Negative Comments. The researchers used functional brain imaging tools, fMRI, to map brain reactions to a variety of negative verbal expressions.  It was found that those people with social phobia had heightened brain responses only to negative comments about themselves.

The study made evident that people with social phobia are extremely afraid of being judged by other people.  The researchers were able to observe that two different sections of the brain became activated when negative comments were made to people with social phobia: the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) which is involved in the sense and evaluation of self and the amygdala which is central to emotional processing.  According to the Free Library, “the medial prefrontal cortex is involved in imagining, thinking about yourself and “theory of mind,” which encompasses the ability to figure out what others think, feel or believe and to recognize that other people have different thoughts, feelings and beliefs from you.”

This would suggest a connection between criticism and fear in the person with social phobia.  In this research, the concern in the patient was raised by criticism, but only criticism towards themselves generated a brain reaction.  It raises a question about criticism that is worth exploring: why would one person be afraid of criticism and another would not be afraid?

As we learn more and more about our brains, it is becoming apparent that one way our brains develop is through social interaction.  The social group has been the cornerstone of our survival and our education from the earliest days of human history. When we are young we need  the support of our families and social group, and therefore must get along with them for our survival.  Rejection by our families is a serious matter, and in a child, will be perceived as a matter of life and death.

Therefore in families where criticism is perceived also as a rejection, a child will have a different experience and reaction than a child who grows up in a family that accepts him/her and criticism is not a sign of rejection.  In other words, when the child experiences affection in spite of a criticism they can have a different experience than the child who has the experience of criticism which is delivered in a rejecting or abusive way.

Since the medial prefrontal cortex and amygdala areas of the brain are activated when social phobes are criticized, the implication is that criticism implies a serious imminent threat.  Many people with social phobia are HSP’s, which means they are different. For them, criticism may be seen as threatening because being different raises the potential of rejection by the group and therefore jeopardize their survival.

Perhaps being different for many highly sensitive people has meant the experience of significant early rejection or a significant fear of rejection that causes their brains respond to all criticism with concern.  Highly sensitive people can reduce their phobia if they can accept their uniqueness and find a way to make their uniqueness a valuable contribution to their social groups.