What do you think of when you hear the word “sensitive”? Chances are, some of the first words that come to mind are things like “weak,” “overly-emotional,” or “unmanly.” Even if your first thought isn’t negative, you probably still don’t think of words like “strong,” “masculine,” or “courageous.”
I’m using words like “unmanly” and “masculine” because today, I want to talk about sensitivity in men. At this point, you might be wondering why a female blogger is writing about how men think about sensitivity. Even with this outside perspective, I’ve seen how cultural definitions of sensitivity affect the men in my life. And even though the way that other men view sensitive men matters a great deal, how women view sensitive men also matters.
When Brené Brown started studying shame and vulnerability, she did not interview men for the first four years. Then at a book signing, a man came up to her and said this:
“You say to reach out and tell our story, be vulnerable. But you see those books that you just signed for my wife and my three daughters? They’d rather me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall down. When we reach out and be vulnerable, we get the shit beat out of us. And don’t tell me it’s from the guys and the coaches and the dads because the women in my life are harder on me than anyone else.” (from Brené Brown’s “Listening to Shame” TED talk).
This man wasn’t talking about high sensitivity but I think a lot of men (including those who are highly sensitive) can relate. Our culture puts unreasonable expectations on men for how they handle anything that makes them seem vulnerable, because for them “vulnerability” (much like sensitivity) is considered weakness. That perspective really needs to change.
When was the last time you did something to care for yourself?
According to a definition used on PsychCentral, “Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” Most of us practice at least a little bit of self-care every day with basic tasks like brushing our teeth and making sure we eat something. But self-care should go farther than just enough to keep us functioning.
While self-care is important for everyone, I want to focus today’s post on self-care tips for highly sensitive persons and introverts. Even though there are highly sensitive extroverts, it’s still true that HSPs and introverts have similar self-care needs. It’s easy for both to get overwhelmed by the demands of every-day life and we need time to slow down and take care of ourselves. I hope the 10 tips in today’s post will help you do just that.
1) Listen to yourself
It’s amazing how easy it is to ignore what your own body is trying to tell you. We often keep pushing ourselves, trying to get through things without caring how it’s affecting us. Something as simple as taking a few minutes to pause and assess yourself can do wonders for your mental and physical health. It’s always good to catch negative feelings or stress early and take the time and do some quick self-care right then. The sooner you deal with something, the less likely it is to come back and bug you later.
2) Drink tea
I used to hate tea, but a couple years ago I discovered I just didn’t like (most) teas from the tea plant. Herbal teas on the other hand are a wonderful thing. Whatever type of tea flavor you prefer, consider picking one without caffeine so it’s more relaxing and won’t increase anxiety. Read more →
Back in 1991, Dr. Elaine N. Aron began researching high sensitivity and discovered a trait she calls Sensory-Processing Sensitivity. You might have heard of it by the more popular term used describe those with this trait, Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).
This trait is not well understood by the majority of people. Dr. Aron says that it is “often mislabeled as” shyness or “introversion. It has also been called inhibitedness, fearfulness, or neuroticism.” HSPs can be like that, but it’s not part of the basic trait.
Even with discussion of HSPs becoming more mainstream this trait is still often lumped in with introversion. Couple that with descriptions of introverts as sensitive, thoughtful people who don’t need much outside stimulation and you can be forgiven for thinking that all HSPs are also introverts.
Sensory processing sensitivity is found in 15 to 20% of the total population (that’s about 1.4 billion highly sensitive people). Of that group, 30% are extroverts. This means that almost 1/3 of all the HSPs Dr. Aron has studied are not introverts after all. Read more →
I just started rereading Watership Down by Richard Adams last night. Normally I wait to write about the books on my Classics Club list until after I’ve finished them, but I’m also rereading Elain Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person In Love and I was struck by a connection between the two books.
In her research on high sensitivity (also known as Sensory Processing Sensitivity), Aron discovered that it’s found in 15 to 20% of the population. And it’s not just humans. The trait “can be observed in all higher animals — mice, cats, dogs, horses, [and] monkeys” at about the same percentage. I’m going to add rabbits to the list as well.
Research on HSPs had barely started by the 1970s, so I doubt Richard Adams would have been familiar with it as a scientifically validated trait when he published Watership Down in 1972. I think he was writing about it anyway, though, with his character Fiver.
When publisher Rex Collins acquired the book, he wrote to a friend saying, “I’ve just taken on a novel about rabbits, one of them with extra-sensory perception. Do you think I’m mad?” Fiver’s insights do go beyond simply being a highly sensitive rabbit, but it’s also true that Fiver would pass the HSP test. Easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input? Check. Aware of subtleties in the environment? Double check. Made uncomfortable by loud noises, startles easily, has a nervous system that feels frazzled, and so on down the list.
He was small, with side, staring eyes and a way of raising and turning his head which suggested not so much caution as a kind of ceaseless, nervous tension. His nose moved continually, and when a bumblebee flew humming to a thistle boom behind him he jumped and spun round with a start that sent two nearby rabbits scurrying for holes (Fiver’s introduction, Watership Down)
As a Highly Sensitive Person myself, I know that feeling all too well. The heightened awareness of the smallest noise. The tension so familiar you barely notice it until an unexpected sound startles you out of your chair (in fact, right after writing this sentence I jumped at a Facebook notification on my phone). And it’s kind of nice to see a character like that in a book, especially one with friends who don’t tell him he needs to change. They accept him for who he is, work with his weaknesses, and appreciate his unique strengths.
Can you think of any other HSP characters in fiction?
Daydreaming is often considered a childish activity. So it might come as a surprise that studies indicate at least 96% of adults engage in daydreams and/or fantasizing on a daily basis. These daydreams typically last for just a few minutes while the mind wanders, but they can also be more involved, frequent, and lengthy. And getting caught up in daydreams is not, as previously thought, as sign of tending toward mental illness.
According to an article in theDartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, we’re learning that daydreaming is “a normal part of our cognitive processes.” In fact, it’s pretty normal to “spend one-third to one-half of our waking hours daydreaming, although that amount can vary significantly from person to person.” I was honestly pretty surprised to learn this. I mean, I know I do that, but I wasn’t expecting such a large percentage of the population to also daydream so much.
But while reading different articles about daydreams, I realized something else. They’re talking about people’s minds drifting into fantasies about their real lives. For example, it’s considered healthy for someone approaching a job interview to daydream about getting the job or for someone in a high-stress job to spend time fantasizing about how all their conversations for the upcoming day could go well. Other studies asked people to daydream about taking vacations or their childhood home. These daydreams are about things that could happen or have happened. I have those types of daydreams, too, but that’s not what most of mine are.
While studying hypnotic suggestibility in 1981, psychologists Theodore X. Barber and Sheryl Wilson discovered that the 27 women they identified “as extremely good hypnotic subjects … all had a fantasy life so intense that it seemed ‘as real as real.'”‘ After more research, people in this group are now described as having a “fantasy prone personality” (FPP). On the more extreme side, where fantasies start to take over reality, it’s called “maladaptive daydreaming” (click here to read an interview with a maladaptive daydreamer).
According to researchers, about 4 percent of people spend half or more of their waking hours absorbed in reverie. The fantasies are not mere fleeting daydreams but something of a cross between a dream and a movie, where an elaborate scenario unfolds once a theme is set. (from a New York Times article)
Reading about this group is where I start to recognize myself. Read more →
This is a great time to be an introvert. We see articles and books popping up all over the place defining introversion, listings wonderful qualities of introverts, and making sure the extroverts know that introverts are just as good (and dare we imply, better?) than them. Introverts Unite (separately)! Introvert Power!
But I wonder when reading some of these articles if we’ve done the extroverts a disservice. Are we introverts in danger of taking our quest for recognition as extroverts’ equals to the extreme of thinking we’re “better than them”? If people could ever be balanced in a quest for equality, it should be those who study type theory. The very fact that introversion and extroversion is hard-wired into our brains should tell us that not everyone thinks the same, and that’s okay.
So with that in mind, here’s a post for the extroverts. You’re awesome, too. Most of the introverts posts like this are addressed to extroverts with the goal of debunking myths surrounding introversion, so we’ll try and do something similar for assumptions we have about extroverts.
1. Extroverts are Intelligent and Sensitive
Let’s get two things straight right from the get-go: introverts don’t have a monopoly on intelligence or sensitivity. Extroverts can be intelligent (and introverts can be unintelligent). Extroverts can be sensitive (and introverts can be insensitive). In fact, the Sensory Processing Sensitivity trait is independent of introversion and 30% of the people who qualify as Highly Sensitive are extroverts. At least two of my extroverted friends are HSPs, and even the ones that aren’t are way more in-tune with their own and other people’s feelings than most introverts give them credit for.
2. “Extrovert” Doesn’t Equal “Social”
Introverts tend to think of extroverts as the people who crave the society of others, and who have an annoying habit of trying to drag introverts out of their shells. But extrovert doesn’t necessarily mean someone who is always social. It means someone who is oriented to the the outer world of people, places, and/or things. They are more likely to recharge among other people than alone, but not always. This is especially true of the more “introverted extroverts” like ENFJs and ENTJs. As one article puts it, ““Extrovert” is not Latin for “has Red Bull flowing through veins.””
3. Extroverts Can Be Shy
Often, the extroverts who tell introverts that we can “recover” from our introversion think this because they were shy as kids and assume “introvert” is the same thing they experienced when they were shy. Shyness is not the same as introversion, and it isn’t an uniquely introvert phenomena. Extroverts can also suffer from shyness and social anxiety. It might actually be harder for them, because at least as a shy introvert you are oriented to living inside your head, whereas an extrovert who is shy wants to be around people but is also terrified of them at the same time.
4. Extroverts Get Things Done
I recently saw someone ask what the world would look like if introverts were in charge. Most of the responses (all from introverts) were along the lines of “peaceful,” “harmonious,” and “quiet.” The first thing I thought? Nothing would ever get done. We’d be so busy trying to avoid conflict that the world would fall apart. As a society, we need extrovert’s energy to connect people, force conflict resolutions, advocate for change, and step-up as leaders. Can introverts do that? sure. But many extroverts thrive in those roles and find that it comes naturally to them.
5. Extroverts Do Think
This should be obvious, but even for those of us who know deep-thinking extroverts there can still be an assumption that most extroverts just word-vomit whatever pops into their heads and dash through life acting instead of thinking. Granted many extroverts do love to talk and sometimes words get out that haven’t gone through a filter yet, but that doesn’t mean they don’t think deeply about things. If you’ve spent any one-on-one time at all with an extrovert, it quickly becomes obvious that they aren’t all shallow. Most of my closest friends are extroverts, and I’ve learned to value their insights and thoughts on a wide range of subjects.
If you’re an extrovert, what is it that you wish people understood about you? If you’re an introvert, what do you love about the extroverts in your life?