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Highly Sensitive Men: The "Hidden" HSPs?
Meet the "hidden" HSPs: Highly Sensitive Men
Although I am not really one of the "hidden" ones, being a Highly Sensitive Man (HSM) presents an interesting-- and at times confounding-- set of challenges.
Elaine Aron's research indicates that 15-20% of the population are HSPs. Furthermore, she states that the HSP trait is evenly distributed among the genders. So far, so good. However, at any "HSP venues" I have been involved with-- from HSP Gatherings, to message boards, to mailing lists, to support groups-- the gender distribution has typically been 75-80% women, 20-25% men. What gives?
I think modern society-- especially in the United States-- has a set of biases that make it particularly difficult for Sensitive Men to learn about, come to terms with, and be open about their Sensitivity. Apart from those who simply ignore the possibility that they might be an HSM, I think there are also significant numbers who may be aware of their sensitivity, but are hesitant or afraid that anyone else might find out. Or they go to great lengths to publicly reject the idea by acting overly IN-sensitive, even while being aware that it's not the truth of who they are. Sadly, I get the sense that a large number of HS Men live lives of "quiet suffering--" many choosing to "narcoticize" the pervasive pain of "not fitting in" with alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling or other addictions.
On a personal level, I became aware that "heightened sensitivity" was part of my particular makeup when I was studying Adult Giftedness, but paid little attention to its potential impact on my life. When Elaine Aron offered me a name-- "HSP"-- I was somewhat reluctant to assign it much importance. Although I wasn't exactly afraid of it, I took an "I'll just deal with it!" attitude-- the way one might deal with an ingrown toenail.
As I learned more, I slowly came to accept that this trait was too large a part of "Who I Am" to just be ignored. Even so, I remained cautious, and for several years I could only admit to a handful of close women friends that I was an HSP-- somehow, I perceived the trait as more "acceptable" among women. My going to the HSP Gathering in California, in June 2003, really represented my first "large scale public confession" that I was an HSP-- in the form of telling anyone who asked about my trip precisely where I was going. And that was both scary and liberating.
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Maybe you are an HSM, reading these words. And maybe you will recognize yourself, somewhere in all this. In retrospect, I can now look at many "choice points" in my life where my being an HSM had a direct influence on the outcome of decisions and events; especially paying attention to the times where my "innerself" (my HSP-ness) was in conflict with my "outerself" (The person I thought I "should" be, at the time):
In college, I wanted to major in English and pursue a career as a writer-- but "wiser voices" persuaded me to do the "sensible" thing and major in Business.
In both high school and college, I put a lot of effort into "competitive activities" (from team sports to academics) even though it wasn't really in my nature. Although I did fairly well at some, I often was asking myself why I was involved.
I spent 15 years in a profession that was largely sales and marketing related (yuck!), feeling like a misfit-- and stuck with it 10 years longer than I should have, because "wiser voices" told me of "all the potential" I had, and assured me it was a "real" job.
I "fell into" love relationships, and subsequently into a marriage, taking a "path of least resistance" because it represented "the right thing to do." Up until the day of the wedding, my intuition said "this is wrong!" while "wiser voices" repeated "This makes a lot of sense."
Divorced, at age 37, I came face to face with the reality that I had never had a relationship-- or friendship, even-- that had taken my needs into consideration. "Other voices" had always seemed to be louder than my own.
During my work life, I repeatedly "swallowed" my plans and solutions that were based on intuition and "gut feel," and instead put forth "lesser" opinions I could base on numbers and facts. After all, how do you explain a decision that "feels right," but has no "proof" behind it? Intuition is a "female trait," I was told.
For years, I pursued "lifestyle and success," although the only thing my inner self really wanted was a small sustainable existence. But "wiser voices" persuaded me that "successful men" actively pursue the much publicized and public version of The American Dream.
And there were many more. My point is, that all those years were lived with a sense of inner "dullness," with a certain emptiness, and a subconscious knowledge that I was "faking it" and not being "in my own truth." Adding to the confusion was the fact that I was being "patted on the back" for actions that felt wrong to me, while being criticized and even derided for the few things I did choose to mention because they felt so right I couldn't keep quiet.
Society, and especially the workplace, has an alarming ability to "steal the souls" of Highly Sensitive Men, leaving them feeling sad and confused. And mostly, they are sad and confused in private, as they generally have noone-- even spouses or lovers-- they feel safe enough to share with.
However, the cost to the "hidden" HSM is great. The long-term mental and physical health dangers associated with "falsification of self" are usually far greater than any anguish associated with learning about, and accepting one's sensitivity-- both privately, and publicly. As such, it is critical for Sensitive Men to actively seek out "HSP-safe" environments.
Of course, I made peace with the HSM inside me. It took a while-- and you can read more about it on the next page.