I wrote this piece to explore some thoughts and observations that have been going through my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about introversion and sensitivity, as it is defined for a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), and men. Specifically the visibility of introverted and/or HSP men online, and what that might say to how these men are handling this aspect of themselves in their lives. I have included a question mark in the title of this blog as I also ask myself if I am asking the correct question? Is it a silence or is it something else…though right now I don’t know what that something else is?
As we spend our time online we search out and are drawn to websites and groups that speak to interests that we hold. I spend some of my online time in forums for introverts and HSPs, but I do not see many men in them. At least there are definitely more women visible than men. Now I recognize that the online world is not for everyone, but I’m guessing that ”not for everyone” is not the reason that introverted & HSP men are not as visible as women online. Also just to acknowledge that I am using the word “visible.” I can spend time online reading but not replying to threads or offering my comments - I remain invisible. But this does not get away from my experience of more women in these online forums than men.
In this post I explore some possible reasons for this apparent discrepancy and would be interested in hearing your own thoughts on the subject.
For me, acknowledging my introversion and sensitivity means making myself vulnerable. Or perhaps I would say that it is about stepping up a ladder of vulnerability.
I am not good with heights. I don’t bound up a ladder. On some ladders I am fine if I do not have to climb too high. However, if I am being asked to climb to a certain height, once I get so far up the ladder I start to proceed with more caution, feeling my way up to each new rung before proceeding to the next. One might ask what I am doing climbing a ladder in the first place if I have a fear of heights? Well a couple of things there. One, if the height is just too high, I won’t be going up. And two, if the choice is there, if someone is there who can do the work instead of me, I’ll let them go ahead. But when those options don’t present themselves, a job needs to be done and I think that I can manage the height, I’ll go up. If someone is around to steady the ladder or help in any other way, I’ll let them know I am going to proceed with caution. No heroics here. The head space that I find myself in at heights prevents any of those. I’ll go up and get the job done, but those below will see the caution and nervousness with which I proceed.
Sharing my introversion and sensitivity with the world has been like climbing that ladder - I can open to it so far, and from there on it has been a rung at a time. Perhaps sometimes a couple of quick steps, but inevitably there is a pause. Circumstances and company will determine the degree of my opening. This has changed over the years as my own confidence and understanding of what I am dealing with grows, but the challenge can still arise, sometimes when I not expecting it.
What causes that pause? Why not just step out and say who you are?
I believe that in no small part the answer to those questions is because I am a man. The terms introversion and sensitivity carry or embody for modern society meanings that are not what these personality traits truly are. Introversion can carry connotations of shyness, passivity, of being meek or weak. Sensitivity might commonly be understood as having a sense of fluffiness and weakness about it, or maybe a feeling that is more normally associated with the feminine. With both introversion and sensitivity there can be the sense that they are personality traits and ways of being that we choose to adopt and live by. These are meanings and values that have been put on those words by society at large, I would say especially in the west.
These misunderstandings are beginning to change with the movement that has sprung up from the publication a few years ago of Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. More recently there has been the release of the movie “Sensitive, The Untold Story,” based Dr. Elaine Aron’s pioneering work on Highly Sensitive People. Hopefully these works and others will go a long way into clearing the misunderstandings surrounding these personality traits.
Introversion is not speaking to shyness, fear or dislike of people, but energy - what tires us out and what energies us and as a corollary of this, how we work and function at our best in the world. Similarly sensitivity is not talking about an affliction or “soft” way of being in the world that we choose. Rather it is a genetic psychological trait that cause HSP’s to experience the world in a more intense and deep way. As a consequence they can very easily become overstimulated.
But habits and beliefs are slow to change.
A man can read a book or a blog entry and hear the truth that is being spoken for him. He can know that his introversion and/or sensitivity is the source of his strengths and is at the core of who he is, but if misunderstandings and prejudices of those around him do not embrace his beliefs, he will be left feeling alone and cautious about what he reveals to who - whether family or work.
Speaking out when one is fearful of the response requires vulnerability. It requires facing the fear of being shamed. Author and researcher, Brené Brown, defines shame as,
the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.
Brown goes on to speak about how this is experienced separately by men and women,
For women, shame is a web of unattainable expectations that say, Do it all, Do it perfectly, and Never let them see you struggle. For men, the primary shame mandate is, Do not be perceived as weak.
When the requirement of men is to be loud, demonstrative, physically strong - as that might be perceived as the only way of getting results, of winning - then any quieter way of being will not even be given a chance to shine and will possibly be ridiculed. And if introverted men believe that they have to act in a way contrary to what they are comfortable with, their health and well being will suffer - I write that based on experience.
There are an increasing number of online forums (websites, Facebook groups, etc) dedicated to introversion and they are wonderful, helpful resources. I am very grateful for their presence and to those who brought them into being, but the vast majority of these are run by women and the members of these forums, or the one’s responding in the comments are mainly women. Where are the introverted and sensitive men? I am going to guess that vulnerability is the main barrier. I certainly don’t believe that men are not reading the forums.
Statistics say that 15%-20% of the population are Highly Sensitive…and as a by-the way, the trait is also found in animals. Of that percentage, the ratio of men to women who are sensitive is 50/50. Taking the lower, 15%, that means that there are over 48 million HSPs in the USA alone…and so over 24 million HSP men. Introverts are said to be 50% of the population - that is a lot more than 24 million.
This is not only about the introverted and sensitive men willing to step out and be heard, it is also about a society growing up, recognizing that “strength” and “qualities” can have many disguises. That it is not the domain of the few or those showing up in a specific, defined way, but also about supporting these men so that they can stand at the top of the same ladder in their own way.
Before finishing, I’d like to offer you links here to four articles which explore the subject of HSP men:
Are you an introverted and/or HSP man, or do you know one? How do you manage your true nature in daily life? Hide it? Display it? Regulate visibility depending on the situation? What informs these decisions?