Chronic Fatigue and the HSP

There’s pattern which repeats itself pretty much each time I find myself home alone for a few days - which with the presence of the COVID pandemic is not that often right now. It goes something like this,

I drop my wife off at the airport - living on an island, that is usually the start of the home alone period. On the way home I run a few errands, pick up groceries, and perhaps go for a walk. Over the the days that follow, as commitments are crossed off my todo list and I get into my bachelor rhythm, I notice a weariness start to creep over me. It is more than just feeling tired. It is a fatigue that seems to come from deep within my bones.

With my home life running quieter, and with nothing planned socially I find myself just resting. A phrase comes to mind - I “sit deeply”. I am perhaps reading or writing, or just sitting and watching the world outside. As I do so I feel exhaustion rise up from my body calling me to rest, and so rest I do.

As I say, this is a pattern. Whenever I find myself spending time alone for a prolonged period of time, the weariness manifests. I want to explore here what has brought this about, so first let me step back and give some context.

Pushing myself too far

Weariness and exhaustion have had a presence in my life for many years now, I am going to say for two decades. I used to push against the fatigue. I was aware of its presence, though due to peer pressure, that is me wanting to be seen to be able to be keeping up, I would deny its presence and try to push through. “Keep going, keep up with others, don’t show any signs that you are not up to the job (read weakness as my self-imposed put down).” That was the place that I lived in, measuring myself against those around me.

More importantly, and with the benefit of hindsight, I did not have a context for how I was feeling and so put my feelings down to something wrong with me. I think if I understood the reason for my feeling fatigued and had the support behind me, I would have acted more responsibly towards myself much earlier.

So, how was I feeling?

This is maybe not an easy one to answer, as at the time I wasn’t clear myself! Tired and weary, yes. Another symptom was a racing heart. I use to describe it as feeling like I had put my heart beat through an amplifier. There was this intensified beating happening in my chest and “yes,” it was uncomfortable. I could also add to these symptoms a pain in my left wrist, as if a lot of pins were being stuck into the wrist. So there was physical pain and discomfort, but no cause that I could relate these symptoms to…and so I just pushed on.

Eventually my discomfort became too much and I went to see a doctor, however the visit was not of any help. My vitals all checked out fine, and I came away with no diagnosis. Dissatisfied and now desperately wanting an answer I went to see separately a Tibetan doctor and an Acupuncturist/Chinese herbalist. From those initial consultations I choose to receive treatment from the acupuncturist/herbalist, but in their own words they both gave me the same diagnosis. It was,

that I was pushing myself, physically and mentally beyond what I could cope with, and that I needed to stop and take a look at what I was asking of myself. My batteries were drained and needed replenishment.

Relief

When I heard those words, I had a sense of relief.

I believe that deep down I knew what was going on with myself, but that I was sitting in shame (see below). With so many around me being able to operate in a different way to me, I felt as though I had to step up - whether I could or not. These doctors were giving me permission to own my pain, physical and emotional, and to step back and take a look at what I needed and who I was. They gave me permission to stop and take stock.

That diagnosis pulled the wind out of my sails. I collapsed. The next two years were spent receiving regular acupuncture and Chinese herbs. I owe that doctor so much, and regularly think of my gratitude towards him. I rested a lot and paced myself. Some days I could not get up from my sofa. I just lay there. This was fatigue, not tiredness. Like the fatigue that I spoke of at the beginning of this article, it ate through to my bones. Although no formal diagnosis was given, for those two years I now say that I had chronic fatigue.

I believe that the seeds of chronic fatigue still rest within me. I now allow myself to rest or sleep if I need to. I am so much more in control of my energy levels now. If I do feel a drop in energy manifesting, I wind things down as soon as I can. Some previous symptoms can still arise, but I take them as warning signs and use them as a signal to slow down.

So what was going on with me?

To what do I put my exhaustion down to? I identify as an introvert and highly sensitive person. I don’t let knowledge of these traits in my personality run my life, but they do inform me. I now understand where overwhelm and exhaustion are coming from when they manifest in me. I now understand the ”why” if I don’t feel like engaging in some social activity while others around me do. I understand and I listen to my needs, and don’t let shame run my life…quite so much. I used to not only not listen, but also not understand what my needs were. I told myself that I should show up just as those around me were showing up in the world, and so pushed myself to keep up with them - shame was running the show. This was not only a physically exhausting thing to do, it was emotionally and psychologically exhausting as well. As I increased the demands on my body and mind, with my reserves slowly disappearing as I wore them away, so fatigue crept up on me.

Once I started to learn about introversion and high sensitivity, I was given a context for what gave rise to my limits. With that understanding and finding a supportive community, I started to change my behaviours.

Shame

Shame is a focus on self. It is feeling bad about who you are because of what you did or didn’t do. It is equating your’s or others’ judgement of an action you did or didn’t do as a reflection of who you are as a person. Brené Brown says,

shame is a fear of disconnection,

and,

shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can do and be better.1

That makes total sense to me when I look back at what I did to get myself into such a fatigued state. For me shame and lack of understanding not only corroded self belief, but also personal health. It was driven because of fear of being judged and with that, of being left out.

The blessing behind that, the silver lining is what I learnt about myself, and about shame and self-worth. I can now look back at that time of chronic fatigue with a sense of gratitude, of lessons learnt.

The Comfort of Memories

I find myself sitting in my car on our driveway. It is overcast and there is steady stream of rain falling. The weather looks set in for the day, and likely tomorrow as well.

   I feel at ease, comfortable, safe.

This weather takes me back to weather in Britain that I grew up with. At times it might be weather that the British poke fun at, or complain about. Or it might be weather that visitors tease the country for. But for me this weather would fit my introverted spirit, giving me permission to hunker down, to write, to read, to be productive at home alone and not feeling as though I need to go out and be sociable.

I feel comfortable and at ease.

I’m grateful for the climate that live in here in Hawai’i, and when it closes in I remember what I miss.

Meaningful Work and Realizing Your Potential Throughout Life

The 2nd Highly Sensitive Men’s Seminar

Here is a promotional video of the 2nd High Sensitive Men’s seminar taking place over Zoom on December 5th. See my previous post for more details and where to purchase tickets.

The Second Highly Sensitive Men’s Seminar

Towards the end of the second week of December, the 2nd Highly Sensitive Men’s seminar will be held. I am not an organizer of this event, but plan to attend. The first such seminar, A Weekend for Highly Sensitive Men, was in person in California and held just before the pandemic. Due to COVID-19, this seminar will be online (see Details below).

Why am I attending?

First and foremost to be in the presence of men with the same or similar personality type to myself. I find that whenever I am around people who just accept, understand and get me, I can show up in a way that I might not be able to do if there are a mixture of personality types. I do not have to make excuses for myself. The ground of presence is one of acceptance and understanding for my being highly sensitive. Everyone can start from the same place and move on from there.

Secondly, to network, to build community, to hear and learn from other highly sensitive men. I would have liked to attend the original conference, but that was not possible at the time. I am grateful for this opportunity.

I hope to meet you there.

Details

This seminar will focus on the Highly Sensitive Man and career. The tentative moderators will be,

Logistics

  • When: Saturday, December 5th, 2020
  • Time: Noon to 5:00pm CST
  • Where: Online on Zoom
  • Cost: $150
  • Tickets & Further Details: Eventbrite

When you are the lone one amongst many

When you are the solitary introvert or HSP amongst many who are not. When you are the quiet one and your actions or needs are looked on as being off or odd. When you are looked on as not fitting in, and the sole justification is because of what everyone else is doing. When your different needs are seen as wrong because and simply because no one else present has them, and everyone else is doing something else. When societal expectations tell you that something is not quite right in how you show up, and you are judged accordingly.

Just remember, you have have the right to be who you are.

Two tools that I would like to offer here can help you build resilience against the messages that you are receiving and to trust in your own worthiness.

Tackling the beast

Feeling inadequate and alone is a debilitating experience that can take the wind out of the sails of even the most well intentioned endeavour. These beliefs can feed a lack of worthiness, and knock our self-esteem. At the same time we stand there knowing that how we feel and act is who we are. We are not trying to be awkward or act different, this is simply who we are.

If I build a belief and trust in who I am and my own sense of self-worth, it is harder for the outside world to sway me when I’m challenged. A sense of worthiness is always a work in progress. Just as you conquer one critique, another challenge that you hadn’t dealt with before will find its way in and you will feel knocked down again. But as long as the wish is to build your worthiness is there, it will only get stronger with time.

Fear

Fear is the beast that gets in the way of us believing in who we are. Fear of loosing connection with those around us. That in turn feeds into shame, the shame of being different, of standing out and being alone. Of being different and being criticized for it.

Those who have a strong sense of self-worth have the,

  • courage to be different and accept themselves for who they are.
  • compassion for themselves first, not despite others, but recognizing that for worthiness to be there, they have to have compassion for self. It has to start at home.
  • vulnerability, to fully embrace vulnerability with a recognition that without it, they cannot embrace their self-worth. One cannot exist without the other.

This path to self-worth is not necessarily comfortable, but it is necessary. Without one the other cannot exist.

Shame

The critique of others or even simply judging ourselves against others will see the rise of shame within us. The path to self-worth sees one having to face the beast of shame.

Shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can do and be better.
~Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Shame quite often gets mixed up with its near relative, guilt. There is a difference between the two and it lies in the object of identification. Shame identifies with self, guilt identifies with action.

  • Shame - “I am bad, because of an action I did or did not do.”
  • Guilt - I did something bad, ie “I broke the vase.”

Guilt is an honest admission of an action that I did. Shame is identifying with the action to the degree that I believe that it speaks to the nature of my character.

Shame resilience

If we are to build our self-worth, we need to build a defense against shame, catching it when it arises and countering the story that it is telling us…and that we are believing. Essentially pulling the rug out from under its feet.

Shame resilience as developed by Brené Brown is made up of four stages,

  1. Recognizing shame and understanding the triggers - get to know how shame shows up for you. How do you feel in your body when shame is presence? What needs to be going on for shame to show up in your life?
  2. Practicing critical awareness - counter the stories in you that are feeding your shame. How realistic are the expectations that you are putting on yourself? Do I really want to be like that? Start pulling the rug out from under your shame by telling the true story.
  3. Reaching out - find an ally, someone who you can trust and who will listen. Someone who loves and respects you for who you are. Someone who will not try and solve the problem, who will not judge you but will listen and hear your story. Connection wounds shame.
  4. Speaking shame - naming shame’s presence. Shame does not like that. Speak to how you feel. Ask for what you need.

The bumpy path

This is not a comfortable path. Dealing with fear, shame and vulnerability will never take us into a comfortable place, but it will take us to a courageous place. It is from a courageous place that we can start to build connection with who we are and stand in our own power. Then despite the voices that come from outside we are no longer the lone one amongst many. We might be different in our needs and how we act, but at the same time we are at home with ourselves.

From that place I can say, "I am worthy."

The Exhaustion of a Family Visit

From my experience people visiting and staying in my home always requires a break in my routine. There is entertaining, showing around, just more going on and the house feeling busier and more full. I don’t say this to complain, just acknowledging what the welcoming of visitors entails.

For me, as an introvert and highly sensitive person, this creates an added struggle of overstimulation and exhaustion from the constant do, do, do along with accompanying conversation and noise. To borrow from an element that surrounds the island of Maui where I live, it feels to me like constantly being hit by the ocean’s waves. Every time that I come up for air another waves breaks over me, disorientating me and sending me tumbling.

At some point I just need to call "time out".

That is where I am at now. My sister-in-law and her husband are visiting from New York. It is wonderful to have them here, to spend some quality time with them, to show them the island that is our home (we have done so much in the last week and I have visited areas that I don’t go to often, probably because they are on my doorstep), and I am exhausted. Right now I am grateful for a morning that has materialized where I can have some time to myself. I really need it.

130 Guests and Me

This is a post written in installments over the course of, and just after a weekend of wedding celebrations. A weekend of activities that were just made for me… not. .. Having said that, I do wish to empathize that I am here to enjoy myself, make new friends and most importantly celebrate the commitment that a lovely couple are making to each other.

And so it begins…

I start this log on Friday evening. I am getting ready for the rehearsal dinner on the eve of the wedding of my wife’s niece - having married into the family, I’m not sure what her official relationship is to me? There will be 130 guests here tonight. Not the largest wedding that there has been, but by no means the smallest either.

I love this family. Watching the interaction between the parents and their adult children in many ways makes me yearn for a relationship with my own parents that I have never had…and probably won’t at their advanced age.

The wedding has seen me visit a part of the US that I have never been to, the Catskill Mountains, and I am always grateful for the opportunity to explore new vistas. So far the weather has been glorious, almost too hot, and it has been good to catch up with close family. We had a small, intimate dinner last night which was very pleasant, a handful of us having the hotel to ourselves.

Giving myself permission

As an introvert, an INFJ, I know that this weekend of extended activities will pose a challenge. Long periods of socializing, small talk with relatives who I recognize but do not know that well and with people who I am meeting for the first time. In the midst of this activity, I will have to find time to step back and recharge, and in doing so give myself permission to step out of the crowd when others are full into conversation and celebrations.

The permission part is important for me. When attending an event where the more extroverted guests are chatting, laughing and carrying on with seemingly endless energy, I find that I can very easily drop into feelings of inadequacy. A judging and unhelpful voice in my head telling me that I should be able to keep up with the crowd. As Aaron Caycedo-Kimur, writing under the alias INFJoe, says in his book “Text, Don’t Call,”

When we understand, accept, and appreciate our introversion, we become more at peace with ourselves. We learn how to tap into our strengths and protect our vulnerabilities.

The weekend - Friday

Friday evening went well. I had a couple of extended conversations with relatives that I had not seen for a while. Long conversations are easy for me if I get into the flow of the subject matter. I pulled myself away from the hubbub on a few occasions, just looking out from the periphery. My lack of enjoyment of small talk, and over stimulation from all the activity, did keep me away from meeting some people. I could feel an uncomfortableness creep in when I wasn’t drawn to conversation, a consciousness of my difference but I breathed into the permission that I had given myself, reminding myself that I am not less because of it. This is just an aspect of my personality….and I wondered who else amongst the guests was feeling the same way?

Saturday

Saturday, the wedding day, went equally well. Breakfast, a morning walk, long preparations, driving to the venue with my mother-in-law and helping her get situated….and then just taking in the celebrations of the day. The Ceremony was beautiful, the vows between bride and groom moving. Pre-meal drinks, a beautiful dinner, speeches and much dancing (which I enjoy) to a great band. At times I lent into conversations with those who I did not know well however uncomfortable or otherwise that I felt. At other times I could feel myself pulling back and choosing not to engage. Again it was about permission. Permission to honour myself and my needs. By the end of the evening I was actually reluctant to leave.

Sunday

The final hurrah was brunch on Sunday. There were conversations and reflections on the night before. Final words shared before slowly the guests started packing up and heading off on their various journeys home. Again I lent into some conversations, maybe more than the night before with the faces not being so foreign as when we first met yesterday?

And slowly it became time to leave….

Reflections

There had been a long build up to the wedding and now it is over. I felt that crash of coming down from the high of a weekend of activity and fun. As is the introvert’s tendency, I spent time in my head when it was all over analyzing whether I should have reached out to people more than I did. I probably spent far too much time doing that, dropping into feelings of inadequacy or wondering what people might have thought of me as I held back.

And I remind myself that such can be this introvert’s way. I don’t see it as good or bad, it is just who I am. I always see the possibility for change in who I am as an individual. That change won’t necessarily be how other people think that I should be. I am still an INFJ. However, I can still explore and see where my limits might be. I can make a stretch, to see if I am limiting myself by who I have told myself that I am and corresponding learnt habits.

And when I do reach my limits, when I do need quiet time, when I don’t feel like socializing, that is OK. To repeat INFJoe’s quote,

When we understand, accept, and appreciate our introversion, we become more at peace with ourselves. We learn how to tap into our strengths and protect our vulnerabilities.

Frayed Nerves

I am not going to pretend that I can work well when I know that people are around who might call on me at any moment, because I can’t.

Loud music, disturbances, kids shouting, people talking, these distractions and others just throw me when it comes to working. Sometimes, most of the time, just people present in the room with me will intrude on my ability to focus.

Unless they are the quiet type like me, in which case no problem, I sit there anticipating the next interruption.

I can feel it in my body. There is this sense of anxiousness and of tension. I am on edge waiting for what might happen next. All of this just plays into my ability to focus and concentrate. It plays on my ability to drop into the zone and get work done. When I know that I have space around me to work. When I know that people won’t be around for a few hours, I can sit back and relax and get things done. Time will drift by unnoticed and I drop into a zone that deeply feeds me.

But too much disturbance and who knows what mood will be triggered in me - anger, frustration, dejection, just wanting to disappear. Just wanting the world to leave me alone.

Getting Things Done When the World Around You is Spinning Out of Control

Can you move from frantic behaviour to concentration? Can you move from disturbance to instant focus? Can you jump from requests for help to focusing on a job that you are trying to get done?

​I can’t! Spinning on that sort of dime doesn’t fit my personality.

I need to have time set aside, undisturbed time in order to be able to focus on and accomplish what I am doing. In fact I need to be sure that I won’t be disturbed. If I can’t get that environment, I’ll do my best to cope, but I won’t be feeling comfortable and probably won’t get a lot accomplished.

That does not mean that I wait for quiet times before I spring into action. Sometimes the life around me appears to dictate that noise is the way that things are going to be. I live in a family of extroverts. One can at times feel the uncomfortableness in the room if the volume drops or activity diminishes. And I am speaking here about people who I love.

In an interview HSP author Tracy Cooper, PhD, noted that extroverts need to speak to and explain their actions as they are doing them. The introvert and/or HSP on the other hand is likely to say very little about what they are doing, indeed might even choose not to be around others while they are working.

Flow State

Physiologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the concept of Flow. In essence it is a state when we are totally absorbed in a task (work, sport, parenting), so much so that we do not even notice time go by. It is a state where we lose all sense of self-consciousness and a sense of total well-being, with euphoria or elation enveloping us, but that we don’t notice this until the job is done. The whole human species is wired for the flow state even if we don’t spend much time there.

For HSPs the desire (perhaps need?) to be in that state seems to be even more important because of our inner life, or inner complexity and sensitivity to the world around us compels the need to process it. And I find that to have a chance to drop into that state requires certain conditions to be in place, whether I am aware of them being there or not, before I engage in an activity….which takes me back to the title of this piece.

​Ideal Work Environment

​Now I am not going to suggest that every time that I’m busy doing something that I am in the flow state, far from it. But all the same if I find myself disturbed by external noise, disturbed by someone else asking me a question,  or just constant interruptions, I find it very difficult to focus on my own work. My mind feels like a glass of muddy water. It’s been shaken up and I have to wait for the silt to settle before I can truly focus on the job at hand…..and be pretty sure that I won’t suffer with further disturbances.

My ideal work environment is a room at home with a far, distant view and no one else around, i.e. complete silence and a view to clear a cluttered mind if I am not thinking clearly - yes, even focusing on work for me means that at times I need to clear a log jam in my head.

However, a paradoxically oddity about this ideal work environment is that I can find places which appear to be just the opposite in terms of fitting the bill that I described in the last paragraph, but where I can still focus well. I have sat in the back seats of my pickup truck to do some writing while in between appointments and disappeared into a flow state. I have sat in a busy coffee shop and while not maybe being a flow state, have still found it very conducive to getting work done. With regard to the coffee shop environment (in fact where I am right now), I think that anonymity is what plays into the game. The noise of people speaking and background music, providing neither are too jarring and the coffee shop is comfortable, become white noise, a comfortable noise in the background which appear to support the work in hand. I experience the same on a train, in an airport, in a hotel lobby, all providing that I am by myself and so essentially become anonymous in a crowd, just another face.

​Stimulation

​Does this mean that unless the volume is just right, the furniture is in the correct place and the walls are painted the exact colour that I won’t get any work done? Consider “Yes and No”. For the “Yes” answer - My introverted, sensitive nature can easily get overloaded if there is too much going on. If this carries on and on, it feels as though that glass of muddy water is continually being shaken, never being given a chance to settle. When that happens to me I just need to stop for a while, and by “Stop” I mean be surrounded by quiet, no more demands, perhaps a distant view to offer perspective and give a chance for my body and mind to settle - that or at least get away and be by myself. Even that anonymity around others can be of help, though solitude is always best.

For the “No” answer - If I can find a middle way balance between some focus time and disturbance, I can get by. It is hard for me to quantify that, but I do know that from time to time I need to take a break or I need a longer focus period. The important thing here is knowing that I will have time to do what I need or want to do, and know that between there will be sufficient quiet time between the disturbance time otherwise the with time the commutative effect of the noise will make  the ability to really focus a greater challenge.

​Meditation in a Busy World

​This reminds me of meditation. One can’t always get the quiet time that one wants and so one has to be flexible in how long one meditates for, and/or one starts to be creative in how one builds shorter meditation sessions into one’s day. So your meditation practice does not need to grind to a halt because you regular sitting environment is being disturbed, you just need to find ways that you can fit it into your day. However, with time the need to retreat will more than likely arise. A wish to step back from the regular activity of life so that you can focus on what you need to do for your own well-being and nourishment.

​Nourishment Through Flow

Because that is what I find what working in the flow state gives me - nourishment. It feeds me at some deep soulful level. There is a sense of deep well-being. And while I cannot speak for other personality types, that is something that I feel in deep need of as an introverted, highly sensitive man. The need for being able to touch into that space, the nourishment it gives is so deep, that a prolonged absence of it leaves a hole, a wanting, a sense of lack. I need to be able to spend time immersed in an activity, whether work or personal reading, to immerse and disappear into it to find that sense of well being and nourishment.

And what about yourself? As an introvert and/or highly sensitive person how do you resonate with the idea of flow state? Where do you go to find that place of deep nourishment?

The Silence of Male Introverts & HSPs?

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:

  1. Highly Sensitive Men: successes & struggle
  2. HSP Topics: The Challenges of The Highly Sensitive Man
  3. I am a Highly Sensitive Man
  4. Healing the Highly Sensitive Male

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?

Being Interviewed by Melissa Schwartz - Video

Melissa Schwartz of Leading Edge Parenting, where she coaches parents of highly sensitive children, recently interviewed me. Our discussion looked at the overlap between Tibetan Buddhism, particularly meditation and High Sensitivity. You can watch the complete interview below.

I hope that you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the conversation with Melissa.

How to Approach Difficult Situations ... and Manage Those Holiday Blues

A lot of good advice has been offered online on how introverts and HSPs can manage the social demands that might come their way over the holiday period. I was not intending to add to this well informed conversation, until I came across this short video (below) by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who is based in Seattle. The advice that he gives stretches beyond the Buddhist world and applies to any time and place in our lives, not just the this holiday time.

He speaks of how by reaching into core principles such as love and compassion, principles that speak for the well being of the other and not of self, we find more peace of mind by not dwelling on that which is causing us pain. In doing so we lessen our own load and make the difficult more bearable. We transform the situation by not dwelling on the negative. Continued practice of acting in this way creates a new habit for ourselves, our heart and mind are more at peace and we are able to weather more challenges in our lives.

If and where the Buddhist terminology does not work for you, I invite you to replace Rinpoche’s words with words or phrases that help give his advice meaning to you.

Have a happy and safe holiday time whether with family and friends or by yourself, and wishing you all the best for 2015.

Quiet Time, Space, Mindfulness and Focus

How much time do you give to be just with yourself? Why should you want to? 

For six mornings of the week members of Portland Japanese Garden have access to the Gardens for two hours before they open to the general public. The other morning I finally made it up there to benefit from this special privilege.

The silence and stillness on that summer’s morning, the sound of the birds singing and running water, the vividness of the views seen many times before, but being all the more precise with the absence of people.

Why, or why had I not made it up there earlier?

I can in part answer this for myself. Morning quiet time is important to me. Unless I know that I am getting up for an early meeting or to travel somewhere, I plan on starting the day away from busyness and noise. There is plenty of time for that during the day, and my introverted self starts better with a quiet, self-reflective boost before the day gets going. Secondly is my daily meditation practice which is a stable for me just like having breakfast, or the sleep that I have just woken up from. So walking to the car, a drive and walk up to the Gardens, and an uncertainty of just how busy that journey might be and how many conversations I could get drawn into along the way, tends me more to the assured quietness of home.

I was nudged out the front door yesterday morning by some busyness at home. The Japanese Garden seemed like a good second option. As I travelled further up the hill it became apparent just how quiet it was going to be. There were few people around, and beneath the trees was the stillness of a day just starting. On entering the Gardens I walked to find a place to practice Qigong, before moving down to the Rock Garden to meditate. The few people there moved around respectful of their fellow visitors’ space, speaking in hushed voices.

After an hour I headed for home, nourished not only by the silence but also the time spent in nature. The day was still ahead of me.

Returning to those two initially posed questions. How much time do you give to yourself each day? Time free from meetings, emails, other people, phones. And if you were to do so, what would be the benefit? Our over busy, multi-distracted lives aside from not being good for our health, can also lead to less productivity and less time checking in with ourselves. The multitaskers are praised and celebrated, but time spent continually switching between jobs and worrying about what the next distraction coming down the pipe might be, all means less concentration and focus on the current job in hand and with those whom we are working with.

In our run around what is driving us - our fears, concerns, habits and reactions, or our clear thought through ideas? Time spent with ourselves is a “STOP” in the middle of the freneticism. It allows the dust of busyness to settle and what we are really feeling to rise more to the surface - is our body telling us we need to rest, are we really happy with the suggestions being made, would we prefer more time to think through this solution? More time spent in this space starts to change the habits of where we work from. Familiarity here does not breed contempt but a knowing of who we are and how we react to different situations. In the long term the result becomes us catching ourselves more quickly when we find ourselves simply reacting as opposed to coming from our heart.


Quiet Time

So what might this alone time look like? Here is a suggestion. Not a full blown, formal mindfulness meditation session, though the essence of it is here.

Early morning is a good time to give yourself some quiet time. You are fresh from the stillness of your night’s sleep. The day is still as the world wakes up. Before your reach for your smart phone, checkin on the news or your email, schedule ten minutes to be alone with yourself. Find a comfortable chair, or if you like sit on the floor. The important thing is to have a straight back. This allows the mind to stay fresh and alert.

Now as you sit there, just be aware of what is arising for you in those moments. What is arising in your mind? What sensations are there in your body? There is no judgement in what arises, just observation. Be like an usher collecting tickets at the theatre. You see the people walk up to you, and then they are gone. If you catch yourself getting involved in a conversation with your observations, without judgement let that go and return to the observing. If this is not something that you are use to doing, ten minutes alone could feel like an age, but stick with it.

During the day it can be helpful to reinforce the habit of mindfulness that you were observing in the morning. Look for opportunities to remind you to come back to yourself for as little as a few seconds. Here are some suggestions:

  • A telephone ringing - don’t just reach for it, take a deep breath, feel your presence in the chair and then answer the phone.
  • The brake lights of the car in front of you.
  • A stop light.
  • Try driving without the radio on or music playing.
  • Standing in line for food or a drink. If you are by yourself, don’t check your phone but be aware of your breathing. Deepen your breath. Be aware of your feet on the ground.
  • If you are eating by yourself, don’t eat and read. Just be aware of yourself eating. The chewing of the food, the texture of the food, swallowing the food.
  • When walking walk mindfully, staying aware of yourself walking. Use your breath, or the stepping of your feet as an anchor to keep yourself focused. I have written on this here.

So why should you want to give time to yourself? For you own well being, but also for the benefit of your work and those with whom you work and live. You’ll start to catch yourself being distracted, working off autopilot and find the space to stop and better consider the situation that has presented itself to you. You will start to find space where at first there appeared to be none.

The Silent Warrior

When I hear the word “warrior” I usually think of a fearsome character going off into battle, probably on horse back. Such a person appears to me as an ancient and noble figure, adorned in ornate clothes, and carrying some masterly crafted weaponry.

In this article I’d like to introduce to you to two other types of warrior. One is established and known within some circles. This warrior is motivated by altruism to battle the ignorance and suffering in the world.

The second type of warrior is one who has probably existed for centuries, but who I see emerging and gaining more prominence in this time.

In Mahayana Buddhism there exists the concept of the Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is one who has the bodhicitta mind. Etymologically bodhicitta is a combination of two Sanskrit words. “Bodhi” means “awakening” and “enlightenment.” “Citta” has the Sanskrit root “cit” which means “that which is conscious.” Bodhicitta is quite often translated as, “mind of enlightenment.” It is also referred to as an unusual mind. Why “unusual” - because very few beings have it. It is a mind that thinks of others before self. For most of us self normally shows up in the picture somewhere. How often do we offer of ourselves with absolutely no wish for anything in return?

The Bodhisattva is sometimes referred to as a warrior. Like other warriors, the Bodhisattva warrior goes into battle. This warrior is fighting against the delusional self-interest that causes so much pain to individuals and nations. To engage in this battle the Bodhisattva carries two weapons, compassion and wisdom. Compassion is that deep wish to see all suffering be removed from the world and to personally engage in the work required to alleviate this suffering. However, compassion alone is not enough. With only compassion there is the danger of burnout. The other weapon is wisdom, the insight to see into the true, interconnected nature of reality. The web of life that binds us all together. This is the root of all suffering. Like compassion, the weapon of wisdom cannot act alone. It is too cool, analytical. It needs the warmth of compassion.

It is with the Bodhisattva in mind that I see the emergence of another warrior in our midst. This warrior has a different, but no less important mission. Their mission is to enrich the world with the qualities that a quiet, but attentive mind offers. In a noisy world, this warrior reminds us of the value of silence, of observing closely, of listening deeply. I call this warrior the Silent Warrior. What weapons might the silent warrior carry? I’d like to suggest a few to you.

  • Patience: The qualities of a quiet mind might take a while to take root in the world. During that time the silent ones might be misunderstood, not heard. The Silent Warrior is not deterred. They know that they have some something of deep value to give to the world and are prepared to wait.
  • Persistence: With their rich inner lives, the silent ones have resources to draw on when the going gets tough.
  • Listening: The Silent Warriors listen deeply, carefully, feeling no need to rush in with their opinions. They take note of what is being said and act accordingly.
  • Relationships: For those with whom they connect, the Silent Warrior will build a close relationship. Not for them to run around and create shallow relationships. They will spend time with you, get to know you and see in what way they might be able to help.
  • Leadership: Feeding off the last two items, as a leader the Silent Warrior will not force their opinion on their team. The Silent Leader will work collaboratively, listening to what others have to say, encouraging team members to offer and synthesize their ideas.

These five weapons are the principle ones that I have identified the Silent Warrior as carrying. Are there others that I have missed? Are you a Silent Warrior, gathering your weapons to bring your quiet presence to the world?