HS Men’s Workshop in 2020!

The time has finally come for a highly sensitive men’s workshop to be held at 1440hand-plant-300x225Multiversity in the spring of 2020!  Teachers will be Dr. Ted Zeff, Dr. Tracy Cooper, John Hughes, and Scott Clausen.  You know Ted Zeff from his decades of work with highly sensitive men and HS children.  Dr. Zeff’s work has a global reach and he has given lectures and presentations throughout the world.  John Hughes appeared in Sensitive-The Untold Story describing his experiences c66681ee217daa00504417b76fe1bdf3as an entrepreneur and highly successful businessman.  Scott Clausen is a senior executive with Amazon and has keen insights into corporate life and the HS man.  Myself?  Well, you know me from my books: Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career and Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person, as well as from my appearance in Sensitive-The Untold Story.

You have also seen my many blog posts over the years as I have sought to address a range of topic of interest to the sensitive person and the sensitive sensation seeker.  Some of you may have also been consulting clients of mine from my work with HSPs and careers, where I worked with people from around the world to increase their awareness of the trait, develop self-care practices, learn to navigate the world of business, work, and the entrepreneurial  realm.

Now, I turn my attention to a topic near and dear to me: the highly sensitive male.  We have been considering how and where to do a HS men’s workshop for several years and we feel that 1440 Multiversity is the right place for us to hold our workshop weekends (plus they are very enthused to have us)!  We are planning for a spring 2020 weekend workshop for our first meeting of sensitive male souls with more to follow in future years (possibly in other locations as well).

What we would really like to do is invite you into this experience with us and tell us what you are most interested in hearing about.  We know you want your time to be well-spent and it is important to us that we provide you with a stellar experience at 1440.

Throughout 2019, we will be soliciting ideas from you and building them into our workshop framework.  It’s almost inevitable that we will have so many topics to cover that we will need to expand beyond a workshop format to developing resources that you can look to for accurate information, informed insights, and practical, no non-sense advice.  More to follow in that regard…

Our goal (and mission) is to empower sensitive male souls through education, collaboration, and community.

Join us!

FB: empoweringsensitivemalesouls


Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career

Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

How To Beat Procrastination

Do you procrastinate? Is your mind filled with fascinating and more interesting things to do than the work that is in front of you? Many highly sensitive people have quite active and deep minds that can become lost in reflection, absorption, or shut down by overstimulation. Drifting off into reflection may be interesting but it does not get the job done. Similarly with the enjoyment of taking in preferable stimulation; the internet has made it too easy to browse from thing to thing rather mindlessly and take time away from goals we need to achieve for ourselves.

The following article offers a few tips on how to beat procrastination that HSPs can benefit from. We have a profound ability to focus quite intently on a task when we actually engage with it but, like anyone else, we may also fall prey to distractions (there are so many today with technology) and our own inherent nature to think short-term instead of long-term gain.

It’s entirely true that it is difficult to tackle large projects that may take months to complete (let alone years-long projects). For example, most of you know I have written two books with the intention of writing a third and fourth. What you do not know is how difficult it can be to focus to the degree one needs to in order to write anything sensible (far tougher than it looks). In times past, setting up a structure has worked well and I’ve been able to power through the writing and editing. After the first two books were published, however, perhaps the immediacy felt different; as if there were not such a rush. It can be great to not feel as if we are rushed but it can also breed complacency and, you got it, procrastination as so many other (seemingly more interesting) things compete for my attention. The answer?

The tips in the article mention ways to change our perception of the short-term cost so we instead focus on the benefit in accomplishing the task. I have tried breaking up much larger tasks into much smaller pieces, and that does help, but the best result likely comes from combining several of these tips together to change our perception of how much we need to invest now to enjoy a much larger reward later. Depending on whether the nature of the task is speculative (we are doing it in anticipation of a potential reward versus a definite reward) we may find it harder to make that short-term investment. The point to keep in mind if you are actively creating work based on potential future rewards is creativity should breed many good ideas that are speculative to some degree, but sometimes having already explored a topic may come in handy down the road when what we have learned as a result of said work becomes immediately relevant. So speculative knowledge that prefigures future needs may be the name of the game for some who think ahead, or in divergent ways.

I have to add in one more tip to beat procrastination: enlist the synergy that often exists when we are inspired by others! We cannot discount the value in working on a project with other people because we may be often literally propelled by the energy and belief of others. Even the deep introvert who prefers to scribble alone in a writing nook needs someone to eventually read what she has written or created. Similarly, sometimes it may help to break procrastination by leaving our familiar surroundings and finding inspiration in the outside world. Perhaps a library has a great space that’s quiet yet offers great views and a relaxed, academic atmosphere or a coffee shop is just right for you to set up your laptop and type out a page or two as you note others seem to be doing the same. Or you might frequent a co-working space where other home-based workers come to leave their homes. Often, our home environments fail to provide us with a distinct feeling that real work can be done there.

Building on the idea of ritual for separating one activity or block of time from another, it may be very helpful to leave the house on certain days or for a certain number of hours per day and spend that time in a co-working space. We have such a space near where I live in Springfield, Missouri where a small fee allows one to spend the day among other independent workers in a pleasant office setup. The feeling of communion, of shared purpose can be undeniably valuable to lifting the spirits and providing inspiration. There is also the potential for collaboration if you strike up a conversation in the adjacent coffee shop or simply by chit-chatting with your neighbor (providing the neighbor is not head-down focused).

However you choose to apply these tips, beating procrastination will help you accomplish your goals while perhaps retraining your brain to find the willingness to invest in short-term efforts for long-term benefits.

Please feel free to share!


Thrill: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career

Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

Recommended article:


Hands On for HSPs

Too often we highly sensitive people spend more time inside our own minds than in our bodies. What do I mean by this? Dwelling inside our own minds in reflection, contemplation, or as a protective mechanism (shielding us from overstimulation or negative stimulation) are in the realm of the intangible. We have nothing to show for our mental gymnastics if we do not convert that into a physical reality. Making things with our hands is the key and we have moved far away from what is such a natural human capacity in our modern, technological world.

One of the prime factors mentioned by so many HSPs that I have spoken with over the years has been a need for meaningfulness; to know that their efforts had a real impact in the lives of others. I was just conferring with a consulting client yesterday when the observation was made as to the essentially meaningless nature of her work in retail. Yes, having things available for people to buy (especially necessary things) is useful and productive overall but is not especially meaningful in the sense of deriving meaningfulness from having made something out of nothing. This same client actually has a side gig where she creates short films using a painstaking process of claymation, which entails hand-sculpting the figures and sets only to take one single photo before moving each figure a tiny fraction and taking another photo (think frames on a film reel). Claymation takes a huge amount of time, effort, and focus to produce even a few minutes of film. The result, though is a “real” manifestation of her work (and the resultant satisfaction that goes with it).

Anothecenteredfeelsgood7r example is wheel-thrown pottery, which I am intimately familiar with as I taught myself to “throw” at a local community college studio and, later, bought my own studio setup. Throwing pottery on a wheel is the ultimate example of mind and body working together in perfect sync to produce not only an object that is useful (a bowl or a cup) but also beautiful. In one of my former lives (and I have not thrown in many years) I was quite good at throwing pots that came from somewcentering6here deep inside my own mind as well as embodied practical uses (a mug shape for instance). Clay is the most wonderfully malleable material one could work with to create real objects of utility and art. Moreover, working to develop an adequate cross-over from the abstract part of the brain that just thinks about how to do a movement to including the parts that actually control movement yields tremendous benefits in self-confidence and self-esteem. Like many other processes and techniques, the more you practice the better you get (or as my kids well know, the “p” word).

If it’s been awhile sifluting17nce you’ve made anything with your two hands I highly encourage you to consider digging in and making something! Talent only counts a small fraction; it’s hard work and practice that brings technique and refinement. Let yourself play, explore, and take a few risks. In our modern world of endless electronic jibber-jabber we have forgotten what it means to be human, to be creative, and to use the wonderfully complex and capable devices at the end of our arms (our hands) in conjunction with our minds.

Over the five decades of my life I have learned to do many things with my hands (and mind). I’ve dug in the soil to grow plants, learned every phase of building a home as I constructOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAed my own log home, and delved deep into the fine arts as a painter, a potter, and a sketcher. There is no end to what you can build with your hands or what you can create. Some things you can build are entirely useful and necessary (a home or a garden) while others are beautiful and feed our souls (paintings, pottery, decorating a home or yard).

When it comes to things I appreciate the most it always distills down to the handmade. I do appreciate machine-made objects for their symmetry and precision but the handmade quality of a thing where one can see the effort and time put into its creation is beyond compare. I invite you to begin noticing the beauty in the handmade because everything that is produced by hand requires creative and critical thinking working in symbiosis to make a reality out of the abstract. Developing a working relationship and appreciation of the necessity of creative and critical thinking combined with a physical embodiment of what we are capable of making, or doing, with our hands puts us more in touch with who we are OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand what we are built for as humans.

Want to be fully engaged? Go build something…

Please share!


Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career

Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person


How Hands-On Learning Fires Up Your Brain, with Leland Melvin



How to Collaborate with People You Don’t Like

Difficult co-worker? That never happens, right? We highly sensitive people are often deeply affected by a negative co-worker or a negative (at least what we perceive as negative) experience. We have all made the mistake of protecting ourselves by walling the other person off entirely. At work, that can be disastrous as we need our co-workers to accomplish goals, outcomes, and initiatives. The following article has some good tips on using empathy to relate to the “difficult” co-worker by engagement and an open assessing of each other’s strengths.

No, you do not have to be friends with every person you work with but you do need most of them and a few are critical to your long-term success and happiness. Learn to collaborate with those you do not like; sometimes we simply do not have a full context to situate the other person’s behaviors. Learn that context and how they operate and you will find points for collaboration and perhaps even an appreciation for ways they complement your own quiet strength.

Have you ever worked through a situation with a difficult co-worker? If so, how did you break through your initial impressions? Has it worked out long-term?

Please share!


Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person


A few months ago, a former client — let’s call her Kacie— called me to check in. I had supported her through her transition when she had joined a prestigious global financial services firm several months prior. Given how deliberately and thoughtfully she’d gone through the process, I expected that our conversation would be about her early wins.

Instead, Kacie confessed that she had a simple but serious problem: she wasn’t getting along well with a peer-level executive — let’s call her Marta. The two had gotten off on the wrong foot, and as time passed things weren’t getting any better. Kacie told me that it was becoming painfully clear that her inability to get along with Marta was going to impede her success, and possibly derail her career at the company.

As Kacie and I explored the situation, she told me that Marta was seen as a highly talented, accomplished, and well-liked executive — she wasn’t toxic or difficult. But Kacie admitted that she didn’t really like Marta. They had different styles, and Marta rubbed her the wrong way.

Over a series of conversations, Kacie and I worked through the situation. She revisited the stakeholder map she had created in her first few weeks in the role, which clearly showed that Marta’s collaboration and partnership were essential for getting the business results Kacie wanted. In assessing the relationship more honestly, Kacie came to realize that she had been failing to reach out to Marta. She had not made her new colleague feel like her input and perspectives were valuable, had been leaving her and her team off communications, and had more or less been trying to avoid her.

Kacie developed a handful of useful strategies for working better with Marta. While none were particularly easy or comfortable, these are ideas and insights that almost anyone can use when they have to work with someone they just don’t like.

Reflect on the cause of tension and how you are responding to it. The first step is both acceptance and reflection. Remind yourself: You won’t get along with everyone but there is potential value in every interaction with others. You can and should learn from almost everyone you meet, and the responsibility for making that happen lies with you even if the relationship is not an easy one. Take an honest look at what is causing the tension and what role you play in creating it. It may be that your reaction to the situation is at the core of the problem (and you can’t control anything other than your reaction). Kacie had to recognize that Marta’s “unlikability” may really have been about Kacie herself.

Work harder to understand the other person’s perspective. Few people get out of bed in the morning with the goal of making your life miserable. Make time to think deliberately about the other person’s point of view, especially if that person is essential to your success. Ask yourself: Why is this person acting this way? What might be motivating them? How do they see me? What might they want and need from me? Kacie began to think differently about Marta as she came to appreciate that her colleague had goals and motivations as valid as her own and that their goals were not inherently in conflict.

Become a problem solver rather than a critic or competitor. To work better together, it’s important to shift from a competitive stance to a collaborative one. One tactic is to “give” the other person the problem. Rather than trying to work through or around the other person, engage them directly. Kacie invited Marta out to lunch and was open with her: “I don’t feel like we are working together as effectively as we could. What do you think? Do you have any ideas for how we can work better together?” If you ask people to show you their cards, and demonstrate vulnerability in the process, they will often reveal a few of their own.

You and Your Team Series

Office Politics

Ask more questions. In tense situations, many of us try to “tell” our way through it. We might become overly assertive, which usually makes the situation worse. Instead, try asking questions — ideally open-ended ones intended to create conversation. Put aside your own agenda, ask good questions, and have the patience to truly listen to the other person’s answers.

Enhance your awareness of your interpersonal style. It’s easy to chalk up conflicts to poor “chemistry” with another person but everyone has different styles and often being aware of those differences can help. Over lunch, Marta and Kacie discovered that they had both completed the Myers-Briggs earlier in their careers, so they shared their profiles. Kacie is both a clear introvert and a very strong sensing type: she prefers to have time to work through issues alone and quietly, and to draw conclusions from a broad base of data. Marta, on the other hand, is an extrovert and a strong intuitive type, comfortable reacting immediately, focusing on the big picture, and solving problems by talking them through with others. Given these differences in style and preference, Kacie and Marta were bound to find interacting with each other uncomfortable. But once they identified their differences, they realized that their styles could be quite complementary if they adapted and accommodated their approaches.

Ask for help. Asking for help can reboot a difficult relationship because it shows that you value the other person’s intelligence and experience. Over their lunch, Kacie grew confident enough to say to Marta, “You’ve been around here longer than I have. I feel like I’m starting to figure things out, but I’d love your help.” Then she asked questions like: “What should I be doing more or less of? Am I missing anything or failing to connect with anyone I really should? What do you wish someone had told you when you first started working here?”

Kacie and Marta’s relationship significantly improved. During my last call with Kacie, she told me that she and Marta communicate frequently in-person and via text and Slack, and they regularly take part in each other’s team meetings. Each quarter they bring their whole teams together to assess progress and seek opportunities to learn and improve their processes. While Marta and Kacie aren’t necessarily friends and don’t spend a lot of time together outside the office, they’re much better colleagues, and they like each other more than they initially suspected.

Kacie’s success in turning around her relationship with Marta was in part because she acted while “the cement was still wet.” Her negative dynamic with Marta hadn’t yet hardened so Kacie was able to increase her self-awareness, adapt her style, and reach out. It is possible to collaborate effectively with people you don’t like, but you have to take the lead.

Mark Nevins is the president of Nevins Consulting and advises and consults senior executives and their teams on leadership, change, and organization effectiveness. He and John Hillen are co-authors of What Happens Now: Reinvent Yourself as a Leader Before Your Business Outruns You (Select Books, 2018)

New Edition of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career?

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career has been out since 2015 and I have been considering how to revise it for a new edition in 2019. Cover ThriveThrive was conceived as a broad overview of the many issues we highly sensitive people encounter in the workplace along with telling the stories of HSPs that I interviewed for the study.

I thought it might be useful to you if I presented a different angle on career. For example, it seems that the contact worker/gig economy is becoming a new normal with most people in the workforce having to become entrepreneurial, whether they wish to or not. Though I discussed self-employment and entrepreneurship in Thrive, I could dig much deeper into that aspect of career for a new version of the book. I could also present other views of career, such as more on trade work, acknowledging what is becoming a keen shortage of workers in the trades (many of which would probably work well for many HSPs).

I am open to input from you and want to ask you what you would like for me to write about in a NEW edition of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career?

Please share far and wide so we get good input!

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

New Research on Sensory Processing Sensitivity

Check out the latest research on Sensory Processing Sensitivity written in an easy to understand way by Dr. Elaine Aron (originator of the trait). What do you think of the Orchid, Tulip, Dandelion analogy? How about the new percentage of highly sensitive people at 30%? It’s a scale, of course, with people at varying levels of highly sensitive but each new bit of research adds to what we already know and does so in a careful, scientific way using rational thought processes. It is important in these crazy times that we be able to trust what is presented as factual information. This is factual information…


Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

Basics of Highly Sensitive People

From an interview earlier this year with Planet Mindful:

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

People who identify as highly sensitive have the naturally occurring personality trait Sensory Processing Sensitivity.  Sensory Processing Sensitivity is present in at least 100 other species, is evenly distributed between males and females, and present in about 15-20% of the overall population.  SPS was first identified as a distinct personality trait by clinical psychologist Elaine Aron in 1996, further researched in the intervening 22 years by Aron and other researchers around the world and is the subject of the 2015 documentary film Sensitive-The Untold Story.

Sensory Processing Sensitivity may best be encapsulated as the following four key aspects:

Depth of processing of all stimulation.  Highly sensitive people (or HSPs) process everything they see, hear, smell, feel in a more elaborate way in their brains.  All personality traits serve the purposes of survival and reproduction in the ancestral time in which they evolved and SPS likely allowed those who thought more deeply about events, sensory stimulation, and people a slight advantage that likely translated to better survivability for their respective groups.  HSPs may be very deep-minded individuals who spend a good deal of time in self-reflection and considering the what-ifs of a given situation.  This propensity makes HSPs potentially very good planners, leaders, and counselors.

Overstimulation in certain highly individualized circumstances.  HSPs may feel overwhelmed by certain smells, lighting conditions, fluctuations of temperature, scratchy fabrics, certain types of noises, and strong interpersonal energetic interactions.  SPS works by the triggering of strong emotions leading to the depth of processing previously noted.  HSPs experience these emotions as particularly intense and may find it difficult to remain in overstimulating circumstances.  They often prefer to “get away” and recharge in quiet.  It is vitally important to note that HSPs are not a homogenous group.  Indeed, what bothers one HSP might not even register with another.  The sources of overstimulation for HSPs vary tremendously from person to person with males sometimes experiencing little to no overstimulation from sensory sources, but possibly from emotional sources.

Emotional responsiveness and High empathy.  Highly sensitive people have a broader possible range of emotional expression than in those without the trait.  A person without the trait may feel happy at, say, a child’s graduation, while an HSP may feel happy, sad, anxious, scared, confident, and ecstatic all at the same time.  This is not to say that HSPs are fragile, weak, hysterical, or emotionally unstable but they do have a broader possible range of emotional reactions.  Intertwined with this emotional responsivity is generally higher empathy.  HSPs may be good at identifying with the reality of other people more readily than in those without the trait.  Being able to step into another person’s shoes and see the world (or a given situation) from their viewpoint, without judgement, means HSPs may be very good at “reading” people.

Sensitivity to subtle stimuli.  Highly sensitive people notice visual information more acutely, pick up on subtle smells or sounds more readily than those without the trait, and generally are more sensitive to a range of subtleties than in others.  This keen sensitivity may make them very good at planning, developing alternatives, or noting details.

There is another personality trait about 30% of HSPs have; it’s known as Sensation Seeking.  Sensation seekers may identify with any of the four aspects below:

Thrill and Adventure Seeking – seeking physical thrills (roller coasters, rock climbing, fast cars, etc).

Novelty and Experience Seeking – seeking new experiences that provide a similar rush of dopamine in the pleasure pathway of the brain.  This may be going to new museums, new countries (or places one does not know) and doing new things for the sake of doing them.

Disinhibition – indulging in hedonistic experiences for the fun of it: parties, differing sexual partners, experimenting with drugs, going outside normal behavioral parameters for the thrill of doing it.

Boredom Susceptibility – propensity to become disinterested, lethargic or unmotivated at repetitious or uninteresting activities.

Being both highly sensitive and a high sensation seeker is quite a push-pull dynamic between the more cautious approach of the sensitive and the bolder approach of the sensation seeker.  Often, the sensation seeking side wins out and overwhelms the sensitive side resulting in exhaustion.  It is extremely important for sensitive sensation seekers to know themselves well and strike a balance between the two traits.  Sensation seeking is a naturally occurring personality trait (just like SPS) with several identified genes controlling its expression in the brain.  Being a sensitive sensation seeker, if one can strike an appropriate balance, may be the best of both worlds.

Are the brains of HS people different to other people’s?

There has been research conducted utilizing fMRI brain scans administered to highly sensitive people while they attended to various tasks.  The same scans were made of the brains of people without the trait and the results show that there is greater activation for HSPs in certain areas of the brain related to visual processing (specifically there is more activation in making fine visual distinctions in a scene), emotions, emotion processing and emotional memories.  There is evidence of sensory processing in the secondary visual system and the inputs to the autonomic nervous system/emotional responses being moderated by SPS.  HSPs exhibit greater neural response to happy and sad states of others especially in the insula and mirror neuron areas and show greater neural response to positive and negative images.  One study conducted to determine whether culture moderates brain response to basic sensory information showed that HSPs tend to ignore cultural biases in processing information.  The brains of HSPs work in a slightly different way with regards to the way they process stimulation of all kinds in a more elaborate way.

If someone if HS, what can they do to ensure they are not overwhelmed by their environment? (For example, noise, bright lights).

First, they will undoubtedly encounter overwhelming environmental stimulation from time to time and it is important to take steps to minimize the effects of overstimulation where possible.  It is important for HSPs to speak up and ask for less light, adjustments to temperature, or for distracting noises to stop.  In some cases, an HSP simply needs to take matters into their own hands and get up and move; if in a noisy restaurant or other public place where this is possible.  Where it is not possible, it’s important for the person to know they may need additional downtime to recharge after a particularly overstimulating event.  Developing and maintaining a rigorous self-care practice is key to managing overwhelm in our modern world.

There are many small ways we can manage overstimulation (or unwanted or unpleasant stimulation), such as using earphones or a headset to listen to something more pleasing, or simply to block out the noise to a comfortable degree.  One may also intentionally search out quiet spots to sit or bring along aromatherapy oils like lavender or eucalyptus for a quick sniff of comfort.  Similarly, it is important for HSPs to spend time in nature and recharge in the best ways that work for them.  As for all people, it is advisable to eat a healthy diet (though there is no one best way to eat or diet that is specific to HSPs), hydrate with enough liquids, and self-monitor and self-correct our thinking and emotions.

There are some big misconceptions about HSPs that we should bear in mind:

  • That HSPs are somehow weak or fragile in overstimulating conditions. Overwhelm may be a momentary reaction but most HSPs become quite skilled at avoiding overstimulation when possible and mitigating its effects otherwise.  Many very successful people through history and in today’s world are, in fact, highly sensitive people.  HSPs will not break if they are overstimulated; they may become irritated or frustrated, even tearful or angry but they will likely recover quickly and come back better prepared.  It’s when HSPs encounter unplanned for overstimulation that it becomes a problem.  HSPs may enjoy concerts, fireworks shows, or any of a host of other stimulating events just like anyone else, if they expect the stimulation.
  • All HSPs are alike. This is absolutely not true, and we should resist the all too human tendency to homogenize a group of over one billion people thereby negating their infinite and beautiful variation of individual expression.  HSPs, just like anyone in the human species, may be a joy to know or a misery.  It all depends on the things that have happened to a given person and the individual choices she has made.  Much also depends on the early environment of the HSP with abusive, traumatic, or neglectful environments being especially bad and positive, supporting, and nurturing environments being especially good.  Aron has stated that it all depends on the psychological complexes we may have formed as a result of early environments and the lingering hold those may play in our subsequent behaviors.
  • Being an HSP does not mean being easily offended. SPS works by the activation of strong, quick emotions triggering more elaborate processing in the brains of HSPs.  While HSPs may intuitively feel whether something or someone is positive or negative, taking offense is optional.  Many HSPs are wonderful people you probably already share time with in your family, at your workplace, and in your social groups (most probably do not know they are HSPs).

Are there any challenges associated with being HS? (Are they at risk of being anxious or depressed – and if so, why?

There are many challenges associated with being a person that is highly complex, deeply intuitive, innately creative, and intensely emotional but the most prominent factor that affects how HSPs experience life is the culture they are born into.  Many cultures around the globe have become increasingly western in attitude and orientation with norms and expectations of behavior shifting toward extreme extraversion, constant stimulation, and superficial thought and actions.  To be a sensitive person in such cultures is to be out of place, to some extent, but also to be faced with having to work harder at maintaining balance within ourselves (a calm core) where we can retreat to when necessary and find stillness and calm.  Calm may not exist in the world, but it can exist inside of us if we care enough to work on developing the aspects of ourselves that will lead us to a still center.

Highly sensitive people, due to their nature as deep-thinking, intensely emotional, and intuitive individuals may be predisposed to spend more time than may be warranted focusing and reflecting on negative events that happen as they replay interpersonal interactions on an endless loop in their minds searching for clarity.  Often the focus is unnecessary and counterproductive and may lead to needless anxiety, worry, and depression, in some cases.  Simply being a highly sensitive person does not make one a depressed person; spending too much time focusing on minute details of every interaction, however, might.

Many people experience challenges in finding the “right” career but HSPs may face exceptional difficulties in finding work that is meaningful, allows for autonomy, and provides interpersonal and environmental conditions that are tolerable.  According to one large survey I conducted in 2014 many HSPs opt for careers in what may be described as the “helping professions,” i.e. education, healthcare, human services.  Many more are in the creative arts, business management, information technology, marketing and sales, and STEM fields.  Some of these might seem incongruous but it is a manifestation of the wonderful variety inherent in highly sensitive people.

Highly sensitive people may experience challenges with relationship issues like finding a long-term partner who is kind and understanding of greater need for downtime or alone time; need to plan things carefully to alleviate anxieties; and need to feel secure.  There isn’t a specific partner type we can point to as being most appropriate for HSPs because people vary so much at different times of life and may make poor choices no matter how great they seem in the short-term.  The best partner for an HSP is one who is open, kind, calm, and loving but finding the right partner may take a lifetime or happen right away.  Friendships are a similarly tricky issue for many HSPs as close relationships go through life cycles; it is vitally important, however, to have at least one close friend in whom HSPs can trust and relate to.  Socially, it is very helpful for HSPs to be around other HSPs, so they can 1) know they are not alone, and 2) find kinship with others who are similarly deep-thinking, deep feeling, intensely emotional and creative people.  Highly sensitive people can experience fulfilling and rewarding relationships with others just like anyone else.

The beauty in being highly sensitive is being able to inhabit both ends of any spectrum.  An HSP might be logical and creative, focused and unfocused, dedicated yet value autonomy quite fiercely.  An HSP might also be one dimensional and quite unlike a highly sensitive person at all, especially men, who are conditioned from a young age to hide sensitivity or feel shame for their intense feelings, thoughts and emotions.  One study found that HSPs do not subscribe to cultural notions of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, thoughts, and values but culture is all around us all of the time and undoubtedly is a source of annoyance when it is not inclusive of other personality types except the dominant paradigm.   HSPs represent a slightly different survival strategy for humans but, in the end, are not so very different.  It is important for HSPs to learn about Sensory Processing Sensitivity, make adjustments to their lives, and meet other HSPs but then move on with the ever-present business of living their lives as best as they can.

Tracy Cooper, Ph.D. is a researcher exploring and investigating Sensory Processing Sensitivity and Sensation Seeking.  He has written two books on highly sensitive people: Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career and Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person.  Dr. Cooper is a Program Chairman for a Master of Liberal Arts degree at Baker University.  He provides consulting services on a one on one basis on the topics of HSPs and career, the high sensation seeking highly sensitive person, and self-care though his website at drtracycooper.com.

Highly Sensitive People and Emotional Reactivity

Do highly sensitive people who come from supportive childhoods respond differently to positive stimuli than those from unsupportive backgrounds? A research study published in 2016 in the journal Social Behavior and Personality seems to indicate the answer is yes. HSPs who experienced supportive childhoods do respond more quickly and to a more profound degree than do those from unsupportive backgrounds. How is this news?

What’s interesting about this study is that even HSPs who were rated low in Sensory Processing Sensitivity (the underlying personality trait or temperament highly sensitive people have) also responded more quickly and to a greater degree of arousal than those from unsupportive backgrounds. Whether you are at the high end or the low end of high sensitivity your parenting and early experiences color how quickly and how deeply you respond to positive stimuli. Reflecting on this finding, it seems to make sense that HSPs from unsupportive backgrounds, where people become conditioned to “expect the worst,” are indeed looking for the worst and even if the best did happen right in front of their eyes they might not even notice! Now, what’s the difference between emotional reactivity, which is what this article measured, and emotional responsiveness, which is a key aspect of Sensory Processing Sensitivity?

Emotional reactivity is exactly that: reactivity to stimuli, while emotional responsiveness represents the range of possible emotions we might experience in a given circumstance. Highly sensitive people, according to Dr. Elaine Aron, really do need to identify as being emotionally responsive in order to be considered highly sensitive. Emotional responsiveness does not necessarily mean we freak out every time something happens, mostly because things happen all the time in life and there isn’t patience for emotional instability (or what people might of external expressions as instability) in daily life. We learn to not express our often strong emotions in an external way; especially men.

Men who are highly sensitive (and there are supposedly as many men who are highly sensitive as women) learn quickly in hegemonic cultures, where masculinity is toxic, to be stoic, unemotional, to be “in charge” of emotions and never express them in an external way, unless it’s anger then that’s approved (ironically). Men, however, suffer as a result of experiencing the same range of emotions (responsiveness) but face negative social sanctions in general for expressing them. Not surprisingly, men also die sooner than do females; stress plays a huge role.

If we are to learn anything from research, and I do believe it is crucial that we base all of our thinking on well-done, peer-reviewed research in order to preserve accuracy, clarity, and rigor, we must extend the findings of studies such as the one I will link to below. Knowing that we come from a supportive or unsupportive background is key to understanding how we are wired to function in the world. For HSPs from supportive backgrounds, for instance, it might be wise to understand that they will respond more quickly to positive stimuli and to a greater degree, but what about negative stimuli? Will they overlook it and if so how might that be a problem?

Similarly for HSPs from unsupportive backgrounds where they experienced trauma, conflict in the home, abuse, neglect, derision; how will not responding to positive stimuli as quickly be a potential problem? Again, would we even notice when things are going well when we are geared to note the negative? Can we train ourselves to pay more attention to positive stimuli and to feel more arousal by it? My feeling is yes, we can train ourselves to move beyond our unsupportive backgrounds to ones where we too respond to positive stimuli and I feel it is essential to do so because to continually engage in catastrophizing is stressful and unhealthy, though it may have served the purpose of alerting us to potential dangers and having action plans in place.

This all being said, it is important to note that human behavior is plastic and changeable. No two HSPs are alike and no one can predict human behavior reliably because any of us are capable of anything at any given time. The task for HSPs, whether you experienced a supportive or unsupportive background, is to broaden our emotional responsiveness to encompass both positive AND negative stimuli. Do you find yourself always noting just the positive? Work on better relating to the negative implications because there is much to be learned in knowing both. Find yourself noting only the negative? Work on identifying the positive aspects (there are almost always ways to find positivity) and shifting your perceptions.

What have been your experiences with noting the positives and negatives in relation to the background you experienced?

Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person

Relationship Between the Temperament Trait of Sensory Processing Sensitivity and Emotional Reactivity
Authors: Jagiellowicz, Jadzia; Aron, Arthur; Aron, Elaine N.
Journal: Scientific Journal Publishers
Link: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/…/…/00000044/00000002/art00002

It’s Time We Talked About Your Diet!

Can diet help with anxiety and depression? Absolutely!
You know by now that I am a big advocate for self-care for highly sensitive people but you may not know that I have been moving (personally) toward a different way of eating for years now. This year my yearly checkup showed bloodwork indicating my cholesterol levels were fine but my triglycerides were way elevated (this has been the norm for years) but since I was able to see a difference in my overall cholesterol decreasing I thought that I must be doing some things right (I made some changes last year; namely, reduced intake of grains and sugars). This year (essentially the last two months) I have switched to the Ketogenic way of eating. Before you say “fad!” and tune me out please understand that I don’t do fads nor do I do things lightly.

Since starting a Keto way of eating, which is basically high fat, very low carbs, moderate protein, and no sugars or grains, I have:

-lost 14 pounds (no changes otherwise in lifestyle otherwise)

-experienced better cardiovascular functioning

-much-improved sleep

-less inflammation in my body overall

As we know, getting quality sleep is essential to good mental health. I now sleep much deeper and for a longer period each night before waking to roll over. Before, I was tossing and turning often and never entering really deep sleep; sleeping more deeply and entering such states more easily is a major benefit and HUGE for anyone with depression and/or anxiety.

The other huge change has been in reduced inflammation throughout my body as I ceased consuming sugars and grains. I NEVER would have thought there would be such a pronounced change by just altering the way I eat! I feel as if I have been moving toward a Keto way of eating for years without particularly being aware of it as I cut down on sugars, limited bread consumption, and was more careful about foods but now, by being very explicit about what I’m doing and having seen immediate benefits from it, I am convinced and plan to continue long-term.

Ironically, there is not much that’s special that you need to do to embrace a Keto way of eating. Just change what you eat to some degree (depending on your current diet) and start watching the ingredients in everything you buy. That part is harder but worth the effort to avoid the many hidden sugars and junk added to our food (it’s disheartening how many susbtances that act just like sugar in the body are snuck in on us).

I have nothing to sell you my fellow HSPs, but I do desire that you be well and live as well as you can. The video below by Dr. Berry is a great introduction to the Ketogenic diet (or way of eating). His short videos are great because he bases his comments largely on his empirical experiences and on research (especially metastudies, which, as we know, are studies of studies). Be mindful of other speakers out there espousing views that diverge from the research or that ask you to buy something they happen to produce and sell. Dr. Berry is a medical doctor in family practice in Tennessee seeing patients on a daily basis.

For those of us who experience depression and anxiety, I feel that addressing our diet in a serious way is essential to calming the body and mind.  Isn’t it time as grown adults that we put away the childish food choices that are slowly killing us and exacerbating our depression and anxiety?  To be an adult implies that we make adult choices; no choice could be more important than our health because it is so initmately intertwined with our functioning in the world.

If you need to make changes in your diet I heartily recommend the Ketogenic diet (or way of eating because it is simply the way humans are suited to eat).  Plant based diets may also be workable for those who are opposed to the consumption of meat or dairy.  Whatever you do, consider giving up the highly processed foods, the sugars, the grains, and the carbohydrates and see if it makes a difference in how you feel and experience this life.

Please feel free to share in your social media circles.

(link to basics of Ketogenic Diet presented by Dr. Ken Berry)


Dr. Tracy Cooper is the author of Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career and Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person.  Dr. Cooper provides one on one consulting to HSPs in career crisis or transition through his website at drtracycooper.com.