“For it is non-conformity which creates the new, exposes the flaws of the old, and helps push a society toward better frontiers.”
Highly sensitive people may weigh cultural conditioning less than in less sensitive people. We know this from one research study that measured the level of influence that culture, which we should define here as an entirely arbitrarily constructed set of ideas, beliefs, and values specific to a time and place, exerted in the decision making process. HSPs, indeed, did seem to weigh cultural conditioning to make certain choices less than in less sensitive people. But does that mean we are necessarily non-conformists?
HSPs may be conformists or non-conformists because no two HSPs are alike and do not share backgrounds, or even cultural beliefs. Having a trait like Sensory Processing Sensitivity simply implies that we have the four core aspects of SPS:
– More elaborate processing of experience in the mind
– Tendency toward overstimulation in certain highly individualized situations (again, no two HSPs are alike)
– High empathy and a broader emotional range
– A sensitivity to subtle cues that others overlook or miss
How we embody high sensitivity is certainly deeply influenced by the particular society that we live in. In the US, the culture is decidedly conformist yet, ironically, prizes the non-conformist. We are simultaneously expected to utterly conform to work culture, political culture (no matter how exaggerated and gross), religious culture (a total institution with no form of tolerance for questions), and regional variations in culture. Yet, many HSPs and, especially HSS/HSPs, feel a drive towards non-conformity that removes the “blinders” most people willingly wear.
“Adapting to a sick society produces sickness…at times of social instability the greater our conformity the more our mind will act like a mirror and reflect the chaos of society back within.”
If we espouse all of the same “beliefs” that others so vocally project we have given up our ability to think, to reason, and to craft new ways of being that may be better suited to new times and circumstances. Staying the same simply because “that’s how things have always been” is a dramatically poor excuse to not think, to not innovate or envision new ways of being and doing that may be better for the greatest number of people. In the current climate, we see huge cultural shifts taking place that expose those who are the mirror, reflecting the sickness of our society, and those who reject the mirror. If we see anything, it is the degree to which the human mind is limited by its own laziness and desire for stability.
High sensation seeking highly sensitive people may be most likely to imagine how society may evolve and change, given that sensation seeking as a trait prizes novelty, new experiences, a displeasure with the mundane, coupled with a willingness to cross or break cultural boundaries. Linking that up with deep sensitivity we have a person who is perhaps well suited to adaptation and change, since it is already their way of life.
“The real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal…they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted.”
My point in presenting this discussion of normalcy is to bring into question the definition of true mental health. Too often, we highly sensitive people feel that something is “wrong with us” and that we are unable to simply be like everyone else. But to be like everyone else is to be a conformist who is rigid and inflexible to changing circumstances. Your mental structures are more flexible and allow for both disintegrations at times and reformulations. That is, if you are in touch with your true nature and do not allow the culture to bash you into conformity.
Acknowledging here that not everyone is strong-willed or driven to the same degree to resist conformity, we can still benefit from understanding that what is normal may also actually be “sick” and that the social utility of conformity has led us to mass delusions of what it means to be “normal.”
As quiet leaders in society HSPs and HSS/HSPs have a unique opportunity and responsibility to invent the new in ways that move everyone toward greater equality, opportunities for growth and development, and “real” humanity that does not take its cues from thinking that is rooted in non-thinking, non-rationality, non-morality, and unfairness.
How will you invent the new?
Empowering the Sensitive Male Soul
Thrive: The Highly Sensitive Person and Career
Thrill: The High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person
Be sure to check out Alane Freund, MS, MA, LMFT, as she explains to us what high sensitivity is, how it shows up in children, teens, and adults, and gives her insights on how parents can help their highly sensitive kids flourish.