I Am a Highly Sensitive Man

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About Rick Belden

Rick Belden is the author of Iron Man Family Outing: Poems about Transition into a More Conscious Manhood. His book is widely used in the United States and internationally by therapists, counselors, and men’s groups as an aid in the exploration of masculine psychology and men’s issues, and as a resource for men who grew up in dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful family systems. His second book, Scapegoat’s Cross: Poems about Finding and Reclaiming the Lost Man Within, is currently awaiting publication. He lives in Austin, Texas.

More information, including excerpts from Rick’s books, is available at his website. His first book, "Iron Man Family Outing," is available here. You can follow Rick Belden on Facebook.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this article. I have not heard the term Highly Sensitive Person until now, and it describes my son to a T. He is now in middle school and being more sensitive is becoming more difficult for him. Middle school is tough for anyone, but being a sensitive boy is especially hard. As a single mother, I have worried that his sensitivity was because of something I was doing. This article is a relief for me: being sensitive is who he is and not because of our family structure or anything I may’ve done “wrong” raising him. I’ll look into your resources and share some with him as well. I’m sure it will be good for him to know that there are other boys like him.

  2. Hi Rick, great article. I am a HSP on another level in the Empath category and I have a HSP son, who’s father couldn’t be more opposite. It can be a struggle in our household to show the extremely NON HSP parent that our sons sensitivity doesn’t make him less of a boy. I did not realize there was a book for sensitive boys so I will be buying that and getting both of us to read it. It is hard enough being a female HSP I couldn’t imagine how challenging it is to be male and I want to support my son in every way I can.
    Regards and Respects, Melanie

    • Terry Washington says:

      Dear Melanie, I don’t see how hard it can be being a HSP female( lathough I am not disputing that being a HSP of EITHER sex can be a trying matter), esp considering that society expects women( musician Gwen Stefani, actress Drew Barrymore) to be MORE sensitive than men anyway!

      • Terry I am speaking from my own very personal experience of that I have found it hard to be an Empath, Which is another level to being a HSP. An Empath feels what other people feel as if it were their very own feelings….that can be extremely challenging trying to decifer whose feelings are what and which ones are mine and what I need to do about it. I certainly did not expect to come on here and find someone commenting on my post that I shouldn’t find it hard? I do find it hard. Very hard. And I am a woman. There is no monopoly of ‘difficult’ with the sexes, it is what it is.

        • Terry Washington says:

          Dear Melanie

          I apologize if I gave the impression that I was “blowing off” your experience just because “she’s a woman”- my point was that being both male and HSP can b even more burdensome for a boy(as your son is/will find out when he grows older) than it can be for a woman or girl. In my OP I noted that it is important for HSP men to realize that we are NOT alone citing such examples asPresidents Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt(and possibly Barack Obama as well), Blessed John Paul and Benedict XVI(Vatican insiders often note even after acceding to the Papacy how reserved and shy, almost timid Benedict’s demeanor is)

    • Hi Melanie. Thank you for reading and for your comment. I hope the resources I cited in my post give you some help with both your son and his father. I can see how it could be very hard for a dad who is not an HSP to understand a son who is. You might also check the links I provided in response to the comment preceding yours for brief audio and video interviews with Ted Zeff that would give you some additional info while you’re waiting to get his book.

      I understand completely how being a female HSP can be hard. As I said in my post, being HSP in an overstimulated, Type A, 24/7 culture presents challenges whether one is male or female. The socialization bias against sensitivity in boys and men adds several more layers or levels of difficulty that HSP girls and women typically don’t have to experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy ride for them either.

      • Thanks Rick, I will be gathering as much information and knowledge around me as I can. Keep up the messagexx

      • Dave Kaiser says:

        Being an empath is a blessing and a curse. It makes me really good at my job, Executive Coach, but often I find I’m all wound up with emotion, and it’s not even my own, and being in conflict is awful, I feel all of my own charged feelings, and the other person’s too. Sometimes it blows my circuits.

        Dave

  3. As a young 23 year old guy reading this article was a revelation. I’ve had therapy due to anxiety and depression – the turning point for me was when my therapist said “you have a deep and powerful sensitivity, and i want you to know that it is a beautiful gift”. Since then i have explored the ideas of high sensitivity – and i feel that my previous lack of understanding that our sensitivity needs to be cherished is what caused me so much anxiety.
    - The amount of good this article does for someone like me is literally boundless.
    Thank You.
    P/S – I would be very interested in joining any social networking for highly sensitive men if you have any information :)

    • Thank you, Chris, for reading and sharing your story. I’m pleased to know you found my article so useful and glad you found an ally who helped you open your eyes to the value and validity of being highly sensitive as a man.

      I’m also happy to see that you’re looking to make connections with other men who are highly sensitive. That’s a smart way to support yourself.

      We’re still in the very early stages with regard to social networking for Highly Sensitive Men, which isn’t too surprising given the still relatively low level of awareness and acceptance of the HSP trait in the general population and specifically in men. However, I can give you a few references that may give you some useful starting points:

      * Follow Peter Messerschmidt and read everything you can from him on HSP topics. On Twitter at https://twitter.com/Denmarkguy.

      * Explore Ted Zeff’s website at http://drtedzeff.com. Links for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and his quarterly newsletter.

      * Caroline van Kimmenade is a rising star in the HSP world. While not specifically tailored for men, her work is of such high quality and so generally applicable for HSPs, regardless of gender, that I’m recommending it to everyone I can. On Twitter at https://twitter.com/IDSensitivity.

      * I’m in the process of building a reference list for HSPs on Twitter that may be useful to you as well. You can find it at https://twitter.com/rickbelden/hsp-info-and-insights.

      Being a Highly Sensitive Man in our culture at this time also means being an explorer and a pathfinder. Although there are a lot of us, we’re largely isolated from one another as well as, all too often, from ourselves. As we come into greater self-awareness, it’s only natural that we’ll want to seek out others who experience life in similar ways.

      I don’t know that the sort of social networking you have in mind for Highly Sensitive Men exists yet, so all I can give you (as above) is bits and pieces. I think those bits and pieces are in the process of forming themselves into something more coherent, but we’re not there yet. If what you’re looking for, in terms of social networking for Highly Sensitive Men, doesn’t exist, perhaps you can help create it. Maybe you’ll be one of the folks who helps pull things together at the next level.

      All the best to you going forward.

      • Rick – Thank you for your kind words and extensive response to my comment!
        I will definitely follow up on those references you’ve provided.
        Once i feel that sensitivity is truly a valid trait for me i feel compelled to gently inform others of life as a HSP.
        - I’m in the early stages of setting up a kind of awareness and support group at the University of London – i’m somewhat pensive in this, because as you say awareness and acceptance of HSP traits are subject to certain kinds of stigma.
        Thanks again

        • Chris, as you are in London, I would further suggest that you check out the work being done by Barbara Allen-Willia, who is also in the UK (Andover). You can find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HSPSENSITIVE. She also has a Meetup page for Highly Sensitive Men at http://www.meetup.com/Growing-Unlimited-Hampshire-HSPs/events/83123172, as well as a new website at http://www.hspsensitive.com. She may be a good source of info and assistance for you with regard to the group you’re starting as well as with your personal process.

          Christophe Declerck, who left a comment earlier on this article, is also in the UK. You might check his comment for info about his activities as well.

        • Chris, first off let me say that it makes me really happy to read of another man who’s learning about and embracing their sensitivity– and at age 23. I started down this journey of exploration at age 36, and cannot even imagine how my life might have turned out, had I “known” much sooner; so good for you!

          Much excellent advice has already been shared here, along with good resources. I’ll echo Rick in suggesting the best thing you can do for yourself at this time is learn through following the handful of fairly prominent HS Men who publish on the web, on a regular basis. When you feel so moved, be active in comments and feedback, where possible.

          To my knowledge, there is not a specific group for HS Men (online or off) at this point. Perhaps this will change, in time. A friend and I considered starting one a few years back, but there are some special challenges involved– namely that in order for the group to have value as a safe forum for true deep dialogue and healing (as opposed to being a superficial social venue) for HS Men, it needs to be more or less “secret and invisible” in today’s social climate… which makes publicizing it rather difficult. In addition, membership controls would need to be fairly strict… in order for HS Men to truly feel comfortable and speak out on their true ambitions, fears and concerns, there could be no “curiosity seekers” or trolls of ANY kind. As the world warms more to the idea of HS men, these challenges dimninish… but we have a long road ahead.

          Cheers,
          Peter

          • Hi Peter, thanks so much for your message. Really its just great to know that there are other people like myself out there, and i’m so happy that you feel compelled to contact me.

            Rick provided me with a link to a ‘meet up’ group near where i live, where the members (mostly women) and some men seem to really embrace being highly sensitive people. I’m hoping to meet them on Saturday. I feel slightly overwhelmed and anxious about this, but it feels like a very positive step to take.

            I understand what you mean about needing a safe space for deep dialogue and healing – especially in terms of opening up to ourselves and others in that space.

            I’m currently linking this article to a close friend, who i feel will truly benefit from it, and hopefully get to know me better through it. Other than what i’ve mentioned i’m not sure what else to do – maybe nothing at this time. This is a very complicated, interesting and curious time for me, which of course i know you can relate to :)
            Cheers,
            Chris

            • Chris, I’m really happy to see that the HSP Meetup group I suggested is close enough for you to attend. I hope you find it useful. Most of all, I hope you’ll continue to progress at a rate that feels safe, productive, and comfortable for you, with confidence that the process of growth and discovery in which you’re now engaged will unfold in its own time as you’re ready for more.

              Congratulations on taking first steps and best of luck to you going forward.

    • Chris, I completely relate to your story. To be a 20 year old guy in college I experienced the same anxieties and depression before I realized I was a Highly Sensitive Man. I use to not be able to sit in a classroom without having panic attacks like something was wrong with me. No one ever validated what I felt until I stumbled upon Elaine Aron’s research- changed my life! Growing up I always knew I was different and just accepted that, blessed for sure in that respect. I also had a girlfriend who convinced me I was gay because I didn’t want to rush to bed with her and that just ruined my self esteem even worse when I tried so hard to please her. Nothing was ever good enough, nor for my father who constantly tries to make me the son HE wants me to be. It’s very frustrating most days when all I can possibly think about is to cry. Today, however, I accept myself for who I am and strive to stay true to myself and I love reading stories by guys like yourself who can totally relate!
      Good luck in life!
      Luke

  4. Rick, I hope you don’t mind me sharing but I’m having a free webinar with Dr. Ted Zeff on Tuesday, January 22nd at 9:00pm Est to talk about how to help highly sensitive boys. http://marierokerjones.enterthemeeting.com/m/3F96RY7A

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Can one be highly sensitive, perceive deeply, and yet not be frequently upset, annoyed, sad?
    Perception is different from action.
    I have a relation who is, or thinks she needs to be, a highly sensitive person. If we’re driving someplace and she sees a dead squirrel by the road, she’ll emote for five miles. She can be struck by the tragedy of the dead squirrel without making a public show of it. Over and over and over. Please.
    Strikes me that one can feel any number of things without broadcasting it. And if you broadcast vulnerability, well sometimes you look like what you look like. And there are people looking for the vulnerable.

  6. Lisa McLoughlin says:

    Thank you for such an amazing and well-written blog. I am a Highly Sensitive woman and it has taken me 42 years to discover that fact.

    • You’re very welcome, Lisa. I’m glad you found my post useful. Congratulations on your discovery and best of luck to you as you move forward with new knowledge about yourself.

  7. You write from the heart. Reading your article and the reaction of the female colleague in it puts me in mind of this quote by Pearl S Buck, (I suspect she was highly sensitive): “The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death”. (Pearl S. Buck). She won the Nobel prize for literature, as a highly sensitive person you are in good company :)

  8. It has been interesting to read the article and then the comments. I am 76 and forty years ago a friend who was a surgeon at a local hospital, told me he had been watching me for sometime. He asked me lots of questions and then told me I was an extremely sensitive person. I did not understand what that really meant, I was just me and knew no different.
    However, this made sense in that as a salesman meeting many people a day, sensed so much just by shaking a hand. I knew instantly whether I was welcome or not wanted! I could put my hand on a door or window and feel if anyone was in a house, just by the tiny air pressure variations.
    Like others, I have been told not to be so sensitive, so many times. But I found this sensitivity and reading other people so useful, and now in upper middle age (Hehehee!) I still do.
    Of course, I have often felt upset by unthinking comments, or reading between the lines of what a person says or writes, just like us all in this category. I was particularly sensitive as a boy, but here I am at the other end of life- and safely out of the way of working environments!
    I am glad to be different from the majority. I am glad to have this gift, although the “training period” in life was sometimes not so much fun. So I would say to others, make use of this gift, enjoy the knowledge it allows you and be happy that you are not like the majority, some of whom have no senses at all!

    • Thank you, Bryan, for sharing the fruits of your wisdom and experience with those of us who are younger. It’s wonderful to hear from a man who’s made his way through that “training period” you mentioned and taken ownership of his high sensitivity, his “gift” as you so aptly put it, in such a complete way and applied it so productively in his life. You are a good model for all Highly Sensitive Men and also a great example of an older man stepping forward to inform, inspire, and guide his younger counterparts. Outstanding!

  9. Great Article my man. I was searching online trying to understand this “state” I’ve been going through and you’ve articulated it quite well. I’m glad there are people like you that aren’t afraid to express yourself otherwise I would’ve thought I was the only one experiencing this. Also, you’re also right about our culture being hardened and stuck in survival mode. What tips do you suggest on how I can not exhibit my sensitivity but fully experience them? The reality is that I am what I am and I want to express that bu It have to protect myself from people that are not like me. Thanks.

    • Thank you, Thomas. I’m very glad you’ve found this material helpful. Congratulations on taking some new steps toward greater self-recognition.

      The question you’ve posed is a complicated one and one I’m still working on myself. My best suggestion to you at this point in your process is a general one: read and learn as much about being highly sensitive as you can. The best starting point I can offer in that regard is a new article called “HSP Topics: Understanding The Highly Sensitive Man” by Peter Messerschmidt. It is probably the most comprehensive treatment of the subject I’ve seen on the web so far and includes many references to other helpful sources of information.

      There’s also a brand-new site just for Highly Sensitive Men (highlysensitivemen.com) that may have some additional information that would interest you.

      Best of luck to you going forward.

  10. I have Borderline Personality Disorder. BPD is caused by being a HSP growing up in an invalidating environment. Men and women are believed to be equally afflicted. It’s known as a “women’s disorder” due to stigma. To find out more about BPD, please check out my website: http://makebpdstigmafree.wordpress.com/

  11. Thanks for sharing this.

    You’ve done a really good job of showing how gender stereotypes really do harm men. I’m glad this is being spoken about :) I’m so over gender essentialising. Smash it all.

  12. Excellent post, and so validating. Thank you!

  13. This was amazing! Sensitivity is a gift, not a curse.

  14. I am a HSP.

  15. I think I interpreted the Highly Sensitive Person differently. I associate with being highly sensitive, but mostly in the physical aspect. Sensitive as being more finely tuned to subtleties, not sensitive like I get sad easily or something. I guess they could have some relationship…

  16. Hello Rick,
    I have posted before but I needed to read your article again. An important need to remind myself.
    Thank you again for sharing your story. I find it very touching as my experience has many similarities.
    Trying to live as a HSM in the way of the type A majority is like ‘pounding nails with a microscope’. Those last few words capture so much of the life experience of so many HSM, I believe. I can feel the delicate and finely tuned instrument bending, braking apart with each hit.
    Yet, as you wrote so well, there is another way. A beautiful way. A masculine strength balanced by feminine intuition, a delicate force of mixed male and female energy, experienced in a human body. When one has the wisdom and clarity to see that, one can’t help but be in admiration for its beauty…
    To all highly sensitive men.
    Thank you Rick,
    Kind wishes
    Christophe (UK)

  17. Hello Rick,
    I have posted before but I needed to read your article again. An important need to remind myself.
    Thank you again for sharing your story. I find it very touching as my experience has many similarities.
    Trying to live as a HSM in the way of the type A majority is like ‘pounding nails with a microscope’. Those last few words capture so much of the life experience of so many HSM, I believe. I can feel the delicate and finely tuned instrument bending, braking apart with each hit.
    Yet, as you wrote so well, there is another way. A beautiful way. A masculine strength balanced by feminine intuition, a delicate force emerging out of the dance of male and female energy, experienced in a human body. When one has the wisdom and clarity to see that, one can’t help but be in admiration for its beauty…
    To all highly sensitive men.
    Thank you Rick,
    Kind wishes
    Christophe (UK)

  18. Thank you – so much for this.
    As a highly sensitive woman- I have recognized that honestly, my best match is with another HSP. I find men either infantilize my deep emotional capacity, or completely don’t see how experiences affect me physically. Its like being the china in the shop when the elephant smashes in. I try so hard to be ‘tough’ (because that is expected of women too), but to be honest, I just want someone who is willing to understand. I have no problem taking care of myself, but i find it immensely difficult to allow someone else into my most private daily space. Its like my whole world vibrates and its exhausting with someone else tromping around there.

    I have noticed that other HSPs can be extraordinarily understanding and there’s a mutual peaceful give and take and allowance for each other’s space. They notice my changes in energy as i notice theirs. Its peaceful.

    I have noticed on the other hand, that non-HSPs fully enjoy my empathy, tendency to be giving, and ability to intuitively offer insight, but don’t have the ability to offer it back, and don’t have the ability to notice that they are just sucking the life out of me. Then i get resentful and exhausted.

    So, anyhow, i guess what i am saying is- i too have been told to feel shame for my sensitivity. And i know, that should i find a life partner, it will have to be with someone who is also sensitive- otherwise its too overwhelming.

    thankyou, for your article. just, thank you.

  19. This is a great article, and just what I needed to read today. I believe that in times of transition it’s important to re-calculate one’s values. I have to say that even though I’ve acknowledged my own HSP attributes, it’s very refreshing to be reminded, and especially to know I’m not alone.
    I remember as a young boy in the late 60′s I went shopping for a metal lunch box with my mom at Woolworth’s. Metal lunch boxes were pretty much standard issue back in the day, and the variety of depictions went from action heroes to Barbie dolls. Looking back on my life that day was the first serious clue to my parents that I wasn’t the usual 8 year-old boy because when I came across a Mary Poppins lunch box on the shelf among the G I Joe’s and Batman’s, I just knew which one I had to have (anyone who can fly with the aid of an umbrella was God enough for me!)
    And today as a nature and landscape photographer and writer I’ve been told numerous times that I have a uniquely sensitive approach to my subject, and I’m quite sure that comes from having such an intimate relationship with nature as a young boy growing up in a really rural area. Even today as a 51 year old masculine man I find myself wincing a bit when I mow the lawn and create cricket and grasshopper carnage. (I won’t mow a lawn anymore than I have to). Heck, I’ll stop my car on a back road to help a red eft cross it safely when I see one squirming its way part way across. Crazy? Well, to some folks I would imagine it is. I’ve gotten grief for it, for sure. But to me, having a sensitivity towards the plight of other life forms is something that feels quite natural to me, and I am quite sure if more of us had it the world wouldn’t be in near the mess that it is today.
    So here’s a toast to everyone out there who is inexplicably and hopelessly attuned to the world around them, whether it’s people or places or animals or life as a whole. This is a sacred journey, and traveling it with a wide open heart is the whole point-

  20. I am deeply in love with a highly sensitive man. This trait makes him who he is and I am completely devoted to him and his well being. It is refreshing to find someone in this world able to identify the good things that still exist. He loves me like I have never been loved before, I trust his thoughtful viewpoint, and he seems smitten with my positive outlook on life. He seems to be somewhat uneasy but willing to share his thoughts with me and I sense this doesn’t come easy so I appreciate it even more. Thankyou for your writing, it gives me a bit of a map to being a supportive and responsive friend/partner to this incredible man.

  21. Because this article resonated with me the first time I read it two months ago, I bookmarked it. And having re-read it again now I find it to be just as much of a breath of fresh air now as I did when I first read it.
    I’m the youngest of three men in my family. Having grown up with two older brothers was pretty brutal at times, and I was all too often seen as a pansy for my sensitivity. Culturally it is hard for many ‘manly’ men to accept. But just like sexual orientation isn’t something we choose, nor is being highly sensitive. It’s not something anyone can turn off so that societally we can be more accepted. It IS a gift, and as soon as a HSP is elected as a leader the world will transform for the better.

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