I Am a Highly Sensitive Man

Although being a highly sensitive person is equally common among women and men, being a sensitive man remains misunderstood. 

Editor’s Note: Research tells us that high sensitivity, discerned from a pattern of observation before action, affects 15-20% of individuals of many species, including humans, and male and female in equal numbers. Rick Belden, a poet, writes about the experience of being a highly sensitive person. 

A few years ago, I was attempting to get closer with a woman I liked. We’d been working together for several years and knew one another solely on that basis, but I wanted something more personal with her. I’d been feeling a powerful sexual and romantic attraction to her for a long time, but given our relationship as peers in a work environment, I was being very deliberate in my attempts to gauge her interest in me and careful in my efforts to move things forward. When I’m attracted to someone, I tend to move slowly and gradually anyway; in this case, having lived through my share of work-related romantic entanglements, rejections, and disasters, I was eager to avoid any situation that might turn awkward for either of us.

I remained haunted by the same dilemma that had plagued me since childhood: How can I be as sensitive as I am and still be a man?

Things seemed to be progressing in the direction I desired, albeit slowly and with frequent yellow flags, but nevertheless, I finally felt confident enough to share something more personal with her than our daily chitchat about our lives in and out of work. She knew I was a writer and that I’d had a book of poetry published because I’d spoken about it during our many visits. I decided to offer it to her and find out if she was interested enough in me to read it. I asked her if she might like to see the book, and she said she would, so I brought a copy to work and gave it to her.

I didn’t want to appear too eager or overly invested in her opinion of the book, so I didn’t bring it up again after giving it to her. One day, while we were outside walking during a break, she mentioned she’d finished reading it. Doing my best to appear as cool as possible and not betray the anxiety that had been building ever since I’d first offered her the book, I said, “Great. What did you think?” And she said:

“I think you’re abnormally sensitive for a man.”

Obviously, this was not the sort of response I was hoping to hear. It’s not the sort of response any man ever wants to hear, any time, from anyone, most certainly not from a woman to whom he’s attracted and with whom he’s just taken the supreme risk of showing his vulnerable side.

It was a painful experience for me, to be sure, but not the first. I’ve heard variations on this theme all my life:

  • “Don’t be so sensitive.”
  • “You’re too sensitive.”
  • “You need to stop being so sensitive.”

Shy. Thin-skinned. Wimp. Pussy. Queer. Faggot. Whiner. I’ve heard all of these and more for as long as I can remember, and the message is always crystal clear: “There’s something wrong with you and you need to change it.” As if I haven’t tried. As if I could.

Sensitive boys and men are all too often treated as pariahs in a tough guy culture. Sensitive boys in particular are easy prey for bullies, whether they’re peers, older kids, or adults in positions of power and authority like parents, teachers, and coaches. I was humiliated countless times as a boy for my sensitivity, by both adults and other children. I learned to regard it as my enemy, as something that only brought me shame and scorn, and as something to keep hidden away, not only from others, but from myself.

It was simply too dangerous to my well-being to allow my sensitivity out into the open any more than I had to, so I tried to harden myself up. I got fairly good at it over time, good enough to survive through adolescence and into young adulthood, but I felt lost most of the time, and I was. That’s the inevitable price of denying any core element of who we are.

I continued to maintain an uneasy relationship with my natural sensitivity through my twenties and thirties. During that time, I was gradually transitioning into feeling a bit more comfortable with it because I’d learned that trying to deny it completely only made me sick and miserable. But I still carried the shame and the stigma of feeling and being seen as somehow “defective” as a man because of it, and I was still disowning a large part of myself and my experience as a result. I was also still being reminded by others that I was not okay the way I was and needed to change, as in this statement from a close friend after I’d confided in him regarding a problem I was having:

“You need to stop being so sensitive. I’m not judging you, but sometimes I just want to shake you and tell you to get over it.”

Same old message: You’re wrong. You’re defective. You’re weak. You’re inadequate. Youneed to change. You need to get over it. At least he didn’t actually shake me to help me do that. Prior experience with that sort of “help” from others tells me it doesn’t work at all.

That incident was a pretty good example of the state of my relationship with my own sensitivity as I moved into my early forties. I’d made a lot of progress toward reconciling with the softer, vulnerable, more tender parts of myself, and I was even beginning to feel more confident in giving them a voice, but I was also reminded on a regular basis that I was still just as likely to be scorned and shamed for my sensitivity as I was to be accepted and supported. Deep inside, I still felt like an outcast and a freak in a culture that defines and characterizes tenderness, compassion, and sensitivity as primarily feminine qualities. And I remained haunted by the same dilemma that had plagued me since childhood: How can I be as sensitive as I am and still be a man?

It was during that time that, quite by accident, I stumbled across some material that profoundly changed the way I saw myself and what I’d come to regard as my “curse” of sensitivity. I was in a bookstore looking for something (I don’t even remember what) when a title caught my eye: The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You. I’d never heard of this book or seen anything like it, but when I began to page through it, I knew I had to have it because this book was about me.

Most men are not highly sensitive, but many men are far more sensitive than they want anyone else to know.

For the first time, someone was describing my inherent sensitivity as a positive trait rather than some sort of shameful aberration to be corrected. Furthermore, the author, Elaine Aron, described the experience of what she called a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) as the natural, inevitable result of having a nervous system that is, as she has put it, “uncommonly sensitive.” In other words, the sensitivity with which I’d been struggling throughout my life wasn’t all in my head, it wasn’t a weakness, and it wasn’t a choice. It was rooted in my physiology.

There was something else, too, something equally big, as summarized by Peter Messerschmidt in his blog post “The Challenges of the Highly Sensitive Man”:

Dr. Elaine Aron, along with other researchers studying the trait of high sensitivity, often cites the statistic that approximately 15-20% of the population fits the definition of a “highly sensitive person.” Furthermore, the indications are that equal numbers of men and women are highly sensitive.

This was more than an eye-opener for me. It was a game-changer. For the first time, someone was telling me that I could be not just merely sensitive, but highly sensitive, and still be a man. This was a possibility that had never been presented to me before, not in person and certainly not in the culture at large, and it was the first step in beginning to own my sensitivity, not just as a valuable element but a defining element of my masculine identity.

The path is still not easy. It’s an ongoing challenge to see my sensitivity as an asset rather than a weakness to be feared and hidden from others. Men and boys are already living in a no-win, double bind situation around vulnerability; it is amplified for highly sensitive men and boys. If most men lead lives of quiet desperation, they also know that society and most of the people around them prefer they keep it that way. A man or boy who shows sensitivity and expresses vulnerability is always taking a risk. Shame and scorn, whether from other males or from females, remain some of the most powerful tools for keeping men and boys “in line.” Most men are not highly sensitive, but many men are far more sensitive than they want anyone else to know.

For men like me who are highly sensitive, being who we are in the world, in our relationships, and even with ourselves is often a work in progress. We tend to need more down time than others. We have deep experiences that we need to process and understand. We need to make time and space for feelings that we may have never learned to experience and express because we were never allowed to do so. We receive and process more sensory input than most others do; consequently, we can sometimes find ourselves feeling overwhelmed in contexts that others find routine. We tend to proceed carefully, to get a sense and an understanding of the whole situation, before diving in.

These behaviors and qualities are all assets, but they frequently run counter to the values and practices of an overstimulated, Type A, 24/7 culture that wants more and more, faster and faster, all the time. This is a fundamental conflict that has a profound and often severely negative impact on all HSPs, whether male or female, and results in a lot of pain, confusion, and even physical illness. I’ve learned the hard way, as many others have, that pushing yourself “like everyone else does” when you’re a Highly Sensitive Person is like pounding nails with a microscope.

In another blog post titled “Highly Sensitive Men: The ‘Hidden’ HSPs?”, Peter Messerschmidt writes, “Society has an alarming ability to ‘steal the souls’ of Highly Sensitive Men, leaving them feeling sad and confused.” This is an experience and an ongoing struggle I know all too well. I still want to hide my sensitivity a lot of the time, and I still do. Sometimes that’s because of old fears and conditioning; sometimes it’s simple pragmatism. I know I can still be deeply wounded if I’m not careful and therefore I try to choose my opportunities accordingly. Sometimes I still get hurt when I’m open with others about who I am and what I feel (as with the female coworker I liked and the friend in whom I confided). Sometimes my feelings are so deep and acute that I can hardly bear them in private. I probably struggle as much with my feelings in private as I do when I’m with anyone else. The shame and the scorn I’ve experienced throughout my life in response to my sensitivity has been internalized deep within. I don’t need anyone else to criticize and belittle me for it now; those voices are already right here inside me.

In his article “Healing the Highly Sensitive Male”, Ted Zeff, author of The Strong, Sensitive Boy, has written, “By disowning their sensitive side, many males become half a person.” Having spent most of my life living that way, I know it’s true. I also know that, whether I allow or disallow my natural sensitivity, there’s a cost to be paid, and likely some very real pain to be felt either way, and I often stumble in the face of that choice. I still frequently feel angry when I’m actually sad because it feels safer, more manly. I still frequently pull away from others and shut down when what I really want is to connect and feel close, because I don’t have the courage or the stomach to risk the sting of being rejected or misunderstood. I still pull away from myself, most of all, because of the stigma and the fear that’s been conditioned into me, and the absence of skills never learned for being with everything I perceive, sense, and feel.

No one likes pain, and I’m no exception, but I’ve slowly come around to the belief that the pain of feeling is preferable to the pain of not feeling, and that the pain of being who I am is preferable to the pain of being what I’m not. As author Seth Mullins has written, “Sensitivity—even when it comes at the cost of great suffering – may be all that renders worth to existence in the end.” I think one of the important points he makes with that statement is that sensitivity is not the absence of toughness, but is, in many ways, the very embodiment of toughness. It takes a great deal of inner strength and resiliency to maintain your sensitivity in a world that seems to go out of its way to beat it out of you, often literally. If that’s not a demonstration of strength, courage, and resolve consistent with any reasonable definition of masculinity, I don’t know what is.

So yes, I’ll say it: I am a Highly Sensitive Man. I’m not abnormal. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not a weakling, a wimp, or a pussy. I’m strong, passionate, and courageous. I’ll fight for what’s important to me. And I’m just as tough as any other man. I have to be, just to be who I am in a world that wants me to be something else.

And I am not alone. There are many of us. As many as one in five men, if the numbers are correct. Think about that. You know many of us. You may be one of us. Some of us are hiding. Some of us are hurting. Many of us, young and old, boys and men, are still trying to find our place in a world that is often openly hostile to our very natures. But look at that world, and try to imagine what it would be like without us. We may be scorned, shamed, invisible, and undervalued, but we are here and we are needed.

I am a Highly Sensitive Man and this world needs me, just as it needs all of its highly sensitive men and boys. Every one of us. No exceptions!


I am a Highly Sensitive Man by Rick Belden, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Read more:

The Fear of Tears

Smashing Male Stereotypes on The Good Life

Image credit: WarmSleepy/Flickr


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.


  1. I’m in love with a sensitive man and I know that he was used and mistreated by his ex-wife exploiting these feelings. Watching his ex now use his love for his children against him at every turn is sickening.

    Do you believe that sensitive people are more inclined to be taken advantage of and used in relationships.

  2. Vicki-Lee says:

    I shared this post on fb and a response I got was:
    This is very strange – the picture at the head of this article is Louis Mendes, well-known eccentric street photographer who hangs outside B&H Photo in NYC. I’ve photographed him myself. He has nothing whatsoever to do with this article!

  3. Pissed off says:

    Thanks but I find little to be positive about, this has been hell for me and i really don’t care if complaining is unmasculine or whatever. Do people ever wonder why so many young guys go mental now and shoot places up? Oh right there just evil racists who can’t get laid, lets have another candlelight vigil and sing Imagine. How about any of the other billion horrible things broken men do because they have to act this bullshit role out for the zombies around them that can’t be real themselves? Just keep drugging your children and rearranging the furniture on the Titanic you cattle, next time some psycho(s) does something unthinkable you can all pat yourselves on the back for being so tough.

  4. Thank you for the article, this empowered me even more. I was ridiculed because I was not a “thug” in the eyes of the black community and was called a ” punk ass white boy” because I was not street enough. People always said I was too nice , and made me feel weak. I studied martial arts for empowerment and still struggled at age 25 now. But reading this article made me realize it was OK those things happened. Even though I am gentle I can be vicious as wolf. I can now say I love being sensitive because my nature is so beautiful and I have honored my mother well and show the love I was given by her onto others. Thank you Mr. Belden, you are a warrior too and I look up to you thank you.

  5. Thank you for the article is was great to view your voice for sensitive men like myself. As a black man you were pressured into b

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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-

  9. 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.

    • Vicki-Lee says:

      I was thinking of how to express ‘something-in-a-china-shop’ as well and there you did it. I relate to everything you wrote – to a T. I wonder if you’re an INFJ in the MBTI? (the rarest personality type making up 1%) Lots of INFJs tend to be HSPs and Empaths too. If so, there’s a Facebook page INFJs are awesome which has posts like yours above. It’s great to reach out to like-minded others.

  10. 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)

  11. 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)

  12. 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…

  13. I am a HSP.

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

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

  16. 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.

  17. 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/

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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 🙂

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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

  24. 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.


          • 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 🙂

            • 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!

      • Vicki-Lee says:

        If it’s any consolation, I don’t know where we’d be without sensitive men. To me, they are great. So great. You all bring so much. I’m not sure I’d do so well in a world where I didn’t hear and see them around. Sensitive men are a great comfort to me. Maybe there is a link with my sensitivity but mostly they make me feel safe physically and that’s important too.

  25. 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)

          • Vicki-Lee says:

            Hi Terry

            As an HSP Empath as well, I am not sure you are understanding what HSP is about. I can see your logic yet I think you’re not really on the right track – yet some conversations face to face with HSPs will no doubt help clear this for you. It’s not about necessarily ‘crying at the drop of a hat’ or behaving emotionally recklessly, or as some kind of character ‘weakness.’ I can attest to watching someone stub their toe in a movie and I will feel that as if it happened to me (not necessarily located on my toe but in my body – especially the gut; I feel anguish and pain). Crowds can be exhausting as well as anything that over-stimulates for too long. Male or female – it is a particular kit & caboodle that does not exist for everyone. And whether or not social stereotypes warrant acceptance for one gender more than another is a moot point. I hope I’ve helped a little.

    • 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.


  26. 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.

    • Hi CJ. Thank you for your lovely comment. I remember those middle school years as being particularly tough and confusing. Not an easy time for a sensitive boy, as you said. I hope having some additional information will help you and your son navigate that period a bit more easily.

      If you’d like to check out some other resources in addition to the ones I cited in my post, here are links to a couple of brief interviews with Ted Zeff that you may find useful:

      Audio (30 mins): http://www.facebook.com/rickbeldenpoet/posts/342037982556434
      Video (15 mins): http://www.facebook.com/rickbeldenpoet/posts/130599670428588

      Best of luck going forward to both you and your boy.

    • I can totally relate to her son. I am a black guy now 24. I am sensitive too and was bullied and made to feel something was wrong with me. Growing up in a hood enviorment I was ridiculed for not being “hood” , or a ” thug”. I was raised by a single mother and she nurtured my sister and I. I don’t have any regrets about it. I was a “sensitive jock” I guess I’ll call it. I realized that its OK to be sensitive and even though men like myself and her son go through these struggles its only going to make us tougher then a man, but we are warriors and that is better.

  27. I’m surprised this topic hasn’t been raided by Jack Donovan and his followers like Sun, wielding and waving their plastic Conan swords.

  28. Thanks for writing this. I’ve always felt like I am an extreme minority. It was very nice to hear how someone shares the exact same feelings I do. When you were describing how you feel, how situations can be difficult, how you perceive things as more profound and/or deep than others, etc., this could have been written by me. Thanks again.

  29. Hi, Rick
    Thank you for your inner work and for putting such a strong example of sensitive empowerment up on the Web for all to see. This usefully powerful nugget from your article gets at the heart of things: “… the pain of being who I am is preferable to the pain of being what I’m not.” One of the factors I’ve seen make a huge difference in the lives of HSPs (male and female) is finding a supportive HSP community. I admire your courage for owning up and speaking up.
    Grace Kerina
    Highly Sensitive Power – http://www.highlysensitivepower.com

    • Thank you, Grace. One of the unexpected side benefits of having this post published has been becoming aware of resources for HSPs on the web, such as your site, that I’d never seen before. It appears that the HSP community is not only bigger than I’d realized, but also growing as more and more folks come to recognize themselves as highly sensitive and seek opportunities to learn more about what that means for themselves and others. I find this very encouraging and feel honored to be a part of it.

  30. Rick,
    Thank you for your courage to write about an important topic that really resonates with me. While I still struggle with being hurt constantly because of my sensitivity, I have now embraced my sensitivity as a great asset which has served me well as I have responded to the hurts and needs of others.

    take care,

    • You’re welcome, Frank. I appreciate the honesty of your comment and I’m familiar with the struggle of which you speak. The fact that you’re learning to take ownership of your sensitivity and express it in your life in meaningful ways is very positive for you and everyone around you. A man in full possession of his own innate sensitivity can be a powerful force of healing in the world. Well done and best of luck to you going forward.

  31. Rick,
    I thought you should know, your article changed my life.
    I’d been exposed to the HSP idea before, and the book had sat on my shelf, and I did nothing with it for 2 years.
    Now I’ve come across understanding again, and delved into it, and it explains myself to me.
    No longer must I be victim and prey to allowing people who are unlike me to take advantage of me. Before I didnt know my boundaries, or my needs around boundaries, because I didn’t “get” who and what I am.
    now that I see it and know it, I’m not at conflict with it, and i can take care of myself around it effectively.
    I’m Really looking forward to thrive.

    Thank you so much for posting this article. I especially was taken by the photo that accompanies the article. That drew me in in some mysterious way. Good choice.


    • Wow, Jeff. I’m really touched by your comment. That’s about the best response I could ever receive from anyone to anything I could ever write, or do. I’m very pleased that you found my article helpful and very honored by your comment. Congratulations on coming back home to yourself and best of luck to you going forward.

  32. Terry Washington says:

    Good- as I noted before in my previous post- we as male HSPs are NOT alone(Abe Lincoln, FDR, possibly Barack Obama, Blessed John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, actor Christopher Walken all spring to mind) and expecting HSFs ( Highly Sensitive Females) such as singer Gwen Stefani and actress Drew Barrymore to “do all the heavy lifting” is unrealistic and cruel!

  33. What a great article! I already receive a lot of negativity for being a highly sensitive person as a woman (I’m so sick of being told to “stop being so sensitive” and to “lighten up” and being made to feel like I have a defect and that my feelings are wrong), so I can only imagine how much tougher it is for highly sensitive men.

  34. Thanks for such a stimulating and informative article. One challenge for us sensitive men has been self esteem. Research by Dr. Ted Zeff on sensitive boys in various countries indicated they “usually” or “always” thought there was something wrong with them during their childhood, and didn’t fit in with other boys. From my post Ted Zeff on highly sensitive boys and men – which includes a link at the bottom to our audio interview: Dr. Ted Zeff on how people can benefit from being highly sensitive.

    • Great points, Douglas. Thank you for sharing the link for the interview with Dr. Zeff. I’ve just watched it and I’d recommend it highly for anyone who found my post useful and would like more info.

  35. Dear Rick,

    Thank you for a beautifully written article and a powerful message.

    I’m a Highly Sensitive Man and after discovering the research of Elaine Aron 6 years ago, have been on a strong journey which I would not be able to capture through words. I’m now about to launch my website: “sensitivesanctuary’ where I’ll be offering mentoring/coaching, Yoga and relaxation, and more, for highly sensitive people. A colleague and wonderful person, Barbara Allen-Williams, based like me in the UK, created the NCHS, National Centre For High Sensitivity. It is accessible through meetup only at present but the NCHS will have its own website in a couple of months. Why I do this? You put it perfectly in your article: “I am a Highly Sensitive Man and this world needs me, just as it needs all of its highly sensitive men and boys. Every one of us. No exceptions!”.
    Thank you for having the toughness to be you.
    Kind wishes

    • Thank you, Christophe. I wish you the best in your upcoming work and website. Really great to see these new resources coming online for HSPs. Please let me know (via Contact page on my website) when your new site and the new NCHS are up so I can have a look.

  36. Wow, lots of community. I think I’m an HSP as well, and an extrovert, so I’m not even a normal HSP! Anyway, it’s great to see the outpouring of talk and interest here among and for our fellow HSP men, I’m thinking there might be interest in starting a community of some sort, perhaps a LinkedIn group or a forum of some sort where we can share ideas and talk in the emotional language that means so much to us. So, guys, would you be interested enough to join and use such a forum?


    • Thank you, David, for reading and commenting. With regard to your idea about a group or forum for HSP men, it may be worthwhile to contact Peter Messerschmidt, one of the fellows I quoted in the post, to find out if there might already be something happening along those lines so you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. If you follow the link for “Highly Sensitive Men: The ‘Hidden’ HSPs?” in my article, you’ll find a link to an “About Me” page for Peter where his email addy is listed.

      You might also run your idea past Ted Zeff as he may also have some info about what others are doing. His website is easy to find via Google and you’ll find his contact info there.

      Of course, if you want to start your own thing from scratch there’s nothing wrong with that either. Good luck!

  37. The worst part is we get abused even more for this

  38. At this point I shall offer only the following: There is a culture of animus directed against sensitive guys. Machismo targets sensitive boys especially.

    • Bill, it’s clear that you’re very passionate about this issue, and rightly so. I hope you’ll continue to find ways to speak your mind and share your views with others. The more voices, the better.

  39. I am a sensitive man, and my brother loves to remind me about it. If we get into conversations and I start to get passionate or raise my voice he tells me to “calm down” or “stop being so sensitive,” and it pisses me off. Hell I’m in a Catch-22 with him; if he start bothering me about something if I don’t respond he keeps on going, but if I say something or defend myself he says “look at him getting worked up,” or “your so sensitive man” etc and etc. I see nothing wrong with being sensitive, and yet what I see to be the problem is that no one around me knows how to deal with it.

    Sometimes I am just not in the mood to be teased and if I say “Please stop that,” then stop it. But that doesn’t help as some people (co-workers mostly) are like “Oh what’s wrong?” or “What are you being so sensitive about it?” and there is that Catch-22 again. There are many times when I just want to say why I don’t like it, but if I do then I’m seen as weak or as a pussy, and time and time again I’ve tried to explain but in the end no one cares as if they did then I still wouldn’t be getting those comments.

    I feel that in the end I’ll just keep on looking around for people who don’t mind me being so sensitive; my brother may bother me about it and use it as an excuse to see how “worked up” I’m easily getting, but he is one of the very few people I can tell anything too, and I wish that sometimes he would try to understand me a bit better.

    • “I feel that in the end I’ll just keep on looking around for people who don’t mind me being so sensitive …”

      I hope you do, Matt. They’re out there and you’ll find them if you keep at it.

  40. brilliant article

  41. Again, I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to everyone for reading and commenting on this post. I’ve been very impressed with the variety of thoughts and opinions shared in the comments as well as the thoughtful way in which they’ve been expressed and articulated.

    I may go back and respond to some comments individually, but for now there are a couple of issues that have been raised that I’d like to address.

    First, as to language: It’s been pointed out that distinctions can be made between physical sensitivity and emotional sensitivity, specifically with regard to the criteria that are used in the definition of the HSP trait, and furthermore, that sensitivity does not necessarily imply introversion. All of this is true, to the best of my understanding. I’ve also seen discussions elsewhere about the differences between sensitives and empaths that cover similar ground.

    As is so often the case, language and terminology are not always as precise and definitive as we might like, with the additional complications that the same words don’t always mean the same things to everyone and that different words are often used to mean the same thing. Being conscious of all of that, my intention in writing this piece was to share my story using language that would be sufficiently clear and universal to give others some entry points into their own stories as well as encouragement to explore them. Hopefully, any imperfections or imprecision in my use of the language and terminology around sensitivity have not detracted from my goal. I would highly recommend that anyone interested in a more thorough definition and exploration of the HSP trait consult one of the resources cited in my post.

    Second, with regard to sports: I find it interesting that this topic has stimulated such a lively discussion in response to what I wrote. Interesting for many reasons, not the least of which is that I’d included some material about some of my experiences with sports as a boy and a teen in my background notes for this article, but wound up not using any of it because it didn’t seem to fit with what I wanted to say in this case. There’s a lot I could say, too, but I think for now I’ll save it for another time.

    I’ve found it very exciting to see how interested folks are in talking about the issues I raised in my post, and I hope the conversation continues. I think it’s time.

  42. wellokaythen says:

    This is a great piece about an all-too-common experience for many people. In some ways I would fall into the HSP category.

    However, there are different kinds of “sensitivity” all being spoken of in the same way, even though they don’t always go together. My understanding is that “HSP” was originally a label for people who are very sensitive to the physical environment, like people who are very uncomfortable around loud noises, lots of people, crowded spaces, lack of privacy, etc. It’s not necessarily the same thing as being emotionally sensitive or emotionally perceptive.

    Usually when people say “stop being so sensitive” they don’t mean physical sensitivity, they mean emotional sensitivity.

    There tends to be a lot of overlap, of course. Many people who prefer peace, quiet, and solitude are also emotionally sensitive, but they aren’t automatically the same thing. There are some totally thoughtless, emotionally insensitive assholes who prefer peace and quiet, and there are really gregarious, larger-than-life loudmouths who are emotionally sensitive. Both are rare, maybe, but they’re out there.

    This is one of my criticisms of the “HSP” books. They sometimes suggest to the reader that because I’m an introvert and I’m very sensitive to noise, therefore I am a more evolved, emotionally deep, sensitive, thoughtful person, an artistic soul who could make a masterpiece if only all those loud, knuckle-dragging, philistine extraverts (how redundant!) would just leave me alone. When, in fact, I could be just as uncreative and mediocre as anyone else, but I just work better working alone in peace and quiet.

    • There are some totally thoughtless, emotionally insensitive assholes who prefer peace and quiet, and there are really gregarious, larger-than-life loudmouths who are emotionally sensitive. Both are rare, maybe, but they’re out there.

      Ahm – I believe the figures correlating Extroversion with HSP -SPS is 30%. They are out there – and you just showed how misunderstood it all is and how hard it can be to recognise someone due to the language/sterotypes getting in the way! P^)

      • wellokaythen says:

        Okay, so not as rare as I assumed. I must be biased in favor of sensitive introverts like myself, people who are clearly better than everyone else, according to most of the books about introverts I’ve read lately….

        “and you just showed how misunderstood it all is and how hard it can be to recognise someone due to the language/sterotypes getting in the way! P^)”
        And, what’s happening here in this article is maybe just the flipping of a stereotype from a negative to positive, or the embracing of a downtrodden stereotype as a badge of honor. (And I think that’s generally a good thing, actually, just not an improvement in our understanding of anything.) Making a positive stereotype out of a negative stereotype hardly makes the stereotype more accurate. It just improves the way some people feel about it, regardless of the truth.

  43. I also encountered the book The Highly Sensitive Person at a pivotal time in my life, and like the author relates, it was crucial to helping me understand my natural personality and validate my experiences of the world and social interactions. I am partnered with a fellow HSP and just the fact that we both “get it” is so refreshing and saves so much energy and potential conflict and provides a lot of support. For example, we both are capable of being very social, but in short bursts and when we’re in the right mood (high energy, low stimulation prior to the event) but easily get “peopled out’ and need a nice long time out to recover 🙂

    • Great comment, Kaija, and very encouraging, too. I had the unfortunate experience of being with an HSP woman years before the Aron book was published. It was a nightmare for both of us because we didn’t recognize and understand ourselves as highly sensitive, and therefore could not understand one another either. We both pushed ourselves too hard, wound up tired and cranky, and took it out on one another, and it was hard for both of us to understand why the other wasn’t always available and in sync with our own wants and needs.

      I’ve learned a lot since then and I’d like to think I’d do a lot better in a similar situation now.

  44. Thank you so much, Mr. Belden, for this article. I am bipolar and a CSA survivor, as you know, but I know I’ve always been this way, I just never knew the term “HSP”. It goes beyond being sensitive in the sense of emotional over things; I hear and see (even with one eye) more than many and touch and smell can mesmerize me. Often I feel overwhelmed by it. Visual “clutter” (like a very busy webpage with images and moving items) can make me feel confused or even nervous. I can watch a TV show and analyze things about it the amaze others. Sports, I was conditioned to hate from an early age, but people are shocked at my abilities with a firearm. Tin cans, beware! Yet society works so hard to repress, scorn, deride people with HSP. “Macho” insults me. As a sensitive man and CSA survivor, I have endured and survived more hardship than any macho man crushing beer cans could handle. The injustice of the derision is bad enough; through it all, we’re still constantly bombarded by our physical senses and our capacity for emotional and empathy sensibilities. It is a relief to have a name for it, something I can research; and it is a relief to know I’m not alone. Thank you, sir.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, W.R.R. You make some very important points. Being highly sensitive can be a real challenge even without a history of abuse. Knowing and having information about HSP may give survivors another layer or level of awareness for working with themselves and their histories, another piece of the puzzle (maybe several pieces) that had been missing. I hope that proves to be the case for you as well.

  45. As a coach I have been working with “highly sensitive” men for about eight years. As I also specialize in clients with bipolar I have had the opportunity to see a connection between men with bipolar and highly sensitive men. The main difference between the highly sensitive men and the those with bipolar is that the later are severely repressed either socially or at work, leading them to have mood swings or angry outbursts. I am curious to know how many men diagnosed with bipolar are highly sensitive men who have been misdiagnosed? It goes without saying that there are other false diagnoses out there with other disorders like ADHD too.

    • crystalwolf says:

      My BF who was sensitive had “angry outbursts” and lost jobs because of it.
      I wouldn’t go so far to say all Sensitive guys are like that, but this one certainly was. Bradley spot-on in your observation.

  46. I’m just beginning to make my way through some of the comments on this post and my first reaction is that it’s great to see so many folks weighing in with responses, thoughts, and ideas from such a wide range of perspectives. Thanks to everyone for reading and for posting your comments. I’ll be adding some remarks of my own here and there throughout the day as I take time to process your feedback in classic HSP fashion!

  47. Terry Washington says:

    The important thing for HSMs to realize is that we are NOT alone: US Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D.Roosevelt ( and quite possibly the current incumbent Barack Obama, but probably NOT Bill “I feel your pain!” Clinton), Popes such as Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI (Vatican insiders often note how timid and almost shy his demeanor is, even after becoming Pope), Pius XII and St Maximilian Kolbe, stars like Christopher Walken(BTW my favourite film star is Drew Barrymore- admittedly NOT male but still a HSP; I can see it in her eyes)!

  48. Rick, I’m sick and tired of all the idiots who categorize empathy and compassion as feminine traits. They’re HUMAN traits. Here’s a rhetorical question: Are greed, callousness, ruthlessness, and cruelty masculine traits; or are they human traits? What about mothers who abuse their children? Are they “mannish”?

    The “toughen up” culture of our society is PHONY. Sensitivity should be valued as a human trait, but today some people who should know better claim that sensitivity in men is undesirable and is a sign of the “wussification” of American society — which is a completely phony issue. I’m personally convinced that many sensitive people have the capacity to be extremely courageous.

    I believe social reform movements have always been launched by sensitive individuals. Insensitive jerks are likely to be oppressors. For example, there was a time in this country when Jim Crow with all of its amazing cruelties was supported by most whites. Those who first began to question the moral legitimacy of Jim Crow were sensitive individuals. Those who actually began to speak out showed great courage. Some of them suffered considerable loss for their opposition. Some were murdered. During World War II individual European Gentiles living under Nazi rule, women as well as men, risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. Some of them were killed along with those they tried to save. These were sensitive people! They were driven by empathy and compassion, not by selfishness and self-aggrandizement.

    Yet those who promote machismo have no appreciation for moral courage. Absolutely none at all. You will never find any articles in Esquire magazine, a leading promoter of machismo, describing the heroism of such leading figures as the late Dr. Andrei Sakharov, the Freedom Riders of the early 1960s, or Raoul Wallenberg. No, they’re far more likely to commend some male celebrity for his frequent one-night stands. What’s so admirable about a self-centered playboy?

    • Hear hear! No personality trait is ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine.’ If only women can be empatetic because it’s ‘feminine’, that leaves men to be calous. If only men can be courageous because it’s ‘masculine,’ that leaves women to be cowards. I know plenty of courageous women and empathetic men. I don’t know any men who want to be calous, or any women who want to be cowards. Everybody is a combination of positive and negative traits regardless of sex.

      • Thank you. 🙂

        I’m waiting for someone from the “wussification of America” crowd to denounce the defense of sensitive guys.

        We all have different strengths and weaknesses, but some demand that all women be the same and that all men be the same. Nonconformists, beware!

        Heroes come in all sizes and shapes. So do cowards.

  49. My husband is a very sensitive guy…which I think serves him well in his profession….he was brought up by a wonderful mom and two sisters….he is also an incredible musician because of that sensitivity….

    My doctor is also a very sensitive and gentle person…and an accomplished classical musician! He treats a lot of women…and is very successful…..if he wasn’t sensitive, he wouldn’t be as good a clinician….handsome, smart, talented, musical, and sensitive = AWESOME COMBINATION!

    • Thank you for your comment, Leia. It’s definitely important for a man to be able to access his sensitivity with, and in relation to, women. But I want to emphasize that it’s equally important for a man to be able to access his sensitivity with, and in relation to, other males. This is probably one of the biggest challenges for most men, regardless of their degree of sensitivity, but it’s one that is worth exploring.

      I’ve found that allowing myself to access my sensitivity with other men has a distinctly different quality than what I experience accessing my sensitivity with women. There has been a quiet power, a most touching strength, and a healing sense of liberation in every one of those moments of deep sensitivity shared with other men, like an immense burden being lifted.

      Most of those moments have come in men’s groups. Given the conditioning and the messages most men have received (and continue to receive) about showing vulnerability, it’s hard for many of us to trust one another enough to let our guard down sufficiently to have a moment like that without some help and some assurance that it’s safe to do so. But I’ve had some unstructured, unexpected personal moments of that nature now and then with male friends as well.

      The trap for many men, regardless of their degree of sensitivity, is to try to channel and express all of their sensitivity with women, or with one woman. This is a trap I know well because I’ve fallen into it many times. A man who does this puts too much emotional pressure on the women in his life, cheats himself out of the full experience of being fully himself around other men, and may be denying his children the opportunity to see their dad as a whole human being.

      I’m not saying that either of the men you mentioned fits this pattern, but many of us do, to one degree or another.

  50. crystalwolf says:

    I like “sensitive” men…As long as its genuine. I had I BF I thought was “senistive” All the ladies loved the flowery talk. He was raised pretty much by his mom, so I thought maybe that was why he was sensitive. He would hold doors open and car doors. But it was a farce. He was a cheater and a liar. And he crushed my soul.

    • I don’t know enough about you or the man you mentioned to say too much, but I can say that being sensitive, or highly sensitive, is not a guarantee of good character or good behavior. In addition, anyone, sensitive or not, can be wounded and damaged in ways that, if left unattended, can result in bad behavior toward themselves or others. Highly sensitive people aren’t saints; they can get angry, be selfish, behave poorly, and make mistakes just like anyone else. Sensitivity, or the lack of it, is just one aspect in the totality of any given person.

  51. Sensitve people threaten those who wish to control and manipulte as well as those who follow along including busineses and marketing progams that are profit over people by design. So it is in their best interest to shut us up and show all others what will happen if they become self -directed..
    Stand up for sensitivity! It is who we are and it speaks the truth of what we feel.
    I’m OK with being respectfully disruptive.
    Words by: dale

  52. As the mom of a highly sensitive boy, I am so delighted to see your post. There needs to be more awareness of highly sensitive boys and men. Parents need to have a better understanding of the needs and challenges of highly sensitive boys to help them deal with their experiences. Elaine Aron’s book was a lifesaver for me as I learned more about my son and became more sensitive to how he processes information and new experiences. I have a tentative webinar scheduled in January with Dr. Ted Zeff.

    • As the mom of a highly sensitive boy, I am so delighted to see your post. There needs to be more awareness of highly sensitive boys and men. Parents need to have a better understanding of the needs and challenges of highly sensitive boys to help them deal with their experiences.

      SO – Please Tell Us All About It! P^)

      I keep saying that younger voices are missing round here, so if you can help bring those younger voices I’d be happy to to listen!

    • Thank you for your comment, Marie. I’m really pleased to see parents becoming aware of this topic and getting on board to help their highly sensitive kids get off to a good start, something which is critical for all kids because so much of one’s life path is set in the early years.

  53. I think the whole subject of sensitivity ought to be revisited in our culture so as to help people understand things like right brain communication, which validates the existence of an unconscious, and relational attachment styles, which influence the external facade that conceals the inner life. It’s true that many people, especially men, are raised alongside dismissive styles, the culture of “toughen up” and “move on”; the devaluation of sensitivity as “abnormal”. This article’s point, that we are depriving ourselves of the full human experience, is well taken. Those looking for understanding, which include the dismissive, should know that marginalizing sensitivity marginalizes empathy, which creates distance, inhibits intimacy. And BTW: even tough guys get lonely.

    • “Those looking for understanding, which include the dismissive, should know that marginalizing sensitivity marginalizes empathy, which creates distance, inhibits intimacy.”

      Excellent point, Graeme. Well stated and very important.

  54. One in Five Men – what an amazing statistic! That would be some 60 Million men in the USA alone – 24/7 – 365 – 1 in 5. Now that is a massive group to have been missed and not recognised.

    “I think you’re abnormally sensitive for a man.”

    OUCH – that was not nice.

    I’m glad to see this subject coming up. The Four Genders 80% Normal and the 20% of men and women who are seen as Highly Sensitive Persons (HPS) or people with “Sensory Perception Sensitivity” (SPS). It’s often referred to as literally as The Four Genders – two different types or women and two different types of men. There are bonuses into increased memory retention and depth of recall through to better cooking and food on the table.

    The Functional MRI scanner has been one of the greatest advances in understanding not just bits and bones, but also literally how people’s brains tick and can be massively different.

    If you find that Sociopaths-Psychopaths light up the machines people get so interested because they see a way to control something they fear. Have the same machines show how some people literally see – feel – smell – taste – hear the world to a greater degree because people can’t take part they ignore it and don’t want to know. That ability to receive and understand sensations with increased memory capacity long term is very useful for survival, and yet not seen as a good thing.

    The impact on kids can be baffling for the kids, the parents, teachers and other kids. I know one SPS kid who would sit and study things, any object, and then ask extremely penetrating questions. I remember once he sat looking at a Crystal Vase, and looking about the room and then back at the Vase, and after nearly an hour he asked not just why the light broke down into little rainbows with the vase – but WHY the difference with different glass types. !

    He’d actually been looking at how sunlight interacted with other plain glass and seen the difference, and worked out that there had to be a reason for it. Many kids like that would be given a basic answer and when they pointed out that the answer did not address the question they are all too often dismissed and even brushed aside – called silly, stupid, told they are wasting other people’s time. That is so common.

    There is an interesting book for dads to read “The Strong, Sensitive Boy”. If your child male or female is SPS and or HPS, knowing how to help them get into the world as they experience it is just about the most important and loving thing that can be done. You many never be able to experience the same things, but you never know where it will take you. It does not require massive effort either, just knowledge and a heart and mind that is open. A kid understands something you can’t grasp, it’s about helping them to understand themselves and giving you insight at the same time.

    Some would believe that a kid with SPS and HPS would be terrible at sports, but whilst they may not be the best kid at a high impact contact sport, that increased ability to see receive and process information about the world can make them one hell of a Batsman or Pitcher – that edge can be a big issue.

    SPS and HPS also shows genetic inheritance patterns – and believe it or not, recognising the abilities in your own child can for some open open up some of the greatest mysteries of their own lives – from why music makes then feel the way it does to why they love with a heart that others so infrequently understand. No two people with SPS/HPS are the same – so people find not only that they have a nature and abilities that others are unable to grasp, but each person is unique too.

    I actually like people, especially kids with SPS, they are fascinating and have given me insights into so many areas. One Kid has grown into a Master Gardener and Horticulturist – he had the ability to just see what plants needed – what made them tick – even looking at plants from a distance he could see water stress before anyone else could see the issue. Amazing.

    I suspect that there are two guys who contribute here on a regular basis (Not saying Writer or Commenter) who are SPS – HPS and I’m mentioning no names. BUT it would be interesting to see where they scored on the basic self testing – Start Here.

    I’m sure that a lot of guys would get a shock!

    • [quote]Some would believe that a kid with SPS and HPS would be terrible at sports, but whilst they may not be the best kid at a high impact contact sport, that increased ability to see receive and process information about the world can make them one hell of a Batsman or Pitcher – that edge can be a big issue.[/quote]

      Why must sports be such a big deal, anyway? Why must nonathletic boys be constantly devalued and disregarded in our sports-crazed society? Why not have a “live and let live” attitude instead of forcing the same expectations upon all boys and men?

      • I shall elaborate: Sports have been misused repeatedly to put down nonathletic males who don’t conform to the macho stereotype. (What am I saying? I mean nonathletic males, in general!) That was my experience as I was growing up, and it has been the same experience for other guys I’ve talked to over a period of decades.

        • Bill I get that some SPS and HPS kids are Asporting – in fact I come across lots of kids who are not sports types – “Period”. That’s fine and you won’t find this guy telling others that they must be measured as men by kicking balls, hitting out and patting each others asses in the showers ! P^)

          But I think you may have missed some of the subtlety of the point I made. People hear the term highly sensitive and think of it in the ways they have learned to use that language in and around sport – and it’s negative. That is their error and not the kids. I hate Stereotypes and I have a tendency to Throttle them on sight – so sorry, any hint that being sensitive means no sport is a sterotype I will stick my claws into and bite hard.

          For some kids that Sensitivity comes out in a form of hand eye co-ordination or spatial sensitivity that can be amazing in certain sports. I’m not going to stop those kids for doing just that if it’s what they want to do!

          That increased perception and logic with planing is a skills pattern that expert mountaineers such as Alex Honnold display – he shows all the features and factors of being HPS – SPS and hangs off rock faces in Yosemiti by his finger nails. Even the way people talk about him.

          I’m not saying that he is HPS – SPS, but he is a clear example of how people don’t fit other people’s moulds and can do the most extraordinary things. I’ve seen the same pattern with expert sailors. I’ve even seen it in speed skating – focus – planning – spatial awareness – the blade on the ice in perfect rhythm.

          Parents and kids don’t need rehashing of false negative stereotypes of the sensitive kid can’t do sport. If you peddled that idea about disability you would get lynched and called prejudiced!

          I’m aware that a complete fail to treat many people with HPS – SPS has coloured their experiences and even made them afraid of whole areas of life and experience. That is terrible, but ultimate it’s those individuals lives – experiences – fears and injuries. They can’t be used to pre tint and even control the lives of other people and it’s wrong to allow it – I don’t – I won’t.

          Never doing sports is not a defining element of any child being HPS-SPS, and it should never be presented as such. To do that denies kids and their parents the right view of the universe and the opportunities that are out there. If parents can find a way with their kid to allow then to sore and win as they are I say Fly – and if I have to blow hard to keep that door open and the sky clear I will – give them wind under those wings even if others can’t ever feel it!

          I’m sorry if you have been hurt and wounded by your experience. But it is your’s and not the people who come after you. Dealing with kids and even adults who are HPS-SPS is about changing the way the world looks at them – and it’s not about imposing old views and wrong ideas.

          • “For some kids that Sensitivity comes out in a form of hand eye co-ordination or spatial sensitivity that can be amazing in certain sports. I’m not going to stop those kids for doing just that if it’s what they want to do!”

            This is a good point. I’m a HSM but have always been pretty gifted at sports, for this very reason I believe. I could anticipate and read situations in sports like others couldn’t, and I had the spatial awareness of myself and others that really gave me an advantage. My dad was also a great athlete so I had good genes for it.

            But I often times read things about how HSM aren’t drawn to sports. I guess I am just one of the exceptions. Although I never was much for the “rough” nature of some sports, the contact aspect. And never played football.

            • Hey Joe – I’m in Nosey Mode. P^)

              Which sports – and how did HSP give you an edge? I know that seems a simple question but it’s like asking someone with a sense of smell to explain the scent of a flower to someone with no nose.

              If you have a natural trait to you it’s just that – a bit like a friend of mine who speaks 9 languages fluently .. they have just been able to learn languages – switching from English to Russian To Mandarin is just … well… easy – it just is.

              It’s great that HSP-SPS gave you and edge, but in which sports and how?

          • [quote]I’m sorry if you have been hurt and wounded by your experience. But it is your’s and not the people who come after you.[/quote]

            Please forgive, but I don’t quite understand what you’re saying. Perhaps I’m a bit dense. Do you mean the people (kids) who have come after me chronologically?

            Of course, I believe these kids should be given the opportunity to participate in sports. I have never denigrated any child’s participation in a sport. If either or both of my daughters had shown any participatory interest in a sport, I would have supported them. The same goes if I had had a son. But neither would I have belittled and rejected a son who had no interest in sports, which I believe is more common than you would like to believe. There are boys who simply have no interest in sports, but this fact is unacceptable to apparently many people who should know better. As far as choice is concerned, forcing nonathletic boys to participate in team sports in mandatory P.E. classes is absolutely wrong and does not encourage them to become physically active. (By the way, I work out regularly pumping iron under the direction of a physical trainer at a health club; so, I can’t be accused of being sedentary. 🙂 )

            As far as stereotyping is concerned, I know all about it. I became painfully aware of it as I was growing up. The learning experience started at a very tender age in my preteens and lasted years. I still maintain that nonathletic boys who have no interest in sports are subjected to intense negative stereotyping as they grow up in a society whose culture is saturated with sports. Nonathletic boys are considered to be less manly (which is absolutely ludicrous and bigoted) and sometimes even accused of having homosexual tendencies, despite the undeniable fact that gay men have always participated in sports just as they have in every other human activity.

            • Yeah, I guess boys who aren’t “drawn to sports” (an all-important consideration) are just misfits and wimps — a common view, indeed. Talk about stereotypes!

              • I took Dr.Aron’s test and wasn’t surprised by the results. Apparently, I’m a highly sensitive guy, too. Of course, I knew that a long time ago.

                I’ve practically been accused of stereotyping highly sensitive boys — a strange charge, considering that I was highly sensitive myself as I was growing up. The fuss has centered around sports, with the declaration that depicting a group of boys as supposedly not being interested in sports is a terribly insulting stereotype. Well, first of all, I wasn’t engaging in that stereotype. I was simply saying that sports are overemphasized in our society. (Here’s another rhetorical question: Are high-school athletes marginalized?) I wasn’t saying that any group of boys should be discouraged from participating in sports; and to repeat myself, I’ve never denigrated anyone for participating in a sport.

                But this fuss over this stereotype has helped to promote another stereotype. The implication is made that boys who show no interest in sports should be viewed with pity, if not outright contempt. Masculinity is defined solely in terms of athletic prowess or physical strength, and boys (and men, for that matter) who don’t conform to the macho standard of sports are viewed as being deficient if not outright inferior. There’s a reason why the bullying of nonathletic boys has always been a constant problem in mandatory boys’ P.E. classes — a problem that has been ignored and condoned for generations. Frankly, the macho culture associated with the culture of school sports such as football is antagonistic towards the highly sensitive male, who are disregarded as “sissies” and “wimps.” But since sports are so mindlessly popular, no one speaks up for nonathletic boys and the problems they face as they grow up in a society whose culture is saturated with sports.

          • Frankly, I resent you making false accusations about me. Please do not put words into my mouth. I did NOT say that highly sensitive boys shouldn’t participate in sports. You have accused me of stereotyping sensitive guys when I happen to be one myself! I suspect you do, in fact, play a high priority upon kids participating in sports. You’re probably a big sports fan. And despite your claim that you throttle stereotypes, I suspect some stereotypes don’t bother you much at all.

            • Not sure why this has taken so long to appear? But – First you have not been accused of anything – Second There is way too much Drama Going On! You seem to be personalising matters and deciding people have said things they have not. Your choices.

  55. Rick
    The issue of sensitivity has more to do with the quadrant of the brain that is most used to function in the personality rather than gender. Men who are wired to use the right emotional quadrant of the brain produce more emotional experiences than any other of the brain Styles. In particular, the Artist Striving Style, with their inner focus on how they are feeling and their need to communicate the intensity of their emotional experiences, are the most misunderstood and undervalued of all brain Styles. As they learn to value their own nature, hold their value in the face of the devaluing of others, and stop trying to prove themselves to anyone, they appreciate their capacity to experience the full range of emotions and the power that comes from living authentically. Artists can easily feel victimized when they don’t hold the power of their sensitivity and creativity.

    • I’ve never heard myself described that concisely, Anne – thank you!

      Rick, I appreciate the emphasis you’ve put on YOUR responses to your High Sensitivity. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be introduced to a men’s group in my early 20’s, I’ve learned to do the same. In my group and in culture I’ve observed, however, there persists a tendency to blame “The World” or “Society” for our perceived powerlessness. While I respect the experiences of those who’ve actually been bullied and otherwise abused (myself included), I personally have less and less use for the conviction that “Society” is what needs to change. It takes a lot of energy to wait for those less sensitive to become moreso. As you’ve articulated beautifully, and as Anne’s comment supports, it’s far more effective to come to terms with who you are and what power is inherent in you.

      Thank you for the post – I look forward to the Family Outing.

      • You make an interesting point, Mo. I’ve also had the good fortune to be a participant in a number of men’s groups over the years, some better than others. In the most recent group I attended, which was peer-facilitated, one of the other members told me to “stop whining and just get on with things” during one group after I’d told everyone about the all-day monster headache that had almost convinced me not to come to group that evening. I was stunned and very upset to receive that sort of reaction from someone in what was supposed to be a safe environment where we could all be open and honest about whatever we had going on. Not knowing what to do, I kept my feelings to myself and completed the meeting as best I could.

        This was a bi-weekly group, so I had a full two weeks to process and review my options. I thought about leaving the group, as it no longer felt like the safe environment I’d thought it was, but decided to attend one more meeting and talk about what happened as the first order of business. The location of the group rotated from member to member each time, and as it happened, the next meeting was being held in the home of the fellow who’d told me to “stop whining.”

        I felt like I was walking into the lion’s den that evening, but I kept my commitment to myself. I spoke honestly about what I’d experienced, defined limits in terms of what I found helpful and unhelpful in terms of feedback, and expressed my expectations for how I was to be treated in the group. We all wound up having a very productive discussion about what had happened during the last group, how we all might have handled the situation differently, and what I needed from everyone to continue my participation. Everyone, including the “lion”, expressed appreciation to me for my courage in showing up and stating my position and my needs so clearly. And they all said they’d learned something from the way I did it.

        I think this story supports your point that it’s important for HSPs to use the skills we have to assert ourselves and our needs when these sorts of opportunities present themselves to us in a world that often feels hostile and unfriendly. We need to do this not only for our own sakes, but also for those who may benefit from seeing the strength and clarity that we sensitive folks often hide, even from ourselves.

  56. I’m one of those “highly sensitive people”. For the longest time, I thought it was a curse. i thought I was doomed and I hated my life. All my life, I’ve been told to grow up, act like a man, you’re so sensitive, and so on and so forth. I knew I was sensitive because I got emotional on many layers at different things. I felt and saw things differently than many people.

    It wasn’t until I met someone who has helped me heal and grow in life that I found out they were a highly sensitive person. But I found out something more – was that it was okay! For the fist time in my life, I heard it was okay.

    Now, today, I use my sensitivity in my creation of art, music, words and the healing work I do. Without my sensitivity, I would not be very far with these things.

    Yet, if I go into the “business” world, I am quickly reminded of how my sensitivity doesn’t fit in. It isn’t easy, but I’m learning more and more to embrace that side of myself.

    The world needs us sensitive people to help bring balance to this universe. Without us, this world would be an even bigger mess!

    • Great comment, Don. Thanks for sharing your story. I agree with your point about balance. I believe we’ll come to that balance most efficiently and effectively by creating it from the inside out, from individual to group to culture. There are still going to be plenty of scenarios and environments (like your business world example) that will challenge us and may cause us to doubt our progress, but I think the response to articles like this one is a very positive indicator that we’re moving in the right direction.


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  2. […] I Am a Highly Sensitive Man — The Good Men Project By Rick Belden. […]

  3. […] have seen great articles (like this one) that articulate the masculine struggle with sensitivity and how our culture can perceive it as a […]

  4. […] of my history and experience as a man who is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). My post was then reprinted on the Good Men Project website, where it’s been very popular, and has subsequently been […]

  5. […] some of my history and experience as a man who is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). My post was then reprinted on the Good Men Project website, where it’s been very popular, and has subsequently been […]

  6. […] Although being a highly sensitive person is equally common among women and men, being a sensitive man remains misunderstood.  […]

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  9. […] I Am a Highly Sensitive Man — The Good Men Project. Share this:TwitterEmailPrintMoreTumblrPinterestRedditGoogle +1StumbleUponDiggLinkedInFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Uncategorized by jour105jbize. Bookmark the permalink. […]

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