Welcoming the New Generation of Highly Sensitive Men

Rick Belden gives readers a name for what they have always known about themselves.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post called “I am a Highly Sensitive Man” in which I shared 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 reprinted on numerous other sites around the world and shared widely across social media.

I’ve been very pleased that so many people have felt such a strong connection with what I wrote and have found it so helpful. Many of the most powerful and moving responses I’ve seen have come from young men. Some examples from various sites:

As a young 23 year old guy, reading this article was a revelation. [Good Men Project]

I thought you should know, your article changed my life. [Good Men Project]

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 … this could have been written by me. [Good Men Project]

I’ve always been this way, I just never knew the term “HSP” … 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. [Good Men Project]

I am compelled to comment because I had never heard of the concept of HSPs before reading this article, and these traits describe me incredibly accurately. I am a 29 year old male who’s been in and out of therapy, struggled with addiction, and generally convinced himself that he is incapable of having normal human relationships due to my sensitivity and generalized anxiety. Upon reading this, I immediately did some research, reserved some books at my library, and spreading the word to those few close to me that I think I realized what my perceived “defect” was. And it’s not even a defect! [xoJane]

This post is exactly a reflection of who I am as a person. [xoJane]

I think this is an amazing article. I’ve known a lot of these facts for a while, but I’ve never seen them presented in such a combined article … Thank you for writing this. I’m going to save this article for myself to look back on. [xoJane]

As an HSP (highly sensitive person), this article resonates with me. [The Masculine Heart]

An insight into the masculine underground. [Twitter]

Thanks for your post entitled “I’m a highly sensitive man”. I couldn’t have put it better myself. [Facebook]

I also received a number of private communications from other young men expressing similar thoughts and feelings.

The young men who left the comments above and those who communicated with me privately may not know it yet, but they are far from alone. To the contrary, they at the leading edge of an emerging demographic with tremendous potential for moving our world in a more positive direction. They are the new generation of Highly Sensitive Men.

The video that follows was made by Chrisi Brand, a 24-year-old Austrian man. In the video, Chrisi introduces his new website, highlysensitivemen.com, and his vision for an online community for Highly Sensitive Men. I encourage you to have a look at this video as it is a wonderful example of the sort of initiative, clarity, confidence, and creativity I hope we’ll be seeing more and more from the Highly Sensitive Men of his generation.

I’m very happy to see young men like Chrisi and those whose comments I included above recognizing and claiming themselves as highly sensitive early in adulthood. I’m hoping that means they’re going to avoid a lot of the pain, confusion, and wasted time that so many men like me, who’ve come before them, have experienced in our lives.

These young Highly Sensitive Men are all around us, and they are eager to be seen, understood, accepted, and appreciated so that they can more actively offer their unique gifts to a world that needs them. To all of these young men, I say: Welcome!

 

Read more: ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ Is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing

 

Creative Commons License
The Welcoming the new generation of Highly Sensitive Men by Rick Belden, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Photo credit: David Jewell. Used by permission.

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About Rick Belden

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

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

Comments

  1. I’m delighted to see highly sensitive men coming together in community to share, learn, grow
    and search for answers to pertinent questions about being a HSP male in this society. I find the questions Chrissi poses are really no different than the questions facing ALL HSPs … yet I also know that highly sensitive men face a different kind of challenge as they seek to manifest their unique selves in our culture.
    Again, similar to empowered women from the Women’s Movement ..(me and so many others) ~ how did we show up again and again despite criticism from society, the media, and too often our families and friends who did not understand the equality and freedom from oppression that we were striving for? Again. we HSPs, men and women, face similar challenges as we seek to manifest our unique selves in this culture. It is time to seek our freedom of expression, our freedom of being, the freedom to live our own values with pride ~~ and as I’ve so often found, eventually HSPs become “Empowered Priestly Advisors” to the very culture that devalued us in the first place.
    I had a dream back in 1996 of a world full of empowered HSPS…. I see this dream coming true … I am thrilled to be a part of this movement and I am thrilled HSPs are stepping up and out … and I am thrilled especially for highly sensitive men to have a safe place to show up. Bravo Rick ! Bravo Chrisi ! Oh, and let’s not forget : Peter Messerschmidt and Ted Zeff … Bravo, bravo, bravo…with love, vision and gratitude, Jacquelyn Strickland, co-founder of the HSP Gathering Retreats (since 2001) with Dr. Elaine Aron

    • Thank you, Jacquelyn. I appreciate your acknowledgment that, while there is much about the experience of being an HSP that transcends gender, there are also some aspects and challenges that are specific, more prevalent, or in some ways amplified for the Highly Sensitive Man.

      Good reminders as well about Peter Messerschmidt and Ted Zeff, who have both been doing an excellent job of education and raising awareness of Highly Sensitive Men for some time now.

  2. I too consider myself to be a sensitive man in various aspects of life and hold no apologies for the fact that I am. As a black man, it’s not necessarily frowned within our community, but let me say that it isn’t embraced. Well, that’s fine. I was raised by my grandmother and while growing up I recognized the inability of more than a few of close friends to “become more in touch with their inner feelings.”

    Which leads me to believe there is no coincidence upon how just about all of these friends have experienced mental and emotional issues that proved to be detrimental along the way.

    • Thanks for your comment, don. Recognizing your sensitivity as an asset is definitely an advantage. Owning it without apologies puts you in a great position to make good use of it in your life. Men tend to feel safer avoiding that aspect of themselves, and are heavily conditioned to do so and rewarded for it. But as you said, such avoidance can lead to other problems.

  3. It can be very helpful for a highly sensitive person to learn to meditate. THat can sound almost counterintuitive as meditation makes you even more sensitive but the thing is it also teaches you to handle being sensitive in a very comfortable way. It is very good at teaching you to feel emotions strongly and not be knocked out of once and very good at teaching you to handle sensory overload. Tai chi is very good for this. The combination of meditation, some kind of body based energy work such as yoga, qigong or tai chi and an external martial art can be an extremely useful combination for a highly sensitive man. Building up a stronger, “more yang” masculine oomph you can tap into can be good to combine with the the more relaxed and detached awareness from meditation that lets you feel stuff without overload. The meditation gives a constant ability to handle the intensity while the martial arts increase the ability to say f… it and just plow through when that is needed which can be difficult for very sensitive people.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Erik. I maintained a twice-daily meditation practice for over five years. Learning to meditate, the essence of which was learning to be with and observe myself without action, greatly improved my ability to cope with all sorts of situations, both inner and outer. I haven’t meditated regularly for many years, but my meditation experience continues to help me daily.

      My experience with martial arts was mixed. I didn’t do well with the “hard and fast” styles. There was too much physical information for me to process and I found it impossible to keep up with the class. This is an issue I’ve had all my life. I’m a slow learner when it comes to physical skills; I get overloaded quickly, then confused and frustrated. I don’t know if this experience is common for HSPs or not, but I suspect it could be for some.

      I did better with tai chi because of the slower pace, but it was still hard for me to learn. Yoga has also been difficult because, once again, I simply don’t pick up physical skills as quickly as others do. I can do it, but it takes an extra investment of time and effort, and a patient teacher.

      As always, some things work well for some and not so well for others, so folks have to figure out what suits them best as individuals.

  4. We now celebrate sensitivity and fragility in men, while celebrating power and strength in women. The world really has been turned completely upside down. It would be unimaginable today to celebrate sensitivity in women or strength in men.

    We are all involved in a huge sociological, psychological and cultural transformation that assumes there masculinity and femininity have no objective reality and that it is all a matter of social and education engineering. We still do not know what we will with – and to – those who rebel against the new world. Masculinity is now what men do not want to be. The implications of this shift are immeasurable.

    We have entered a Lewis Carroll world that has no precedent and no comparison.

    No one knows what the long term results will be of this enormous and comprehensive experiment. We have broken ties with every civilization in history – not only our own. We are now off into our own orbit, floating free.

  5. Tim, thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I have a few thoughts in response to what you’ve said.

    First, I don’t see sensitivity and strength in men as being qualities that are mutually exclusive. As I said in my first post on this subject:

    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.

    Second, based on my own life experience as a Highly Sensitive Man, I can’t say that I’ve seen a lot of evidence that sensitivity, especially high sensitivity, in men is celebrated nowadays. If anything, it is still widely criticized, invalidated, and discouraged, and in many cases, demonized.

    Third, I noticed that you used the phrase “sensitivity and fragility” in your opening sentence, as if there is some implicit connection or inherent equivalence between one and the other. But it is not knowledge and ownership of his own sensitivity, whatever its depth, that makes a man fragile; it is the denial and repression of fundamental elements, whatever they may be, of his own humanity.

    One of the most common misperceptions about sensitivity in men is that it will make them weak, but the reality is that being in full possession of his own innate sensitivity puts a man in better position to trust his power and express it constructively, with confidence, in his life and the world. I don’t see this as implying or leading in any way to the sort of inversion or repudiation of masculinity you described, because acknowledged or not, I think it has always been true of the best men among us.

    • Sensitivity that is used for others in the form of creativity is a positive thing. I am concerned about the creation of another acronym that will require special treatment and training, and demands for tolerance and diversity training – and the whole realm of extreme self-pity and self-absorption that we all live in today.

      I do disagree strongly that sensitive men are ‘demonized’. Quite the opposite. Extreme sensitivity is seen as a very positive thing by feminists and those in education, journalism and the social sciences. It represents a very sharp move away from the traditional masculinity that is seen as entirely negative.

      So the future belongs to you.

      • I am concerned about the creation of another acronym that will require special treatment and training, and demands for tolerance and diversity training – and the whole realm of extreme self-pity and self-absorption that we all live in today.

        It is certainly not my intention in sharing this information to advocate for anything of that nature and that’s definitely not the outcome I’m hoping to see. I would also add that, in all the material I’ve seen so far from and about HSPs, I’ve yet to see anyone making a case for the scenario you described. I can’t say with certainty that no one ever has or ever will, but I haven’t seen it yet.

        I do disagree strongly that sensitive men are ‘demonized’. Quite the opposite.

        All I can say in response is that my personal experience, and the personal experience of other men I’ve known who are highly sensitive, has been quite different from what you’ve observed.

        So the future belongs to you.

        I would hope that the future belongs to both of us, Tim. I’m not trying to exclude you or anyone else. This is not a “sensitive vs non-sensitive”, “win or get lost” scenario. Every man, regardless of his innate level of sensitivity, has something to offer, and all men are needed.

        • “It is certainly not my intention in sharing this information to advocate for anything of that nature and that’s definitely not the outcome I’m hoping to see. I would also add that, in all the material I’ve seen so far from and about HSPs, I’ve yet to see anyone making a case for the scenario you described. I can’t say with certainty that no one ever has or ever will, but I haven’t seen it yet.
          All I can say in response is that my personal experience, and the personal experience of other men I’ve known who are highly sensitive, has been quite different from what you’ve observed.”

          I appreciate the responses. I was challenging with my comments, and I thought your responses were fair and reasonable.

          I remain concerned that the general disintegration of our society based on the ever-increasing divisions and labels will continue, leading to more fear between people and more extreme caution (and lack of honesty) in communication.

          I don not see any indication of that in your own expression of your views. But I do see it as a constant problem that will eventually overwhelm us. There really is almost no common ground on any topic.

          “I would hope that the future belongs to both of us, Tim. I’m not trying to exclude you or anyone else. This is not a “sensitive vs non-sensitive”, “win or get lost” scenario. Every man, regardless of his innate level of sensitivity, has something to offer, and all men are needed.”

          It is evident that you do not exclude and I appreciate that. But I hold to my comment that the future belongs to you and those with similar temperaments. That is the way our culture is going.

          Most of the things that my parents taught me are no longer respected:

          Protecting those who are weak and vulnerable
          Taking charge
          Being authoritative
          Respecting and protecting women
          Keeping emotions in check

          I may disagree with you on everything, but i will fight to make sure you have the right to say it without getting put down. Even the word ‘fight’ is seen as wrong.

          These are openly mocked and ridiculed and seen as relics of lost age. I have no intention of changing – and that is the real problem.

          Anyway – good luck to you, and keep the door open to those of us who are different, even when the pressure is there to slam it shut.

          Tim

          • Tim, I share many of your concerns (e.g., the increasing fragmentation of our society) and values (protection of the weak and vulnerable). I also agree that the development of character and fortitude is important for all men, highly sensitive or not. I suspect that if we sat down and talked for a while we’d find other areas of commonality and alliance.

            I see an enormous amount of disrespect and denigration of men and masculinity in our culture and it offends me. I find all the hype and attention given to the so-called “end of men” infuriating, and the very premise itself hateful. Men are not finished and we are not going away.

            What I’m trying to do is help expand the field of possibilities for men rather than tearing down and replacing everything that currently exists. I hope to see the day when my less sensitive brothers and I understand and respect one another well enough to more fully appreciate our complementary assets and strengths, assist one another in those areas where we may be weaker or less competent, and help one another move forward cooperatively as men.

            Thank you for engaging in this dialogue with me and best of luck to you.

  6. Dan Flowers says:

    Tim makes that sound like a good thing… I am a HSP who knows exactly when to stop being one and can. For grownups it is required.

    • I didn’t intend to make it sound like a good thing. I will have to read over my posts more carefully before I post them.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Dan.
    Yeah. Being able to stop when necessary is a good thing. A very good thing. From time to time, stuff needs to be done and doing the sensitive, angst-ridden thing instead is not going to get it. It would be one thing if it were only yourself in the crapper, and you could decide that HSPing is worth the price you will most certainly pay.
    Kipling’s epitaph for the refined man: From his Epitaphs from the War.
    I turned aside for my need.
    I was seen from afar and killed.
    Why is this reason for mirth?
    I paid the price to live with myself
    On terms that I willed.

    I can sympathize. Living with oneself is a good thing. But there comes a time…. The miracle on the Hudson comes to mind. Sullenberger was not disabled by HSPing, presuming he was an HSP, and if he was not, the passengers have every reason to be grateful.
    Do we need to make sure there are sufficient non-HSPs to protect the HSPs? Or are the HSPs going to always be able to put aside the HSP when necessary? Or is the capacity to do that a Bad Thing?

    • Thanks for your comment, Richard. You make some good points about the necessity for action and decisiveness when situations and circumstances demand it. However, I think it’s a mistake, or perhaps a misconception, to assume that being with one’s sensitivity translates to being “angst-ridden” and unable to act on behalf of oneself or others.

      While it’s true that HSPs often need more time to process information than others (because they tend to take in more information and examine it more deeply) and can therefore become overloaded more quickly, it’s also true that they can learn to use their information processing skills to best advantage by processing input more skillfully and selectively so they can make good, timely decisions without shutting their sensitivity down.

      If anything, an HSP who is fully present with his or her sensitivity is less likely to be confused and more likely to be clear, efficient, and confident with decisions and action. I’ve found in my own case that when I am unclear as to a decision or action, it is often not because I am “angst-ridden” but because I don’t have all the information I need to choose my course wisely.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Rick. If your sensitivity is not manifest to others, how do you know you have more of it than others? How do you know the stoic isn’t an HSP who figures nobody needs to know the trouble he’s seen?
    For some reason–military training being either the chicken or the egg–I am more alert to anomalies in the environment than are most other people.
    Ex. Stopped at a rest area near a prison. Two cars full of friends. Heard a couple of shots. “Hear that?”
    Nope. I suggested we leave, anyway. Turns out some guy had gotten loose and shots had been fired. There were five pair of adult ears and only mine–aging and subject to military noise in earlier decades–heard the sound. Not that the various ears worked differently.
    If that’s HSP, fine. And it’s useful. Ditto a change in the wind, smell, people’s movements, etc.
    “What’s wrong with this picture?”
    That’s me, at least to a greater extent than most others. I don’t figure that’s HSP.
    Spending time figuring out what to do about it doesn’t seem like an advantage. And stuffing emotional turmoil where the sun don’t shine until things are over does.

    • Richard, I guess what’s most important is that you know yourself and what works best for you. If that’s where you are and you’re comfortable with yourself, then I’d say you’re in a pretty good place. If the HSP information doesn’t feel applicable or helpful for you (remember that only 1 in 5 are believed to be highly sensitive), then I certainly see no point in trying to make it fit.

      I think the “take what you need and leave the rest” approach applies to this material just as it so often does to so much of the information we encounter.

  9. I think men need to hone in on their inner HSP and help other men…My hubby is an HSP and picked up on the crankiness of his fellow colleague…at first, he mirrored that crankiness right back at him, but later, he thought about it and felt remorseful…and realized that his colleague was just as overwhelmed as he is (i.e., working 2 jobs, dealing with his wife’s recent cancer diagnosis and breast reconstruction surgery, etc.)….so the next morning, my husband apologized to him and talked to him in a more constructive way to work out the schedules so that all the colleagues could get more down time in the future without jeopardizing the work responsibilities….

    Sniping and grouching behind someone’s back is not helpful to anyone…!

    • Good comment, Leia, and a great example of how a man who is accessing his sensitivity skillfully can be a real asset to those around him as a creative problem solver without draining himself.

  10. It seems to me that we need to speak more carefully about what it means to be a highly sensitive man. Being highly sensitive per se is not a ‘male’ or ‘masculine’ trait. Men and women alike can be highly sensitive and there is nothing about the trait as such that particularly relates it either to maleness or masculinity.

    One could argue that high sensitivity is not opposed to masculinity or maleness, though not exactly connected either. However, there seem to be occasions when certain forms of high sensitivity do stand in the way of a true masculinity, much as other traits like a childish petulance, which many men may possess, but which are far from manly. A form of high sensitivity that is primarily expressed in such things as emotional reactivity, passive aggression, a weak neediness, self-obsessive narcissism, or a frequent state of being emotionally overwhelmed can be quite unmanly.

    Part of what it means to become a man is no longer to be the passive victim of your feelings. The truly highly sensitive man is not like the person cast adrift on a choppy ocean of emotions, disorientated and at the mercy of the elements. Rather, the highly sensitive man is like the masterful pilot, who can allow himself fully, truly, and deeply to feel, to venture forth onto that ocean, while being able to navigate its treacherous currents, hidden reefs, shoals, and rocks, and chart courses into safe harbours. The highly sensitive man is like a ship that has a firm anchor.

    The highly sensitive man is the person who can live life whole-heartedly with passion and feeling, who can be entirely emotionally present to those around him, without being overwhelmed or at the mercy of the emotional dynamics of situations. The highly sensitive man is a person who can guide those who are emotionally unmoored or unanchored through their storms, who can be calm yet present. The highly sensitive man is the person who can feel deeply and profoundly, but non-anxiously, silently exuding confidence and calm in situations that cause others to lose their wits.

    The highly sensitive man is the person who has developed an effective ‘membrane’ for his emotions, taking in fully those emotions that are healthy, flushing out unhealthy ones, exuding those that are rich, deep, and good, and holding at arm’s length any that would cause anxiety and emotional disorientation. Such a person can have a fearless vulnerability to life, an intoxicating daring, which enables him to live fully and passionately. Rather than the drunken course of a vessel three sheets to the wind, the truly highly sensitive male raises and opens the sails of his spirit fully, his hand firmly on the tiller, his bow carving the waves, and a sense of passionate freedom in his heart.

    This is an incredibly manly trait, one that many males, who are repressed emotional landlubbers quite lack. While the naturally highly sensitive person needs to develop mastery of his feelings (while still fully feeling them, much as the masterful sailor can allow himself to be fully subject to forces that far exceed his power, because he need not merely be their plaything), the ‘emotional landlubbers’ need to gather the nerve to leave the timid safety of the shore. The highly sensitive male can play an important role as the person who helps to guide such emotional landlubbers out into the ocean.

    However, there is nothing manly at all about just being on the sea of emotions. Like all natural tendencies, high sensitivity is something that must be mastered and harnessed if it is to become a masculine trait.

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