I’m a Highly Sensitive Person (don’t laugh, you’ll upset me), which means I think and feel very deeply. I also get overwhelmed easily and have a low pain tolerance. Not many traditional man-points so far, I know.
But it’s not just me being ‘soft,’ it’s an actual thing. In the nineties, clinical psychologist and researchers Dr. Elaine and Arthur Aron published their work on Sensory Processing Sensitivity(1); a genetic trait found in 15-20% of the population, where the brain processes all sensory data more deeply than average. More pain, more pleasure, more beauty, more fear.
It’s not all bad. Like most Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs), I wouldn’t change it for the world. I can read people well because I notice subtle things others miss. I communicate (I think) more eloquently than many guys. And I’ve always found it easy to connect with people, especially women. But the drawback is that too many times I’ve shot myself in the foot by being too nice.
And the challenge of ‘being yourself’ is easier said than done. Because when you can’t help but see everything from several points of view, who you are—your identity in relation to the world around you—is a lifelong journey of discovery. Meditation helps enormously here.
If any of this sounds familiar to you—perhaps you recognize something in yourself or your partner—here are my suggestions on how to live as, or with, a Highly Sensitive Man.
1. Do the online test (yes there’s a test for it!)
It’s a great relief when you finally realize there’s a reason you’re like you are. I guess it’s a bit like finding out you’re dyslexic after struggling at school for so long. From there you can find tons of great insights, advice, and information too.
The word sensitive doesn’t mean weak, or soft, or being a drama queen (ok sometimes I might be one of those!), it just means you can sense more. If a telescope is more sensitive, it’s possible you can see further with it, because it picks up (senses) more light.
2. You need time and space to yourself
Even us outgoing ones need time to decompress. Power naps are great, but you also need some decent time to yourself, just to be in your own rich, complex inner world. Your subconscious needs space to process, play and explore. Taking a walk each day is good, but if possible try to be on your own for a few hours a week. And that means limiting social media too.
Getting enough sleep is also doubly important because tiredness can turn you into a whiny little child—and we all know how attractive that is.
3. Choose exercise over booze and drugs
When you’re highly sensitive, the things that feel good, feel really good. The warmth of the sun, or the tingle of the rain on your face, the sight and smell of a beautiful woman, or comfy slippers (sod the man-points, I love my slippers). And all of that’s awesome. But it also means it’s easy to get carried away with stuff that makes you feel good artificially. Especially when this world is a daily test of your tolerance; and rudeness, injustice and exploitation seem to be everywhere.
From my teenage years, I found solace in anything that made me feel better. Nowadays that’s usually red wine, but earlier in my life it was drugs as well. Although the ups feel fantastic, the drawbacks hit even harder. And paranoia, loss of self-worth, regret, and the physical discomfort of ailing health, eventually become more significant than any pleasure you get.
Exercise is crucial. As well as making me want to eat better (and drink less), I feel physically strong, mentally calm and clear, which is a feeling I want to maintain. I recommend doing something physical four times a week or more, make it part of your lifestyle and your identity.
4. Don’t do anything that will make you feel guilty (or be prepared to ‘fess up)
Some guys have ridiculed me for this, others get it, but I can’t do guilt. At all. It rots inside me and eats away at my soul like cancer. No matter how much I try to bury it, I end up feeling like there’s an invisible veil between the person I’ve wronged or cheated on and me. I feel so inauthentic that I end up pushing them away, acting like an idiot or in some way sabotaging the relationship.
Occasionally there may be times when the combination of female attention, male opportunism, and too many tequilas puts you in a precarious spot. Summon the strength (by invoking Zeus, or Jesus, or whatever it takes) and walk away. You’ll thank yourself later, I promise.
If you do mess up, you have to decide which is going to have a worse effect on your relationship: telling her or not. In my experience, confessing and saving my soul is by far the best option, but it’s also the hardest. It’s going to hurt her, and it’s going to hurt you. And you don’t know how she’s going to react, or how things are going to be afterward. In the end, it’s your decision to make. Be humble but not pathetic, don’t ask for forgiveness, and give her as much time and space as she needs.
5. It’s ok to keep some things to yourself
I find it easy to share too much. Connecting with people, openness and honesty are among my primary drivers. But it also feels good to own your mind. However close you are, remember you’re two separate people. It might feel obvious to you that fundamentally we’re all one—just droplets of consciousness experiencing ourselves subjectively through the illusion of separateness. But not everyone gets that.
You don’t need to bare your soul all the time to connect with people. Life’s a dance, or a game of chess depending how you look at it, and it’s about learning to play your part well.
6. Practice making decisions
Decisiveness is considered a masculine trait, and it seems all successful people are good at it. It’s something I work at all the time because it doesn’t come naturally. Highly sensitive people can struggle with decision making because they take too many factors into account. I see many potential paths, each with many potential outcomes and challenges.
I can also make the effects of my decisions seem larger than they need to be, and put (possibly) too much emphasis on how it will affect other people. It’s good to be considerate, but I’m learning, slowly, that being too nice doesn’t get results.
Give yourself a time limit, write out three options, and just decide to decide! You can almost always go back and change it if you really want to. Remember life’s an adventure, and one way or another your choices open new doors for you all the time, be mindful of that and enjoy it.
7. On a practical point: Get some earplugs (honestly they’ll change your life)
I carry earplugs everywhere. Titanium ones that cost a lot of money, but for me, it’s the same as buying a decent pair of sunglasses—totally worth it. I wear them in crowded places because they make me feel like I’m in a protective bubble, whenever there are screaming kids (give me nails on a chalkboard any day), and anytime I want to concentrate.
I hope you’ve found this helpful!
(1) Aron, Elaine N., and Arthur Aron. “Sensory-processing sensitivity and its relation to introversion and emotionality.” Journal of personality and social psychology 73.2 (1997): 345.
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