I have been quite interested in the last few years in the phenomena of Highly Sensitive Persons (HSPs), largely because I am a Highly Sensitive Person myself; and in particular recently in Highly Sensitive Men; again, because I am one myself.
What is High Sensitivity? With the reader’s indulgence, I will copy my introduction from elsewhere:
High Sensitivity is an innate psycho-physical trait which comes with great benefits but also very real challenges. It is found in 15-20% of the population — too many to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority of those around you. HSPs have a greater sensitivity to their surroundings, often greater empathy (generally involuntary), a tendency to pick up on myriad subtleties in their environments, as well as to be overwhelmed more easily, due precisely to their perception involuntarily picking up on so much….
The bulk of the research on this has been done by the terrific Dr Elaine Aron, who pioneered this research and work, and has written several books and done much to publicize the emerging-ly understood phenomenon of HSP. This trait, I would remind non-HSP’s as well as HSP’s themselves, is well-supported by empirical research. Elaine Aron’s website, HSPerson.com, is a great starting point.
But why I am interested in the situation of Highly Sensitive Men (HSM), is multi-faceted.
For one thing, I find there to be what we might call an interesting tension between the masculine archetype on the one hand — which David Deida, for example, characterizes as being defined by an “unwavering consciousness”, as well as a toughness or independence, an ability to stand outside of a situation and view it dispassionately, an ability to be a warrior, whether physical or spiritual; and so on.
And on the other hand, the situation of Highly Sensitive Men. Being more sensitive to the stimuli in their environment, it may be more difficult for Highly Sensitive Men to maintain their strong and unwavering consciousness —
Largely because, simply we might say, their consciousness is aware of so much more than the consciousness of the majority of the human population.
As empaths or sensitives, they are taking in a tremendous amount of stimuli; and this much more easily leads to over-stimulation, giving them what might seem like a less strong or masculine aspect.
Also an increased sensitivity to pain, to loud noises or bright lights, to the emotions and energies of others around them; would all seem to contribute to making it more difficult for the Highly Sensitive Man to take on the Warrior archetype.
That said, perhaps we should be mindful of the great achievements of certain Highly Sensitive Men throughout history, who were warriors in their own way.
The most relevant to this discussion jump out as Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi. These two were almost certainly Highly Sensitive Men.
Gandhi’s story in particular is the story of the evolution and growth of a man who was incredibly sensitive (for all of his life). In childhood, Gandhi’s sensitivity made him at times painfully shy and nervous. Even having grown up and moved to England, he had a terrific fear of public speaking.
In his autobiography, Gandhi recounts the story of how he was to make a brief address at his Vegetarian club (really an unimposing small group of unusual Englishmen, the English vegetarians of the 19th century) — he planned merely to read his speech off of a paper, but upon standing up, his head spun and he nearly fainted from this novel situation, and was unable to read his speech. He gave it to another man to read it out for him.
This was the same man, who years later would address millions, who would speak to crowds of many thousands, with an extraordinary self-assuredness and not a trace of fear or uncertainty. A man who would become one of the greatest leaders of his century, and indeed one of the greatest human leaders in history.
Gandhi’s example shows that Highly Sensitive Men, by embracing their unique gifts, can become spiritual warriors of the highest degree. In our next post, we will examine more carefully the example of Gandhi, and how he used his sensitivity to his advantage, despite the real difficulties it must have put in his way.