While geared toward men, much of this can apply to all HSPs.
Why did I want to write specifically about men? There is the cultural expectation that women are more emotional and sensitive than men–that men should be tough and stoic. It seems to me that this could clash with the traits of being an HSP.
The challenges of being a highly sensitive man
Peter, who’s in his 50s, shared this story, “As a boy, I will always remember the time when, in second grade, something had happened in the classroom which resulted in me breaking down and crying. The teacher suggested I go to the boys’ restroom to collect myself, which I gratefully did. Two minutes later, a classmate joined me and told me the teacher had said that I was too sensitive. From that point forward, for decades, I felt as though sensitivity was a flaw, resulting, in my adult years, in my attempting to hide who I was, to ‘put my game face on’ in just about all of my business and many other interactions.”
Isn’t it amazing how one interaction in our youth can affect us for so many years? I wonder if Peter had instead been a little girl who started crying, would the teacher have made the comment about being too sensitive? It’s normal for girls to cry—maybe not so much for boys who are expected to be tough, right?
|Check out the book The Strong, Sensitive Boy by Ted Zeff for guidance on how to raise happy, confident, sensitive sons!|
Here’s another story, this one from Fred in Sweden, who’s in his 40s. “In senior high school I and two boys were the only boys in a class, the rest was girls. Everyone else was loud and one teacher nicknamed the class ‘the hockey team’, because it was like entering a locker room. Being a sensitive man made it even more difficult to blend in.”
A common thread that runs through many of these sensitive men’s writings is that they avoid certain situations where they know others may see them react emotionally. They may also keep small social circles and avoid getting too close to people, in case their true emotions are exposed.
Matthew, in his 40s, said, “I would say much of my history has been filled with trying to dull overwhelm. I have been able to detach from myself to varying degrees to make myself feel less or more normal. This is good and bad.”
When he first learned about HSP, Stephen, who’s in his 30s, said he realized that much of his life to that point had been about realizing the negative reactions of being highly sensitive and mitigating them to feel “normal”. So he would kind of push away his sensitivity, forcing those feelings to go away.
Stephen said, “It’s hard to dampen excitement, terror, and rapture amongst other things, as the expectation is to remain more stoic as a man. It takes a lot more energy to be strong as a man if particular stimuli and events trigger these highly sensitive reactions.”
Chris, who’s in his 20s, wrote, “While growing up, I sometimes felt inadequate and undervalued, since I didn’t feel ‘tough’ like other guys. I also sometimes felt that others viewed me as less of a male, and a less desirable relationship partner. I knew that I didn’t like being ‘tough’ and that it wasn’t me, but it was still difficult to navigate my feelings.”
|Read Dr. Elaine Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person in Love to get a deep understanding of how HSPs love others and how they want to be loved!|
“There is a general reaction of ‘get over yourself’ whenever I display any sort of behavior related to my high sensitivity, whereas I feel there would be more understanding and attempts to empathize were I female,” said Llewellyn, a British man in his 20s.
I can certainly empathize with the struggles these men have described. How unfortunate that our culture takes little boys who feel the world strongly and tells them that they are wrong, weird, or weak. That self-disapproval can last a lifetime.
Here’s a response to all those people who think the stereotypical “real man” can’t be sensitive:
A commenter on my blog named Gary wrote, “I’m a former amateur boxer and judo competitor. I cry fairly easily, especially when I see TV ads depicting starving children or abused animals, etc. I’ve noticed many male UFC fighters who cry upon losing a match or feeling they let their supporters down. These folks, including myself, are not ‘sissies’, I assure you.”
How to deal with being a sensitive man
Chris says, “I’ve dealt with these difficulties by focusing on self-love, appreciation, and acceptance. I love myself the way I am and I try to change my environment to fit my needs, which can include the people I socialize with, the places I go to, and how I spend my time. It still hurts when I meet someone who thinks I’m flawed for being sensitive, but it’s just their opinion, it doesn’t mean he/she is right. And even if it were a flaw, all humans have quirks and flaws that make them unique, it’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
He also thinks society’s views have changed over the years. “It seems that people are more accepting of the idea that both men and women have feelings and that it’s ok for everyone to be gentle and compassionate.”
Llewellyn also said that he is careful about who he socializes with. “I have managed to isolate myself from the opinions of strangers. Understanding friends and my pursuit of my creative hobbies have helped me see my high sensitivity as a blessing rather than a burden.”
The benefits for sensitive men
Highly sensitive men can make great partners and friends to both women and men. Male HSPs find that their non-HSP male friends lean on them when they need someone to talk to about deeper issues.
“If an HSP can turn their insecurity about being sensitive into something empowering, it can allow one to initiate and drive more intimate relationships with others, especially masculine relationships,” Stephen said.
Peter has a similar comment. He explains how in female relationships, women are more socially permitted to talk about their emotions and feelings right away, whereas male relationships are more based around shared interests–and they don’t talk about emotions and feelings much.
Because of his nature, Peter finds himself sought out by men for “friendship, encouragement, and advice.”
And there are the benefits all HSPs enjoy, like intense feelings of joy.
Matthew wrote, “I occasionally have moments of positive emotional overwhelm, even euphoria. Microbursts of being or feeling incredibly high and joyful.”
“I would not want to change who I am or how intensely I experience things. Even a sunset can trigger an intense rush of positive feelings.”
A recent article about HSPs in the Wall Street Journal interviewed a former engineer for NASA named Michael Hassard. He had some illuminating things to say about the struggles and benefits of being an HSP and a man.
The article says:
“[Michael has] sometimes noticed that women he’s dated have become uncomfortable when he is more emotional than they are. ‘Nobody loves a crybaby,’ he says.”
“And he has learned to see advantages in being so sensitive. He feels he is a better father because he can empathize better with his children. And he says he recently saved a multi-million-dollar deal at work because he was the only one on his 12-member team who picked up on the client’s apprehension, enabling the group to address it.”
“Mr. Hassard’s girlfriend…says that although his wear-it-on-his sleeve emotions have taken some time to get used to, she now loves how sensitive he is. ‘Stoic has its place,’ she says. ‘But engaging, thoughtful conversation about things that matter with someone who feels and isn’t afraid to show it is a welcome and unexpected change from the norm.’ ”
Thank you to Peter, Freddie, Matthew, Chris, Stephen, and Llewellyn for helping me with this topic.
Are you highly sensitive? Share your comments below.