Psychology: Highly Sensitive Person In Love (cont.)

Moderator: HSPs can go across genders, so this must be particularly difficult for men. How does it work for them?

Dr. Aron: Yes. There are just as many men as women born with this trait but, in this culture, we totally confuse gender and temperament. Men should be non-HSP's, women should be HSP's, or these days, it seems, HSP's AND non-HSP's (women should be). But men really have to struggle to hide their sensitivity or they are seen as not very manly. And I think that this wrong idea of manhood is evident everywhere in our culture and others are writing about that. But even sensitive women have been trained by the culture, to some extent, to like HSP men as "friends," but not as romantic partners, I think some of this may stem from thinking HSP's might not be good protectors or providers, but neither would be true at all. A protector who's careful and intuitive is a good one, and the same with a provider. It might be a different style, but the depths to a sensitive man are what are needed so much in close relationships.

There's another issue to mention. That is that Highly Sensitive People (HSP's), men or women, who have had a troubled childhood are more likely than non-HSP's with troubled childhoods to be depressed, anxious, or shy. But HSP's with good enough childhoods are no more anxious, depressed, or shy than non-HSP's. But it's probably the case that people notice the more troubled HSP's. The happier HSP's have learned to blend in with the majority. So, I found, for example, that Highly Sensitive women often thought that their husbands were not Highly Sensitive, when, in fact, their husbands scored almost as high on the self-test. The husbands had their wives fooled, and probably had themselves fooled, too. So, to the woman who asked the other question, (laughs), she might look again!

Moderator: You mention 10 ways in which you can heal the effects of sexism and gender stereotypes. What are they?

Dr. Aron: Oh yeah. Well, let's talk about them. Work on your self-esteem, that's so important. And, sensitive and non-sensitive women have similar big issues with low self-esteem but, it's doubled when you're an HSP. It's as though there's two things wrong with you. Sensitive Women often settle into a marriage or a job early in life, and stay there until it gets too uncomfortable. The next is to improve on your boundaries. HSP's always have to work on their boundaries because we are so aware of other people's desires and needs and how they will suffer and therefore, we will suffer if they aren't satisfied. Women, in particular, are trained to please others. But Highly Sensitive men often grow up feeling a deep sympathy for women, and therefore, bend over backwards to please women. So, in both cases, they have to set boundaries to take care of themselves. But, it's not like they're sick or co-dependent. This is natural to HSP's to be affected by other's moods. The next one is to replace stereotypes with knowledge of actual men and women. We build a fantasy of ideals and fears about the other gender. In this culture, gender is just a huge, huge issue. A funny story ... I knew someone who did an informal research study in a park with a newborn baby all bundled up. A woman was left with the baby. When people came up and asked her it's gender, she said she didn't know. She had just been asked by the mother to sit with the baby a moment. People got so upset that they didn't know the gender of the baby, some of them wanted to undress it to see! It's as though we can't relate to someone without gender as a lens. I think temperament is a bigger difference between people than gender.

The next one is to work on your "love shyness." Meeting people is difficult for HSP's. One problem is simply that if we work 40 hours a week, we don't have much energy for meeting new people. We prefer a deep conversation with a familiar friend. Another problem with love in particular is that we really hesitate on the edge. We want to know someone well before we take the plunge, even though I also find we fall in love harder than others once we decide we love someone. This is an extra problem for men because men are supposed to be aggressive and decisive about love, but that's not a sensitive man's preference. The next point is to confront your ideas about Highly Sensitive men and homosexuality. I think that Sensitive women need to appreciate that they may be happiest with a Sensitive man and feel better as a woman. Sensitive men and women may confuse sensitivity with homosexuality for some reason. I've talked to gay men a lot about this, and we both agree that there doesn't seem to be any higher percentage of Sensitive men in the gay population.

The next point is to avoid being a superman, superwoman, or super parent; identify what's causing you to try to be so perfect. All HSP's can stumble into the mistake of trying to be perfect, because we can sense the consequences of mistakes. We also may be trying to overcompensate for a secret sense of being flawed. There are all kinds of reasons why people, in general, push themselves too hard. But, it's especially important for HSP's to identify their reasons because if we push ourselves too hard, we're very likely to develop chronic physical or mental problems. Gender enters in because Sensitive men or women may feel they aren't "real" men or women. And, there's find a sensitive mentor of your gender. I think it's a great idea to find someone you can talk to or just watch how they operate, someone sensitive and successful in a way you admire. The next point is to protect yourself from those who do not respect you. There is so much sexism on both sides, men towards women and women towards men, especially towards sensitive men or women Sometimes, you can argue with people but there's a limit. So, I really advise people to surround themselves with those who have the good sense to disregard damaging stereotypes. And, then there's to remember and then to forget the four genders! Since we seem to love gender stereotypes so much, I joke that we need four gender stereotypes. Sensitive, and non-Sensitive men, and Sensitive and non-Sensitive women. But the best thing is to try to get over the stereotypes all together, because almost everyone is an exception to the stereotype, just as no one has 2.2 children. No one is a "real man," or "real woman." We're just ourselves.