Sense and Sensitivity

The ups and downs of daily life as a Highly Sensitive Person

The Highly Sensitive Man

Why expressing feelings is a powerful tool for the highly sensitive man.

Being a sensitive man can present unique challenges as men are still held to a standard of masculinity that does not often include showing their feelings. Being a highly sensitive person involves struggling to cope with feeling overwhelmed by sensory and emotional information and the stress of modern life and finding opportunities to express those feelings can be difficult. But with an understanding of themselves and an appreciation of their traits, highly sensitive men can find their sensitivity is both a gift and a strength.

Since high sensitivity means that we are absorbing large amounts information from our environment on a daily basis, one of the most challenging aspects of this condition is coping with the feeling of being overwhelmed. Sometimes we’re aware of it, like when we walk into a room and the music is so loud it hurts. Some of the information we absorb we do so unconsciously. We’re not always aware of the effect that the boss’s bad mood is having on us, for example, or the stress generated by a busy schedule. But whether we’re aware of these stressors or not, they all take a toll on us. It’s the way we deal with them that makes the difference between health and sickness, happiness and despair.

While many people do not understand the reasons for a highly sensitive woman becoming upset over the sound of a screaming baby or overwhelmed by the crowds at a fair, they will still usually accept her reaction. Highly sensitive men are not often accepted in the same way. Men are expected to hide their feelings, suck it up, and soldier on.

The result is that men often bury their feelings in an attempt to conform to social pressure and as a way of dealing with the feelings they themselves struggle to understand. This kind of compartmentalising of emotions, that is, separating your feelings from your thoughts and actions, is often an unconscious coping tactic. By stuffing unpleasant feelings, such as anger, fear, anxiety, worry and hurt, into an imaginary box, a man can find it easier to move on. Unfortunately, you can’t pick and choose which feelings go into the box. If one goes, they all go, including the positive ones, like happiness, enthusiasm and love. This strategy may make life easier for the highly sensitive man, but it also makes his life flat, cold and ultimately lonely.

Without the practice of showing their feelings, it can be difficult for men to even know how to begin. What’s more, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to even be aware of what they’re feeling. Consequently, when someone does ask how he is feeling, he responds that he is fine, that there’s nothing wrong. The problem, however, is that he becomes emotionally distant from those people he cares about and who care about him, making it nearly impossible for him to receive the love and support he needs.

Compartmentalising your feelings can be a useful and often an essential technique for coping with overwhelming feelings when you are in a situation that prevents emotional expression. For the highly sensitive man, however, becoming aware of and expressing those feelings on a regular basis is crucial for maintaining a positive sense of self, as well as being a powerful tool for lowering stress levels. HSPs experience so much stress, thanks to environmental overload, that facing their feelings is fundamental to their health. Pushing feelings away does not make them disappear. In fact, feelings tend to grow the longer you avoid them. This might explain why some men appear to be calm and coping well, until they suddenly explode with anger. It just all becomes too much.

Recognising and accepting yourself as a man who is highly sensitive is the first step. Sensitivity is a gift, not a weakness, and it means that you are creative, empathetic and able to appreciate wonderful sensory elements in life like music, art, fragrances and colours that other people often miss. Being highly sensitive also means that you have an ability to help others. Burying your feelings is easier, but talking about your feelings takes courage. By becoming aware of your feelings and learning to express them, you not only draw loving people towards you, you can also teach others how to cope, simply by being an example of that magical combination of sensitivity and strength.

Deborah Ward's new book, Overcoming Fear with Mindfulness, is available now.

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