How Being a Highly Sensitive Man Can Affect Your Self-Esteem
It took me a while to figure out that I’m a highly sensitive man, or more generally, a highly sensitive person (HSP).1 I realized that many of my personality traits and ways of thinking and behaving could not just be explained by the fact that I was introverted. I have always tended to be highly sensitive to my environment, others, and experiences. The problem, though, is that Western culture – with its emphasis on particular masculine norms – tends to look down on highly sensitive men. The sad truth is that I’ve always beaten myself up for the way I am. But I’ve found ways to embrace my high sensitivity, which I think are worth highlighting.
High Sensitivity Explained
As it turns out, highly sensitive people are literally wired differently. They have increased blood flow in brain regions dedicated to emotion, awareness, and empathy. While highly sensitive people cannot be completely generalized, they do all share a high degree of sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). This is a personality trait that is best described as hypersensitivity to external stimuli, high emotional reactivity, and deeper cognitive processing.
This has all sorts of implications for the day-to-day life of an HSP. Speaking from a personal standpoint, I often find that I am overwhelmed by stimulating events and situations. I can remember countless occasions where I would be in a bar or club and after a short amount of time I'd feel like I had to get out. The noise and amount of people were overstimulating. So I became notorious for suddenly leaving places on nights out. Drinking heavily helped to numb this sensitivity. But looking back, I realized that I was just denying my true preferences and nature by doing that.
There are many specific characteristics that highly sensitive people tend to have in common. These include:2
- A high degree of empathy and creativity
- Feeling more deeply, which applies to both positive and negative emotions
- Sensitivity to animals
- A hard time faking an interest in topics; being genuine is important to HSPs
- Feeling engaged when having deep, meaningful conversations and hating small talk
- Becoming really irritable when hungry
- Feeling overwhelmed by having multiple or major tasks to do
- Taking longer than most to make decisions
- Loud environments make you want to run and hide
- Being more prone to depression and anxiety
Highly Sensitive Men
Even though 15-20% of the general population have this high sensitivity personality trait, it is poorly misunderstood. It can be mistaken for anti-social behavior or be negatively judged as "too sensitive." As a man, culture can encourage you to feel emasculated for your high degree of sensitivity. Other people don't easily accept it.
Whenever I’ve found myself overwhelmed or emotional, I would see this as "wrong." I thought I must be broken or weak as a man. I believed this kind of sensitivity was acceptable for women but not for me. I must have a broken brain or be stuck in some infantile, undeveloped state.
"Why can’t I just deal with normal situations like everyone else?" I would constantly ask myself.
Building Self-Esteem as a Highly Sensitive Man
It is hard to fully accept myself for my sensitive nature, partly due to cultural narratives about masculinity. However, there are ways that men like me can combat societal pressures to conform and deny one’s authenticity. These include:
- Using self-acceptance techniques. Mindfulness, self-compassion, and working with a trained counselor or therapist can help you to embrace your authentic self and give up habitual patterns of denial and denigration.
- Appreciating the gift of sensitivity. Highly sensitive men can prove to be extremely caring and be of service in many professions and social contexts.
- Not putting yourself in situations that misalign with your sensitivity. Learning to accept yourself and live a happy life as a highly sensitive man means treating your natural preferences with respect. Make sure that your job, relationships, and activities match your personality type, rather than the interests of others. Many highly sensitive men become miserable because they try to live up to standards other than their own.
- Knowing you’re not alone. As already mentioned, 15-20% of people are highly sensitive and this personality trait is evenly distributed among the sexes. You’re not defective or unlovable because you’re a highly sensitive man. There are many other men and women who share your sensitivity who understand you.
I certainly have more work to do in terms of concretizing these points and living true to them, as do many other highly sensitive men out there. But I know that the more I work on self-acceptance, the happier I will be in the long-term.
- Rooney, A.M. "I Am a Highly Sensitive Person. Here's What I Wish More People Knew About HSPs". mindbodygreen. August 2017.
Woolfe, S. (2018, December 12). How Being a Highly Sensitive Man Can Affect Your Self-Esteem, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, August 11 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2018/12/how-being-a-highly-sensitive-man-can-affect-your-self-esteem