Last week, I presented you with a video and podcast on highly sensitive men, wherein I interviewed my darling hubby, Nathaniel about his experiences growing up as a Highly Sensitive Man. If you missed it, be sure to check it out here:
Or if you prefer podcasts, listen to it here.
I thought that the perfect follow-up article would be a review of two books I recently read about highly sensitive men. One is more academic and written by a therapist, and the other is a personal story of a highly sensitive man. I found that after reading both, I had a complete picture of what it is like to be a highly sensitive man, along with the tools that can be used to help highly sensitive boys and men thrive.
The Highly Sensitive Man: Finding Strength in Sensitivity
This book was written by Tom Falkenstein, a psychotherapist and founder of the European Centre for High Sensitivity. It was the first book I could find specifically about highly sensitive men. In order to write this book, Falkenstein trained and consulted with Dr. Elaine Aron, the premier researcher and writer on the Highly Sensitive Personality.
While I enjoyed reading it, I found that the bulk of it was applicable to both females and males with high sensitivity. The parts where it is specifically geared towards highly sensitive men were profound, however.
Falkenstein posits that masculinity is in crisis due to “toxic masculinity” requirements for men in most cultures which are based on dominance and violence and where emotions are rejected. He outlines the rules of masculinity:
- A real man is a fighter and a winner
- A real man is a provider and protector (of women and children)
- A real man is controlled and disciplined
He points out the following facts which he says are particularly problematic:
- The suicide rate among men is much higher than women everywhere in the world.
- Men are more likely to suffer from addiction, and when men discuss depressive symptoms with their doctor, they are less likely than women to be diagnosed with depression and consequently don’t receive adequate therapeutic and pharmacological treatment.
- Young men are currently less academically successful at secondary school than young women.
- The number of men applying to university is now lower than the number of women applying, and a far higher number of men drop out.
- Men are also far more likely to be arrested. 93% of people in prison are men.
- Even in wealthy industrialized nations, men die on average around 5 to 10 years earlier than women. Medical opinion increasingly points to lifestyle, behavior, and environment, rather than biological difference, as being the most likely reasons behind this disparity between the sexes.
If behaviour and lifestyle do indeed have such a decisive impact on men’s psychological and physical health compared with simple biology, and this raises the question, what is influencing men’s behaviour and the sometimes self-destructive lifestyle that results from it? The answer, to a very great degree, appears to lie in the socialization of men and the “masculine” values and norms that men consequently internalize and then express in their behaviour. (pp.12-15).
Falkenstein proposes the way out of this crisis lies within what he calls “male emancipation”. In his words:
What I do believe is that we need to expand our idea of what masculinity can be, and feel able to define it more freely, so that it includes every man and boy as he is, encompassing all of his unique facets, complexities, and contradictions. We need to stop reducing ourselves and being reduced by others. We need to stop seeing everything as black and white, and start seeing the great spectrum of shades that exist among men. We need to stop saying “either-or” and start saying “as well as”. Masculine and sensitive, masculine and emotional. And the more the highly sensitive man is able to deal with and thrive with his high sensitivity, to live with it with more self-confidence, more self-awareness, and more authenticity in the eyes of others, the more he can drive this social change.
If we are going to talk about a crisis of masculinity, then we have to see this crisis as an opportunity. An opportunity for a change. Through the process of coming to terms with ourselves, we begin to ask questions and to define things in new ways, which, in turn, changes people’s thinking, their attitudes, and their behaviour. This process can be both frightening and unsettling, but it can also be liberating and exciting. Perhaps it is exactly this process that we can see happening all around us and that will eventually allow men to lead more authentic, intimate, emotional, and sensitive lives. p.21.
What is also wonderful about this book is that he provides many practical tools to help highly sensitive men manage overstimulation and intense emotions. There is also a lot of good information about incorporating mindfulness to enhance relaxation and equanimity. I also appreciate that he emphasizes self-care and self-compassion.
Lastly, there are some very practical tools and techniques to deal with situations that can be difficult for highly sensitive men. And my favourite part was how he highlighted the key role that highly sensitive men can play in today’s world in order to transform this culture of toxic masculinity we find ourselves in today. This book is definitely worth investing in for any HSM who wants to understand himself more deeply, and to learn helpful tools to navigate a tricky non-HSP world.
Confessions of a Sensitive Man: An Unconventional Defense of Sensitive Men
This book was written by William Allen, creator of the website, The Sensitive Man. He writes a wonderful blog, and has written two books for highly sensitive men. He also facilitates an online group for highly sensitive men which I think is a wonderful idea since so many HSMs often feel isolated and alone with their struggles and have trouble relating to most of the men around them.
I will be interviewing William Allen for an upcoming podcast/YouTube video on his experience of being a highly sensitive man and the wisdom he has gained in his later years about his temperament. He will be sharing a lot of the things that he learned that have helped him thrive as an HSM for the younger HSMs out there still trying to find their way.
I thought that his book was the perfect adjunct to Falkenstein’s, because it is more of a personal story format, rather than a clinical analysis. In Allen’s words:
Confessions of a Sensitive Man was written for every man or boy that was told that they are too emotional. Masculinity isn’t defined by how much you feel, sense or experience emotionally. Twenty percent of the male population is highly sensitive, and this book is a starting point for them to become self-validated. In many ways, this book was written by my older self for my younger self. It is with that hope that I offer this book to younger highly sensitive boys and men.
As I read it, I pictured men sitting around a fire with the author at the helm, telling stories which would inspire and guide them. He writes at length about how difficult it was growing up as a highly sensitive boy, and how he didn’t get the support and guidance that he needed from his male elders. I particularly loved the following:
Six things that will help our HSP boys
- Help them understand their nature. Educate them about the Sensory Processing Sensitivity trait they possess. Show them how unique and special they are.
- Stop comparing them to non-HSP boys and men. Eliminate that game early on. The idea is not to isolate them, but rather to integrate them without losing themselves in the process.
- Give them tasks where they can gain confidence in their abilities. Challenge and encourage. Growth comes from pushing beyond the comfort zone.
- Help them learn to push the envelope a bit, gently guiding them to expand their horizons. Nothing builds confidence more than experience. Nothing adds experience like challenges.
- Show them support when they falter; don’t let them wallow in self-pity or loathing.
- Teach them to respect themselves and others. p.165-6
I also really enjoyed the chapter on the positive aspects of being a highly sensitive man:
I am tired of focusing on HSP/HSM negativity. I have been confronted with this my whole life and I’m just now beginning to challenge these assumptions. To stay locked in this negativity keeps HSMs locked in their shells, never free to explore the great and mystical gifts they have been given. It blocks and hinders growth and possibilities that lie deep within us. Rather, I would like to focus on the positive traits that each case HSM carries inherently.
He then goes on to list these positive traits:
- Communication skills
How HSMs Can Change the World for the Better
One of my absolute favourite parts of the books is about what he calls “The Rule of The Reptilian Class” regarding the state of politics in the US since the 1980s. He explains it here:
This move toward what I term “reptilian politics” is really about where the focus of political thought originates. It is clear to me that most of this “thought” emanates from the reptilian part of the human brain, the part that focuses on raw emotion, on the survival of the individual, and the destruction of anything that gets in the way of that motive.
You can cap that with intellectual neocortex rationalization, and make it look like it’s deep and important, but in the end, it’s the same driver that has kept us in a regressed mode for millennia, the consequences of which are damage to ourselves, our climate, and our future- think war, poverty, famine, and concentration of wealth in the hands of the most powerful and greedy individuals. This has led us to our most current crisis: an Empathy Deficit Disorder. (p.191)