Are you a highly sensitive man? How does it help you be more creative, or impact you in other ways?
Psychologist and author Ted Zeff notes:
“Due to societal mores, males are not supposed to express emotions such as fear and sadness, and they’re told that they shouldn’t let anything bother them, making the trait of sensitivity particularly challenging for men.”
Read more of his perspectives below.
One example of a sensitive man who had to learn to deal with negative attitudes from others, especially his father, is Bruce Springsteen.
In a magazine interview article, Michael Hainey notes that Springsteen described in his autobiography, Born to Run, how he saw himself as a boy, and how his father perceived him:
“A forever-doubting mind. The playground loneliness . . .
“[I had] a gentleness, a timidity, shyness, and a dreamy insecurity.
“These were all the things I wore on the outside and the reflection of these qualities in his boy repelled [my father].
“It made him angry.”
Hainey adds, “He tells me his father made him ashamed that he was not hard like him but more like his mother.”
“My mother was kind and compassionate and very considerate of others’ feelings,” Springsteen said.
“She trod through the world with purpose, but softly, lightly. All those were the things that aligned with my own spirit.
“That was who I was. They came naturally to me.
“My father looked at all those things as weaknesses.
“He was very dismissive of primarily who I was. And that sends you off on a lifelong quest to sort through that.”
Springsteen on Broadway | Official Trailer
Hainey comments about this show and the movie based on it:
“This is the central tension of Springsteen on Broadway: the self we feel doomed to be through blood and family versus the self we can—if we have the courage and desire—will into existence.
“Springsteen, as he reveals here, has spent his entire life wrestling with that question that haunts so many of us: Will I be confined by my DNA, or will I define who I am?”
Springsteen recalls, “When I was a child, and into my teens, I felt like a very, very empty vessel.
“And it wasn’t until I began to fill it up with music that I began to feel my own personal power and my impact on my friends and the small world that I was in.
“I began to get some sense of myself. But it came out of a place of real emptiness.”
From article Beneath the Surface of Bruce Springsteen by Michael Hainey, Esquire magazine Nov 27, 2018.
One of my multiple articles on the topic of trauma, which affects so many people, including of course artists:
Record producer John Hammond, about Leonard Cohen:
“So, I listened to this guy, and he’s got a hypnotic effect. He plays acoustic guitar, of course; and he is a real poet; and he’s a very sensitive guy.”
Psychologist Elaine Aron and other researchers find that approximately 20 percent of the population has the personality trait of high sensitivity, equally divided between males and females.
Colleen O’Rourke, a coach for HSPs, lists in her publication The Highly Sensitive Person: Introductory Guide [PDF] “a few famous people thought to be HSP” (highly sensitive person), including these men:
Woody Allen, Andy Kaufman, Anthony Hopkins, Edgar Allen Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, W.B. Yeats, E.E. Cummings, D.H. Lawrence, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Deepak Chopra, Joseph Campbell, Beethovan, Mozart, John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, Leonardo Da Vinci, Salvador Dali, Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, Steven Spielberg, Ingmar Bergman.
You can find even more suggested names in the post Albert Einstein, Nicole Kidman: Jim Hallowes Lists Famous Highly Sensitive People.
Of course, it isn’t simply a matter of being called “sensitive” for a person to truly have the personality trait; journalists and other people often refer to artists and their work as “sensitive.”
Take a look at Elaine Aron’s self-test Are You Highly Sensitive? to see the main characteristics of the trait.
With about twenty percent of us being highly sensitive, there are plenty of creative men in all kinds of fields and careers who are not HS (highly sensitive).
Colleen O’Rourke, CTI, CPCC (Coaches Training Institute, Certified Professional Co-active Coach) of Plum Turtle Coaching also notes in her publication above that there are highly sensitive people who “are extroverts or High Sensation Seekers who will exhibit a slightly different set of traits, including things such as:
•a higher than average need to for novelty or stimulation
•a thrill to be in the spotlight
•a high degree of decision making
•a craving for, rather than aversion to, change.
“These traits do not indicate that these people are not Highly Sensitive, just that they are a minority within the minority.”
In his post Healing the Highly Sensitive Male, Ted Zeff, Ph.D. writes about highly sensitive males (HSM), and notes:
“Due to societal mores, males are not supposed to express emotions such as fear and sadness, and they’re told that they shouldn’t let anything bother them, making the trait of sensitivity particularly challenging for men.
“In completing research for my book “The Strong, Sensitive Boy: Help your Son Grow into a Happy, Confident Man” I interviewed thirty sensitive men from five different countries.
“Virtually all of the HSMs in my study enthusiastically shared with me how much they appreciated the positive aspects of being sensitive.
“For example, many men discussed how their intuition, creativity and ability to notice subtleties in the environment has helped strengthen their relationships, succeed in work, and deeply enjoy music and art projects.
“One man noticed that his sensitive tactile sense gives him an advantage when landing a plane, driving, and tasks that require refined movement and dexterity.”
Dr. Zeff adds,
“The highly sensitive male may have trouble fitting into the narrow mold of a stereotypical male, but he has many wonderful qualities.
“Some of these include:
The ability to act as a peacemaker
Concern about the humane treatment of animals
A sense of responsibility
The tendency to feel love deeply
A great intuitive ability
An awareness of their unity with all beings
The ability to have and appreciate deep spiritual experiences
If they are highly sensitive, people tend to notice more of their outer and inner environments, and process more sensory information. All of which can help make us more creative.
Some careers and areas of creative expression are especially appropriate for emotional sensitivity, an aspect of the trait for many people.
One example was actor Heath Ledger. Director Todd Haynes commented after his death, “Heath was a true artist, a deeply sensitive man, an explorer, gifted and wise beyond his years.”
From my post Elaine Aron on Creativity and Sensitivity.
“Heath Ledger cried all night after being attacked with water pistols by paparazzi at the Sydney premiere of Brokeback Mountain – and later sold his $4.45 million beachside home in Australia to relocate to Brooklyn with partner Michelle Williams and baby Matilda.” [Daily Telegraph, 2006]
Also quoted in Being Highly Sensitive and Creative – a page of excerpts from one of my books.
Michelle Williams describes Ledger: ‘He had an uncontrollable energy. He buzzed. He would jump out of bed. For as long as I’d known him, he had bouts with insomnia. He just had too much energy.
‘His mind was turning, turning, turning – always turning.
‘He had a talent for everything that he put his mind to. He didn’t know limits. I think that the interesting thing about Heath, which maybe people have only really fully discovered in his death, is how vulnerable he was.
‘You can pick up on it in his performances, but it’s easy to overlook because he was so physical and beautiful and strong and masculine. But there was always that underlying sensitivity. That’s who he was.’
From Michelle’s Heath interview, Marie Claire mag.
“I think being different, being against the grain of society, is the greatest thing in the world.” Elijah Wood
Here are some additional articles and resources on HS men – starting with a very helpful piece by prolific writer on high sensitivity, Peter Messerschmidt [aka ‘Denmarkguy’], who – like myself – identifies as being highly sensitive:
“Are you a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP? Are you a highly sensitive MAN? If you are reading these words, there’s a good chance that you are, or you know someone who’s an HSP, or you’re at least curious about what high …
“You might be a highly sensitive man IF:
“You tend to be more intuitive (or “right brained”) in your decision making and general approach to life, as opposed to logical (or “left brained”), which is typical of about 75% of the male population.
“You are usually more interested in things like culture, the arts, museums and creative expression than “traditional” male interests like hunting, watching sports on TV, working on cars or building things.
[See post for more items]
“Statistics tell us that high sensitivity occurs equally between men and women, but although they account for half the ‘HSP population,’ most HS men remain ‘hidden from view.’ In addition, they face a number of specific challenges that often make their lives quite difficult.”
“Sensitive New Age Guy”– NOT
“Let’s just throw out this pop culture stereotype…
“The idea of a “sensitive man” isn’t entirely new to the world.From time to time we come across a frequently ridiculed cultural stereotype referred to as the “Sensitive New Age Guy,” sometimes abbreviated “SNAG” by modern urban dictionaries.
“Originally coined in the 1970’s, this man is generally regarded as a strange milquetoast many people make fun of, behind his back.
“He was perhaps a precursor to what is now known as a “metrosexual,” except he was typically more sensitive, hesitant and timid.
“His friends were far more likely to be women than men, and you’d more likely find him at a women’s rights rally than at a football game.Is this even a remotely accurate characterization of the seemingly elusive HSP man?
“No. Not at all. Or certainly very little. The preceding is more of a cultural caricature, based on someone who– by choice— actively rejects his masculine side.
“Sometimes this is done out of fear, sometimes as a manipulation– either way, it is not what being a highly sensitive man is about.
“Being highly sensitive– as a man– has nothing to do with rejecting masculinity, or being effeminate. It has everything to do with being… well… sensitive, simply because you are wired that way. …
“Many HS men are part of the ‘Cultural Creative’ demographic, and have found good ways to be open about their sensitivity without wearing it as a ‘banner of pride’ or a label to hide behind.
“They may even be leaders– in their own way– typically through jobs and occupations that allow them to make significant contributions from ‘behind the scenes.'”
[Photo: Biographer David Wallechinsky once commented that in the early 30′s MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer recognized neophyte actor Clark Gable (1901-1960) “as a sensitive man wary of his own sensitivity.” – From post Our High Sensitivity Personality.]
I Am a Highly Sensitive Man — The Good Men Project By Rick Belden.
“So yes, I’ll say it: I am a Highly Sensitive Man. I’m not abnormal. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m not a weakling, a wimp, or a pussy.
“I’m strong, passionate, and courageous. I’ll fight for what’s important to me. And I’m just as tough as any other man. I have to be, just to be who I am in a world that wants me to be something else.
“And I am not alone. There are many of us. As many as one in five men, if the numbers are correct. Think about that. You know many of us. You may be one of us.”
Rick Belden is the author of Iron Man Family Outing: Poems about Transition into a More Conscious Manhood. His book is widely used in the United States and internationally by therapists, counselors, and men’s groups as an aid in the exploration of masculine psychology and men’s issues, and as a resource for men who grew up in dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful family systems.
More information, including excerpts from Rick’s books, is available at his website.
By Chrisi Brand. “Here are some of the reasons that awareness and topicality of the HSP topic is increasing more and more. Today’s world brings with it a lot of inventions and tools that really have facilitated our … For all men overwhelmed by surroundings, the HSM concept can be very comforting and enlightening. So the word is spreading and a certain shift within society is bound to happen.”
Highly Sensitive Boys and Men – An Interview with Dr. Ted Zeff
Also see this video in my post: Ted Zeff on highly sensitive boys and men
Ted Zeff, PhD teaches workshops on coping techniques for highly sensitive people and has taught stress reduction and insomnia management for over fifteen years at various hospitals and medical groups.
He has more than twenty years experience counseling sensitive people and has a private practice counseling HSPs in-person and by phone.
His site: www.drtedzeff.com
Books by Ted Zeff :
Also see article Ted Zeff on strategies for nurturing our sensitive self
Listen to our audio interview: Ted Zeff on Benefits of Being Highly Sensitive