The Struggles of Being a Highly Sensitive Man
Around 15-20% of people in the general population meet the criteria for high sensitivity. It’s a personality trait that is shared by men and women in equal numbers. Although highly sensitive people may often get called “too sensitive”; men, in particular, often struggle to come to terms with having this level of sensitivity.
What is High Sensitivity?
As it turns out, people are born highly sensitive. It’s not a trait that is learned. Your brain is wired differently. Your nervous system is hyper-excitable.
Children who are highly sensitive might be called shy by teachers or their parents and as adults are often labelled as introverts. It should be noted, however, that 30% of highly sensitive people are extroverts. A highly sensitive person:
- has a rich and complex inner life
- Is deeply moved by the arts and music
- gets easily overwhelmed or overstimulated by what’s going on around them
- has difficulty performing a task when observed
- easily startles
- is sensitive to pain, caffeine, and hunger
- is attuned to inner bodily sensations
- readily notices sensory changes
- are tuned into others’ emotions to the point of feeling them, too
- need to withdraw from stimulation
- take things too personally
There are many positive aspects associated with being highly sensitive, including creativity, giftedness, and empathy. On the other hand, the personality trait is also linked to a higher risk of mental illness, such as depression, as well as burnout.
Highly Sensitive Men
Unfortunately, ‘sensitivity’ has become seen as a uniquely feminine trait and antithetical to being a true man. Men are meant to be stoic, not easily overwhelmed by noise or people or stress. This means that highly sensitive men may be judged by others (and judge themselves) for being too shy, thin-skinned, weak, a wimp, a whiner, a pussy, etc.
When you live in a culture where masculinity is all about being tough and not strongly affected by emotions, then high sensitivity in men gets seen as abnormal, defective, emasculating, and infantilizing. As a man, you want to be seen as a success and having things under control. You don’t want to be seen as struggling by your male peers. You may imagine all the ways that male friends or potential romantic partners may judge you. It can be extremely embarrassing and shameful to feel that you’re not ‘man enough’.
There is often nothing more humiliating, degrading, and painful than being rejected by someone because of what you are inherently like as a person. Highly sensitive men, in an effort to avoid imagined rejection, may try and hide who they in various ways: denying the trait, repressing it, rejecting it, playing up to a new persona, and resorting to heavy drinking or drug abuse. But while actually being rejected for your high sensitivity is painful (doubly so, due to your natural sensitivity), the good news is that you don’t need people in your life that can’t accept your authentic nature.
It’s crucial, though, to first be fully accepting of your high sensitivity. By doing so, you can develop the confidence to weed out people in your life who are non-accepting and judgmental, and resist falling into a destructive pattern of self-criticism. The people who really matter will stick around, regardless of whether you’re fully expressing yourself or not.
It’s okay to be a highly sensitive man. In fact, it can be a gift, so long as it is embraced, understood, and harnessed. This personality trait can provide you with richer experiences, a unique perspective on things, and a high level of compassion. If you can make the most of being a highly sensitive man, you can prove yourself to be an extremely caring friend, partner, dad, son, or brother.
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I'm a freelance writer who is interested in mindfulness, mental health and the evolving concept of masculinity.