Men and women are equally likely to be highly sensitive. So why do HSP men look — and act — so different?
A defining feature of many highly sensitive people (HSPs) is that we actively observe the people around us — the way they speak, their body language, you name it. As an HSP male, I am no different. I am fortunate to have a diverse social circle, filled with people whose personalities vary on every dimension possible.
Regardless, I only know a few men and women who display high sensitivity traits similar to me. This statistically makes sense, given that not a large part of the population is highly sensitive — nearly 30 percent. But while my HSP friends are quite similar in many constructs, I can’t help but notice that we differ from HSP women in several important ways.
4 Ways Highly Sensitive Men Differ From Highly Sensitive Women
1. We are more cautious about expressing our feelings.
Society has historically frowned upon men displaying outward emotionality, and this norm has been strengthened by decades of film and media content portraying men as stoic, like statues of stone. This has been reinforced to all men since childhood, being told by well-meaning adults to “hide our feelings” and be “tough like a man.”
Unfortunately, HSP men don’t fit that wavelength. We’ve struggled with two competing urges our entire lives — the desire to fit in with behavior that is expected of us, and the desire to not care and be our genuine selves.
Because of this, I believe we typically take longer than HSP women to warm up to new people. Our subdued behavior may often be perceived as standoffish, though that couldn’t be further from the truth. We just take more time when gauging others on what their expectations are like.
If we finally come around to seeing you as someone who won’t judge us on being “different” from the “iron-male” stereotype, we’ll gradually open up — and become one of the most understanding and compassionate friends you could ever have.
A body of interesting research also exists on how HSP men and women differ when supporting their friends who are going through hardship. Men are less prone to co-rumination than women, which refers to an interpersonal style of dialogue between friends that focuses on discussing problems with each other. While HSP women may engage you in conversation if they sense that you’re feeling off, HSP men are more likely to involve their male friends in some shared activity, such as a casual tennis match or video game, and pepper conversation in the midst of it.
So, for women, talking about the issue is the main event, while men inadvertently make the issue the secondary event. It’s almost as if HSP men need some kind of “buffer” to make those sensitive conversations feel less emotionally involved and burdensome.
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2. We’re more likely to put on a facade to impress others.
If an outsider spent the same amount of time observing a group of male friends and a group of female friends, with one HSP person in each, they would probably take longer to identify the HSP man. Many of us have gotten good at “turning off” our sensitivity as the situation calls for it — likely because we’re often on the receiving end of chiding every time we let that side of us show. Chill out, man, it’s just a joke. Don’t get in your head. Just enjoy the moment. These well-meaning comments can make us feel like outsiders when spending time with our friends, and it is natural for us to adapt our personas so that we fit in.
HSP women, on the other hand, tend to be more comfortable expressing their sensitivity when with close friends. The insights that HSP women bring to their social circles often feels more valued and accepted than if a man were to do the same, and I hold society’s depiction of women as “more emotionally aware” responsible for this phenomenon. Of course, years of gender research backs up the fact that there are substantial biological differences in the way men and women interact with the world, but this only makes it more difficult for HSP men.
Men are not expected to be overwhelmed by stimuli, or perceive the world very deeply, or pick up on the emotions of others. It pains me to see my male HSP friends come back from a social outing, only to be completely drained of energy and overwhelmed. Putting up a facade is exhausting, and there are times when HSP men actually dread spending time with their friends because we can already foresee the emotional impact it will have on us.
3. We may take longer to accept our high sensitivity as a “good” trait.
I recall far too many times when I’ve sat by myself and thought: What is wrong with me? Beating myself up for how I reacted in certain situations, or criticizing myself for not wanting to go clubbing, or wondering why on earth my hobbies don’t align with those of my friends.
High sensitivity may be linked to a variety of positive traits, but I never felt like my creativity, empathy, and conscientiousness made up for the internal war I was constantly fighting.
I didn’t start to see the merits of being sensitive until I met other HSP men, and found common ground with them. It was then that I finally felt understood — and could exclaim “That’s exactly what I do!” when comparing behavior. Accepting your HSP tendencies as a man means finally acknowledging that you are an invisible minority among your friends. It means reveling in the fact that you can start conversations, and point out perspectives, that other men will completely overlook. It means accepting your place as the “cautious” one in a social circle, and being comfortable with having radically different interests.
On the other hand, I don’t pretend to claim that HSP women necessarily have an easier time accepting their sensitive side. Humans are creatures of comparison, and the ease with which anyone accepts themselves is very dependent on the reinforcement and support we get from other people in our environment, the dynamics of which differ drastically from person to person.
With that being said, psychological research has associated many high sensitivity traits with women more strongly than with men. Having a higher aversion to violence, being more perceptive, being less comfortable with interpersonal conflict, having higher levels of empathy and socioemotional understanding… As of today, high sensitivity is definitely seen as a more “acceptable” and “natural” trait in women than it is in men.
4. We may get defensive when someone points out our sensitive side.
This is not a point I’m proud of, and it’s something I’m still working on — but HSP men seem to get more defensive than HSP women when someone points out their sensitivity.
Language studies have found an interesting difference in how men and women use verbal communication in the context of establishing group dynamics. Men tend to focus on dominating conversations, establishing status and hierarchy with the aim to emerge on top and take the “popular” opinion. Whereas women use a conversation style that is more supportive and focused on relationship-building and problem-solving.
Unsurprisingly, HSP men struggle with this, especially if our sensitivity is used as a weapon against us. Many HSPs have a tendency to internalize expectations, and hearing our personalities criticized can cause us to lash out, not wanting others to “win” some imagined social battle at the expense of ourselves.
Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, we may end up saying things we don’t mean — and later feel terrible about it. Ironically, the other person may not actually care as much as we think, but we still manage to convince ourselves that we’ve irreparably broken a friendship.
Women, in their style of conversation that is more rapport-oriented, don’t tend to do this with their close friends as much. With a communication style that is more focused on being understanding and lifting each other up, HSP women may not encounter as many situations where they feel the need to get defensive about their personalities.
I find that just being aware of these phenomena — and the evidence to back them up — makes me approach these scenarios in a more objective light, and get less offended when facing conflict.
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Whatever Our Differences May Be, Our Similarities Are Much More Important
The differences I have noted above are based on my own observations of the HSPs around me, as well as evidence-based psychological research. As an HSP male, I like to think I have a good understanding of the common challenges HSP men face, and can contrast it with personality research on women that is well-accepted. I definitely can’t speak for any individual woman, much less generalize to the entire female HSP population.
But the similarities between HSP men and women seem to be much stronger than the differences. Our sensitivity gives us a personality that is reflective, perceptive, and compassionate. The first HSPs I ever had the pleasure of meeting were all women, and it was the first time I started to understand myself a little better and accept my high sensitivity trait.
HSPs add something to the world that often feels forgotten in our modern world — depth. Far too many conversations are surface-level ones, far too many people wear masks (I don’t mean literally) when engaging with the world, and far too many things feel superficial.
So, HSP women and men, this is a chance for us to share our gifts with the people around us, and make the world a slightly more sensitive — and better — place.
HSP men and women out there, what would you add to the above? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
You might like:
- For Men, Being a Highly Sensitive Person Really Is Different. Here’s Why.
- Why Understanding Your Attachment Style Is a Game Changer for HSPs
- How Sensitivity Shows up in Different MBTI Types
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