The Double Whammy of Being a Highly Sensitive Man

A highly sensitive man standing on a path.

A sense of stillness came over me when I saw the test results. It was Dr. Elaine N. Aron’s highly sensitive person assessment (you can find it here). Its conclusion was simple: Yes, I am indeed wired differently than the majority of the population.

This result didn’t surprise me. In fact, it was liberating.

I’d known my whole life I was “different,” even before I knew I was highly sensitive. I always felt my body and mind craving calm throughout the day, and I couldn’t understand how the people around me didn’t become severely fatigued in “busy” situations.

Everyone else seemed to navigate life effortlessly with no trace of fear or discomfort. But not me.

I was the opposite: I consistently found all five of my senses drained after a hectic or intense activity. My eyes tiring, my body aching, my hands trembling — and yet I would be asked: “Why do you want to be alone? That’s not normal,” or “You want to make friends, don’t you?” It was something every highly sensitive person (HSP) deals with: overstimulation.

I’m not just a highly sensitive person; I’m a highly sensitive male. And being a highly sensitive man presents its own unique double whammy — not only do I not fit the typical “male” stereotype, but it’s also harder to talk about the overstimulation I face.

Growing Up as a Highly Sensitive Male

Growing up, I wasn’t equipped to understand my sensitivity or deal with the frequent overstimulation I felt. The overarching desire I had was to feel like I belonged, despite being an outlier amongst what was expected of my gender identity.

I always felt like something was off with how I experienced the world. I was more emotional, more easily startled, quicker to react to the physical nuances of my environment, and more prone to encapsulate the feelings of others, especially strangers.

I was raised in a small-town environment, which made me feel like I was incapable of conforming to the typical masculine identity. I never felt the need to be aggressive or dominant. I wasn’t interested in competing with other boys. I was naturally more reserved.

Most of all, I was perfectly comfortable pursuing my own interests, even if they didn’t follow the stereotype of what it meant to be “a man.”

At recess, I kept a ten-foot pole between the sports field and myself, because I’d rather be dreaming up a new narrative or conversing with female companions. Writing was and still is my passion. To me, telling stories was more significant than any hockey game. (Although I respect males who are genuinely interested in those things. Everyone has the right to value what they love.)

Even outside my artistic interests, I felt ostracized for feeling emotions and sensations so strongly. I have this vivid memory of sobbing at the end of “West Side Story” when I was eight years old — and thinking about the tragedy of those two fictional lovers for weeks. Just last year, I had a difficult time enjoying a trip to New York City because I was so emotionally devastated after seeing a documentary on the life of singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse.

As a highly sensitive man, I’m more impacted by my outer and inner world on an emotional and physical level than other men. Although this trait is not valued in men in our culture, I’ve been learning to cultivate a sense of confidence with the unique way I’m wired.

I get one life, one body, and one mind — so I’m choosing to value my sensitivity as a strength.

But there are still struggles. And the biggest one, as for many HSPs, is overstimulation.

As an HSP Male, I Couldn’t Talk About My Overstimulation

HSPs are born with a higher level of what is known as “sensory processing”: We are more aware of the subtleties in our physical environment, and we register even minor stimuli. HSPs take in every little sound, taste, smell, sight, sensation, and emotion on a deeper level.

Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t take as much for our senses to become overstimulated. We process information seemingly without a filter, picking up on almost everything. It’s a unique way to experience our surroundings, but it comes with a cost — overstimulation.

Highly sensitive men experience this just as much as female HSPs do. But as a male, I was conditioned to believe wholeheartedly that “boys don’t discuss their feelings,” and therefore if I started feeling drained or in need of rest, I never voiced it. I just kept going and going, covertly pining for the solitude of my bedroom and the end of the day.

Overstimulation hasn’t gotten any easier with the transition from childhood into adulthood. A walk to a downtown grocery store can feel like crawling across enemy lines. The sounds of cars roaring by, the energetic buzz of crowds of people, and the sea of advertisements plastered on billboards and vehicles — it’s like drowning in what non-HSPs think is shallow water.

5 Ways I Deal with Overstimulation as a Highly Sensitive Man

As an HSP, I’ve learned I have to be my own best friend and make my wellbeing a priority. No one is going to completely understand why you turned down that social outing after a stimulating day, or why you put your phone on silent after 7 p.m. — you might be the only one who will get it.

Here are five approaches I use to combat overstimulation that may also work for you:

  1. Take time to yourself before, during, and after your day. It can be completing a morning meditation, taking a walk on your own at lunch, or simply reading before bed. It’s about making time every day to do something calming — alone.
  2. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, take deep breaths. Breathing deeply has a relaxing effect on the body and mind. It can be very helpful if you’re in the midst of an overstimulating activity or environment and can’t get away.
  3. Make a playlist of music that you find relaxing. Classical music or instrumental jazz always does it for me, but even acoustic covers or isolated vocals of your favorite songs may do the trick.
  4. Get comfortable saying no. After a long day filled with commitments, it’s not worth overwhelming yourself with an invitation to a loud nightclub or dinner with friends. There’s no reason to feel guilty about it; you are taking care of yourself so that you can be at your best. Ultimately, it benefits not only yourself but also everyone around you.
  5. Create a safe, low-stimulation space for yourself. This could be your bedroom, your personal office, or even a quiet coffee shop you enjoy sitting in. But it’s crucial. Few things make a bigger difference than having a place you can go to in order to escape the overwhelm.

As highly sensitive people, our experiences can feel monumentally intimidating — and that’s just as true for men. Each sensation and emotion can be so unbelievably strong. But living as an HSP doesn’t mean you have to be left overstimulated or overwhelmed. You can learn to manage your routine and get the most out of your powerful trait.

Our sensitivity is part of who we are, and it doesn’t have to limit us. It can empower us.

Are you a male HSP? We’d like to hear from you. We’re seeking submissions from highly sensitive men about what it’s like being a sensitive male. We want to know about the particular struggles you face and how you deal with them. If you’d like to contribute an article, please see our writing guidelines.

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