Taking Shape – HSP/Introversion & Social Life

daffodils in bloomI’ve been busy with my new job (which is, happily, working out), so I haven’t had time to do more than think about being an HSP/introvert lately. Nevertheless, I can feel my understanding of both evolving. I’m beginning to see probable HSPs and introverts in my daily environment, as well as to identify them in the memories of my past interactions. It gives me a better understanding of other peoples’ motivations and responses, as well as of my own. I don’t know if I necessarily feel better about people I had conflicts with, but those conflicts feel less personal. I realize that they really didn’t comprehend how I experience things at all. And I didn’t understand that they didn’t understand.

I’m also beginning to perceive at least a little about how introversion and high sensory processing sensitivity are different, especially in the area of interactions.

Non-HSP introverts say they are perfectly happy to know nothing about, and reveal nothing to, people they don’t have close relationships with, even if they see them often. That’s somewhat foreign to HSP-me. Between being HSP and being chatty, I have a hard time keeping personal things to myself even when I want to, which isn’t often, though I have gotten a little bit more discriminating about what I say to whom with age. It’s a good skill to have. Therapy taught me that you should have a basis for trust with people before exposing your vulnerabilities (i.e., anything you are self-doubtful about) to them.

pink, red and yellow cistus flowersOver time, I had to learn what “trustworthy” meant in this context. It isn’t just about the integrity of the other person, or even their desire not to be hurtful, though both of those things help. The key that makes someone a safe person for me is a match of values, so that they are naturally inclined to behave in ways that are consistent with my interests as well as theirs. I don’t think a relationship can endure over time if someone – on either side – has to be constantly acting against their own inclinations to take care of the other person. That rapidly becomes unhealthy.

One of the things that I suspect comes from my introvert side is that I’m annoyed when people perceive me as lonely (and by “people,” I probably mean extroverts here). They usually add together “spends a lot of time alone” plus “engages in intense conversations when with people, even people she doesn’t know very well” equals “lonely.” I can understand why extroverts would think that – if they had to endure enforced aloneness for too long, it’s how they would behave (except maybe for the substantive nature of the conversations, a distinction that might not occur to them). However, for an HSP introvert, this does not add up.

Isn’t loneliness a feeling of wishing to be with others? I’ve rarely felt that way, at least not since I started treating my depression 15 years ago. When I have, it’s been when I was in some kind of hostile situation I couldn’t easily avoid (i.e., tied to my home or work), and felt a need for support to help me maintain my perspective on the situation. Is that even loneliness? I don’t think so.

a stand of red tall flowers
My need for social contact, such as it is, is easily satisfied by casual interaction with neighbors, store clerks, bus drivers, and other people I encounter in my daily life. This probably won’t sound very introverted to non-HSP introverts, but my expectation in these interactions is that I either won’t ever see these people again, or that we may have similar interactions in the future but will never grow closer. My theory is that this satisfies my HSP need to engage (and I often initiate these conversations in a very HSP way, by commenting on something in the environment as it is affecting the other person), while not overburdening my introvert need for interactions of limited duration and depth. Of course, “casual conversation” probably doesn’t mean the same thing for an HSP as for a non-HSP, whether introvert or extrovert!

I also have activity-related acquaintances – people I do a particular thing with, most often in a group or class setting, or internet relationships that are focused around a particular area of shared interest. I may interact a lot with these people in the context of that interest, but the relationships rarely expand beyond it. I confess it’s a little disappointing that so few of these acquaintances turn out to be compatible on other levels, but to me, friendship has to be based on more than shared activity interests. I’ve been confused when others (probably extroverts) referred to these people as my friends.

a striped cat with a contented expression lies facing the camera, with her paws extended out towards the screenLast but not least, I live with animal companions. These are primary relationships. I wish psychiatry would get over classifying them as second-best substitutes for human-human relationships, which is insulting all around. Animals have emotions and distinct personalities. Relationships with them can be mutual and complex, can change over time, and can produce psychological insights and growth (on both sides). And, as paradoxical as it may seem in one so verbal, I appreciate the nonverbalness of their presence.

I’d be really interested to hear from other HSPs (both introverted and extroverted), and other introverts (HSP and not) about their interactions patterns. I’m especially curious to hear from non-HSP introverts and HSP extroverts. I wonder about how non-HSP introverts make new friends, and how they interact with people they feel closer to. I wonder whether HSP extroverts find the depth of their HSP side getting them into unsatisfactory conversations with non-HSP extroverts.

Moving on to a completely different subject…

I first encountered the word “hangry” in a YouTube video about signs you may be an HSP. Being more reactive when hungry was one of the few items on the HSP self-test that didn’t originally resonate with me, but like most of the others, I realized it did fit once I became conscious of it. I ran across a hilarious video about “hangriness” that I’d like to share. One of these days I’ll put together that “Resources” page that’s in the back of my mind, and this will be on it. Enjoy!

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