The Intricacies of Introvert Time

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

What Counts As “Quality Time” With An Introvert?

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I thought you were an introvert.  Why do you want to spend so much time together?

-A sincere question from an extrovert to his introverted companion-

There is probably no creature on this planet more misunderstood, stereotyped, and constantly questioned than the mystical introvert.  No, I don’t really believe that we are some rare, magical breed of human that exists as a sort of ticking time-bomb, but I do believe there are many people out there in the world that have this view of introverts. Introverts often feel most misunderstood by the people closest to them, which is both unfortunate and beautiful at the same time.  

Why is being blatantly misunderstood by someone close to you beautiful?  Well, when it’s obvious to you someone is misunderstanding you, there is at least some attempt being made on their part to understand you.  They are actively questioning you, trying to define you, figure you out, and in most cases, ultimately searching for a way that they can make you happy- or at least not tick you off so much of the time.  I’m sure all introverts have an extroverted family member, friend, or partner in their lives with good intentions.  Someone that tries to do things that he or she thinks an introvert would like, but often ends up missing the mark.  Introverts and extroverts are often portrayed in an oversimplified fashion.  As an introvert, I despise the assumption that I am shy, fragile, and anti-social.  Extroverts have to deal with their fair share of negative stereotypes as well.  They are not these loud insensitive beings put here on earth to torment us introverts, but problems can arise if introverts and extroverts don’t attempt to understand their unique differences.

One area that I have had a great deal of trouble with as an introvert in my interactions with extroverts has been explaining my need for “quality time” in relationships.  Not all time is equal in my introverted mind, and if I don’t get the required amount of “quality time” with people I want to connect with, then I get cranky and can come off as demanding and needy.  Just recently, for example, I have been spending an increased amount of time with my favorite extroverted companion.  We went to Las Vegas to meet up with friends.  I have gone to several of his performances.  There was a birthday party I planned and attended in his honor.  Time was spent with the children.  We recorded some podcasts, and we sat side-by-side on the couch together posting and writing.  At the end of this stretch of time, I found myself completely exhausted, yet I still told him that I really needed some “quality time” with him soon.  

If I had a camera ready, I would have snapped a portrait of his expression.  What do you mean?  We’ve spent every day together practically?  How could you possibly see me more?  I thought you were an introvert.  Why do you want to spend so much time together? I instantly felt defeated and sad when that was his reaction, because I swore he’d be craving the exact same thing.  He wasn’t, and I was just as confused with him as he was with me.  It took me a little bit to get over the fact that I had an extrovert telling me that we have had an adequate amount of social time together.  I mean, aren’t extroverts supposed to always want to be around people?  Am I that annoying that the extroverts now want nothing to do with me?

The truth, however, is that neither introverts, nor extroverts exist as stereotypical versions of themselves.  The reality is that introverts need time with people they care about.  They don’t just need time, but they need a special kind of introvert “quality time” to feel connected.  Extroverts are energized by people, but they also enjoy time to themselves.  Extroverts use alone time to regroup and reflect, and it is an important part of the balance they need to maintain in their lives as well. When introverts and extroverts don’t communicate about how time is spent, surely there is going to be a disconnect.  After thinking about my own personal experiences as an introvert, and my definition of quality time, I put together some truths for me that might apply to other introverts out there too  It’s by no means an all inclusive list, but perhaps it can help serve as talking points in your introvert/ extrovert relationships.

The Intricacies of Introvert “Quality Time”

  1. Group time does not get to replace Introvert “Quality Time”- I don’t care if I spend two weeks traveling Europe with you and five of your closest friends, this does not equate, in my mind, to spending quality time with you.  That may sound petty and ridiculous to an extrovert, but introverts often don’t feel comfortable, or able to fully connect, when there are a lot of people around.  I am miserable with conversation and maintaining focus once a group gets larger than three people.  I start feeling like I’m neglecting someone, and I end up feeling terrible about it.  I also don’t always get to talk as long with the people I’d like to in these settings.  I prefer to get into three hour, intimate conversations with people one-on-one when I care about them, and group events are not conducive to this type of connection.  I tried to make these connections last week at a birthday party I planned, but I ended up pulling people away one at a time off into a corner to talk privately.  I’m sure I appeared scattered, and I later realized I hadn’t even spoken to one woman at the party.  I had to message her apologizing a couple days later, because I was just so overwhelmed.  This is why we still need more time with people individually after such events.
  2. Daily tasks needed for survival do not count as Introvert “Quality Time”- Being in my space is not the same thing as spending time with me.  Now, I have to clarify, because introverts do like doing separate things with someone in the same space.  It’s just that I wouldn’t necessarily count this as deep, meaningful connection time.  This is more my time to be alone while sharing space at the same time.  If I am letting you share my space like this, you are definitely a trusted person in my life.  I’m letting you in on my recharging time, but understand I will not feel like I have spent any time with you after this.  I will want to connect with you probably even more after this.  If you are sleeping, eating, doing laundry, checking your email, or other routine day to day tasks in my presence, I am not necessarily going to be excited by this.  It’s not going to feel like we were present with one another.  I am going to want more connection than that.
  3. Watching movies together may or may not count as Introvert “Quality Time”- If you come to my place, turn on what you want, and don’t talk to me, then this does not count as introvert quality time.  If we pick out a movie together, and then one of us starts getting on our computer, phone, or leaves the room multiple times, then this does not count as introvert quality time.  If we select a movie together, or you suggest a movie you want me to see, and we sit there, watch it, and share our thoughts about it afterwards, then this is definitely introvert quality time.  It’s really about making meaningful connections for introverts, and not just merely about being together in the same room.  As a side note, bringing popcorn and candy to share over conversation, will definitely earn you some introvert bonus points.
  4. Working on projects together may or may not count as Introvert “Quality Time”- Introverts, and especially highly sensitive ones, bond over mutually shared goals and outcomes.  If the time working together is enjoyable and balanced, without one person being a control-freak or overly critical, then this is precious time spent together.  Conflict and negativity, however, can zap the fun and energy out of an introvert in these situations. Artistic projects, building things, and even home improvements can be rewarding time together if both parties are fully vested and share a mutual vision.  
  5. Car rides to social gatherings count as crucial Introvert “Quality Time”- It is a myth that introverts never want to socialize.  We love people just as much as any outgoing extrovert, but in general, being social requires more energy from us than it does from extroverts.  Introverts that put themselves in social environments, and allow beloved extroverts to take them out of their comfort zone, require buffer time.  Buffer time shared with one other person on a long car ride to a social event is very important to an introvert.  This is an opportunity to have some meaningful, intimate conversations before all “hell breaks loose” so to speak.  I have found that this is a simple area in a relationship many introverts and extroverts fail to discuss, which can lead to unnecessary conflict.  Extroverts want people entertained, and if they are focusing on driving, or thinking about being entertaining to a larger group of people, they may want to bring extra people along for the ride to take some of the pressure off.  The introvert, however, may have been looking forward to the car ride even more than the event itself, because he or she was counting on some quality time together. This time is viewed very differently often, and it’s definitely a point worth discussing.
  6. Pre-planned alone time together is sacred Introvert “Quality Time”- If you even mention doing something with an introvert in passing, and they don’t immediately make a bunch of excuses and run the other direction, then it is a done deal.   DO NOT alter the plan or think it will be no big deal to just do something else.  Because of how socializing impacts us, we carefully plan out the who, what, where, when, why, and how of all our social experiences.  We know we annoy our more spontaneous counterparts at times, but we are doing this out of love for the people we care about.  If we have three social engagements, a work project, and one special night with you, then we are carefully structuring our entire week to be the best version of ourselves in each of those moments.  We don’t always have the extrovert’s gift of easy energy with people.  We know we have to work harder in our interactions with people, and we definitely want our energy reserves piled high for a special night with someone we love.  It’s probably not the best idea to plan a dinner and movie with your introvert, and then at the last minute ask if you can invite a few of your friends.  Your introvert will gladly meet your friends, but at an agreed upon time.

This is all just my perspective on how I operate as an introvert.  I don’t think that I am 100% right, and I definitely don’t think my way is any better, or worse, than that of an extrovert.  I just know that I have a lot of extroverts in my life that are constantly trying to figure me out and make me happy.  I put this together as more of a way for introverts and extroverts to start conversations about preferences and needs in relationships.  I know that there are going to be times when my extroverted companion will want to pool together a group of friends for a car ride, or maybe he will forget that he promised to spend a quiet evening at home with me and end up doing something else instead.  I have to understand that extroverts operate and think differently than introverts, and we don’t have to be adversaries.  We are people, not labels.  Personality typing is really only useful if you are using it to be a better version of yourself and as a means to better understand and interact with others.  I think the saddest thing in the world is seeing a well-meaning extrovert suddenly realize that something has gone terribly wrong.  Whether we identify with being an introvert, extrovert, or even an ambivert, common ground can be found through open and honest conversation.  Bottom line is that introverts really do like people.  We want to spend time with people, but how that looks to us might not always look the same or make sense to everyone else.  

Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts.  Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website, and Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos.

To Love an Empath

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

If You Love an Empath, Know This

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Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts.  Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website,  and  Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos .

I Will Rain On Your Parade

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

-A definite promise from your loving HSP, empath, and INFJ-

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Whether you are a highly sensitive person, empath, or INFJ, I am sure you have all been told to “lighten up” from time to time.  Well, I am all of those things, so I’m just going to go ahead and warn you up front to multiply that by three.  Intense is an understatement!  I haven’t decided yet if I am poisonous or contagious, but I do know I can definitely “rain on a parade” more often than I’d like to admit.

Now, I’m not a depressed person.  I would say that I am very much the opposite of that.  I am an idealist, and I believe in love and happiness.  I wake up each morning as sunshine, ready to take on the world.  I think about how I can make the world a better place.  I’ve even been accused of being all rainbows, unicorns, and pixie dust at times.  I’ve been likened to a magical character that couldn’t possibly exist in the “real” world.  Some of these comments have been made in awe, and at other times, they have been made in disgust.  I do not become bitter or change my ways. I keep on believing in beautiful outcomes in spite of the evidence before me.

That being said, however, I am also a realist.  I am on a path of constant evolution, and I admit to being a bit of a perfectionist.  I don’t cringe at the idea of perfectionism like so many people do, because my brain doesn’t comprehend settling for less before you even try for the best.  This is where I start to lose people I think.  I am always trying to perfect things- living spaces, situations, people, myself, and even moments.  I am not afraid of hard work.  I think INFJ’s are born wearing work gloves.  Activities and conversations that end in evolution and understanding energize me, but I understand how these types of conversations are often exhausting for others.  

Where other people are content, I am always looking for more.  

I’m going to leave that sentence right there.  I am just going to let it sit there all alone and reflect on itself for a while, because that’s the core of everything people don’t get  or dislike about me.  That right there is the reason many of my relationships and friendships have ended.  I know I make people feel bad or inadequate.  I know that I can take their happy moment and suck all the joy out of it by mentioning what I perceive as an obvious truth. The difference between me and other people, however, is that I am not being critical in my mind.  I am being analytical.  I am being analytical with the intent to propel everything around me to absolute greatness.  What I am learning the hard way, however, is that people don’t always want that.  Sometimes it just makes people feel like they aren’t good enough, or that I am not satisfied with what is right in front of me.  This also is the furthest thing from the truth, and it makes me very upset when my words or actions leave people feeling this way.  I HATE raining on anyone’s parade.  It is never my intent, and I often get surprised by people’s reactions to my well meaning intentions.

Maybe this misunderstanding happens, because I don’t see the world as good or bad.  I see the world as being in a state of constant change.  If something isn’t right, then let’s work on making it right.  I look at life through the lens of development.  I am the most analytical with the people closest to me, because they are the ones I want to propel to ultimate greatness above anything else.  It’s not that I don’t like them as they are right now.  I absolutely adore them right now.  I didn’t dislike my daughter when she couldn’t feed herself or go to the bathroom on her own.  I adored her, but I still helped her learn how to take the best care of herself.  I didn’t love her less back then or more now.  I just love like I always love, and I never think of it in any other way.

I take the whole work in progress concept very seriously.  I live by it.  I don’t get upset with people when they aren’t being their best.  I easily forgive, and I do not judge.  I will, however, probably state the very obvious fact you don’t need (or want) to hear right at the moment you least want (but maybe need) to hear it.  Again, I am a bit of a storm cloud.  Just like a storm cloud, as heat and energy gets released into the atmosphere, I swell.  In my attempts to force something to rise, something else falls, and through this instability, I often create quite a storm.

I have watched the storms build over the years, and I have grown much better at tempering myself in order to prevent their intensity.  A delayed storm, however, is still a storm, and the rainy season always returns.  I don’t mind the rainy season as much as those around me do, because I see the big picture.  I don’t mind enduring thunder and lightning to nourish the flowers.  I see it as the laws of nature, a natural process of the universe.  I know though that everyday can’t be thunderstorms.  I am not writing this to give highly sensitive people, empaths, or INFJs permission to jab a lightening bolt into the hearts of everyone they meet.  I am writing this in an attempt to let people understand the “science” behind our intensity.  I am writing this to remind people of all of the beauty that grows out of thunderstorms.  

Yes, I am a thundercloud.  

I can be frightening, but I am also nourishing.  I may storm, but it is never meant to ruin anyone’s parade.  That is my promise.

Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts.  Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website,  and  Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos .

To All the Lonely HSPs

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

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Remember: the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. Life’s cruelest irony.
Douglas Coupland-
I am a highly sensitive person, and I am lonely a good portion of the time.  I recently talked about loneliness on my podcast HSP SOS #29 “I Feel Lonely”, and it has become abundantly clear that my loneliness stems not from a lack of people in my life, but from a lack of understanding.  I came to this epiphany through a mindfulness activity where I listed anything I could think of that made me feel lonely.  It was difficult at first, but once I was done, I felt as though I had rediscovered a piece of myself, and in talking about my loneliness with other highly sensitive people I also discovered that I am not alone in feeling this way.  Many HSPs enjoy solitude.  It is the judgement, criticism, and misunderstanding of their nature that makes them feel alone.  In an effort to remind other HSPs that they are not alone, I am sharing what makes me feel lonely here.
I feel lonely when…
  • I feel lonely when… people misinterpret my intentions, or tell me they do not believe me when I tell them that is not what I meant.
  • I feel lonely when… I want to talk about my troubles with a loved one, but I can’t.  I worry how my sad news will impact them, so I don’t say what is on my mind.
  • I feel lonely when… I  get really upset about corruption, injustice, violence, or prejudice- and everyone around me thinks I am being too intense.
  • I feel lonely when… my mood is different from everyone else around me.  If I am at a party, and everyone else is laughing and having a good time, then I feel like my presence is just going to bring everyone down.
  • I feel lonely when… people stop talking to me, because they are mad at someone I associate with.
  • I feel lonely when… I am passionate about an idea, project, or cause, and no one around me seems as interested or excited.
  • I feel lonely when… people keep information from me, because they worry I am going to get emotional or “overreact”.
  • I feel lonely when …I know I am being misunderstood and I try to explain myself, and the other person says they don’t want to talk about it.  They tell me I need to stop bringing up the past and just “get over it.”
  • I feel lonely when… I don’t find a sarcastic joke funny or enjoy teasing, and I am told to lighten up.
  • I feel lonely when… people call me needy or codependent thinking I constantly need to be in contact with people, when all I really want is to be acknowledged and accurately heard.

So yeah, my conclusion for me is that I do not feel lonely in the absence of people.  I enjoy alone time and solitude.  I feel lonely in the presence of people who misunderstand me.  To me that is the epitome of feeling alone.

Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts.  Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website,  and  Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos .

Unspoken Word Poetry

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

swing

swing set chains

palms discolored
wipe orange rust

swing set chains
rattle through
shuttered panes
cigarette-butt doves fly
beer glass starfish sparkle
my legs kick
against a dirt sky

Swing Set Chains, a poem I wrote in my twenties when I was still angry about my life, unfair circumstances, mainly addiction- angst ridden lines vaguely lost on a page. I wrote to forget. I wrote to occupy empty time. I wrote to be alone in a house caught between unpredictable chaos and unbearable silence. I wrote for myself.  

Volume after volume of fragmented childhood memories shoved on a shelf. My silent solace, a semblance of order and control if nothing else. My words have always been calculated, cautious, carefully mine. Left to yellow and harden over the passing of time.  

Two decades later, tattered and torn, this is my archeological find. The words sit static as I rush to make space in my cluttered mind, and I attempt to get the words out of her with the absence of mine.

Her sterile hospital room is a far cry from the swing set of my youth, but it is still a make-shift sanctuary. A place to keep from confrontation. A place to run and hide. We both avoid erasable words written in plain sight.

Water under the bridge? Something we say when we have lost the energy to fight, or we realize that some actions are not always a matter of choice.  

I AM still standing on that bridge- a gasoline soaked rag in one hand and polished skipping stones in the next.   

Should I set the fire, turn to ashes, and tumble into the troubled waters below?

Should I lie down, look up, and fly into the dirt sky reflection shining above?

I know that destruction and distraction are most people’s MOs, but silence and suspension have always been mine.

I am paralyzed, stuck on a drawstring bridge, a rusty swing set, not sure if I am human, fish, or bird?

Maybe just a version of my own unspoken word.

Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts.  Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website,  and  Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos .

Feeling Blue?

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

Here’s a little graphic to remind yourself of what you can do when you are feeling a bit blue!  

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Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts.  Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website,  and  Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos .

I Feel Weird

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

weird

My Christmas morning confession is this… I feel weird! I am not particularly depressed or anxious.  I am not necessarily disappointed or upset because I had hoped that things would have shaped up differently.  I am just sitting here alone in my apartment, fireplace going with a cup of mint tea by my side, feeling pretty off.  The feeling started towards the end of the evening last night, and I tried my best to shake it.  I spent time with my loved ones, and nothing transpired that would warrant a foul mood.  Still I sensed myself turning inward, and I found myself sitting quietly away from everyone else.  I could feel myself getting annoyed by being asked, “what’s wrong?”  I felt guilty for not wanting to talk.  I always appreciate that people care enough to show concern, but when I don’t know what’s wrong, I hate that people ask. It always leads to the filling in of the blanks as we try and figure out what’s going one with me.  

Am I sad that my daughter is with her father this morning instead of with me?  

Am I missing my grandmother?  

Did I forget to eat yesterday?

Am I upset that El Nino has created unseasonably warm temperatures in the Midwest, and it just doesn’t feel like Christmas?

Should I have said something to my mom about her mom not being here this year?  Was it disrespectful not to?

Have I just had too much people time, and  I need to take some time to recharge?

Did I spend too much this year on gifts or not enough?

Am I bothered by the wrapping paper, bows, and glitter strewn across the carpet?

Do I need to get some of those papers graded, so I can enjoy the rest of my time off?

Did those cookies have red dye in them, and now they are impacting my mood?

Do I want to be alone?

Do I want company?

Am I worried about attending my brother’s party?

Are the holiday decorations invading too much of my space?

Was that post about the orphan babies too emotional for me to read before going to bed?

Should I have had breakfast and my vitamins already?

Am I concerned about where I’m going to fit all of my daughter’s new toys?

Was it just not as meaningful as Christmases past?

Am I concerned that I’m ruining the day for everyone else, because I can’t get out of this funk?

The answer to all of these questions is… I don’t know?  No and yes?  The only thing I know with any certainty is that I feel weird.  Again, I am not depressed or anxious.  I am just kind of existing here in this space right now.  It’s almost like my mind and body can’t even process my emotions.  I am tempted to beat myself up.  I am tempted to put on some holiday music, down some eggnog, and force feed myself the holiday cheer.  The last thing I ever want to do is have my weird mood affect those around me.  I am almost to the point of letting a little of the anxiety in, and then I remind myself that I am a highly sensitive person.  I am an introvert.  I am extremely sensitive to everything around me, and I AM an intensely emotional person.  Weird is just a feeling like happy or sad.  The holidays are a deviation from the norm, and I’m just feeling what I’m feeling simple as that.  There’s nothing wrong, so I don’t have to invent a reason to tell other people.  I don’t need to feel guilty for not being something else.  In this moment, I think I just need to accept the fact that I feel a bit strange.  Maybe there are other people out there feeling the same way today thinking they shouldn’t?  If so, all I have to say is Merry Christmas let’s feel weird!  

Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts.  Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website,  and  Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos .

Highly Sensitive Superheroes

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

Can Superheroes Help “Save the Day” for HSPs and Empaths?

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Listen to HSP S.O.S Episode #4- Sensitive Superheroes 

 

In 2002, I went to an afternoon matinee to see The Powerpuff Girls.  I was in my twenties.  I had no children, and I was possibly the only adult in there of my own free will.  It wasn’t that I was a huge superhero fan, or comic book aficionado.  I was never really that into the genre growing up, but something about Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles captured my heart. The little girl superheroes created from sugar, spice, and Chemical X were cute and complex.  Each character brought a different personality trait to the mix, which helped formulate a powerhouse of smarts, sensitivity, and sass.  When asked, I could never answer which one was my favorite, because I needed all three of them.

As a young girl growing up in the era of excessive consumerism and exaggerated female beauty standards, I often felt fragmented.  I felt like I had all these different aspects of my personality that helped form my identity, but I didn’t know when to be smart, or when to be sensitive, or when to stand my ground and fight back.  I love that The Powerpuff Girls are unapologetically themselves. They are by no means perfect.  They sometimes get a bit too carried away and inadvertently destroy sections of Townsville.  Even after botched communication, bouts of anger, and explosive meltdowns, however, the community still loves The Powerpuff Girls.

Subconsciously, this type of unconditional love is perhaps what drew me to their story in the first place.  I have struggled with my own identity as a highly sensitive, introverted young woman over the years.  I have always longed for a world that could accept all facets of my personality.  I have always wanted the freedom to make mistakes, have meltdowns, mess up and still trust that I would be loved.  

You might be thinking that all of this is just a little too deep for a show with pigtailed crusaders and talking monkey supervillans.  This analytical approach, however, is not a new concept.  Analyzing comic book characters, and hero archetypes, falls within the area of something called Superhero Therapy.  I first learned about Superhero Therapy when researching for HSP S.O.S. episode #4 Sensitive Superheroes.  In that podcast, I featured the work of a clinical psychologist named Dr. Janina Scarlet.  A therapist, author, and speaker, Dr. Scarlet uses superheroes and their stories to help her clients.  Much of her work centers around using stories to assist patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and PTSD.  Which completely makes sense, when you think about the parallels between some of your favorite superheroes and individuals coping with fears, phobias, and traumatic experiences.  I fell in love with the idea and her work months ago.  I haven’t stopped thinking about the concept of Superhero Therapy since that podcast.

My role on The Captain’s Pod is to produce episodes for HSP S.O.S. with Highly Sensitive Persons and emotional empaths in mind.  Sensory Processing Sensitivity is a trait, not a disorder.  According to the leading researcher on the topic, Dr. Elaine Aron, approximately 20% of the population has a sensitivity trait.  These individuals with this sensitivity trait process sensory data much deeper and more intensely than non-HSPs.  It can be very exhausting, and if individuals with highly sensitive nervous systems do not develop coping strategies to maintain balance, they can end up with a variety of mental health disorders like the ones Dr. Janina Scarlet treats.

The question I’ve been tossing around for a while now is can some superhero self-help be used preventatively for HSPs and emotional empaths?  It would seem that individuals with the sensitivity trait might relate to superheroes going through similar struggles.  Can superheroes help “save the day” for society’s most sensitive  souls?  What follows are some of my personal thoughts on how we as a community of HSPS and empaths might be able to adapt what Dr. Janina Scarlett does in her Superhero Therapy for our own purposes.  It’s a reflection on how superheroes can also benefit the 20% of the population needing a little extra support to achieve a sense of balance.

How Can Superhero Stories Help “Save the Day” for HSPs and Empaths?


  1. They provide examples of characters struggling with sensory overload and feelings of isolation. HSPs are capable of processing larger amounts of sensory information than non-HSPs.  They pick up on subtle cues in their environment and often experience over arousal, or sensory overload.  Some highly sensitive people are also emotional empaths, this means that they are so in-tune with their environment, and the energy around them, that they can actually sense and absorb the emotions of other people.  This heightened sensitivity often allows HSPs to understand or “read” people better, but it is also very draining.  Many individuals with sensory processing sensitivity end up needing breaks from people to recharge, but since empathetic individuals like to help and make other people happy, they don’t often take the best care of themselves.  This can lead to melt-downs, outbursts, and a sense of being misunderstood.  HSPs and empaths often feel like they are “weird” or that there is no one else quite like them.  You can’t always tell by looking at a person whether or not they are struggling with sensory overload, so superheroes like Marvel’s Matt Murdock (a.k.a. Daredevil) can really help make the invisible visible.  The characters that interact with Matt Murdock don’t always know just how much he is struggling to keep it together.  Because we are allowed inside the mind of this character, however, we can experience exactly what he goes through each day.  Just as Daredevil’s heightened senses are a strength for him, they are also his vulnerability.  If he is in an environment that contains too much noise, strong odors, or a lot of people, he struggles.  He may need to do something to dull his senses just to regain a bit of control over what is happening to him mentally and physically.  This is exactly how it is for HSPs and empaths, and it’s refreshing to see what sensitive individuals go through played out in comic books, movies, and television.

  2. They remind us that being self-aware is an important part of achieving and maintaining emotional balance. In the X-Men film series, Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is a well known safe haven for mutants to train and learn to control their powers in order to get along better in the real world.  The first time I watched an X-Men movie, I found myself daydreaming and wishing there was a school like that for me to go to.  As a highly sensitive person and emotional empath, I have plenty of stories about letting myself get out of balance, exhausting myself, and exposing my vulnerability to the wrong people.  While you are born with the power of sensitivity, you aren’t born with the knowledge of how to manage and master this trait.  Maintaining emotional balance is a life-long battle for sensitive superheroes.  It is a topic that we address routinely on our podcast on episodes like HSP S.O.S. #22.  In this episode we discuss how HSPs and empaths often have unrealistic expectations of themselves.  Like the superheroes attending Xavier’s school, people that struggle with intense emotions are prone to outbursts of rage, intense sadness, and possible panic attacks.  HSPs have a strong sense of not wanting to hurt or burden the people they love, so they routinely suppress less desirable aspects of their identity.  Like we talk about in The Captain’s Pod Star Wars and The Shadow episode, ignoring “The Dark Side” only makes it stronger.  As do virtually all superheroes, HSPs and emotional empaths have to acknowledge and master their own shadows in order to achieve a strong sense of self-control and stability.

  3. They appeal to our empathetic nature and “save the world” mentality, while accurately portraying the level of self sacrifice and energy needed to live in this manner. For individuals that feel everything so deeply, spend a great deal of time in deep thought, and approach the world with a desire to make it better, it is easy to become disenfranchised with a seemingly apathetic and cruel world.  A superhero’s mission in life is to make sure that justice is served.  Stories allow us to see both the internal and external struggle of well-intentioned characters.  Complex superhero narratives will test the moral values of empathetic characters, much how society often tests its most sensitive citizens’ principles and standards.  HSPs and empaths recognize when something is not right in the world.  They have a hard time accepting things that go against their own code of ethics or doing something that they know will hurt another person. It is an exhausting aspect of the sensitive personality, and sensitive individuals do run the risk of feeling like life has given them an unfair hand.   It can be helpful in these instances to turn to fictional characters experiencing similar struggles.  Comic books, movies, and television shows are relatively short, which allows a reader to weigh the benefits and drawback of sacrificing one’s self for the greater good in a short period of time.  An HSP or empath struggling with whether or not to remain loyal to a profession that is compromising a personal belief system could, for example, take a look at Captain America in Marvel’s Civil War series.  Cap is being forced to make a decision to go along with people he has called friends a good portion of his life or go against his friends in the name of what he believes is just.  Seeing the negative and positive outcomes associated with a character’s course of action can assist HSPs and empaths as they start to assess what needs to be done in their own circumstances.  Rarely in superhero story lines do characters have easy decisions to make, so they are great models for real world issues as well. 

  4. They help us find people like us in the real world. Superhero stories are quite popular.  The comic book and superhero movie franchise is a multimillion dollar industry.  Needless to say, there are a lot of people out there that are connecting to these stories.  A few years ago, I never would have thought I would be so interested in the psychology of superheroes.  By taking a closer look at a genre I once overlooked, I have made many new fictional friends, as well as real friends.  There are plenty of social media sites devoted to superheroes and their fans.  People love analyzing characters and discussing their complexity, so it’s really easy to connect with like-minded people from the comfort of your own home.  Having people to talk to that share similar interests is something the highly sensitive desperately seek, and there is no better way to connect to people than through a shared interest.  

Superheroes come in many varieties these days, and it’s no surprise that the highly sensitive can find themselves reflected in these characters.  HSPs and emotional empaths have a lot in common with crusaders of compassion, and their stories have the power to connect, comfort, and challenge us on our journey towards emotional balance.

Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts.  Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website,  and  Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos .

Seasonal Spiraling

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

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“Life is like a spiral of good and bad experiences.  You are never static.  You are moving up or down the spiral.  The CHOICE of direction is YOURS.” -P.D.M. Dolce

Listen to HSP S.O.S. #23- Where we discuss Seasonal Spiraling

When I start to feel a little anxious or stressed, I count things.  I count steps on staircases, cracks in sidewalks, windows on buildings, and anything else I can find to stop myself from spiraling into another dimension.  It’s a coping mechanism I’ve been taught to help ground myself when I am feeling overwhelmed.  It’s ironic then, that I find great comfort in counting fractals.  Fractals are never-ending patterns.  They are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop.  Fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos.  I stop myself from spiraling endlessly by counting endless spirals.  Now that’s a cerebral INFJ coping mechanism if I ever heard one.

I’m not writing this to talk about fractals or chaos theory, or to further illustrate how my highly sensitive mind over analyzes every minute detail of existence.  I’m writing this, because this time of year, I find myself using this technique more often.  I find myself in a repeating pattern of something I call Seasonal Spiraling.  Seasonal Spiraling starts for me directly after Halloween and continues through the new year.  It starts with countdowns, schedules, and expectations.  I’ve seen movies about how you are supposed to be during the holidays.  I know you are supposed to wear matching sweaters, drink egg nog, and smile blissfully as you open shiny packages.  For me, however, the image in my mind never really matches the reality.  

My family has always celebrated holidays begrudgingly.  Comments like, “I can’t wait for the holidays to be over,” started in late October.  As a child, the holiday season was always stressful.  My mother worked retail, so her hours increased.  She came home more exhausted each night as the countdown to Christmas began.  My father, a machinist, worked the night shift, and his work increased around this time as well.  We never had a lot of money growing up, so Christmas became about budget, guilt, and the constant sense of disappointment for my parents.  I watched my mother sit up late at night balancing her checkbook, and I knew she was worried.  As a child, I too couldn’t wait for the holidays to be over, so my family could just get back to normal.  

It is undoubtedly my sensitivity to childhood moments like this that leads to my Seasonal Spiraling as an adult.  I love the concept of the holidays, but I despise what it does to people at times.  Under obligation, we find ourselves in the company of those we’ve worked hard to avoid throughout the year.  We find ourselves stressing over what to buy our children, and all those other people in our lives that we never know what to get.  I listen at work as mothers complain that their sons are spending the holidays with their girlfriends instead of family.  I absorb the heartache of those that have lost loved ones, and watch helplessly as they contemplate making it through their first Christmas without this special person.  What should be a time of celebration has become for a lot of people an incredible time of stress.  It has become a time of Seasonal Spiraling.

I don’t really have any answers.  All I know is that I want the world to take a collective deep breath, maybe count some fractals with me to relax.  I guess I’d just like to take myself out of the equation if for any reason any of my loved ones are experiencing Seasonal Spiraling on my behalf.  Maybe I can offer some suggestions of what I’d like for Christmas, incase that’s been a worry?

So here’s my list:

  1. Do not feel obligated to invite me to your house if you haven’t talked to me all year.  It’s okay.  I won’t take it personally.
  2. If you send Christmas cards, then I am delighted I’m on your list.  If you don’t, don’t feel bad.  I think I send some out once every five years.  Oh, and it doesn’t matter to me if it’s religious, non-religious, or whatever other style of greeting you might send.  I won’t get offended.
  3. I don’t need to eat off your good China, or drink out of your holiday crystal.  Just saying.  I’m less likely to break a paper plate.
  4. I don’t need a gift.  If you want to give me a gift, that’s cool.  Just know that I don’t really need stuff.  If you want to make me a tree out of pipe cleaners and write me a personal note, then do it.  I like that kind of stuff better anyway.
  5. My daughter is like me, and she will appreciate the fact that you even thought about her.  No need to email me multiple times stressed out asking what to get her.  Simplicity is best, and I’m trying to teach her that the holidays are about people and not things.
  6. Conversation, a cup of coffee, and a holiday hug… That’s all I really need from my friends.
  7. If you’ve been working too hard to make the traditional family bundt cake for our get-together, that’s okay.  It’s only cake. I’ll live.
  8. Any time you feel like you hate the holidays, take a moment to step back and ask yourself why you feel this way.  As a gift to me, please take a moment to rest.  
  9. Be present!  Yes, by being present is a present.  Don’t be so over scheduled and busy that you can’t appreciate the magic of a warm fireplace or the crystal sparkle of freshly fallen snow.  Life exists beyond this season, and beneath the piles of tinsel, flashing lights, and pine scented air, we are all still the same people we have been all year long.  We still need our loved ones with us and in the moment at this time of year.
  10. As the quote above mentions, life IS a spiral of good and bad experiences.  Don’t get caught up in expectations and go on a downward spiral when something doesn’t go according to plan.  Life is change.  We aren’t static, but we can make a choice to make the best out of any circumstance.  I have no expectations of you this holiday season, but I appreciate you trying so hard to make it special.  Thank you for your worry, but seriously- relax.

My final wish to everyone?  May your holiday be spent with people you really want to spend it with doing things that don’t stress you out and sharing in experiences that don’t cost you more than your heart can afford.  Peace and light throughout the year.  If you do start on a path of Seasonal Spiraling, maybe my gift to you can be my strategy.  Instead of sinking down the spiral, look at the picture at the top of this article.  Count your way up by focusing on each individual brightly colored window.   Take a deep breath and remember repeating patterns of chaos are everywhere in the universe.  You aren’t alone, and you are doing an amazing job of doing the best that you can.  That’s all anyone should ever ask of you anyway.  Just do the best that you can and know that’s enough. 

Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts.  Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website,  and  Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos .

6 Sensitivities for HSPs at Halloween

Michelle Lynn (HSP SOS)

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Can a Highly Sensitive Person Enjoy Halloween?

Originally described as innate sensitiveness by Carl Jung, and then called highly sensitive persons by Dr. Elaine Aron, about one-fifth of the population possesses the trait of high sensory processing sensitivity.  Individuals with this trait have a biological difference in their nervous system which heightens their awareness of sight, sound, taste, and touch. These individuals experience the world a little differently than others, which can be both rewarding and draining.  For HSPs, Halloween can definitely be a mixed bag of tricks and treats, but being aware of what impacts one’s internal and external world can truly help a highly sensitive person make the most out of any celebration. Here are six aspects of Halloween that may impact the sensitivity of an HSP.

1. Seasons Change- When Dr. Elaine Aron created the Highly Sensitive Person Self-Test in her 1997 study, one of the original questions she considered adding to the assessment was “Are you sensitive to seasonal or weather-related changes in the amount of daylight?”  This question didn’t make the final cut, but it is something to take into consideration.  Being sensitive to changes in the weather doesn’t necessarily mean you are suffering from Seasonal Affect Disorder, but it does mean you are more in-tune with the subtle differences in the changing of the seasons- good or bad.  For some, a new season is a welcome change of pace, but for others it’s a less anticipated, inevitable transition.  Depending on where you live, Halloween can signal the starting point of shorter days and colder temperatures.  If you are someone that does better in milder temperatures, even the thought of another cold Chicago winter is enough to send you spiraling into hibernation mode as early as October.  Don’t let the weather bring you down.  Each season has its own rewards, and perhaps making a list of what you enjoy about each season is an excellent way to remind yourself what you love about fall.  As an HSP, it’s also important not to get too ahead of yourself.  No one needs to spend time dreading winter before it’s even scheduled to arrive.

2. Sights and Sounds-  It is well documented that about 20 percent of people in the general population have a nervous system that amplifies the surrounding world, thus making individuals with high sensory processing sensitivity more aware of environmental subtleties. Even a seemingly ordinary day to a non-HSP can be overstimulating to a person with high sensitivities, so imagine what a day like Halloween can do to someone more influenced by the sights and sounds in the environment.  Children ringing doorbells to acquire candy, images of ghastly figures filling television screens, toy witches cackling throughout local shops, and gruesome haunts lurking around every corner… these are just some of the sights and sounds that accompany Halloween.  Aside from the expected overstimulation of this holiday, it can also stir up unpleasant and gory images that a lot of highly sensitive people find disturbing.  It’s important to know your limits as an HSP.  You might enjoy the festive nature of the season.  You might even enjoy a scary movie every now and again, but you don’t have to go with your friends to see the latest slasher film if you know it’s going to upset you in the end.

3. So Many Sweets- Cupcakes and candies start showing up at the office, and Twix bars and Kit-Kats adorn every grocery store aisle.  If you have a sweet tooth, Halloween is the start of the indulgences of the holiday season.  In HSP S.O.S. episode #1 “Food Sensitivities,” we discuss just how much diet can impact the physical and emotional well being of highly sensitive individuals.  Not eating enough can lead to irritation and the jitters, while eating too much of the wrong thing can result in mind fog.  Processed foods, artificial sweeteners, food dyes, and caffeine are just some of the things HSPs might want to limit or avoid during this time of year.  Natural, whole foods tend to be a good option, and remembering to eat regular meals instead of just munching on treats at parties can do wonders for one’s physical and mental health.  It’s not necessary to turn down every single goodie that comes your way, but pay close attention to how foods are impacting you. If you are aware of how certain foods impact your mind and body, then you can make more educated decisions about what you choose to enjoy and what you choose to pass up.

4. Selecting a Costume- Anyone that knows and loves a highly sensitive person is well aware of our tendency to overthink or overanalyze every decision.  The highly sensitive are typically concerned about how their actions and behaviors impact others.  To say HSPs pay attention to the details is a huge understatement.  This holds true for picking out a costume at Halloween as well.  As discussed in HSP S.O.S. episode #4 “Sensitive Superheroes,” individuals with sensitivity take their love of superheroes, and other fictional characters, seriously.  It can become a sort of therapy for those that have always felt a little misunderstood by larger society.  It’s no wonder then that we spend weeks perfecting our costume, matching every last detail to the character in the original comic book series or insuring that our shoes and handbag are historically accurate.  Attending a party with someone at Halloween can also add more to think about to the occasion.  You don’t want to show up in mismatched ensembles, but you don’t want to be too matchy-matchy either.  It’s a real struggle sometimes to find just the right costume for the ever creative HSP.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to wow family and friends with a clever costume, but like all things, if the highly sensitive person feels like the process of selecting a costume is adding too much unneeded stress to daily life, then it’s time to pause and reflect.  More important than the look of the costume is probably the feel.  HSPs definitely have preferred textures and fabrics.  A costume that represents a cool concept AND is comfortable to wear enhances the chances of a fun-filled night.

5. Sorting Through Memories-   When I was nine, I attended a Halloween birthday party for a friend.  At this party, guests were bobbing for apples.  There was a girl there that I knew from school dressed in a clown costume, and she was eagerly dunking her face in and out of the bucket of apples,.  When she couldn’t successfully grab an apple, she grew frustrated, began crying, and nearly drown herself in her attempts to retrieve that tempting piece of fruit.  Why do I mention this? I mention it, because not a Halloween goes by that I don’t get flashes of that moment sort of frozen in time.  I don’t think I could ever dress myself, or my child, as a clown because of this experience, and I certainly will never have a party that includes apple bobbing.  As we discussed in the “Letting Go” episode, emotions are closely tied to memories.  The highly sensitive person often “feels” for other people, and this can be both positive and negative.  When we recall a certain memory later in life, we also recall the way we, or the people around us, felt at that moment.  If it’s a good memory, then the trip down memory lane is rewarding.  If it is a bad memory, however, reminiscing about the past could impact our state of mind in the present.  The memories we associate with a given holiday can throw us off at times.  At a time when sights, sounds, and scents are amped up, it’s useful to remember that sensory input can trigger old memories.  Just being aware of this can help an HSP self-monitor reoccurring mood memories.  We may not be able to ever forget that one Halloween where the neighborhood bully stole our little brother’s candy, but we can choose to respond to it in a manner that doesn’t rob us of our present happiness.  It’s also useful to recall comforting memories around the holidays as well.  Take some time to sort through the chambers of your mind, and pull up some pleasant Halloween experiences to relish when feeling out of sorts.

6. Shifting Perspectives of Introverts & Extraverts– In our show IN/EX Adventures, my cohost and I share our unique perspectives of the world as an introvert (INFJ) and an extravert (ENFP).  A lot has been written about the differences between introverts and extraverts in recent years, yet many myths about the two traits still persist.  Introverts are often viewed as being shy or anti-social, and extraverts are frequently characterized as always wanting to be the life of the party.  Identifying oneself as an introvert or extravert doesn’t mean that you always function from that perspective.  Introverts typically get their energy from inner reflection, and extraverts feel energized in social environments.  That doesn’t mean introverts never enjoy going out, or extraverts never long for a little solitude.  At Halloween, for example, many introverts thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to don a mask and attend a party as someone else.  As an introvert, I can attest to the comfort of an evening where everyone is going to be wearing something out of the ordinary.  The expectation is to be a bit playful, and this is just the kind of permission and expectation that can help an introvert frame an experience for optimal enjoyment.  There is a sense of freedom in anonymity, and when everyone is wearing silly outfits, it helps level the playing field for the sometimes awkward feeling introvert.  The extravert on the other hand, may feel a need to up the ante a little bit during Halloween.  As my cohost and  I shared on our Highly Sensitive Halloween episode, the highly sensitive extravert may feel like there are unspoken expectations to be even more “out there” than usual.  They might feel pressured to make the party more extreme, or to produce a jaw dropping costume idea.  Again, remember that as an HSP it is often useful to check your perspective.  Are you putting this pressure on yourself?  Do your friends really expect you to show up dressed in a gorilla suit and swing from the chandeliers?  Probably not, so any time you are starting to feel too stressed out about any aspect of Halloween, just remember to pause and reflect.

Halloween can be fun for HSPs introverted and extraverted alike.  Even if there are aspects of Halloween you despise, take a minute to focus on what you do like about the season.  The holiday season can force highly sensitive people out of their comfort zones and expose them to even more sensory input, but being highly sensitive is not a condition or disability.  Knowing yourself, and knowing what you’re about to experience, can truly help you have a Happy Highly Sensitive Halloween!

Author, Michelle Lynn, is a podcaster on The Captain’s Pod, and she creates content specifically for HSP’s, empaths, introverts, INFJ’s, and Myers-Briggs enthusiasts.  Her weekly podcast, HSP S.O.S. (Highly Sensitive Persons Supporting Our Sensitivity), can be found on The Captain’s Pod website, The HSP SOS website,  and  Facebook. Also connect with her on Twitter @hsp_sos .

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