Being Highly Sensitive and Gay

By Michael Parise

touch2-p-mpA lot of gay men I know, including myself, have related their experience of having felt “different” at a very young age.  Many gay men have attributed this feeling to their sexual identity.  I discovered later in life that a much more powerful issue was at the heart of my feeling isolated and apart from others as a child:  I am wired as a highly sensitive person (HSP).

According to those working closely with HSP’s such as psychologist Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, about 20% of the population is highly sensitive.  The single most common characteristic they possess among a constellation within the HSP fold is that they often feel overwhelmed by their environment.  Gay people who are highly sensitive thus expend a much greater than average energy in maintaining their internal equilibrium.

Coming out as HSP has been more important for me than coming out as a gay men because it explains my entire emotional landscape and not just my sexual orientation.  It’s I’ve been told not to be so sensitive and that I take myself too seriously.  I’ve discovered that my impatience and perfectionism are mainly due to my HSP desire to please everyone and be accepted.  I am also curious, analytical, creative, intellectual, and quick to draw conclusions, all skills that come easily to an HSP.  On the downside I eschew group sports or any circumstances where I could be observed and possibly judged as less competent than others.  Also, my highly developed intuition and empathy are natural draws to those who need a sympathetic ear, including severe narcissists!

Many of us HSP’s can peer behind the facades others put up for their self-protection; we sense what they feel before they know it.  We hunger for intimacy and connection and as a result we can push into relationships on a transcendent level without proper boundaries, often getting hurt in the process.   If we go to group gatherings we end up seeking one person with whom we can have a deep conversation for the whole evening since we abhor small talk.  When alone we get caught in endless mental analysis loops and can pile on shame and guilt for not being perfect or not caring for people enough.  Often we feel “less than” or “too much for” others.

Because highly sensitive people are such deep thinkers we make valuable workers and members of teams.  However Aron says that we may also be better-suited for positions in teams where we don’t have to make the final decision.  We’re more prone to anxiety or depression (but only if we’ve had a lot of past negative experiences) and can be triggered by films with violence or horror themes.   We cry more easily in part because we sense strong emotions in others as well as the impact they are having on us, a kind of double-whammy.

We also tend to have above-average manners.  Conscientious, we are more likely to notice when someone else isn’t being conscientious enough in our judgment.  We’re also sensitive to criticism and as a result we may employ certain tactics to avoid criticism, including people-pleasing (so that there is no longer anything to criticize), criticizing ourselves first, and avoiding the source of the criticism altogether.

By now you may be pounding the desk and yelling YES, that’s me!  Understanding my HSP traits has helped me from feeling like a victim or judging myself and others.  It has also freed me to be the gay man I am, without attributing unnecessary baggage to my sexuality.  The more I am able to appreciate being wired as an HSP the more I am empowered to use my gifts for others.  And for gay HSP men in particular, who are often pushed into cultural ghettos and stereotypes, knowing more about how we are wired emotionally may help repair the hurt done in childhood and empower us to be the gift to the world we truly are.

MichaelParise150About Michael Parise
As a Highly Sensitive Person Michael Parise has the right personality and insight for inner soul work and healing.   His keen intuition helps him uncover the most important hidden factors in our life experiences.  His access to his own unconscious offers him a greater understanding of others’.  During his three decades in church ministry he learned how people experience their world.  His training, education, and experience have helped him find deep spiritual and emotional healing within himself which gives him a profound empathy for anyone who is struggling.  He has helped hundreds of people cope with relationships, fears, career changes, job challenges, major life decisions, security, coming out, illnesses, and loss.  Michael is a trained life coach, certified spiritual director and Reiki energy practitioner and works from the Boston area.