My Story, Part 3
Discovering My Superpowers
Finally Making Sense of My Empathic HSP Personality
It took a long time, but years into my “single-again-again” status I started inching my way toward an awareness of my MenPathic nature.
For me, “menpathic” captures the assimilation of our masculinity -in whatever way you’re comfortable with that term- as well as our empathic and HSP personality traits.
At this point my story becomes less a chronological piece and more a topical essay that describes experiences that led me to recognize and embrace my menpathic superpowers.
Based on the experiences thus far in this chronology, I’d been either on the fence on over it on the side of not actually believing in a higher power. Having been raised in the ultraconservative Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) of protestant churches, the religious culture in my home had been based on its teachings. This meant that homophobia (though not verbalized outright, it was a known position) use of alcohol, and pre-marital sex were topics associated with negativity.
My maternal grandfather was a functional alcoholic and was violent at times toward my grandmother—so my mother has stated—thus shaping her perception of abstinence from alcohol use. My dad drank an occasional glass of wine and nothing more. I used to drink British beer but never to excess. I now rarely drink but when I do I prefer a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc.
I came to terms with each of these religious biases, and rejected the conservatism of the SBC and it’s notion of deity once and for all. As I write in my book, The Practical Buddhist, my development of Practical Buddhism as a personal practice led me to realize that there was as much meaning and significance inherent in a spiritual life without a deity as there is with one featured prominently. While I don’t disapprove of another’s belief in God, Spirit, Jesus, etc., after much study and investigation, such beliefs and their associated practices aren’t for me.
Instead, I learned that meditation, in almost any form, could be a more effective refuge for my HSP trait than prayer. Whereas prayer is often focused on a request for deliverance from various ills or circumstances (usually of our own making), meditation is a gentle way of seeing them for what they are. I found that when practiced regularly meditation became a time of decompression, relaxation, and renewal.
There is no belief, no ritual (unless I wanted one), and no rules; there is only silence, solitude, and coming back over and over to breath. I view my breath as a patient companion ever-present and there when I need it.
I’ve found more recently that the practices of meditation and menpathic mindfulness are the most valuable tools in my MenPathic self-care toolkit.
It wasn’t until much later in my life that I learned about activating my MenPathic radar via the practice of mindfulness. I didn’t learn about it from a book on empaths or HSPs, rather it grew from my reading in Buddhist literature.
It’s based on mindfulness, a practice of consciously checking in with the mind and body and appreciating, altering, and adapting to what we find. If we find that we are tense, in pain, or uncomfortable, we return to our breath, investigate the root cause of our mental or physical issues and adapt.
MenPathic Mindfulness is very much the same. When I feel that something is off in my emotional, mental, or physical states -it could be that I’m angry or hurt, short of breath, experiencing heartburn or a sudden headache- I take a moment to inhale and exhale. I repeat this three more times and this seems to give my reactions a pause.
After I have a handle on how I’m reacting (shortness of breath, pain, confusion, general anxiety, palpitations, perspiration, etc.), I then focus on the layer under the physical signs and investigate what’s causing my reaction. It could be that my boss delivered a remark that was derogatory; it might be that I’m in an environment that contains an excessive amount of stimuli or someone in my vicinity is experiencing physical or emotional pain.
There are times when I’m unable to identify the source of my reaction—that’s part of being an empath—but having this system of addressing my reactions not only helps to bring me back to my breath, but it helps me identify the source of my reaction and allows me to consider more effective ways to respond and prevent the same level of reaction the next time I encounter the same stimulus.
Learning about what overstimulates us is as important as developing practices that help us adapt and adjust our reaction patterns.
Type A personalities, narcissists, people who invade our personal space, sometimes in the midst of a crowd… we can’t always predict when we’ll have a reaction, but like engaging in a physical fitness regimen to help stay healthy and fit, we can adopt practices that will decrease the severity of the reactions and position us to better understand our traits.
Practices I Use to More Fully Embrace my Superpowers
Here’s a list of practices and tool that have helped me feel more prepared to adapt and adjust to my menpathic traits and reactions:
Meditation, as previously discussed
Menpathic Mindfulness and its specific application for people like us as discussed previously
Spending time near the ocean, a river, or anywhere there is churning water. Water rushing against obstacles such as large rocks and boulders within rivers and the repetitive action of ocean waves crashing on the sand liberates negative ions from water. I can tell you from personal experience from having lived by the ocean and walking on the beach nearly every day for twelve years, there is a therapeutic effect being near churning water that soothes a turbulent and overactive mind.
Consuming more whole foods is never a bad idea and for the empath and HSP, it’s essential for mental clarity to limit complex carbohydrates and unhealthy fats that tend to cloud the mind. For clarity of mind and losing weight, I’ve found that the ketogenic mode of eating can result in both.
Educating myself in regards to how others adapt and adjust. A note of caution is needed here: there are more than a few online resources that focus on the negative aspects of the menpathic trait, and although it’s necessary to learn about such realities, it’s easy to become stuck in victimization mode. This prevents us from reframing our experience in a more positive light and embracing the superpowers we possess.
Deep connection time with my partner, Karen. Though not an empath or HSP, she’s educated herself about why I behave and act the way I do. She’s an elementary school teacher and displays an unending compassion and sensitivity with me as she does her young students. Cultivating relationships, whether it’s a friendship or a love relationship, with those who allow us the freedom to be ourselves is critical. Equally important is cutting ties with altogether or limiting time with those who are toxic.
My MenPathic Reading List
The list of publications listed below don’t represent all the titles and resources I’ve read, but they represent those that I personally found most valuable or those that I refer to with frequency.
The Empaths Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, by Judith Orloff, MD - This book blew up my awareness and helped me frame my experiences both past and present. It was a key in putting the scattered pieces of my menpathic puzzle together. (Amazon link)
The Highly Sensitive Person: Who to Thrive in a World that Overwhelms You, Elaine Aron, PhD - This seminal book on the HSP trait gets into the neurochemistry of how our brains function as well as how nature vs, nurture play roles in reinforcing our unique traits. (Amazon link)
HighlySensitiveRefuge.com - a vast collection of articles on the HSP and empath personality traits.
IntrovertDear.com - a site written by the same folks that focuses on introverts and HSPs.
HSPerson.com - The website of Elaine Aron, PhD, author of The Highly Sensitive Person: Who to Thrive in a World that Overwhelms You. There is a lot of resource referrals on her site including links to several past and ongoing studies into HSPs.
DrJudithOrloff.com - The website of Judith Orloff, MD, author of The Empaths Survival Guide - Life Strategies for Sensitive People.