Unmasking A High Sensation Seeking Highly Sensitive Person: Welcome to the Jungle

So you may be wondering why this post is titled “Welcome to the Jungle”?

Well, if you recall from previous blog posts, (to read the previous blog post click here) we were on a flight heading to Central America, specifically Nicaragua, with the intention of spending time in the jungle somewhere, a jewel of an experience! So, how does this relate to deciding whether you want to set up a local HSP Meetup group?

Fair question. Here’s your answer. Just like I’m doing now, you’ll be deciding if you want to explore foreign territory. I don’t care where you’re from, it’s beneficial to think of setting up a local HSP Meetup group like setting out to explore foreign lands, and it’ll be necessary you understand you’ll be interacting with people with different; perspectives, language (a word can have different meanings depending on what that word means to that individual), ideologies, values, attitudes - those with different life experiences, wounds and gifts. So welcome to the jungle, you’re entering foreign territory. But once you become familiar with the territory, it’s much easier to navigate.

In this post we’re going to cover;

  • the benefits of creating and organizing an HSP Meetup Group,
  • how to know if you’re ready to create and organize an HSP Meetup Group,
  • how to set up an HSP Meetup Group,
  • what the challenges are,
  • how to manage your time,
  • the importance of screening,
  • the HSP Workbook, Discussion Group exercises I found particularly helpful, healing and interesting,
  • and, why developing a “leadership team” will be beneficial for the group.

I’m going to cover what I learned in each of these areas. You’ll see links and some of them are Google Drive links for view and download, (there’s no sign up required) and you can refer to them, build on or change them as you like, they’re simply resource material.

So first of all, why would you do this?

 

The Benefits of Creating and Organizing An HSP Meetup Group

  • You’ll find yourself in the company of other HSP’s. Since we only make up about 15-20% of the population we’re usually surrounded by those who don’t have our trait, and it’s a rare occasion where we find ourselves solely in the company of others with our Trait. What I found is HSP’s find it easy to simply “be” with one another - an empowering opportunity for individuals with the HSP Trait.
  • You’ll find that no one speaks “over” anyone else or competes loudly for attention in an HSP group setting. Most HSP’s find this pleasantly surprising and comforting. Those with the HSP Trait are usually quite patient and easily find a “flow” together.
  • You’ll have the opportunity to practice the role of “stewardship” which comes quite naturally to those with the HSP Trait.
  • You’ll develop lasting friendships with others who “get you” and you “get them”.
  • When you take on the role of a “steward” for your local HSP Meetup Group, you’ll gain an additional perspective than if you’re a member. You’ll gain the perspective of both being a member as well as a steward. You’ll also be strengthening your leadership skills.
  • You’ll notice subtleties others in your group exhibit and will gain newfound appreciations of other “deep thinkers” and “deep feelers”, as well as your own ability to think and feel deeply.
  • You’ll be learning with and from others who have your trait.
  • You’ll be in a safe setting to explore your own thoughts and feelings.
  • You’ll experience “Ah-Ha” moments that allow for incredible growth-inspired ideas and revelations.
  • You’ll experience a strong sense of comradery.

 

How To Know If You’re Ready To Create and Organize An HSP Meetup Group

So this is the part where I’m going to ask you to be clear on your goal and intention for your local HSP Meetup group. Why are you creating this HSP Meetup group?

I’d like to encourage you to make your goal to learn more about how your HSP Trait works for you, because an HSP Meetup group is an amazing opportunity to learn about your trait and to do this with others who have the same goal. If you aren’t clear about this, or feel like you know more than others – beware. You’ve gotten off track.

I encourage you to start with the intention of embracing your HSP trait with acceptance, compassion and an open mind. Most HSP's (at least in North America) have received negative messaging from non-HSP's and western culture in general that "something is wrong with them", so viewing this experience as a "new" way to view and experience your HSP Trait will be highly beneficial and rewarding.

As an aside, a highly interesting and beneficial Discussion Group exercise in The Highly Sensitive Person Workbook is about 'projection'. I wasn't aware of the meaning of this word, in context to how "energy" can be either consciously or unconsciously transmitted, but this exercise is an incredibly helpful one for HSP's to experience and then begin understanding how people can and do 'project' their fears onto others. Here's a link for more information on 'projection'. 

Back to accepting the role of a "steward" for your local HSP Meetup Group, you’re simply stepping into the role of a “steward”, a role that provides many opportunities for learning and growth. Having said that, taking on the steward role includes more responsibilities, but you also need to be aware of what isn’t your responsibility. More on this later.

Now having said that, I’ve discovered many HSP Meetup Groups haven’t taken the opportunity to organize Discussion Groups, as outlined in Elaine Aron’s, The Highly Sensitive Person Workbook.  For me the Discussion Groups were a huge source of inspiration. The structured, leader-less, small group exercises allowed me to begin understanding the depth and breadth of how my HSP Trait works for me. And I found 95% of the participants in the Group Discussions also had a positive and empowering experience.

I also believe in the importance of organizing social events, like nature walks, book clubs, coffee chats, drumming circles, etc. because these events give opportunities to members who aren’t sure if they want to join a Discussion Group, a chance to meet others in a relaxed setting.

But again, I found for myself and from listening to others that the most growth, understanding and empowerment was discovered in Discussion Groups.

Now, here’s a caveat; if you’re unable to go through each of the six exercises in the Workbook and share openly, you aren’t ready to facilitate a Discussion Group. Even though the Discussion Groups are “leader-less”, if you’re organizing it others will take your lead.

Even though I didn’t have experience facilitating an HSP Discussion Group, I knew that if we followed the Group Discussion Guidelines and exercises closely – we would all benefit. Know that doing this will require you to be open, honest and have some degree of healing and perspective; meaning you’re open to discovering and delving into what appear to be “pockets of pain”, but are instead are a goldmine of opportunities to “re-frame”.

Re-framing is another one of the Group Discussion exercises, a powerful healing exercise that you need to be able to demonstrate for the group. They will follow your lead. Having said that, it must be something you’re ready for.

If you aren’t able to do this then you may need to do some work on your own using the Workbook or seek the counsel of a counselor who specializes in the HSP Trait – here’s a resource (this is merely a resource, I don’t endorse or have experience dealing with any of the individuals or services).

As an aside, most HSP’s I’ve met haven’t been “diagnosed” and have instead self-diagnosed using Elaine Aron’s HSP Self Tests online. This stands to reason as quite a few Psychologists and Psychiatrists (at least in western culture) aren’t aware of the HSP Trait.

 

How to “Set Up” an HSP Meetup Group

So for this the first thing you can do is check www.meetup.com to see if there’s already an HSP Meetup group in your local area. Using “HSP” and “Highly Sensitive Person” as your search keywords should work. Does anything show up?

You may find that there’s an “Introvert” Meetup group in your area, however not all introverts have the HSP Trait. There may also be an “Empath” Meetup group in your area, but again, not all individuals who identify as an Empath also identify as having the HSP Trait and vice versa.

I’m noting this because an interesting thing happened after I created a local HSP Meetup group. An individual joined the group and then contacted me and asked me to change the title of the group to include the word, “Empath”. I did some research and decided to leave the group title as Highly Sensitive Person, as the focus of the group was supporting those who identified as having the HSP Trait. There are strictly “Empath” meetup groups.

Sometimes, like I found, there will already be an HSP Meetup Group set up and members have joined – but no one has “accepted” the “Organizer” role and “adopted” the group, paid the fees and begun scheduling events.

Now if a leaderless, or “Organizer-less” HSP Meetup group exists in your area DO NOT accept the “Organizer” role for this group. I advise this because you haven’t screened these individuals and so, you don’t know if these individuals have the HSP Trait and you don’t know what they’re looking for by joining the group.

Instead, create your own HSP Meetup Group, message the members of the already created local HSP Meetup group and let them know a new HSP Meetup group is now active and provide them with a link to join and answer the screening questions.

I encourage you to use “Highly Sensitive Persons of (whatever town, city)” as a title for the group to allow others to easily find the group. Here are some resources you may find helpful for your online Meetup group. There’s an About page, and this is the page that people will see without having to join the group, then after joining the group there’s a Welcome page that you can link to a Roles and Responsibilities page and an Attendance Policy. Like I said, these are only resources, feel free to change them.

 

The Importance of Screening

Why screening you ask? Well, it’s a jungle out there. I know you’re thinking - who would want to join an HSP Meetup Group who doesn't have the HSP Trait? Well you’d be surprised. The digital highway is what it is and there will be those who are simply curious. You’ll know by the way they answer the screening questions if they most likely have the HSP Trait.

Screening isn’t a guarantee, but it will serve as a comprehensive filter to allow both you and your members to feel safer, knowing that steps are being taken to ensure your online HSP Meetup group is as safe as possible.

Here’s the screening questions I used that you may find helpful.

 

What the Challenges Are

Next you’ll need to know that there is a cost associated with creating an online Meetup group. See here for more on that and note the currency is USD (https://www.meetup.com/pricing/).

Now, at the time I set up a local HSP Meetup group there were two other HSP meetup groups in the country. One was set in a large city and had thousands of members. This one required a $5.00 yearly “dues” fee in order to join and they typically held a monthly dinner (social) event. The other HSP Meetup group was also in a city but its membership was fairly small (less than 100) and didn’t charge a fee to join.

How you’d like to set yours up is up to you, but thinking ahead about how you’ll regain the monies you pay yearly or bi-yearly to host the group on meetup.com would be a good idea. I’ll go into more detail on how I recouped the fees paid to meetup.com in a bit.

Then I suggest you create two meetup “Events” with no set dates. This will help you understand what your members are interested in as they RSVP to an Event. You could set up a social event and a Discussion Group event. The maximum size for a Discussion Group is six people and I recommend setting up a maximum size of 8-10 for a social event. HSP’s are typically more relaxed in small group settings so see which ones your members are signing up for.

Now here’s where I’m going to give you advice contrary to what Elaine Aron advises in the Discussion Group instructions in The Highly Sensitive Person Workbook. She advises to not charge for the Discussion Groups, or to charge an amount and then give back the amount to those who attended. This isn’t realistic when creating a Meetup.com group, as there are fees, and even if you're willing to pay the yearly fees yourself, I don’t recommend it. It’s beneficial that your group support itself and its members share in the growth of the group.

Now for the location of the Discussion Groups (they occur once a week for six weeks), I booked a meeting room at a local library because we were able to meet there for free and it was centrally located. However it was incredibly difficult to book the same day and time each week six weeks in a row.  I checked into booking a meeting room at local Community Centres and Churches but they charge a fee. Keep in mind you’ll already be deciding on how to recoup the cost you paid to meetup.com to create your local HSP Meetup Group.

The other option is to host a Discussion Group in your home. The thing about this is - you’ll find the sharing increases as the level of comfort increases for the participating members. When in a sterile environment, like a library meeting room, the harsh lighting and impersonal environment aren’t conducive to a “welcoming” environment for those with the HSP Trait.

However,  you don’t know your members and haven’t met many of them (other than online), so opening up your home to strangers isn’t necessarily a “safe” idea. What you could do, that in hindsight I could’ve, was meet with the individuals who signed up for the Discussion Group individually to learn more about them and why they want to participate in a Discussion Group.

Not everyone who signs up to participate in an HSP Discussion Group is ready. If they understand and agree they’ll be required to purchase and follow the guidelines set out in the Workbook, and understand that they’ll be making a six week commitment, both to themselves as well as the other members of the Discussion Group, then they’re probably ready.

I did encounter a few people who signed up for a Discussion Group, but then neither purchased the book or reluctantly followed the guidelines during the Group Discussions. These individuals weren’t ready to learn more about their trait and how their trait works for them and this is why I recommend meeting with interested participants one-on-one ahead of time to determine if they are, in fact, ready.

In instances like this I recommend talking with them quietly, separately and away from the group and asking them if they feel ready to participate in a Discussion Group. Just giving a person the time and opportunity to reflect on what is best for them at the moment, what they’re ready for, and comfortable with – will allow them to understand you have their best interest at heart and they’ll usually respond that they aren’t ready at this point in time. Doing this respects where they are, knowing that part of our own journey includes honouring others’ journeys. You can also provide them with contact information for local (or not) therapists who specialize in the HSP Trait.

Now overall, I don’t recommend hosting a Discussion Group in your home but instead recommend finding somewhere to meet that’s welcoming, clean, and comfortable.

For social events I don’t think it’s necessary to individually screen members as these events are held in public spaces.

Now here’s where I want to delve into another challenge for an HSP Meetup group steward. The “time” element.

I’ve since met other HSP Meetup Group organizers who dive into this role and schedule 3-4 events a week. I would advise against this. Why? Because the purpose of the group is to focus on your personal growth and understanding how your HSP Trait works for you, which is an incredibly empowering experience, and you’ll find it difficult to do this if you’re exhausted from taking on too much.

You’re basically volunteering your time, so finding meeting rooms, screening members online and offline, and organizing and attending social events and Discussion Groups take time.  And keep in mind, the members from a Discussion Group, once the six week structured format is completed – vote on whether they’d like to keep on meeting, and if so, how often and what type of format they’d like to follow.

I wasn’t able to do this as I was setting up the next Discussion Group to give other members who hadn’t participated in a Discussion Group, the opportunity to participate in a Discussion Group. So once the six week format was at an end for a current Discussion Group, I was beginning the next Discussion Group.

And here’s where we meander into the next topic.

 

Why You Want To Develop A Leadership Team

Some HSP’s are extroverted, some introverted and some are ambiverts and each person will have different reasons for joining. As an HSP who is also HSS I believe my HSS was an added benefit in that my curiosity caused me to jump in and organize an HSP Meetup Group. I somehow knew that the subsequent knowledge and wisdom gained, outweighed whatever “perceived” negatives I thought and felt there might or could be.

And, my main goal in creating a local HSP Meetup group was to subsequently create Discussion Groups so I could learn more about how my trait works for me. Why did I do this? Because for me, if it isn’t apparent by now, learning is something I love and the Discussion Group format appealed to me because;

  • No one is a “leader”, the roles of timekeeper and facilitator change for each Discussion Group (whether we agree or not, there is a group or collective tendency, at this point in time, for people to “give” their power away to a “leader” and to then “blame” that leader if their expectations aren't met), so a “leader-less” format allows more opportunities for self-reflection and responsibility.
  • There’s a specific structure for the group meetings - they’re focused. Like most HSP's I don't particularly care for a lot of small talk, so meeting with the understanding that we're going to be covering terrain I may or may not feel comfortable with, but with the understanding that it will be beneficial for me - made the best use of my time.
  • They occur once a week, so it gives the members’ time to process what showed up for them at the last meeting (it will be different for everyone), encouraging growth and perspective.

Now, some members simply wanted to meet with others who also share their trait for coffee chats, nature walks, art museum outings, etc. and so were more interested in the “social” aspects of the group. And while I tried to accommodate this, and scheduled a handful of social events, my focus was on the Discussion Groups, and like I said, a person only has so much time.

So this is where I encourage you to reach out to those in your group who are extroverted and ask them if they’d like to organize “social” events. Most likely they’ll jump on it with a enthusiasm. Encouraging others to join in and schedule events means you’re encouraging other member’s gifts, time and experiences. Be sure to express your appreciation by telling them and sharing in "group" emails how much their time, experience and gifts are appreciated and valued.

And lastly I'd like to share a memorable experience I had. I'd scheduled a movie viewing of, Sensitive The Untold Story for my local HSP Meetup Group. A young person arrived quietly just before the movie was scheduled to begin. After the movie was over I looked over at the young person and noticed tears flowing freely down their face, and as our eyes met I could sense how relieved they were and that a new door of understanding had opened up for them, leading towards more doors of understanding. Their journey was just beginning.

And this is what I hope for all HSP's, that they begin the journey of delving into their trait with gratitude, because while it has challenges it also offers so many gifts.

For the next blog post we're going to be maneuvering through the jungle by talking about how to describe your HSP Trait to others, the 'others' can be coworkers, family, employers, clients, etc. because this can be challenging for most of us with the HSP Trait.

And on that note I hope this encourages you to delve into either creating or joining an HSP Meetup Group! As always if you have any questions or comments I'd love to hear from you.