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I Have SPS.

I am a follower and leader. I will lead but I will also remain the follower. This very conundrum was, in my most humble opinion, the reason why managers or HR folks would question my ability to manage and lead. This conundrum is not because of any ambiguity and I do not even necessarily think it is lack of confidence or skill set, as some have suggested.

I am madly in love with this image! Please forgive me as I stare in wonder at each wonderful sticky note! I mean who does not love notes! And who does not love that each note comes with creativity, thought, and an idea bigger than the small sticky it sits on! And we have not even talked about the content! Each word means something to me as an educator, systems thinker, learning designer, and coach. They each hit on different areas of learning, play, and work!

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I can remember in the military thinking that I could do a much better job of leading most of the troops I worked with than those selected to lead. In the military leaders are not necessarily selected for their leading qualities instead their rank and the convenience of the military, to maintain order, and to make sure the troops were in line (pun intended).

I was generally the only female in the day-to-day duties while in the military. I was in law enforcement which mostly consists of males. In a day where gender does not matter, I think there is much to reconcile because it is not adding up. Not that this post is about gender, but seriously! In my experience, a female is a female and a male is a male, there is no mistaking. To suggest that a body part that makes a distinction between humans is not evident enough that as a society we are suggesting those anatomical parts were given on accident is absurd! That is no different than trying to tell me my eyes are not brown hazel color.

Women are physically and physiologically different than men, those are scientific, proven facts. Notwithstanding the facts and science that provide an outlet in which our creator chose to bring life into the world! This is no mistake, accident, or mishap that a man cannot give birth to life! Ok, I digress.

While physically I was not able to keep up with some of the guys, on the contrary, mentally and emotionally I was way ahead of most of them. I entered the Air Force when I was 20 and already had given birth two times. I was the perfect candidate for leading most of the troops I worked with because they respected me. After all, I was cute, funny, and rocked a pixie with my pistol on my hip! No just joking, but again, I was respected and I believe I would have led my troops well had I been given the privilege to lead while in the military.

Looking back and without any awareness of sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), it surely explains many of the professional disconnects I have experienced.

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I can remember as a child disliking any tags on my shirts because they itched my neck and forget about a turtleneck. I dislike turtlenecks and my mom swore that when Florida hit the chilly 40-degree nights three times a year I must wear one to remain warm, much to my dismay.

I can also remember being quite overwhelmed in the shared space with my sister growing up. I can remember going insane in the little front bedroom in our two-bedroom childhood home because my sisters’ side of the room was almost always a disaster. I can remember my mom yelling at her to clean it, and it caused a great deal of tension between each other.

Similarly, I have experienced various examples that all lead to being a highly sensitive person (HSP).

For a long time I did not understand nor could I explain my sensitivity to physical touch. Here is the perfect place to stop and define SPS if you have not already been intrigued by the title and googled it. SPS is, also known as HSP or the Highly Sensitive Person:

Sensory Processing Sensitivity An innate personality trait, where one is easily overstimulated and/or overwhelmed by the awareness of subtleties of life, more sensitive to pain, hunger, light and noise and yet is blessed with a complex inner life.

Put by Psychology Today, “HSPs are a subset of the population who are high in a personality trait known as sensory-processing sensitivity, or SPS. Those with high levels of SPS display increased emotional sensitivity, stronger reactivity to both external and internal stimuli—pain, hunger, light, and noise—and a complex inner life.”

This explains my troubles, this explains being overlooked and perhaps dismissed as lacking the grit to manage and lead people. I think some of this can be explained in my reserved manner and especially how SPS can appear as a lack of leading skills. Since this personal discovery, I have found ways to protect my space and to overcome the effects of overstimulation in my daily life. I have come to realize that without the space and time to create in ways that aligns with the SPS traits I will not be my sharpest.

I also realize in some cases having SPS could be a limitation and while limitations are not bad necessarily in and of themselves, some see limitations as negative. Not all managers have to lead all the time, and not all leaders have to manage all the time. In fact, is it not fair to say that those that know how to step back and allow their team to do what they are there to do are most likely solid leaders! The SPS trait should not be seen negatively, and any limitations that stem from the trait can also be seen as strengths in certain circumstances rather than limitations.

Discovering that I have SPS has been freeing. Aron (2023), has completed extensive research on SPS and the HSP. As an HSP, we are not special, we are no different from any other personality trait in that it makes up part of who we are as people. Aron (2023) states that most HSPs are aware of their tendencies and that some of those tendencies can and may mirror those of a narcissist especially as it relates to “control.” It seems the important distinction to make, however, is the motive for “control” or the reason, in other words: what is behind the control? Aron (2023), also points out that those with SPS and childhood trauma may resort to control as a safety mechanism. In this case, those who experienced trauma and particularly in childhood, may express the SPS trait differently, and the ways in which one would work through the limitations of the trait must also address the trauma.

I ponder all this research as the enormous bamboo sway outside my window from the hot Jamaican sea breeze. I think it is important to know these areas of self. This knowledge empowered me to make adjustments in my behaviors from the trait, especially those tendencies that present as fear and control. I think it is important to include, that Aron (2023) makes it plain in her research that the SPS trait is wrongly related to narcissist behaviors and that the “overlap” of certain characteristics found among both narcissists and those with the SPS trait has been mislabeled at best and at worst, are being used as a way to make excuses for their hurtful behavior rooted in manipulation and control. Furthermore, going back to the intent or motive, one form of control is to disparage and tear down another person but the SPS may control as a means to self-protect. Neither is helpful, in terms of healthy coping mechanisms, but certainly, these do not overlap, as suggested, as they are quite different!

Finally, in my experience living with a narcissist for 17 years, the HSP with childhood and adult trauma that led to co-dependent behaviors is the perfect prey for narcissists. They will feed off the vulnerabilities, fears, and insecurities from abandonment and rejection and use them as weapons against their prey, thereby tearing them down more so the narcissist can continue to feed off such behaviors to maintain control and the appearance of the one who has it “all together”. This is a sad dismal case for sure. But nothing one cannot be healed and free from.

If you are curious about the SPS trait and are interested in knowing more, check out this website.

#sensitivity #differences #servantleaders #leaders #women #Leadership #managing #Learning #SPS #HighlySensitivePerson #silos #trauma #manipulation #childhoodtrauma #science #relationships #ptsd #leading #overstimulation #control #SensoryProcessingSensitivity #military #narcissists #personalitytraits #selfdiscovery #genderisscience #HSP #gender

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