Online forums have helped many HSPs find their communities.
Even more promising, I see a unique and invaluable resource here in the support that HSP World can offer to the leaders of those groups.
A group for Highly Sensitive People: what a beautiful thing. Though HSPs are wired to care and empathize with others, ironically, they can struggle to make social connections and fit in.
Groups of other HSPs, and in particular online communities, give us a real shot at that sense of belonging. How many of us, upon joining one of these groups for the first time, has said or heard the words: I’m glad to know I’m not the only one! So it was with a sense of purpose and serving the greater good that, in early 2017, I started helping to organize a Meetup group for HSPs in Montreal, Canada.
Organizing a Meetup or other group is not for every HSP. Leadership comes with responsibilities that many of us, by nature, find uncomfortable or dislike: public speaking, networking, and promotion; making decisions for others; being highly “visible” and therefore open to every kind of stimulus, from praise to criticism; and, when it happens, handling conflict.
No HSP (not even the High Sensation Seeking or Extroverted variety) is immune to these challenges. I was fortunate to draw on my background in adult education for certain processes, as do leaders with business, management or social work experience (to name a few examples).
But a group of HSPs is quite distinct from a business, therapeutic or educational setting; nor should any one leader be expected to know it all. How do you deal with a group of people who want to connect, but may have real difficulties and anxieties about meeting others? How can you help guide people through a process of self-discovery – without acting as everyone’s therapist?
Taking all this on means facing the real risk of burning out, or the group falling apart. Many groups dismantle, either because the are no longer working, or because HSP leaders can no longer sustain the commitment.
This is tragic: we need sustainable HSP leadership.
The beauty of it, of course, is that to improve the quality of our leadership, we must start by working on ourselves. I am reminded of Barrie Jaeger’s core insight in Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person – “to find work you love, you have to grow.”
I think this must apply to many HSP Leaders, who feel called to serve their peers through their leadership roles. The tasks I listed above can only be carried out by being very clear on our intentions and values, and by working up the courage to stand up , stand out, and say “Yes” or “No” when we have to.
Successful self-development requires sustained support, exchange and mentorship.
Part of the inherent difficulty of group leadership is the fact that it is a one-sided task. Although I have benefitted from extremely valuable and generous contributions from other group members, at some point I had to acknowledge that leadership often comes at a higher price for HSPs than non-HSPs.
Though members may be unwavering in their interest, care and support, only the most select few will have the the time, energy and leadership skills to be consistent in their commitment.
To restore balance, I’ve had to go outside of my own group. I cannot stress enough how valuable it has been for me, as a Meetup Leader, to connect with other HSPs in community leadership and organizational roles.
An online platform, like the one that HSP World provides, is uniquely poised to address the needs of Meetup Leaders, who often have to go outside of their own group to answer questions such as:
- What should the screening process be?
- How often should we meet?
- Should I charge a cover fee?
- What kinds of events or outings can I offer?
- What do I do about members with problematic behavior (online or in person)?
- How do I handle members’ requests?
- How do I handle criticism or conflict within the group?
Speaking to people with a longer-established group that my own has provided an incredible opportunity for mentorship. Doing this, I’ve been able to gain perspective on some of the challenges I’ve encountered, receive practical advice for best practices and techniques, and get much-needed support, resulting in important shifts in the way I manage the group.
Organizing a Meetup group for HSPs remains one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had. I believe so strongly in the work we are doing and the opportunity for self-understanding, confidence-boosting, and community-building, that it’s worth the practical and personal work that it takes, every time.
What a wonderful tool we have, then, in an online community! The chance to so easily connect with other leaders – priceless!