Cultural Bias

Do highly sensitive people living in North America face cultural bias? You bet they do! Elaine Aron quotes this research in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person.

"If you remember only one thing from this book, it should be the following research study. Xinyin Chen and Kenneth Rubin of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and Yuerong Sun of Shanghai Teachers University compared 480 schoolchildren in Shanghai to 296 in Canada to see what traits made children most popular. In China "shy" and "sensitive" children were among those most chosen by others to be friends or playmates. (In Mandarin, the word for shy or quiet means good or well-behaved; sensitive can be translated as "having understanding," a term of praise.) In Canada, shy or sensitive children were among the least chosen. Chances are, this is the kind of attitude you faced growing up." 

What does it mean to face a negative cultural bias? It means that in your culture you get negative feedback on a regular basis just for being yourself. Cultural bias is very indirect, you can't sense a clear cause and effect, so people tend to have a global response like feeling awful and not knowing why, feeling personally rejected, or losing confidence in oneself. 

Cultural bias also means that this has been happening for many years, in fact, most of your life. Either it began when you were born (or even when you were conceived), if your family shares this cultural bias, or from when you first went to school (or pre-school,) if you went to school in North America.

You know where this goes, right? It can become ingrained in you that something is wrong with you. Remember feeling like an oddball at school, like you didn't fit in? Many HSP's spend their childhood out in the woods, sensing that plants and animals are their only trust worthy companions. Others just feel odd and disconnected. A few have homes or communities that truly appreciate and nurture their unique characteristics. Some find a small group of friends that are harmonious. Without this, it is easy to grow up feeling bad about yourself.

How does one counter the insidious undermining caused by cultural bias? Elaine Aron suggests rethinking/reframing old memories. Remember a negative experience from childhood (or even more recent!), exactly as you experienced it as a child (or recently as an adult). Now look at the experience again through the lens of cultural bias. Rewrite the experience through this different perspective.

In your present life, begin to name cultural bias as you experience it. "That was cultural bias." Don't allow a bad experience that involves bias against being highly sensitive to stay vague and unclear. Take time to name and verbalize everything you can about the experience, sit with it and let the details bubble up. Take it out of the unspoken realm and name everything you can about your experience. The unspoken words aimed at you, the unspoken words you would have liked to reply if you weren't worried about being nice. Now that you've clarified what actually happened and the hidden negative responses, explore ways that you could have reacted differently that would have brought more light and clarity to the situation. Sometimes your own awareness is all that's needed, sometimes you may chose to talk to the other person to increase their awareness.

Want to talk about your struggles with cultural bias?  Call or email me.