Understanding HSPs

    Yes, your words can deeply affect an HSP. This doesn’t mean they’re overly dramatic or trying to start a fight; they just feel their emotions intensely. Their emotional reaction quickly moves from 0 to 60 MPH in less than 2.6 seconds (think of a dragster at the race track).

    If you’re not an HSP, yours might only speed up to 25 MPH and then slow down again.

    Is there a medical explanation for high sensitivity?

    HSPs struggle with sensory processing sensitivity. Sensory processing sensitivity causes faster stimulation of an HSP’s nervous. A non-HSP’s experience of the same emotion is less severe. They go into fight or flight mode easier than you do, which triggers anxiety. HSPs are also more likely to suffer from depression, substance abuse, and chronic illness than non-HSPs.

    For more information on what it means to be an HSP, click here.

    An Argument Does Not Mean “It’s Over”

    The most important thing to remember is that we don’t need to be perfect, whether during an argument or even a pleasant conversation. Repairing a disagreement after the fact can be just as healing as understanding each other from the beginning.

    Managing Conflict 

    What do I do when I’m in an argument with a highly sensitive person?

    When you’re in a relationship with a highly sensitive person (HSP), you feel hesitant to speak your mind. You don’t want to cause them pain but there are reasons you need to speak your mind. Your needs are important, too.

    If an HSP reacts to something you say:

    Don’t lose hope. HSPs are just as rational as you are. Their emotions may feel stronger internally, but they’re usually able to reason with you without a problem. We all have emotional responses to:

    • The way we interpret each other’s comments
    • Our perception of what others think of us
    • Resentment about relationship issues (unresolved and brought up in the current argument for various reasons)
    • Events that remind us of past trauma and upset

    Even though we all have reactions, each person’s emotional triggers are different. Something that might not seem like a big deal to you might rock an HSP’s world.

    Processing Tension with an HSP

    Yes, disagreements with deep thinkers tend to take more time and energy. This is not a bad thing. It actually provides an opportunity to think about each other differently.

    In the end, talking through tension with HSPs gives you a chance to truly understand what is going on for them. You taking the time to see their side (and vice versa) improves your relationship and builds trust.

    Do’s and Don’ts

    Here are common mistakes most people make when attempting to resolve arguments with HSPs, followed by suggestions for a new approach next time.

     1. Calm down!

    Where did I go wrong?

    If they could calm down easily, you wouldn’t be arguing. When someone is upset, telling them to calm down implies that you think they’re doing something wrong. This only makes them feel worse. Not only are they upset about the original problem, now they’re also afraid that you think they’re not handling it well.

    Try next time:

    Let them know that you’re having a difficult time understanding what’s going on. It’s hard for you to see them upset. You want to help but you don’t know how. Ask them if they want your help calming down and if so, what would do the trick? When they are calmed down, come up with a list of calming activities that you can help them remember when they’re overwhelmed in the future.

    2. It’s not a big deal.

    Where did I go wrong?

    “A big deal” is not an objective measurement. Each person has their own subjective opinion of what is or isn’t a big deal. Saying something isn’t a big deal, when obviously it is significant to this HSP, invalidates their emotions. It suggests that their thoughts and feelings aren’t important. This translates to believing that you don’t care about them.

    Try next time:

    “What about this situation upsets you, specifically?” Share that you want to understand but it’s not clear to you. State clearly that their feelings are important to you. Ask if there is any way you can help before offering unsolicited advice or trying to fix the problem.

    3. Can we stop talking about this?

    Where did I go wrong?

    Initiating a premature end to a serious conversation is usually ok, but do it skillfully or it will backfire. If you stop talking about a topic but the other person doesn’t believe it’s resolved, you risk long-term resentment. The issue will come up again and the cycle might never end. Just asking for a break without a commitment to resolving the disagreement is unsettling; it feels dismissive to the HSP, who feels the topic is important.

    Try next time:

    If you’re overwhelmed or hit a wall in this conversation, ask for a timeout. This break could be for a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days. It is the other person’s responsibility to respect your request, but they need reassurance that you plan to seek closure in the future. Set an actual time period immediately when you take this break.

    4. Toughen up.

    Where did I go wrong?

    You’re probably saying this because you don’t want to see your loved one hurting, but it comes across as harsh criticism. It’s interpreted as an attack on an HSP’s character, suggesting this part of them – their sensitivity – is unacceptable. The problem is they didn’t choose to be sensitive; they were born that way or became sensitized as a result of their environment.

    Try next time:

    Let them know you want to help them feel safe. Even if you don’t understand exactly why they are hurt, instill confidence in them that you’re listening and doing your best to help. Validate their sensitivity and relate to it by remembering a time when you were in pain, even if the situation was very different.

    5. Oh, that’s easy; just do ___________________ and your problem is solved.

    Where did I go wrong?

    Automatically offering unsolicited advice can suggest someone doesn’t know how to handle life/stress/situations. This assumes they don’t know what they’re doing and need your help, when really they feel confident but they’re just venting.

    Try next time:

    Before providing advice, explore what the HSP is seeking from you. They might be looking for a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or someone who can help contain their pain. Advice definitely has its place and sometimes HSPs really are seeking it, just check in first.

    Red Flags in Conflict with Highly Sensitive People

    • Mistakenly assuming you and the HSP think about life events and relationships similarly
    • Believing that there are concrete things people “should” and “shouldn’t” be upset about
    • Discounting the HSP’s reaction because you don’t relate to it

    If the topic isn’t important to you, try to understand the HSP’s perspective. Relate to the shared experience of human pain and suffering, which we all know too well. Don’t beat yourself up for not feeling the same way as a highly sensitive person. Arguments are always complicated, regardless of sensitivity, and the most important thing is doing your best to be kind to each other.

    Reach Out

    Having each of your  needs met is a balancing act, one which can be difficult to achieve without professional help. If you are stuck in an ongoing argument with an HSP, call me at 925-421-6860 or schedule a 15-minute consultation using the button above.

    1. Sue


      May 22, 2019 at 2:56 pm

      This was so helpful. Thank you!

    2. […] have a much better time getting your point across to an HSP if you think about saying things in a non-aggressive or hurtful way, as they’ll be able to process what you’ve said without being upset by your words or body […]

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