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Managing conflicts with your Highly Sensitive Person

What to do when you come into conflict with a highly sensitive person?

What to do when you come into conflict with a highly sensitive person?

If you are in a relationship with a sensitive person, perhaps you are either facing an erupting volcano or in front of a wall, at times. In any case, this is the feeling you have when you enter into a confrontational discussion with them. So sometimes, you may hesitate to tell them what you think, because you don't want to hurt them or you find yourself in front of the volcano or the wall. You may even avoid any conversation, especially when it comes to a delicate subject that can turn into an argument. You have noticed that their reactions can sometimes be exaggerated. What should be a “normal” argument for anyone other than a highly sensitive person, can send yours on a downward spiral, leaving YOU totally confused or even hurt. Remember, your needs are as important as theirs. And the reasons why you need to express what's bothering you should be no less serious than not upsetting them or having a slightly more heated discussion.

Before giving you some tips for managing possible conflicts with an HSP, let's talk a bit about these hypersensitives.

Nobody likes conflict, but for highly sensitive people, it's hard to turn the page and move on. During a conflict, their senses are heightened and they feel overwhelmed, so expect them to need some time to recover.

Alternatively, if they feel the conversation might get heated and take a belligerent turn, they might even do everything possible to avoid conflict. Keep in mind! Hypersensitive people manage conflicts very badly!

Managing conflicts with your Highly Sensitive Person...

Let's look at the situations you might encounter with your sensitive loved one:

If a highly sensitive person to something you say:

Do not abandon ! Highly sensitive people are just as reasonable and rational as you are. Yes, they feel their emotions much stronger than non-HSPs, we all know that, but they are usually able to have an divergent conversation without issue.

Also don’t forget that we all have different emotional reactions and that we interpret the comments of others in a personal and subjective way.

  • Our perception of what others think of us is important and relevant in our interactions.

  • Likewise, we all have our little inner demons who are happy to play the provocateurs and triggers during our conversations, even if we had locked them up in our memory file “Trauma! Do not open !". For example, if the event or the subject of the conversation reminds us of a past trauma or disturbing incident, it can completely change the course of any conversation… Watch out! The demons have escaped. 😅

  • We should also not overlook the resentments we may have because of an already existing relationship problem that has not yet been resolved. If it is brought up in the current dispute, for any reason, you can expect anything. This time, the demons are unleashed!

So be careful, even if we all have more or less strong reactions during a conflict, the emotional triggers of each person are completely different, are very personal and of course linked to our experiences. Something that may not seem very serious to you can turn the world of an HSP upside-down.

Take this short quiz (below) if you want to know if you are a highly sensitive person.

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If a highly sensitive person does NOT react to what you say:

If you notice your partner closing in on them and ceases to share their opinions, that's a big red flag. This means that your HSP is really struggling to carry on the conversation and is on the verge of going into total radio-silent mod or completely blocking out.

In this situation, stay calm, do not push them to talk to you. Try to create an environment in which your partner feels comfortable and safe enough to resume the conversation.

If your HSP came to a complete stop. Watch out for your verbal and non-verbal language!

When an HSP freezes, checklist your own behavior. Check your tone of voice, the words you use, and your general attitude. Analyze your body language. It may be a little too aggressive for your hypersensitive one. Remember that a highly sensitive person can detect the smallest details and that their senses are always on the maximum volume of their sensory stereo. So be gentle in your demeanor, keep a calm voice, and be kind with your words. Words can have magical power as well as catastrophic effects. So never forget that the way we express ourselves always has an impact on anyone, but this is all even more valid for your highly sensitive person.

That doesn't mean you can't say what you think, of course not! But it will help you and your partner to pay attention to your words and to think more about how you say certain things. Talking harshly to highly sensitive people can be very upsetting for them, because they process things in much more depth than the average person. Not only do they replay the conversation over and over in their head, but they can also pick up on the intonation and stress level of your voice.

You'll have a much easier time getting your point across to them if you remember to say things in a non-aggressive or hurtful way, because they'll be able to process what you've said without being upset by your words or your body language.

What to do when the situation becomes tense?

Take into account that highly sensitive people are deep thinkers. Disagreements with them can lead them to prolong discussions (indefinitely in your eyes), but above all they consume much more energy than you. It's not a bad thing in itself to have in-depth discussions, in fact, it gives you the opportunity to explore your opinions, reciprocal and/or opposite, and of course to get to know each other better.

Ultimately, talking with your partner about their tensions gives you the opportunity to truly understand what is going on inside them. Taking the time to see their perspective (and vice versa) improves your relationship and builds trust.

Do's and Don'ts

Here are some examples of common mistakes most people make when trying to resolve arguments with a highly sensitive person. Then I will give you some suggestions for a new approach next time. Listen to your highly sensitive person, they are talking to you…

1. Calm down!

Spot the mistakes…

“A bit of logic! If I could calm down easily, we wouldn't be here bickering. When I'm upset, telling me to calm down implies that I'm acting abnormal and exaggerated. Suffice to say that if we continue on this path, the situation will only get worse. Well done!

I'm already upset because of the original issue, and now I'm stressed that you might think I'm not handling the situation well and can't control myself."

Can do better. Will try next time...

Let them know that you're having trouble understanding what's going on and that it's hard for you to see them upset. Tell them you want to relieve and support them but you don't know how. Ask them if they want you to help them calm down and if so, how? You can also put your arms around their shoulders, hold their hand, or just sit with them until they're ready to talk.

2. It's okay.

Spot the mistakes…

"For who? For you? Certainly if you say so, but it is very subjective. We all have our own, equally subjective measure of values about what we consider serious or not. So when you tell me that my problem is not serious, it completely invalidates my feelings. Apparently, this specific issue is serious to me. So to suggest that, to you, my problem is insignificant is to say that I have a serious judgment problem, and that my thoughts and feelings are of no value to you except to be exaggerated.”

Can do better. Will try next time...

“What particularly bothers you about this situation?”

Tell them that you would like to understand what is going on because it is not clear to you and that their feelings are important to you. Ask them if you can help them in any way. Above all, do not offer unsolicited advice, let alone try to solve their problem.

3. Can we stop talking about this?

Spot the mistakes…

“I don't blame you for wanting to cut short this conversation which is turning sour, but be a little more tactful, otherwise expect the boomerang effect. If you abruptly stop our conversation when I absolutely want to resolve the dispute, you risk that I will resent you in the long term. The problem will not be solved and will reappear at the first opportunity. Without realizing it, we will find ourselves in an infernal, endless cycle. Asking to take a break without wanting to resolve the disagreement is destabilizing for anyone; for me, I feel it as disdain and total disinterest on your part. And yet another invalidation of what is important to me.”

Can do better. Will try next time...

If you feel overwhelmed or at an impasse during this conversation, ask for a time out. Set the time yourself and stick to it, whether it's a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days. Now the ball will be in the court of your HSP who will be responsible for respecting your request, on your terms. As for you, hold on to respect your commitments and your timing!

4. You need to toughen up!

Spot the mistakes…

There are many female variants: "You're crying for nothing!" », « Behave like an adult! », « You are too touchy »; and the masculine ones: "Be a guy, a real one!" », « Behave like a man! or “Learn to fight”.

“When you tell me that, it's like saying that I'm weak, just because I don't accept things and react like you do, and I don't either move on as quickly as you! You know, some days I really wish I could, but that's not how I work. It naturally takes me longer to process feelings and information, so you'll have to wait. I know you're probably telling me that because you don't like to see me suffer, but to me that sounds like harsh criticism. I really take it as an attack on my character, suggesting that my sensitivity is unacceptable. The problem is that I did not choose to be sensitive. I was born like this.

Can do better. Will try next time...

Let them know you want to help them feel safe. Even if you don't understand exactly why they are hurting, reassure them that you are listening and doing your best to help them. Validate their sensitivity and identify yourself by bearing witness to a time when you suffered yourself, even if the situation was very different.

5. Oh, that's easy; just do _____________, and problem solved!

Spot the mistakes…

"When you offer me advice that I didn't ask for in the first place, it drives me crazy. It is as if you were telling me that I don't know how to manage my life, that I can't control my stress or any other situation for that matter. That's assuming I have no idea what I'm doing, and need your help because without you, I would be completely lost. Thanks, but no thanks! I know how to manage perfectly, even if it is not in the same way as you!”

Can do better. Will try next time...

Before giving advice, explore what your HSP expects from you. They may be looking for a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or someone who can help contain their pain. Advice definitely has a place in your interactions and in your relationship with HSP because they really seek it, but ask first.

Red flags in case of conflict with very sensitive people

  • Wrongly assuming that highly sensitive people have a system of thoughts and information processing identical to yours.

  • Having set ideas about when people “should” and “shouldn't” be upset.

  • Neglecting HSP’s reactions because you can't identify with them

  • If a subject is not important to you, do not underestimate your highly sensitive's point of view, but try to understand them. Relate to the shared experience of human pain and suffering, which we know all too well.

  • Above all, do not believe that you feel things like a very sensitive person, avoid comparisons because there are none. Their sensory and emotional sensations are at maximum volume when yours is at minimum. So you can't know how they feel!

Arguments are always complicated for anyone and regardless of sensitivity, the most important thing is to do your best to be nice to each other and to conduct discussions with compassion.

Reach out!

Meeting each of your needs is a balancing act that can be difficult to achieve without the help of a professional. If you're stuck in a lingering argument with a hypersensitive or in your relationship in general, schedule a 30 minute consultation using the button below.

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What is your biggest struggle?

  • Feeling emotionally drained

  • Moving on and letting go

  • Criticism and conflict

  • Being under pressure

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