Highly Sensitive Refuge
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How to Deal With Interpersonal Conflict as a Highly Sensitive Person

Although there isn’t a way to eliminate interpersonal conflicts completely, there are ways for highly sensitive people to better manage them.

The world around us is fraught with conflict. And as much as conflict can be challenging, it is a necessity of life and part of human nature — there is no escaping it, no matter how painful it may be. But when you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP), it seems even more magnified since our souls are more sensitive to just about everything.

The levels and intensity of conflict vary immensely, from “simple” conversations that come together from two different viewpoints to heated arguments and storming off angry. Feeling stressed about interpersonal discussions is normal, but dreading these encounters can make everyday life exhausting for highly sensitive people. No matter the type of discussion or even the result, we feel the effects of these interactions on a much deeper level than non-HSPs.   

Have you ever had a conflict that has left you feeling awful for days, weeks, or years afterwards? Or perhaps you entered into a discussion dreading the outcome before it even began? Or maybe you left a situation in tears, feeling completely empty, whereas the other person seemed to show no emotional effects of the conversation at all?

In fact, Tracy Guillet, a counselor who specializes in highly sensitive people, as well as introverted teens and adults, says: “A key component of being HSP is feeling our emotions deeply, so when it comes to interpersonal conflict, we can be overwhelmed with feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and confusion. The result often is either shutting down or a big reaction that doesn’t feel good. Once we learn to better attend to our emotions on a more regular basis, our capacity to handle conflict more effectively can increase.”

When it comes to managing conflict as an HSP, there are ways that we can better handle situations so we don’t feel gutted, angry, and lost by the end of them.

How to Deal With Challenging People

As a highly sensitive person, we tend to take on the emotions of those around us. Because of this, intense discussions and unresolved conversations have a way of sticking with us as we reevaluate and replay what happened in our minds for a very, very long time. We HSPs internalize the feelings and emotions of others, making conflict that much harder. In order to help deal with the unsaid emotions of others, here are some suggestions:

  • Ask the other person what they are feeling.  This is extremely hard to do, but if they are honest, they will tell you. Maybe they are an abrupt person by nature and, as an HSP, you are interpreting this to be anger at something you have said or done. However, for this person, they just tend to be abrupt and to-the-point in their discussions, so knowing what they are feeling will help to ease that feeling of conflict between you. And if they are actually angry, then at least you now know and can deal with that issue instead of skirting around an unspoken problem.
  • Break up with toxic people. If there is a person who causes you stress because you are always in conflict with them, don’t see or speak to them anymore. By no means is this a first resort or is it an easy thing to do. But if you have a relationship with someone — where every time you are together there is intense discussion, conflict, or unresolved issues that leave you feeling emotionally drained — then it isn’t a healthy relationship for you. 

How to Deal With Face-to-Face Confrontation as an HSP

Highly sensitive people tend to not deal well with face-to-face confrontation either. And, even though there are many ways to communicate these days, heated arguments and conflict that happens “live” is even harder for us HSPs to respond to. This is because we like to think and analyze the situation, so when a conflict is verbal, there isn’t the time needed for an HSP to clearly think and come up with the best response. Most of the time, these in-person conflicts leave HSPs feeling defeated. Here are a few ideas on how to help tackle these dreaded face-to-face conversations:

  • Plan your argument in advance. When you know you have to go into a meeting or conversation where there are going to be people that rub you the wrong way, plan for how you are going to speak with them. Know your counter points. Have your notes ready. Prep the debate the night before. The more ready you are for battle, the better you are going to be.
  • Learn from your unsaid thoughts. If it is a spontaneous confrontation, that is much harder to deal with. It definitely happens where you didn’t see the conflict coming. If you leave an intense conversation feeling like you weren’t heard, then take that time immediately afterwards to make notes about what you would have said (or what you would like to say next time). 
  • Take a course on debating. Toastmasters or a debate club could help you prepare for any intense verbal debates that come up, whether they’re at work or socially. Learning debate skills will help you speak more clearly and think on your toes. It’ll also help increase your confidence and give you the tools to debate your side of the discussion. 

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How to Deal With Written Confrontation as an HSP

Another big problem with interpersonal conflict for highly sensitive people is the pervasive use of texting and emails as a primary form of communication in today’s workplace, and in life in general. These written forms of communication are amazing. (Plus, HSPs often love writing out their thoughts.) Our society has come so far because of these highly efficient means of communicating. 

But…

They also make it so easy for someone to rapidly type and send an email, text, or chat platform message that can be interpreted many different ways. And, highly sensitive people, we are able to see the various meanings and emotions behind the type and worry about the actual meaning of the message. Or maybe a friend sends back a text that only says “Good” to your list of questions asked out of a place of concern. Instead of feeling reassured, you are now stressed because you worry that something you said offended them or that maybe you didn’t ask the right questions. There is so much left unsaid in written conversations that it can leave HSPs feeling lost and questioning the conversation or the intentions of the other individual. Here are some thoughts on tackling those unspoken words:

  • Pick up the phone. I know, verbal communication is pretty much the last thing you want to do when you read that email from a coworker that says, “Yes, if you say so.” But it really should be the first thing you do if that response is going to make you wonder and worry for the next few hours. Email doesn’t always get it right. It may come across as hostile and angry, but maybe the coworker meant it to be humorous. Hearing the tone of voice from the sender may resolve your unanswered questions in a simple call. And if it is a sketchy-looking text from a friend, it may seem weird to call, but maybe that is what they need. It is too easy to hide behind a simple text and to fake any emotion. Actually talking to the person, whether it is a coworker or friend, helps to clear up the many undertones that exist in fast written communication.
  • Take written messages to mean what they say  and nothing more. This can be hard to train yourself to do, but if you can see the words for what they are and nothing more, then it could be a simple solution for you. Believe it or not, “sure” can actually mean “sure.” And “good” may mean just that. With everyone being so busy, many people just don’t have the time or energy to put the emotion behind the words that are written. So what is typed could actually be what is meant. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to say what we mean and simply read the words for what they are? 

As a highly sensitive person living in today’s world, there isn’t going to be a way to eliminate interpersonal conflict completely. The best we can hope for is to better understand the people we have to interact with on a regular basis. If we don’t understand, then we can ask the right questions so that we can better understand — and feel more comfortable with — the relationships we have. And in the meantime, we’ll focus on joy and keeping the peace.

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We receive compensation from BetterHelp when you use our referral link. We only recommend products when we believe in them.

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