How to Deal With an Angry Person When You’re an HSP

a person gets angry at an HSP

This article is based on an excerpt from the book Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World: How to Create a Happy Life by author Ilse Sand, a pastor and psychotherapist. It has been translated, adapted, and edited for length.

Sensitive souls are typically not keen on anger. Anger is a powerful energy. When people blow a fuse, they tend to become very black and white in their thinking and lose their ability to empathize with others. These are not behaviors we appreciate — neither in ourselves nor in others. For some people, having a quick row feels refreshing, but for the highly sensitive person, it can take a real toll and throw your nervous system off balance. Afterwards, you may need a lot of time to regroup and re-balance yourself.

If you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP), you probably haven’t had many good experiences with anger. Not only because of your own strong emotions, but because you feel the emotions of other people. If you hurt someone, you feel their pain, too, and you’ll find it hard to ignore this. 

As a sensitive soul, you may even feel as if you keep losing arguments. Take this example:

“I have often thought of myself as weak because I am often the one who ends up backing down from an argument without getting my point across.”

—Helle, 57

But it doesn’t have to be this way — you have the right to get your needs met, too. 

Your Calmness Can Defeat Anger

While highly sensitive people seem to lose out in quick and heated discussions, we can actually deal very well with disagreements when we take our time. You may go quiet and withdraw when you encounter sudden anger; that’s okay. After a couple of hours or days, you can come back and articulate your thoughts and feelings and let people know what you will and will not put up with.

This strategy works with our desire to make the world a place worth living in — and our desire to avoid angry altercations. 

In my work as a therapist, I have spoken to many people who find anger difficult. They have been told — often by other therapists — that they need to assert themselves right away. But when I explore this with my highly sensitive clients, it often turns out that they have a very different strategy. Here’s an example:

“I was part of a support team at a bank. My job was to approve credit agreements which somebody else had written up. It often happened that those who wrote the agreements handed them to me at 3 p.m. and wanted them approved the same day because they had promised the customers a quick response. This was very frustrating for me because I had to work late.

I had to find a solution to this because I was getting very stressed. I had raised the issue without success... And since I am not very comfortable with getting angry and shouting, I chose another strategy. At a morning meeting, I announced that in the future, whenever somebody handed me an urgent case around closing time, they would have to decide which of my other cases I would have to stop working on; because I wanted to leave work on time. This made a big difference. My colleagues approved of the idea and the number of urgent cases dropped dramatically.” (Gitte, 54.)

To calmly say “no” or “I don’t want to do this” or “this is not okay with me” often works much better then loudly expressed anger. And when it does not work, you can explain the consequences the way Gitte did in the example above.

It’s not healthy for sensitive souls to be a part of tense and angry fights. Being involved in a heated debate can be very overstimulating. And as soon as we become overstimulated and overwhelmed, we become powerless and not constructive. Our connection with ourselves is disrupted, and without this connection, we are like a ship lost at sea. 

If you’re sensitive, it’s okay to withdraw from the conflict and find enough calm to re-establish your feelings of love towards yourself and the other person. It will help in the long run.

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Empathy Is Your Greatest Tool Against Anger

Your ability to empathize can pierce through anger — and you can do a lot with it. Often anger is a layer of protection, and underneath it, there may be other and more vulnerable emotions. Highly sensitive people are good at sensing these underlying feelings, and it is possible to put this to good use. If you can connect with those vulnerable feelings, it can shift the energy and create more space for healing. 

This goes for your own anger as well. Use your ability to empathize to find out what your secret unmet need is. It might be something you can ask for, something that’s much less charged than the topic of the argument. 

You can also help the other person connect with what they need and thereby diminish the anger. You could ask: What is it that you would like me (or someone else) to give you right now? It’s useful to express our wishes and needs — even when it turns out to be something the other person can’t give us. It brings us a healthier sense of what our vulnerabilities and needs are, and shows us the other person may understand and respect them more than we thought.

Ultimately, this creates a way out of anger for both parties. But it also creates deeper, more satisfying connections with others. That kind of connection can outlast any argument — and bring the focus back to what matters.

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