If you know anything at all about highly sensitive people, you probably have figured out that they tend to like harmony. Possibly so much that it can become a liability. If we can avoid stirring unnecessary conflict, we will. We will throw every conflict management tool in the book at a difficult situation before we will resort to actual, full blown battle.
This does not mean we are unable to be stirred to irritation, anger and/or disgust.
Remember, highly sensitive people don’t feel “special” things. We feel all the same emotions as any other human does. It’s merely that most HSP feel things a bit more intensely. This is why, as a rule, highly sensitive people tend to shy away from conflict if they can. It’s uncomfortable for most people. It’s more uncomfortable for an HSP. The same holds true for anger. It’s not that HSP don’t feel it. They do. It’s just so damn uncomfortable for HSP that they like to avoid it if it’s at all possible.
Why does it seem like HSP never get angry?
Most highly sensitive people are told they “never seem to get angry.” I don’t think that’s actually the case, but I DO think they are less prone to it than others. Part of the reason behind this is due to the fact that they generally have a wide capacity for empathy. It’s easy for most highly sensitive people to place themselves in the shoes of another. Once you do that, it’s generally difficult to get angry. If you feel put off by a grumpy person standing in line…but you also notice that the same grumpy person is trying to manage his two children, pay the cashier, bag the groceries and…and…and you might be inclined to give them a little slack. If your boss yells at you, you’ll hate it…but you might also consider what could be going on for your boss. Perhaps it doesn’t have much to do with you? She seems exhausted. Maybe she’s not feeling well?
In other words, highly sensitive people tend to be good at noticing small tells that people might not realize they are giving out. And they are good at giving the benefit of the doubt (in most cases). For this reason, a highly sensitive person tends to be less inclined toward anger. Why get angry? It won’t fix anything.
Soooo…What kinds of things make an HSP angry?
Just because highly sensitive people are slower to anger doesn’t mean they are incapable of it. But what DOES irk a highly sensitive person? What is likely to incur their wrath?
- Invade their physical space. If ever you wanted to see a highly sensitive person turn cold, calculating, indifferent, cruel…invade their private space. Highly sensitive people see their home as an oasis. It’s where they need to feel most safe. If you have invaded that space and refuse to leave, congratulations. You have officially reached Enemy of the State status. I have been fortunate in most (although unfortunately not all) of my roommate situations. Most people are decent and want to live and let live. Most living arrangements can be negotiated with civility. And most people, when its determined that living together isn’t ideal, will do everything they can to separate if its within the realm of possibility. But some people? Not so much. If you have been given a pretty clear signal that you should leave…and then you don’t? Your previously sensitive, empathetic, considerate comrade will start looking remarkably similar to a reptilian sociopathic predator. You are not a person with complex feelings and emotions and points of view. You are a mosquito. And you will only likely inspire disgust.
- Attack their character. Most highly sensitive people are relatively open to having their ideas challenged. They are also willing to change their behavior if it’s causing problems. It’s all in the name of growth, right? Although highly sensitive people are often dubbed as being sensitive to criticism, that’s not actually the case. HSP tend to take quite well to constructive feedback. They may be a little hurt to know they aren’t up to snuff. (I mean…Who wouldn’t like to think they are perfect in every single way?) But if the information and feedback you deliver to them is given with a bit of tact, you’re mostly just going to receive only gratitude for your willingness to point out their behavioral blind spots. But if you, instead, attack the core of who they are…you’re in for trouble. It’s one thing to say “hey…you screwed up back there.” It’s quite another to say “You are a screw-up.” If ever you want to lose the respect and attention of a highly sensitive person, attack their humanity. Examples of this might look like.
- My God…I thought you were supposed to be smart. Don’t you have a degree?
- Arguing with you is like arguing with someone who has autism!
- You’re so damn sensitive it’s like talking to a child.
- Argue for the sake of arguing. Some people love to fight. There is something about an argument that gets the juices pumping. Highly sensitive people? Not so much. It’s not that they are incapable of seeing the value of healthy conflict. But they are never going to want to go to battle just for the sake of battle. If you are the kind of person who enjoys a good fight for its own sake, you’ll quickly lose respect from your HSP associate. At best you’ll be avoided. At worst, you’ll be seen as a petulant child.
- Ignore or belittle their needs. If a highly sensitive person comes to you with a grievance or a request, you can be sure that it took A LOT of energy and courage to do so. As mentioned multiple times above…highly sensitive people don’t like conflict. So self-advocacy is challenging for an HSP. The problem for many people is that highly sensitive people, when they communicate their needs, never do it loudly. But just because they speak softly doesn’t mean their needs aren’t important. Elaine Aron discovered in her research that highly sensitive people, when they articulate their wants and needs, tend to feel MORE passionate about it than the average person even though the average person will appear to care more due to the fact that they are more comfortable speaking up with gusto. If your highly sensitive friend has come to you and made her needs known, and you haven’t changed your behavior…you’ll lose her. As a friend. As a colleague. As a lover. It was hard enough to say it at all. We don’t want to repeat ourselves. We don’t want to beg.
- Use a magnifying glass instead of a mirror. If you really want to get on the nerves of a highly sensitive person…try simply not taking any personal responsibility for your part in a problem. THAT will get the job done. Highly sensitive people tend to ruminate about their part in a difficult situation and pick at it until they find a way to improve the situation. So when another individual comes in and refuses to take responsibility for their part in things…it says to us “I have no desire to improve myself, my behavior, or this situation. I would rather blame everyone else around me than behave with honor and dignity.” It says to us “I do not HAVE any dignity. And I don’t believe YOU deserve to have any either.” There really is no faster way to inspire nausea in a highly sensitive person than to insist that you are the victim. Please.
I write this not so much to insist that highly sensitive people are always right in their anger. No one is 100% right. Ever. Rather…I write this because I think it’s strange how often highly sensitive people are dubbed peacemakers and softies. We CAN be. But I think it’s worth bringing to light the kinds of things that can (and often do) incur the wrath of an HSP. We are not perfect. We are just as likely to be rallied to anger as any other. We just get irked by pretty specific things.
If you are looking to diminish our respect for you, give these five tips a try. You’ll find us as worthy an adversary as any other.
But did I miss anything? If you’re a highly sensitive person…I’d love to hear from you. What kinds of things inspire anger in you?