How Do HSP and Introverts Cope with Anger?

Mar 4, 2017 | Blog

There is a common misconception going around about introverts and highly sensitive people…..most of those who know them will say “oh she never gets angry.” Or…”I have rarely ever seen him get mad.”

The sense others often get is that our passive nature suggests we really do somehow manage to avoid that inconvenient emotion altogether.

First – let me clear that up RIGHT now. We absolutely get angry. And we know what anger feels like. At least I do. For an HSP, anger is Scarlet O’Hara dressed in red velvet and sporting a gun. It’s blue flame pouring innocently out of a kitchen blow torch. Sure it LOOKS small, but beware. Blue flame is no joke and we typically have very good aim.

I was furious last night. I hadn’t slept well the day before (you’ll notice just about any negative post will be followed by a night like that). But anyway….last night, I was looking forward to getting some rest.

My boyfriend came home, I stirred when he got in. He made some mention of our roommate being in trouble (okay now I’m DEFINITELY awake). Along the way he made some inference to lots of people having a bad week…and how everyone seems to be  losing their jobs lately.

Okay….so now it’s 1am. I’m wide awake. I’m worried about our roommate, AND I’m pissed off because…what was that half joke he just made? The one about me not having a job?

The final touch was when I tried to engage more in conversation and got shut down because he was tired and wanted to watch the show on his phone.

Now…to be clear…Leah at 2pm after more than only 2 – 3 hours of sleep would have seen that and said “Oooh. You’re tired. You want some peace and quiet. You’re just thinking out loud. Gotcha” But sleep deprived, recently under-employed, sensitive Leah who is  hosting her “aunt flow” for the week was anything but understanding.

I tried to wake him up to talk. He apologized. And then he went back to sleep.

You want to see anger? Wake an insomniac up and then go back to sleep.

As I stewed in my anger, I started thinking about tools. What do people do when they are angry in order to diffuse it? What could possibly help  me?

Naturally, I headed down into the Google trenches and stumbled upon an article with some possible ideas to try. The Mayo Clinic had some examples. The only trouble is…after reading the content, I kinda felt worse. Most of them didn’t feel or seem applicable in the moment of an anger spell that arises in the middle of the night. For example…According to the Mayo Clinic the best strategies include:

  1. Think before you speak. Interesting. But not really an issue for an HSP. We probably overthink before we speak. 
  2. Once you’re calm, express your anger. Okay…but let’s say it’s the middle of the night. How do two people do that effectively? Is it worth waking your partner up? Isn’t that cruel?
  3. Get some exercise. I usually LOVE this one. But have you tried to exercise on too little sleep at 1 or 2 in the morning?  You’re f**king exhausted! Not to mention the fact that it’s dark outside. Not exactly girl-friendly exercise time. Sorry …that is not an option. 
  4. Take a Time Out. This is the one I ended up needing to do. I got dressed, packed up some clothes and food, and left the house. I wasn’t thinking rationally. I needed quiet and to be alone. So…to my office I went. Who cares if its 4am?
  5. Identify possible solutions: Oh God. Solutions again. Thanks. Yes. I KNOW the solution to my problem. It’s SLEEEEEEP. But that’s not exactly something I can control. I’ve been trying to “identify solutions” since I was eight years old. What I need to know is what I can do when I can’t fix it. What can I do with the little capacity left to me? 
  6. Stick with “I” Statements. Okay…I can do this one. I am pissed off. Ta-da!!!!!
  7. Don’t hold a grudge. Says the author on the health website who probably got more than 3 hours of sleep.Still… fine…I can see how forgiveness can be helpful. But if you can’t wake up and really talk it through…what then? 
  8. Use humor to diffuse the situation. To this one, I quote Gayle Green (the Author of Insomniac) who writes: “The first thing to go is your sense of humor. Then goes the desire to do the things you used to do, then the desire to do anything at all. Parts of your body ache that you don’t even know the names of, and your eyes forget how to focus. Words you once knew aren’t there anymore, and there’s less and less to say. People you once cared about fall by the way and you let them go, too.” In other words….humor isn’t an easy tool to reach for when its buried way below the amygdala somewhere.
  9. Practice relaxation skills. This one I actually did try. Breathing exercises. Meditation styles. Counting down from 1000. I gave it an honest attempt. But that’s only ever worked for me when I’m just stressed. It doesn’t really work as well when I’m angry. When I’m angry…my heart literally BURNS. It’s physically intolerable. It’s too much energy. Too much heat. 
  10. Know when to seek help. This one was really about learning how to control anger. I don’t know that I need help with that. My biggest challenge is learning how to move through it. I know how to swallow it. I know how to contain it. How do you let it go?

I haven’t seen much by way of a discussion about Introverts and Highly Sensitive People and how they learn to cope with anger (especially when the source of it kicks in right in the middle of the night).

Because the real issue with anger that steps up in the middle of the night is that it’s not clear where the source really is coming from. Take this example…am I really angry at my partner for waking me up? Or angry at the company that fired me? At the end of the day, I don’t think I am actually mad at either party. I’m ultimately angry with myself…for having this one flaw in the system hardware. I want to be able to relax regardless of the circumstances. I want to be able to tune it all out and fall asleep so I can deal with all my silly life challenges in the morning. How does one conflict manage that?

And I’m usually a pretty upbeat sort of person. I like solutions. I like moving through things. This is just something I am legitimately at a loss for. I don’t have answers (which is unusual for me when it comes to my own self care).

Do you have any ideas that have worked well for you?