I’m a member of several Facebook groups for HSPs and I see this topic come up a lot: People will describe a co-worker, family member, or a stranger on the internet who says things that they disagree with so strongly that they get angry…and sometimes they verbally fight back. Then those angry feelings linger for a long time. How to cope?
Here is a story from the HSP subreddit on reddit. See if you relate:
I’ve fought with a couple of racist rednecks on Facebook recently. It was very intense for me because I’m not usually very confrontational, but some things send me into a rage and I react VERY strongly–in this case it was online. I’ll get very personal and nasty like I’m in a knife fight or something. Needless to say, interactions like this keep my synapses churning for days. I can sometimes channel my “high sensitivity” into rage. It’s rare, but it happens. I sometimes feel like a cornered animal, and if I feel like someone is attacking, I explode like a lion surrounded by hyenas. Is this normal for HSPs?
So, this person got angry about something a stranger posted online–they felt the need to reply to the antagonist and set them straight. Have you ever been in that situation?
Here’s another example from reddit.
Every day I have lunch with most of my coworkers. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and I usually look forward to it, except there’s this one guy. Let’s call him Steve.
I’ve been working with Steve for a few years now. He’s got a good sense of humor and I generally enjoy talking with him. But at lunch, he often brings up politics and other topics from the news. I deeply disagree with a lot of his opinions. To make matters worse, he’s hard-headed, sure of himself, and prone to black-and-white thinking.
Whenever he throws out one of his hot-button opinions, other people just seem to quietly ignore him till he’s done ranting. Sometimes I just get annoyed, but other times I can’t help but feel rage burning inside. Just thinking about it is making me shake. I try to bite my tongue, but he has a way of drawing a response out of me, enraging me until I have to speak. He knows it, too. I usually say something I immediately regret and end up apologizing to him later. Then I keep reliving his words and my embarrassing response over the following days.
I’m not sure what to do. I’m not sure if I should confront him about it – shouldn’t I get used to people saying things I don’t like to hear?
I daresay that we HSPs probably have a harder time letting go of things than other people do. I don’t have any scientific evidence of this–but think about how much we pay attention to and care about details. We feel things intensely. People who care a lot about details don’t usually just let things go. Also, consider that HSPs are often strongly moved by issues of social justice. These traits lead me to believe that we are prone to reacting strongly when we hear people say things with which we (intensely, vehemently) disagree.
We feel the need to set people straight. We want to express our opinion and show that we disagree.
Other people can let things slide. They can let things roll of their back, ignore it, or let it go. We tell ourselves that we CAN’T. We are passionate! and have to make our feelings and opinions heard! But maybe that’s not the best way to be.
So, here are some tips on how to not get so riled up.
1. Ask yourself, “Why should I let this bother me?” Realize that you choose what bothers you.
I remember telling my husband Jim–who is an extroverted non-HSP–about someone at work who irritated me. This person would do or say certain things that drove me crazy and I wanted to either explode at them or never have to deal with them again.
After passionately telling Jim my story, he honestly did not understand my intense anger. He said, “Why do you let it bother you so much?”
This was not a question I expected. And it took me a while to accept that what he said was super helpful.
“Why do you let it bother you so much?”
I realized that getting angry about a co-worker’s dumb opinions wasn’t my co-worker’s problem…it was mine. I was the one letting it bother me. I hadn’t realized that I had a CHOICE to not let it bother me.
2. You probably aren’t going to change their mind, so why try?
I have family members with drastically different views than I do. I used to get fired up and argue with them, until I finally realized that there was no point. I was never going to change their mind no matter what I said. Arguing only made our relationship awkward. What’s the point? I learned to bite my tongue, ignore it, and not respond to their political or social commentary.
When you are tempted to start/join an argument, ask yourself, what will I accomplish by getting involved?
3. Don’t say anything. Silence doesn’t mean agreement.
You’ve heard the saying “Don’t feed the trolls”—well, it’s good advice. A lot people online—and in real life—say things just to rile people up. By responding, you are giving them what they want.
It’s ok to just ignore comments from pot-stirrers. It doesn’t make you complicit.
Remember–in the second reddit story above—the author was venting about an annoying coworker, and he wrote, “other people just seem to quietly ignore him till he’s done ranting.” So…..why didn’t the author just do that? Why didn’t he ignore the annoying coworker like everyone else did? He likely felt so riled up by the comments that he thought he HAD to reply–he couldn’t hold it in.
But you know what? You don’t have to reply. You don’t have to say anything.
Think of the case of your family member who posts political stuff on Facebook that makes you mad. Or the jerk posting in YouTube comments or on Twitter who just spouts the dumbest stuff–you want to feel the satisfaction of putting them in their place, of expertly proving all their points wrong and making them feel stupid.
But ask yourself, “Why does this other person’s opinion matter to me so much?”
4. Meaningless conflict is not worth your precious energy.
Introverted HSPs, especially, can feel worn out from a lot of stimulation or social interaction. Getting angry and riled up can also use up energy.
I don’t think it is worth disrupting your “stasis of peace” (as I call it) to get angry at antagonists. Plus, according to this piece from the Wall Street Journal, sending venting, angry emails doesn’t make you feel better–it makes you angrier.
Realize that you have a choice when you are getting riled up by a friend, family member, or co-worker, or even a stranger online.
“Why am I letting this bother me?”
“What do I gain by arguing?”
“Why does this other person’s opinion matter to me so much?”
You may come to realize that you are better off taking the high road and not feeding the trolls…by not replying at all.
Check out the corresponding podcast episode about this topic.