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.
It’s funny you bring this up. I had no idea it was a HSP trait and thought it was a natural part of my Myers Briggs personality to passionately rebuttal stupid comments. Anyway, I recently came across an article that uses science to explain why certain people may think the way they do. Turns out there’s scientific evidence underlying the political parties we choose and the decisions we make, both as a result of how our brains are structured (http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2013/02/brain-difference-democrats-republicans). Knowing this has helped me understand that some people really can’t be changed, and to simply let go and just let them be.
Thank you so much for this article! So interesting!!
Kelly, I came across another article I wanted to share (http://justmytype.ca/science-behind-intuition/). The author’s description about the “gut feeling” and “intuition” she had reminded me of HSPs in general, who are known to be extremely in tune with others’ body language and non-verbal cues. It’s likely our highly sensitive nature allows us to not only pick up minute cues, but also actually pinpoint and process them to formulate a conclusion faster than most other people. I’ll bet most HSPs here have been able to figure people out after just one or two meetings. Like you said in your podcasts, HSPs have lower thresholds for stimuli so less escapes our radar. Though this can be quite draining, we can turn it into a major pro by trusting our instincts and using them to protect ourselves, instead of merely dismissing them or attributing them to an overactive imagination. Evolutionarily, this heightened sensitivity was definitely a survival instinct that HSPs have just held onto. By understanding this, actually listening to our body/mind, and seeing how HSPs have a leg up in relationships, we can better build our self confidence and feel comfortable with our high sensitivity.
I disagree, my BPD mother antagonized and provoked me my whole entire life until I started setting boundaries. And now it’s worse. I do NOT WANT to agree with her just for the sake of getting along. She pushes and pushes and pushes. NO. IS. A. Complete. Sentence. It’s her problem if she cannot deal with it. Write me out of the will. Leave it to your maid. It’s your problem, not mine. I’m tired of WALKING ON EGGSHELLS. Keeping it inside hurts worse.
I totally understand how that goes. My mom would purposely antagonize and upset me and then turn it back on me when my dad got home from work and he would take her side.
I live in a foster home with this guy who constantly picks on me but its getting to me vary badly what’s a solution cause I can’t live like this much longer I need help
It is awful I was friends with someone 20 years but very toxic. And looking back we both feeding on it. He kept sending me emails, forwarding me crap that he said to other managers. I asked him twice to stop sending pics of text messages from customers. His response was you did it to, but I stopped. He kept doing it and finally I asked him to stop again, and he got so vindictive and sent 5 text messages in a row. I said just stop and and then it’s you never support me, I supported you. Well i told him to stop sending screen shots of messages, he goes you did it too I replied i know let’s ask a manager – and there is identification info. He goes no there isn’t, we don’t know if that’s their real name its alleged. I said regardless both need to stop and then went off about how angry I am and disturbed and I need help. He sent 4 more text messages and I had applied for a job I didn’t get, which I messed up the interview. He goes “your just angry you didn’t the job. Sorry i thought we were friends. I am done with you”
and then later sent a long email which I read the first 2 lines and vile. I didn’t even read it and deleted it . I skimmed it saying he did So much for me – has paid my bills – no. So later I was drunk and left a very mean voice mail and of course he sent 2 more emails the first saying im saving it as evidence and threatening a restraining order and then the 2nd email was even nastier and blamed everything on me. He has been banned from facebook, instagram and Twitter for picking fights. Has had issues with every manager at work and absolutely hates my boss and constantly makes snide comments. I told him to stop and he’s like you just want to f him don’t you? He got his 2 covid shots on Sat but still put in for paid leave 8 hours during the week. He has a job and stopped paying rent, auto loan, and other bills and then brags about how much money he has – it’s amazing how much money you have when you don’t pay rent hahaha – but then keeps hinting about his bills and how costly dental implants are. He bought me 6 presents over the past year with money, he should have used to pay his rent. I threw every gift out. He hasn’t worked a full 40 hours a week in over a year. Says he is really sick had survived cancer but then laughs that he isn’t – he is faking it. It is an awful situation for anyone having to endure the abuse. He will do what he does best – will bad mouth me which i don’t care. I know what really happened that there was events leading up to drunken voicemail. I was very hurt and I lashed out. So a mature friend of mine said “Your the hero not him. ” … It is everywhere … But i am glad it’s done. To me he is dead to me.
Choosing a ‘stasis of peace’ will take practice (with no shortage of opportunities!) but the results are invaluable. Good counsel here, Kelly.
While I think it is good advice, I also think it is very against my nature that I shouldn’t just ignore. I am an HSP and I have a voice…and I believe there is purpose in that. We don’t always have to be non confrontational in life. We can confront pot stirrers in a rational and calm way, which also takes practice, but doesn’t leave us feeling so…defeated. In the case of the internet, I practice avoidance and ignore. In the case of the annoying co-worker, I would ask others in the lunch group if they were annoyed by such conversation and if so, let him know its not appreciated. I wouldn’t invite him anymore if he continued. Simple. So many of us HSP give away our power by appeasing, avoiding and ignoring. Learn to speak up for yourselves and others confidently and calmly. It is worth it.
Rene….with one “e” is for males.
Renee…with two “e’s” is for females.
Only in America… lol
What’s your point?
In Spain people like discuss everything. It´s very draining and I often feel threatened because I feel people want to put their ideas or conviction in my mind. That´s the reason for me that I react strongly. Want to persuade people about your thoughts is painful for my soul. There´s a difference between persuade or tell what you think about your ideas calmly.
I have a son. Sometimes others mothers speak about how to take care children in the way, they are doing the best and it seems they need my approval, so they feel big and you are “more friend” of them. Some times it´s painful for me their ideas and I say:” I don´t agree. I have another point of view” If the person perssist in discussing I say something like:” I have to go”. “I have to call someone”. Because that energy breaks me. I like when people ask about my opinion and his/her answer is “ok” or” I don´t agree but it´s ok” or ” have you thought in other posibility?”…Well, more respect…is the key. We are not to change the world but I like to say what I think. If there´s something I don´t agree I like to tell “I don´t agree” because I think it´s my responsabiliy to be honest. But only when the comments are very close to me. If I feel the commets are superficial or boring I´m quiet, I´m not going to put my energy in trivialities. That´s the reason I prefer to be alone most of the time. It´s sad and boring but it doesn´t break my heart.
I recently drafted a written peice of work on a topic I referred to as ‘triggers’, which is exactly what you have covered here. I never posted my draft publicly because I felt it was missing something, namely a resolution on how to deal with these triggers. You have provided an excellent and very practical resolution here! Thank you for that!
awesome, I’m glad you found this helpful!! 🙂
In a few days I will have my 76th birthday and just now discovering that I am an HSP has helped explain SO much! Can’t thank you enough.
Happy early birthday, Kay! I’m so glad this was helpful to you 🙂
If I don’t respond to an offense, I later will regret it, because my inner voice will call me “coward”, and I’ll feel bad about it for days.
If I react strongly, I’ll regret it too, but less than if I don’t.
Good advice on not caring when it shouldn’t matter to you.
It really comes down to choosing your battles.
Arguing with strangers on-line is like intentionally running into rotting,low hanging fruit. You’ll easily stumble across opportunities to do so everywhere you look.
I usually just ignore these people because as you said, that isn’t compliance or agreement.
However, there have been times when people have been incredibly rude, directly to me and I feared for my comfort or safety. In those situations, I’ve stood up for myself.
What do you call a. Fiancé that just continues to intentionally irritate you, he knows I don’t like it when he does but he continues then when I argue about it he turns it on me, as if I’m the wrong one. I can’t help but to get triggered by him in the beginning I was just dumbfounded by it then he say I’m only kidding but the reality is it causes fights. Like I’m in another room he call me I come in and he asked me to get something out of a draw right next to him. Or he’ll say stuff like let’s go !
I’m not someone who takes things lightly, it annoys me and he should have respect to stop messing with me I’ve asked plenty of times, it’s not funny to me anyway.
I wish you would find a better way of helping others, and maybe/probably yourself.
I also wish you would rethink the validity of this HSP designation, or any other labeling of people for that matter.
Can you clarify? I’m not sure I follow.
What do you do when your married to the person who antagonizes you? It’s easy ignore others and let it go but when it’s coming from the person you love and knows you the best it cuts deep and is harder to just let it go. Please help.
Hi Kelly, I’m new to your site and the whole HSP understanding. I can’t tell you how helpful this is to me. My husband has been saying the same thing to me for years. Thank you!
thank you for the kind comment! I’m so glad the site has been helpful 🙂
Hi, This article is very interesting and I think its essential not to allow a bully or a narasstic or angry, hostile personality rob me of my time or energy… but for me its about practising disernment…For many of us who were not allowed to speak up as a child or who were ignored or spoken over, its crucial to build our courage muscles…. I know I dont have the power to change anyone but it helps me to honour myself at times to say something like ‘thats not cool to talk to me that way’ or ‘its not okay to make unkind remarks like that’. Its always worked for me… However, as I say I am all about disernment.
It’s funny how it says dont say anything. I’m an expert at not saying anything when someone tries to push my buttons. In my experience it doesnt work. People want to get a reaction out of you. That’s the whole point. If you dont give them a reaction they will just keep pushing your buttons. I’ve been at the place I work at for 6 yrs and the same people always try to push my buttons. For 6 yrs I havent replied when I’m being shit tested. It continues on. I have a girlfriend I’m good at my job. I’m humble nice and reasonable. These things dont matter. The only thing people care about is if you can throw a verbal punch in a playable manner. I cannot for some reason. I’m either going to throw a real punch or not say anything. I know that I cant throw a real punch I’ll end up fired or worse behind bars. So I stay quiet.