Have you ever entered into what you thought was going to be a deep and interesting conversation with someone – delving into several different angles and perspectives – only to realize the other person was becoming uncomfortable, defensive, or even thought you were being “negative” or trying to start an argument?
I have had this experience, and I believe it has a lot to do with being a highly sensitive person.
As HSPs, we have a deep need to learn, discover new perspectives, and thoroughly process everything. One of the best ways we can do this is by delving into a great conversation about a particular topic. We deeply appreciate those people in our lives who are not afraid to “go there” with us. For me, the process usually goes something like this…
1) Friend listens to me process my strong opinion or new idea.
2) Friend shares their own perspective or ideas.
3) Friend lets me ask questions about their perspective.
4) Friend shares more on their own perspective or ideas.
5) Friend listens to me ponder and challenge my original thought, based on any new insights.
6) Friend shares more, maybe challenging my thoughts or bringing in another new idea.
7) Friend lets me challenge their perspective or ideas.
8) Friend listens as I reformulate and amend my perspective based on conclusions from this deep and awesome conversation.
9) We review what we agree on, and agree about any points where we disagree.
10) We are thankful for a safe relationship where we can openly talk about anything and still mutually respect each other.
This is how we grow. And these conversations are very meaningful and fulfilling to us as deep thinkers.
But sometimes I look forward to a conversation like this and it turns out differently. Possibly we get to #7 (above) and I sense a vibe coming from the other person that seems defensive… and tense.
I’ve been accused of seeking conflict, or trying to start an argument, which almost makes me feel sick to my stomach, because I am truly such a harmony-seeker in relationships (sometimes to a fault), and really do NOT like relational conflict at all.
In other words, I think many of us HSPs really just want to dig deeper and that is often perceived as provoking conflict. Most of the time, this couldn’t be further from the truth, as HSPs genuinely care about people and how other people are feeling.
So what do you do when this happens?
Many HSPs eventually learn that it’s just not emotionally safe to express our truest selves because we are afraid we might scare people away. So we bury our best thoughts and ideas, and we build walls of shame around our need for deeper processing. And we tiptoe quietly around most people, afraid that we might offend someone if we speak.
I’ve discovered a few things that have helped me to maintain peaceful relationships, while still getting to process complex or controversial issues. Maybe something here will help you, too.
- Try to keep in mind that not everyone likes to talk about IDEAS as much as you do. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” Find your safe-conversation people who are able to see your stronger ideas objectively, no matter what their personal beliefs are. These people are able to offer you safe space to process and challenge your ideas in a loving way, without feeling personally threatened. Save the stuff you really NEED to process for these close friends who understand you.
- Sometimes we still need to have more challenging conversations with people who don’t understand us as well. If someone brings up a topic about which you have strong feelings, you can preface your question or challenging thought with with positive, supportive language that will remind your friend you care about them. Start with simple, familiar, common ground. Tone of voice (not fake, but coming from a caring heart) is everything.
- Sometimes there simply isn’t time for the kind of conversation you desire or the questions you need to ask. If you only have five minutes, it’s okay to say, “I actually have another take on this, but I need to run. I’d love to talk more tomorrow and hear more of your thoughts!” It’s an open invitation to delve in at a time when you both can take the time to listen and care – not just bluntly state opinions.
- If your friend is not open to hearing your differing thoughts, you’ll see it in the way they respond uncomfortably or even decline altogether. You can accept this because it’s not up to you to make someone else ready or comfortable with deeper conversation or alternative perspectives. If they seem uneasy to even broach the subject, take it not as rejection, but DIRECTION: You need to find your safe people and talk to them!
- Accept that emotions and personal experience do play into hard conversations, so it’s not always easy to talk about ideas objectively. Your ideas or thoughts might be triggering a defensive reaction in your friend based on something that hurt them in the past. Sometimes you will get to hear what that is, and this will give you greater compassion and understanding. Other times you won’t know why defensiveness arises and it will really bother you. You can intentionally remind yourself that you are not responsible for another person’s emotions. I struggle when more communication doesn’t fix the problem, but all I can do is let go and pray for the peace that surpasses all understanding.
- Detach from the negative energy. Some of the essential oils I use to help myself detach from the negative emotions of others are White Angelica, Harmony, and Release. I simply put a few drops in my hands, rub together, and inhale deeply from my hands for a few minutes.
- Some people get insecure when faced with a question or idea they’ve never thought of before. One HSP told me this: “If it’s a deep question and someone really wants my opinion, I need to take that question home and stew over it, organize and formulate my thoughts before even voicing my opinion. It flusters me and makes me feel stupid when I don’t have a ready answer. So maybe when others start getting defensive in their responses, they are also feeling this same insecurity and so they perceive the conversation as argumentative.” …That’s not to say it’s your fault that another person is feeling insecure, but the point is that even other HSPs process differently than we do and need more time to think about a topic before they feel comfortable engaging in a conversation about it.
This is why communicating about how we communicate is helpful. One friend and I have talked about how quickly I process many themes, and therefore thoughts come pouring out faster, which can be overwhelming to the listener. If I assume my friend knows all about what I have already processed, it could be taken the wrong way. My friend sometimes just needs more time to mull over something I have already thought about thoroughly. Since we know this about each other, we can be more understanding of our communication needs.
That said, just because some people can’t handle challenging ideas doesn’t mean you shouldn’t express them. Keep pursuing deeper conversation! Find good outlets, those people who don’t see your ideas as oppositional just because they may differ from their own thoughts. It might be a highly sensitive community or just a friend who gets you.
Your depth of processing is valued and needed somewhere, Mighty Sensitive. In fact, before any great change is made in the world, there are always challenging conversations that happen first. So go ahead: Shine your light and speak your mind.