Even though this post is focused on what you should avoid saying to an HSP, it also makes a point on what to say or do in place of these thoughtless comments. Communicating with a highly sensitive person takes a lighter touch, gentler words, and love.
Also please understand that most of the guidance mentioned here applies to anyone and everyone. Being upset about anything, whether you understand it or not, deserves a little bit of kindness and compassion. I know it can be hard to muster up in a heated situation, but take a break and walk away if you need to, until you’re ready to be more receptive to the situation.
Highly sensitive people are just that – sensitive. We don’t need to be reminded of our sensitivity because we already know who we are, how we react to out environment, people, and to most situations. For some reason, though, being highly sensitive carries a negative connotation.
In fact, I often find myself feeling grateful for my high sensitivity.
Please know that being highly sensitive is an innate trait – were born this way. High sensitivity is not a choice. We can’t just turn it on and off, so when you you approach how to communicate with a highly sensitive person (HSP), consider doing it with extra care and consideration for our feelings. We will do the same in return.
Unfortunately, we HSPs still seem to hear the same insensitive things from people in our lives, over and over. Here are some of my personal favorites that I really don’t want to hear from anyone in times of turmoil.
9 Things to Avoid Saying to an HSP
1. “You’re so sensitive.”
This is never helpful, and is just telling me what I already know, but in a derogatory way, as if being sensitive is a bad thing. It’s not, and it’s a huge part of who I am as a person. I am sensitive. It’s how I navigate the world. If you want to help, then acknowledge my feelings as being valid, listen, and consider lending me a shoulder to cry on.
2. “I know how you feel.”
One person can never fully experience another person’s feelings. It’s just not possible. We are all wired differently, and although you may have been in a similar situation or can empathize, you can never know exactly how I feel. The great thing is that I don’t need you to know how it feels, I just want you to understand that I need you right now.
3. “You’re overreacting.”
Highly sensitive people have a difficult time controlling their emotions, so it feels like you’re pointing out our failure when you tell us that we’re overreacting. And, honestly, overreacting is relative. What’s overreacting to you is nothing more than a normal reaction to me. If you want me to relax and open up, then comfort me and provide a safe space.
4. “It’s not that big a deal.”
This is definitely something you should avoid saying to an HSP because, by definition, I am naturally going to respond to certain situations and things more intensely than you. It IS a big deal to me, and if you can see or hear that it’s important to me, then you should respond accordingly and try to avoid invalidating my feelings.
5. “Roll with the punches.”
There are many variations to this one, like “get over it”, “suck it up” and “toughen up”. You’re conveying that you think I’m weak, just because I don’t accept things and move on as quickly as you do. Some days, I truly wish I could, but that’s not how I function. It naturally takes me longer to process feelings and information, so you’ll have to wait.
6. “I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d get upset.”
This one really gets under my skin because it happens to me A LOT, and it implies that because of my sensitivity, you have decided that I’m too weak or sensitive to handle the truth. This is insulting and unfair, and unfortunately, may result in a loss of trust in you. I may not handle the news or situation how you think I should, but that’s irrelevant. You’re either honest or you’re not. There is no in between.
7. “Calm down.”
If you’ve ever been told to calm down, then you know that it’s not only unhelpful, but it makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong. I’m already upset, and by saying this, you’ve just made me feel worse. Instead, try helping me to calm down by putting your arms around me, holding my hand, or sitting with me until I’m ready to talk.
8. “Don’t cry.”
Just like you, I cry to process my emotions (even the happy ones). Just because we don’t cry about the same things doesn’t make either one of our reactions any more or less valid than the other. I admit, I do cry a lot, but that’s the only way I know how to get it out of my system, so I can move through the healing process. It’s who I am and how I work things out.
9. “Grow up.”
Having emotions has nothing to do with one’s maturity level. If I were screaming at the top of my lungs and throwing things like a five year old, then sure. You, however, are insulting and belittling my character to dismiss me – and that is blatantly disrespectful and childish. Being an adult means we respect and listen to one another, so let’s do that.
Understanding Highly Sensitive People
These are some of the top things to avoid saying to an HSP, because most of these comments come from a lack of understanding how a highly sensitive person processes stimuli. HSPs are reasonable people, even though it may not always feel that way to others.
Use your empathy and imagine yourself in our place. Imagine a time when you cried, felt discourage or deeply upset, regardless of the reason. What did you need from your friends or family in that moment? What would have helped to comfort you?
What you should say to a highly sensitive friend or family member in need:
- “I don’t like seeing you upset. What can I do to help?”
- “I don’t understand, but I want to, and am ready to listen.”
- “I love and care about you, so I’m here for you if you need me.”
As HSPs, we react strongly to most things that happen in our lives, and in the face of that, we hope you can lend an ear, and have some patience and understanding with us. If you can’t, then give us both the time we need to think about things and regroup, so we can approach each other when we’re both in a better place for a calm and thoughtful discussion.