How to Deal With Conflict If You're a Highly Sensitive Person

How to Deal With Conflict If You're a Highly Sensitive Person


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The words "emotional" and "sensitive" are powerful ones. They can be wielded like swords against your character. But if you stop for a minute to think about it, to question the validity of the historical context or the modern-day connotation, it's easier to understand feeling things isn't a fault. "Once I came to terms with my emotions—once I truly realized and internalized their validity, as well as why I had avoided them for so long—they magically lost their control over me," our wellness editor wrote in a recent essay. She continued, "A more recent development in this personal journey is the realization that we are all 'emotional people.' Every single one of us grapples with this beautifully complex, colorful web of feeling day to day, minute to minute, second to second."

It's true. But there are ways to build yourself a box with which to pull from—tools to work through confrontation and conflict when you know your emotions and sensitivities can run high. I reached out to psychotherapist Emily Roberts, MA, LPC, author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girl's Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are, for a few of her thoughts on the matter. Below, she divulges tips on how to better approach these situations. 

1. The Art of Agreeing
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"The idea of agreeing with someone who is pushing your buttons may be maddening, but the thing is, it's effective," suggests Roberts. "It gets them to stop, focus on you, and chill out—diffusing the argument before it becomes a full-blown attack. Try putting yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself why are they acting this way? Even if they're acting irrational, you can understand why they may be feeling this way. Try something like, 'You’re right. That was rude of me,' or 'I can understand why you're upset, that would have made me upset too.'"

2. Express Your Feelings
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"Expressing how you are feeling and what you need can be challenging and awkward—especially with pushy people," notes Roberts. "Before you speak, take a moment to recognize how you are feeling right now. Recognizing how you feel is the first step in logging your emotions, which leads to expressing yourself effectively and confidently."

3. Set the Scene
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"Location is key," says Roberts, "so be mindful of where you want to have this conversation. Confrontation is not likely to have a good outcome if done in the middle of a public space or through text message. The best situations are ones where you have some control. Like when taking a walk outside and talking with them privately. You'll have more confidence when you can speak face-to-face and when you don't feel like an audience is watching. Additionally, timing is everything. If you're in a rush or they are having a bad day, it may be a good idea to find a better time for the conversation."

4. Identify Your Goals
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"In every situation, there is a desired outcome, whether ordering a coffee or trying to say no without starting an argument," says Roberts. "So before you speak, clarify your goal. You may not know exactly what to say or how to say it, but if you know what you want, you can start there. What do you hope to gain from this situation? Are you repairing a relationship after a fight? Consider the outcome when planning what to say."

5. Write the Script
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"Preparation is so important for remaining calm during the confrontation," explains Roberts. "Keep control by expressing yourself in short 'I feel' statements. Show the person you're speaking with that you have feelings, too. As simple as it sounds, hardly anyone does it right. And remember, the more you've prepared, the more confident you will feel. Try not to raise your voice and avoid sarcasm."

6. Don't Be a Doormat
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"Sometimes, if you're over-invested in being 'nice,' you'll feel uncomfortable expressing your needs (and give off insecurity to others)," says Roberts. This is really common among women, as for centuries women have been silenced. It's no wonder women fear negative repercussions if they speak up for themselves. "Remember to be assertive," suggests Roberts.

Next up: How to Say No Without the Guilt, According to a Therapist and Etiquette Coach

This post has been updated by Sarah Yang.