When it comes to real estate, it’s all about location. And when it comes to relationships, it’s all about communication. If you’re in a relationship with a Highly Sensitive Person, you probably know the importance of communication. But you may not realize that there are things you should never say to an HSP.

Challenges and benefits of communicating with an HSP

If anyone knows the exhaustion that comes from noticing and processing every little detail, it’s an HSP. So we sensitives aren’t insensitive to the challenges faced by our non-HSP friends and love interests when communicating with us.

When emotions take over

HSPs can, for example, become reactive during arguments, causing their cognitive centers to surrender to their emotions. 

They’ll pick up on things you may say that you should never say to an HSP. And they will be quick to recognize any effort on your part to deflect, or avoid.

When this happens, it becomes difficult to take in and process new information — even for a brain that is always processing. Overstimulation is then a short step to shutdown.

Thinking too long before talking

Keep in mind that HSPs are deep thinkers. They analyze, ruminate, contemplate, hypothesize, and double-check their work. And that’s before presenting their opening arguments.

So they may sit on thoughts and feelings in the quietness of their churning minds long before sharing them.

Environmental hazards

They’re also very sensitive to their surroundings. All their surroundings. Is the room hot/cold? Too dark/too bright? Are the kids fed and chores done? Are phones ringing, music playing, TVs on? 

And, are they hungry, tired, agitated, anxious, depressed?

Are HSPs psychic, or what?

Finally, they will be busy picking up on your body language and mood.

This empathic ability to read others is a pillar characteristic of the HSP trait. And, although it may register as irritating in a heated conversation, it comes with great benefits, especially relationally.

On the negative side, the non-HSP may feel as if the HSP is “reading into everything.” That deep breath you just took? That quick glance at the clock? Your toe-tapping and fidgeting?

Yeah, the HSP is going to notice. And those “interruptions” will become their own issues, separate from the one you’re supposedly discussing.

On the more positive side, the non-HSP can be reasonably assured that the HSP is paying attention and deeply cares. (Yes, that may mean noticing things in you that you don’t even notice in yourself.)

This means HSPs are exceptional listeners. They understand intuitively that active listening means paying attention to all that is being communicated: verbal and non-verbal.

(Is it any wonder that counseling/psychotherapy is one of the best and most natural career paths for HSPs?)

And isn’t that the crux of what we all want in communication: to be acknowledged, heard, and taken seriously?

Let’s take that effect of awareness one step further.  You can be assured that the HSP will be responsive to any positive effort on your part to communicate effectively.

In this way, the qualities of high sensitivity, when put to the test in conflict, can actually be individually and mutually beneficial. They can inspire self-awareness, personal growth, and deeper connection.

10 things you should never say to an HSP

It goes without saying that no relationship is a one-way street. So, whether you’re in a relationship of two HSPs or a “one-and-one,” both parties have to do their part.

One way you can make inevitable moments of disagreement less threatening is to avoid saying the following things to an HSP.

  1. You’re so sensitive!

    Of all the things you should never say to an HSP, this one goes right to the heart. It identifies the defining characteristic of the sensitive person, but with disapproval.

    If you say this during an argument, you might as well say, “I don’t love this about you.” And that, to the HSP, will be the equivalent of saying, “I don’t love you.

    If you aren’t also highly sensitive, you may not get how someone can notice and feel every little thing.

    But your role in the relationship isn’t to change the HSP into a version of you (won’t happen, anyway). It’s to seek to understand and better know – and, in doing so, better love – the other person.

    Doing so is an act of love, respect, and appreciation. It’s also the precursor to better communication in the future.

  1. Don’t cryyy!

    You may have to remind yourself that your HSP’s brain is actually different from the brains of less sensitive people.

    HSPs are wired for bigger, deeper emotional responses, thanks to specific genes, neurotransmitters, and greater activation in certain brain regions.

    The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), for example, regulates emotional vividness. That is, how HSPs feel emotions on the inside in relation to external stimulation. And the insula runs interference for body awareness and emotional awareness.

    There’s a lot going on inside the HSP brain, especially during moments of heightened stress, conflict, and/or emotionality.

    Tears are just an expression, a spilling over, of all that internal processing. I call the tears an example of “too muchness”.

    Instead of being critical of your HSP’s crying, consider that emotional tears actually serve a therapeutic role. They contain stress hormones, as well as natural pain killers that help the crying person feel better.

    Tears are also an expression of vulnerability. Think of them as an invitation to be more empathetic and compassionate.

  1. Calm down.

    As one of the things you shouldn’t say to a Highly Sensitive Person, “calm down” is up there with “you’re too sensitive.”

    Think about the message you’re delivering: “There’s a right and wrong level of intensity, and I’m the one who decides what’s too much.”

    “Calm” isn’t an objective behavior you can mandate, let alone when someone is already overstimulated. Telling an HSP to “calm down” will only come across as bossy and dismissive of her anxiety.

    By taking stock of your own energy and its projection, you can help inspire emotional safety and calmness in the HSP. You will also open yourself to hearing with your heart, which is the beginning of resolution.

  1. Stop taking things so personally.
    To an HSP, things are personal. You can’t spend that much time processing stimuli and feeling other people’s feelings without leaving a personal stamp on your thoughts.

    Add in the fact that HSPs tend to be people-pleasers. They spend their lives feeling like outsiders, so feeling needed provides its own nourishment, even if to the HSPs’ detriment.

    “Stop taking things so personally” comes across as both a judgment and a mandate. “It doesn’t bother me. It shouldn’t bother you. Stop feeling this way.”

    It does nothing to express a desire to understand, let alone empathize and help the healing begin.

  1. You’re overthinking things.

    Prefixes that express excess or deficit — over-, under-, hyper-, hypo- — imply “not normal.” And most HSPs have spent their lives hearing, in one way or another, that they’re “not normal.”

    Keep in mind that “over” is a relative term. It assumes a threshold, a norm, against which everything else is gauged.

    When you tell an HSP, “You’re overthinking,” you also deliver the unspoken message that you are that threshold. “I’m normal, you’re not.”

    If you’re going to be in a relationship with a Highly Sensitive Person, you have to accept the inherent underpinning of the trait. And depth of processing — thinking, thinking, and more thinking — is right at the top.

    But it doesn’t have to be a negative, even in the context of a disagreement.

    What you perceive as overthinking is really the HSP processing incoming and long-stored details in order to clarify, understand, resolve, and grow.

    Choose to see the commitment and genuineness inherent in all that thinking. This is someone willing to put in the time and effort to make your relationship the best it can be.

  1. You’re overreacting.
    If you want to stoke a fire, tell an HSP she’s overreacting. With one word you will accomplish judgment, superiority, belittlement, control, dismissal, resentment, and deep wounding.

    By now you’ve probably noticed that all these things you shouldn’t say to an HSP are judgmental. In one way or another, they all imply that one person is the gold standard and the other is flawed. And people with high sensitivity are not flawed.

    Accusing an HSP of overreacting will only serve to escalate an already tense situation. It could also cause a flood of resentment that won’t go away anytime soon.

  1. It’s not a big deal.

    Yeah, it is a big deal. If either one of you thinks something is a big deal, it’s a big deal.

    Don’t forget that your HSP takes in everything. Senses everything. Feels everything. Intuits everything. Processes everything.

    Imagine if you were left alone to do all the dishes after a Thanksgiving dinner for 30 while everyone else watched football. That’s kind of what it’s like for sensitive souls in an often less-than-sensitive world.

    It’s easy for someone with lots of filters to consciously and unconsciously discard inconvenient or undesirable information. But you can’t tell your HSP “it’s not a big deal” if you’re not the one in the kitchen washing the dishes.

  1. Lighten up.

    Translation: “You’re too emotional. You take things too seriously. You worry too much. Don’t let stuff bother you. Don’t think about it. Don’t. Be. You.”

    As I mentioned above, HSPs are pre-wired for bigger, deeper emotional responses to the world. Those who aren’t highly sensitive may never have that kind of emotional experience, so they can’t relate.

    It’s understandable that a non-HSP could feel uncomfortable when witnessing an HSP’s emotional experience. Whether it manifests as crying or long periods of quiet reflection, that depth of emotion can be perplexing to witness.

    However, the solution is never to condemn another person’s emotional experience or response. When you say, “Lighten up,” you’re really saying, “This isn’t important. And your response is excessive for the issue at hand.”

    The solution, as always, is to seek to understand and be compassionate. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

    You never know what else may be going on beneath the emotions you’re witnessing. And, if you reject the HSP’s emotions and own perceptions of them, you may worsen an already unbearable emotion.

  1. Toughen up.

    Lighten up? Toughen up? What’s a sensitive person to do?

    Trust me, you stand to gain more than you suffer by embracing the tender heart of the HSP.

    Yes, high sensitivity, like all temperaments, behaviors, and habits, has to be managed for the HSP’s well-being and ability to thrive.

    However, managing the trait doesn’t mean trying to eradicate it.

    One of the four pillars of high sensitivity is empathy, or emotional responsiveness. And, while you may get tired of your HSP trying to save the world, remember this: That deeply connecting, empathic heart that feels everyone else’s pain…also feels yours.

    Wouldn’t it be a beautiful balance of gifts if you used your own “toughness” to protect your HSP’s tender heart? The insensitive world takes a toll on the sensitive. How wonderful it would be to know s/he has a safe refuge at home.

  1. Is it that time of the month?

    Please never say this to an HSP . When thrown into an argument as a way of seeking justification for a woman’s emotions, it’s insulting, if not misogynistic. Just. Don’t.

A better way of relating

By now you may have noticed that all these things you should never say to an HSP aren’t limited to high sensitivity.

Truth be told, any one of the listed comments is likely to be antagonistic in any conversation or argument.

Sometimes it helps to pause and remind yourself (and one another) of your reasons for and goals for the relationship. After all, they can be easy to lose sight of with differences in needs, wants, personalities, and histories.

That reminder makes it easier to accept responsibility for your own stuff by growing in self-awareness and more loving behavior. 

It also helps you to be more accepting — and forgiving — of the other person.

While HSPs are no more or less responsible for the success of their relationships, they are undeniably present to them.

And they make other people in relationship with them take notice of more than they once did.

Call it change, growth, or what you will. But that, in the language of high sensitivity, is life in technicolor.

To read more about Highly Sensitive People, check out more blogs here.

Dr. Elayne Daniels is an anti-diet, Intuitive Eating-certified psychologist, consultant, coach, and author specializing in eating disorders. She is passionate about helping people, especially HSPs, of all ages and genders recover and truly live their lives.