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'Highly-Sensitive' Mom Is Mean to Me

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Black Sheep writes:

My mom and siblings have "self-diagnosed" themselves as Highly-Sensitive People (HSPs), so they expect everyone to treat them as such. And what I mean by treat them as such is that no one is allowed to discuss anything that contradicts their feelings or beliefs, and if anyone does then they get severely punished in passive aggressive ways.

Their favorite punishment is the silent treatment, which can last from days to months. Now that being said, they have no problem being extremely severe and outright mean to other people (my father and myself mostly, as we're not HSP).

Is this a normal trait for those that are HSP? Or is it possible that they are using the term HSP to justify their behavior? I am at my wits end with them and am about ready to cut ties with them altogether, and my dad is in the middle of a very nasty divorce from my mother. Any advice or tips would be really appreciated!

Dear Black Sheep,

No! This is not normal for HSPs! HSPs are more like this article. When people get into conflicts with them, it's usually because the HSPs don't want to hang out as often as others do, because they get easily stressed. HSPs are in fact usually very stressed by confrontation, so they are unlikely to be confrontational, punishing and passive aggressive. It is certainly possible for an HSP to have these traits, but it would speak to a different issue than being highly sensitive.

Your mother and siblings sound more like they have personality-level issues, tendencies toward either Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The mother in this article acts similarly to yours. Individuals with BPD or NPD are frequently passive aggressive, controlling, and rigid in their beliefs. Many, many people (1 in 4) have a serious mental disorder, and this is a lot more likely in the situation you're describing than just high sensitivity.

To learn more about how to deal with your mother and siblings, you can read Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry, Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition, or any of these books. Also, keep in mind that your mother and siblings have allied together just as you have with your dad. Tempers are flaring on all sides because of the stress of the divorce. It would be best to hold off on any major decisions about whether to cut off contact with your mother and siblings until after the divorce. Everyone is acting their worst right now.

It would be a good idea to see a counselor as well, because if your mom is acting this way now, it's likely she was also acting similarly when you were young, and dealing with her shaped your worldview and ability to deal with others. I would not be surprised if you are very conflict avoidant or almost "allergic" to anything that smacks of "drama," from having been manipulated in this way when you were a child. This may impact your ability to assert yourself and to engage in healthy conflict resolution (healthy means neither avoiding conflict entirely, such as by cutting people off, or engaging in dramatic and volatile fights).

Thanks for writing in and giving me a chance to clear the HSP name! And keep me updated with your situation. Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says HSPs Are Not Personality Disordered!

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Pre-order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family.