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Something We Learned Without Being Taught...

Author: Radonda Rowton, MAC, LPC

Have you ever noticed that no one had to teach us how to be offended? Offense is something that at one time or another shows up without invitation or study.

All it takes is a hot minute of scrolling through social media or a rather intense conversation or hearing that someone said something about us that was not appreciated. Offense is that ugly emotional monster that rears its ugly head and causes us to wonder what we did to deserve such treatment. Offense is been the cause of many breaches in relationships and it has the power to destroy all the peace of mind cells that we have in our proverbial emotional immune system.


We get offended by a roll of the eye or a shake of the head or when we are ignored, picked on, talked about, not talked about, or taken for granted. You know what I am talking about…those times when someone cuts us off on the road, jumps in front of us at the market, doesn’t say thank you when we think they should. We get offended by feeling that we do all the work yet get overlooked for the credit, friends who don’t invite us to parties, neighbors who don’t reciprocate acts of kindness.


Now, others might say being offended is nothing more than a collection of pet peeves—all those little annoyances that get under our skin.  And that may be true.  Of course, seeing as how the skin is the largest organ in the body, that is a lot of room for these “pet peeves” to get into our system and thrive. We need to be careful of infection. We all wrestle with healthy, productive responses when others do not think like us, act us like us, or feel as passionate as we do about something. Whatever the case may be, perceived or actual harm, what can we do?


Well, let’s start with what causes people to take offense. Researchers have defined offense as a feeling that is “triggered by a blow to a person’s honor” because it contradicts a person’s self-concept and identity.


Wolfgang Zander defined the feeling of offense as progressing through three phases:

· The offended person identifies the cause of the offense and works to develop some sort of interpretation.

· The offended person attempts to determine the intensity of the feeling of the offense which is based on one’s belief of self and whether the offender holds those same beliefs.

· The offended person has some sort of reaction to the offense that could be based on several factors. Notice that a person has already chosen to take offense when s/he begins to go through these phases.


Big question here. What factors determine the intensity of the offensive feeling? There are several, but for the sake of time, I have narrowed down a few suggestions:


Insecurities - One of the most common reasons people take offense is insecurity. Insecurities are based on one’s self-concept, ideas and feelings about self. When the self-concept is challenged, one will question perceptions of self and insecurities ensue. The goal becomes finding a way to rectify the words spoken or actions taken with the self-concept. If rectification does not take place, the feeling of offense can be an effect.


Significance of Relationship - The significance of the offender and the role in the life of the offended can impact the intensity of the feeling of offense. For example, if a boss says something contrary to the self-concept and belief of the offended, the intensity of the feeling of offense may be greater than if an unknown coworker would make the same comment. A person’s level of authority and honor in another person’s life could also impact the intensity of the feeling. This may provide an explanation as to why some may not take offense or take less offense to comments or behaviors made by people whom we see as equals, friends.


Interpersonal Assertiveness - Researchers define interpersonal assertiveness as the extent to which people choose to advocate for themselves and their needs even when others do not necessarily agree. This is a particularly tricky endeavor. A person must learn to balance between being too forward in articulating needs and not being forward enough in articulation. For people who are not used to advocating for their own needs or ideas, this task can seem daunting. Instead of sharing desires, people can shrink back. This in turn, causes one to be frustrated and possibly take offense when another, who is strongly assertive, takes charge.


Previous Experiences - This may be the primary reason people take offense. Our experiences shape our psychosocial development. What we know is that people learn from their own experiences and watching the experiences of others. Our experiences condition us to think and respond in ways we may not realize. For example, if we have had negative previous experiences with a person, we may tend to interpret all interaction with that person as negative.


So, what can we do when we find ourselves offended? Well, here are three steps that may help.


Step #1: Don’t Be Offended by Anything You Can’t Change

Let’s face facts. We are not helping others or ourselves one bit by being offended. And yet, we often mistake our indignation for action, thinking that our being offended makes us more empathetic and caring, as if being upset by people who do not use their turn signals make us pillars of the community. In other words, we try to justify being offended.

Being offended without acting does nothing to make the world a better place. It only raises our blood pressure and makes us agitated. If we are really offended by something, we should do something about it. Talk to the person who offended you, deal with the issue, elicit change.


Step #2:  Stop Looking for Things to Be Offended By

When it comes to offense, perspective is key. Instead of always being the victim and looking for what someone is “doing to us,” we can start looking for all the things someone is “doing for us.” We could thank the slow driver ahead of us for making us stop rushing. We could thank the texting driver for showing us the need to put our cell phones down, or the negativity dwellers for making us appreciate our positive attitudes, or the guy who is always giving us grief for causing us to consider how we treat others. In fact, we could thank all those individuals who offend us for making us stronger, happier and more content. Do this and the things that once irritated us, will now become our teachers and guiding us toward more inner peace. Again, it is all a matter of perspective.


Step #3:  Give Others the Space to Be Themselves

I know this is a lot to think about, but the reality is simple: most people aren’t out to get us. They’re not doing things to make us miserable and ruin our day. They’re doing it because they’re living their own life experiences. Yes, that sometimes means they may be inconsiderate, annoying, and not living up to our high expectations. But guess what? We are not always living up to other people’s expectations. I’ve certainly offended my share of people. I’ve rolled my eyes, said things I wish I hadn’t, been inconsiderate, unconscious and annoying. And while I’m not proud of it, I do know that I’m a better person today than I was yesterday, in the same way that the person who offended you today may be a better person tomorrow. The fact is, we all need space to be ourselves—to have good days and bad days, and to not always be at our best. We need the space to change, grow, and evolve, and to do it on our own time. And here’s the bonus: the more space we give for others to be themselves, the more space they may make for us.


That’s it…just 3 small steps to cure what ails you. Of course, the truth is it’s probably not going to be that simple. If you really want to get past what offends you, you may need to practice these steps for the rest of your life. But remember, that is a small price to pay for the freedom to live every moment with the knowledge that your days of being chronically offended are now days filled with more peace and joy.

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