Being offended is very popular right now. If a person can claim to have been offended, they feel justified in all kinds of attitudes and actions, from arrogant impatience to self-righteous black listing. Trying to talk to someone who is determined to be offended is like walking over a rope bridge when you know someone is at the other end, arbitrarily deciding when to snip the connection. I think a person can learn to be happily unoffended.
Now, we all know that there are people who are mean or manipulative, but there seems to be a trend these days to categorize nearly every misunderstanding or disagreement as abusive. And proceed to be offended. People appear to have forgotten, or willingly disregard, the fact that communication is a complicated process. It is obfuscated by differences in word choice and habits of intonation. It is rendered blurry by individual experiences and expectations that affect perceptions and comfort levels. It is hindered when people are tired or lazy or preoccupied. Communication can be aided or impeded by talking. There can be better or worse times and situations to attempt to communicate. But one way or another, everyone is social in their own way and must deal with these issues. Deciding to be offended along the way is rather like presuming to dictate how everyone else should act to make you feel comfortable.
How does being offended differ from being insulted or actually harmed? This should explain it at least part way: You can be insulted or physically hurt, but still choose not to be offended. That is, you have the control about whether or not to cling to resentment or hurt feelings based on what is done. It is a lot like being bitter or the more old-fashioned phrase of “holding a grudge.” This doesn’t mean you can’t recall that someone cannot be trusted. And it doesn’t mean that things can’t make you mad. You can be angry if someone steals your car or tells lies about you. Anger is a natural emotion. It doesn’t have to be based on fact to be felt. If someone tells you that your neighbor is throwing rocks over the fence at your dog, you might feel angry … until you find out that the person who told you lied because he wanted you to be mad at your neighbor to affect another decision. Regardless, if you let your anger fester, you might end up unnecessarily damaging relationships.
So, what can you do? How can you train yourself to think and respond so as to avoid both the ongoing discomfort of being offended and the mess that other people create with all their offendedness? Because it is going to happen. People are going to do and say things that bother you; and people are going to be offended at you no matter how nice you try to be.
1. Don’t confuse disagreement with insult. Why does a different point of view have to be something that you resent? There may be cause for concern about how it will impact decisions. There may come a time to take action if the disagreement impacts your life, but such action should be based on facts, not feelings.
2. Don’t look to others for your sense of validation. So someone else doesn’t like your political views or how you educate your children. So what? Why does it threaten you that they make other choices? Now, if they want to force you to follow their choices, that’s another matter, but if they just want to make their own, they should be allowed as adults to do so.
3. Don’t take it personally when broad observations are made. If someone talks about nurses who intentionally hurt patients, I ( an RN) don’t take offense and say, “you shouldn’t talk about nurses that way! I am one and nurses are good.” Rather, I take the point of view that either some nurses are not nice people and/or there may be horrible flaws in the medical delivery system that leave patients very vulnerable to such abuse from nurses. Similarly, if some people revile my beliefs about God, I recognize that many people misrepresent the truth about God and there may be some basis for their observations, but it doesn’t mean anything real about me. If some people just think it is stupid that anyone believes in God, that is their choice. Me being offended by their accusations is worthless in furthering any meaningful communication. They already think I’m stupid. I think that will get cleared up one day.
4. Don’t be bothered when others are better than you at things. Once, someone was wondering if I could watch their couple of children, but was seemingly feeling guilty for leaving them with me. In an attempt to put this person at ease, I pointed out that I had 7 children and a couple more was going to be pretty easy. Instead of taking this at face value, and according to the situation at hand, the person decided I was bragging about being able to take care of many children. I later found out they were quite offended. That’s like being mad because you are hiring a builder who can supply great credentials and show you his work.
5. Don’t expect other people to have all your same values and priorities. My husband likes to watch “weird” shows about aliens invading the world. I think these shows are “gross” and “a waste of time.” He thinks they are diverting and a fun way to relax. There is really nothing I can say to convince him to come over to my way of thinking, so I don’t try. On the other hand, he frequently takes me out dancing, which I know is considered a taboo by other people. Only I can’t see anything wrong with it and have great fun doing it.
6. Don’t try to control others. My “favorite” topic in this category is how everyone thinks everyone else should dress. You know, to be normal. Like there is such a thing as normal. Or sometimes they say, it should be “acceptable” or “decent.” Because everyone agrees on that. I may think what someone else wears is “unattractive” or “unsuitable” for the situation, but obviously they don’t. If they blip on my radar, that is all it is, because whether I think they look silly or beautiful (and possibly threatening) is a matter of opinion. If I can’t get past how they look, what kind of a person does that make me?
7. Don’t expect everyone to have the same idea about what constitutes being rude or intrusive. What one person thinks is friendly conversation and getting to know someone, another person may not be used to talking about. People can’t read your mind. If we have to make sure we have exact pre-approval for everything said, who is going to venture out first? It’s a stalemate. If someone is “invading your space” in a way that makes you uncomfortable, it may be a good time to evaluate how you define your space. If you need to communicate about it, try to do it in a way that doesn’t presume to accuse them of things they never meant. On the other hand, maybe you can learn to interact with them in ways you haven’t done before and discover new levels of friendship. It has happened to me.
8. Don’t expect everyone to give you their undivided attention. Or even certain amounts of attention. Except possibly your mother. 🙂 Really, though, it is hard to explain this time phenomena and how everyone divides it up and uses it. There is only so much of it and everyone is trying to make the best of the journey. Enjoy when they are with you. Reach out when you can.
9. Realize it’s not everyone else’s job to make you feel comfortable. What!? That’s right. You are not king or queen of the universe.
10. Don’t focus on other people’s perceived imperfections. Maybe they’ll overlook yours, too. Everyone should be less irritated and offended this way.
11. Realize that what other people say often has a lot more to do with them than with you. It’s not even that they are being selfish. It’s that they are trapped inside their own heads. They can’t get out and things are bound to come from that perspective.
It can be tempting to feel offended. The sensation is so self-satisfying and tends to block out all your own flaws. And there are so many opportunities for it! But while it masquerades as valid, it is really just a facade to avoid getting along when it really is in your power to do so. Maybe it would be good to go ahead and problem solve, discuss things that need to be discussed, or just let the unimportant details slide by? Letting yourself continue to “feel offended” makes it harder to be truly happy.