I was talking to a friend the other day when a comment he made jumped out at me… “It was over three years ago, but I still feel so offended and hurt”. I saw the pain flash through his eyes and heard the sigh of resignation. He was convinced this wound would never heal.
His offence was over the way he had been treated by a mutual friend. Funny thing was, I had been treated exactly the same way by the very same person and had not found it at all offensive. Now that doesn’t make me the angel and him the devil, as much as I would love the wings and halo! Curiously, within just a few hours I felt myself rile up with offence over an entirely different matter, provoking me to ponder why we feel offended and what we can do to deal with it.
It is easy to feel offended. Even trivial little things like people pushing in front of us in a queue, being excluded from an event or someone turning down our invitation can trigger our offence buttons.
Psychologists call slights or offences ‘narcissistic injuries’ – they are things that bruise our egos or make us feel belittled. Ultimately, all types of slights boil down to the same basic feeling of being devalued or disrespected.
While offences may seem trivial, they can also be very damaging. This is particularly true when we allow them to play on our minds and open up wounds in our hearts that are difficult to heal. These wounds can breed bitterness and destroy relationships.
So what can we do to reduce our vulnerability to feeling offended?
People like my friend feel liketheir offence has a hold of them and there is no way out. The truth is, we actually get to choose whether or not to be offended based on the meaning we give the event.
Often offences stem from a mis-reading or a mis-meaning of a situation. If someone ignores you and you feel offended, it could just be that you’re personalising the situation. Perhaps they were just in a rush, or didn’t even see you. Nothing has meaning except for the meaning you give it. You get to tell yourself whatever story you want about how the other person treated you. Whatever story you choose will determine whether or not you feel offended by their behaviour. This is how my friend and I managed to experience exactly the same event so very differently.
Other people offend us when their behaviour crosses our internal rules. Our moment of offence provides an opportunity for us to explore what rules have been crossed. We can then evaluate whether those rules are working for us.
People who cross our rules frequently don’t have a clue that they have done so. They are not intentionally trying to disrespect us. They are simply ignorant. When we politely communicate our rules to other people they will be more likely to respect them.
Most of the time, other people’s behaviour is driven by their own needs and circumstances. Rarely do people intentionally seek to hurt or offend others. Even if someone is being purposefully rude or disrespectful to you, there could be reasons: perhaps they feel threatened or hurt by you, or maybe they are jealous of you. They may be under incredible stress or pressure and are unaware of how their behaviour is affecting you.
When we feel hurt we seem to default to the ‘why’ question. Asking why often produces low quality answers and frequently causes us to assign a motive to the other person’s behaviour. This judgment fuels our mind’s obsession about how evil the other person is.
Examples of higher quality questions are:
It often seems that offence comes from others, but ultimately, we are the ones who allow ourselves to feel slighted. We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we do get to choose what meaning we will give it and how we will respond. No one has the power to offend you without your permission… no matter how hard they try.
What are your thoughts on dealing with offence? Share them or ask a question in the comments section below and I will reply.