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Being Offended is a Choice

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March 18, 2022

Taking offense is a phenomenon that has seen steady growth over the last several decades.  Rather than expecting people to learn how to deal with minor conflicts and differences of opinions, our culture began rewarding this hypersensitivity.  Trigger warnings, safe spaces and the use of the term micro-aggression, all serve to reward people for taking offense over the small stuff.  

In today's social media world, fueled by likes and shares, adopting the role of victim is a way to gain attention, sympathy and support.  It also serves to reinforce the belief that their personal take on the experience was profoundly harmful.  By speaking out about the offense, they feel vindicated.

Taking offense at what someone else says or does is a choice.  It can have wide-ranging effects on your mental well-being and sense of self-worth. This tendency toward hair-trigger indignation by some can also lead to conflict with others. Or worse yet — it can lead to others walking on eggshells around the person who takes offense.  

Always taking things personally, living a perpetually offended existence shows serious hypersensitivity and very low self-esteem. By measuring all your experiences by the level of umbrage you take, you may give rise to a chronic sense of paranoia about how others view you.

It indicates a high level of self-absorption to hear what someone says and immediately assume they are being offensive to you.  

Choosing to take offense is deliberately labeling oneself as a victim. Unfortunately, our current culture reveres victims — even those who are victimizing themselves. But taking offense at minor issues actually serves to make the sensitivity to issues much worse. Avoiding that which makes us uncomfortable or fearful only ratchets up the discomfort and fear, sometimes to intolerable levels.

So if you are someone who does take offense often how do you stop?  There are several actions you can take to realign your sensitivity.

Don't assume negative intent:  Give people the benefit of the doubt. When you have trained yourself to take offense often, over minor issues, you begin to lose the ability to identify if the individual intends to be offensive.

Understand that offense does not equal harm.  Harm is a physical circumstance (i.e being hit) or has real-world effects (i.e. losing a job).  The phrase "sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me" should become your new mantra.  

Think about why you are upset:  Pause to ponder what about the exchange made you feel upset.  Time and thought can give you the perspective you need to understand why you reacted by taking offense.  

Change your personal expectations:  Other people are not mind-readers.  If you become upset about something they have said, understand that they most likely do not feel what they said was offensive.  

Don't assume it is about you: Self-absorption causes people to assume everything is about them.  Practice blocking this thought pattern.  Unless the speaker directly states they are talking about you, it is most likely not directed your way.

Discuss it or let it go:  If you truly feel what was said was a deliberate attempt to offend you — address it with the individual.  However, as it is more likely the problem stems from your hypersensitivity, you can make the choice to NOT take offense and simply let it go.

Remember, there is no legal right to never be offended. Choosing to take offense hurts you, as well as others who will walk on eggshells around you, or just start to avoid you outright. Picking your battles is very important — and not everything needs a battle!  -30-

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