Are you tired of feeling offended and let down by the actions and words of others? In this episode, we go to the heart of the matter – understanding the root cause of feeling offended and the impact it has on our sense of security in relationships. There’s a fine line between feeling offended and feeling harmed. Once you recognize this, you’re halfway there. We’ll guide you on the path to distinguishing these feelings and establishing healthy boundaries that reinforce your inherent worth. Get tips on letting go of offense for the sake of your own freedom and peace. You’ll also find out how understanding your own history and insecurities can help you manage these feelings, and how a strong self-esteem can act as your best defense. Listen in, as we guide you on the path to taking back control, building resilience, and staying confident and joyful.
Mentioned in the episode:
– Understanding the purpose of being offended and its impact on our thoughts, bodies, and relationships.
– Exploring the influences of past experiences on feelings of offense and automated protective responses.
– Practical strategies to break free from the chains of offense and choose how to react to others’ inappropriate words or actions.
– Importance of recognizing your own worth and value and choosing not to be offended during hurtful moments.
– The freedom that comes with letting go of offense and becoming less easily offended. – Recognizing the different levels of hurt we experience, ranging from being offended to physical or moral injury to abuse.
– How to restore our internal personal safety and feel secure within ourselves.
– Practical tips to manage and respond to feelings of offense, and find freedom from unnecessary suffering.
I absolutely love to hear your thoughts and get your questions.
You can email me at: Leighagermann@gmail.com
I can’t wait to hear from you!
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We have another question and answer episode, which are really, really fun to be able to hear what kinds of things you’re interested in talking about and hopefully be able to address them. So today we have a question that I want to tackle and it’s kind of a sensitive one, as they usually are. So here’s the question. I’ve been listening to your podcast and working on staying calm and working through the safe process and being more compassionate to myself, but I keep getting stuck and feeling bad when other people say or do something that’s insensitive or rude. My biggest problem is my mother-in-law, but sometimes I have this happen with my friends. They say things that really offend me. I don’t like the feeling. It makes me either want to be rude back or just cut them out of my life. This seems to be happening more and more and I just feel like I can’t really risk opening up to people like I used to. I don’t want to feel this way. Can you help? Well, thank you so much for this question. I think it really takes a lot of trust and vulnerability to look at these deep feelings, and I also think this isn’t unusual at all. It’s something I hear all the time.
Quite frankly, and to some level, I think all of us know what it feels like to feel offended. So when I get a question about being offended, it usually comes out like this how do I stop people from hurting my feelings? And the answer seems like it’s going to be external. What can I do to get these people to stop? And the answer is actually just the opposite. It really has very little to do with other people, which is the bad news and the good news, because if the answer lies in getting people to change, then it’s going to be difficult. We’re in trouble, because how much control do we really have over others? Well, very little. But if the answer lies more in your power, then that’s something we’re going to be more successful with.
So, to begin this process, I think we really need to ask ourselves if we’re ready to be done with being offended, because it’s going to take a little bit of work and a lot of self-awareness and a willingness to look at it just a little bit differently, because being offended serves a purpose. Like everything we think and feel and do, there is some purpose that is being served, and I’m not saying that being offended is the best way to achieve our purpose, but it certainly is doing something for you, and our job is to figure that out and make sure that whatever is happening through being offended or not being offended whatever is happening is truly in our best interest. For example, think of the last time you got offended. For just a second, scan your mind for a time when you felt that offended feeling, that little bit of shock or outrage or that little feeling that makes us want to say, hmm, and kind of pull back, get defensive and well, be offended. For me, I remember a time this probably not the last time I got offended, but it happened a while ago. It’s the first thing that comes to mind and I remember distinctly a time when I felt offended and it came from an interaction with someone that I greatly love and it came unexpectedly and I have felt this offended feeling the moment that she said something.
So the backstory to this is that years ago, when my kids were little, I had a couple of months, like a season of time, where I was really sick. I think I’ve mentioned it in an earlier podcast, but I had this weird anemia that required me to take several months and just cut everything back and recover, and it was one of the hardest things, the hardest times in my life. We had to find rides and carpools for the kids and people brought us meals and I stopped all of my volunteer work and my husband really had to step in and help with the basic tasks around the house. And if you know me, you can imagine how devastating this was for me. And it happened during the fall, right as the holidays were coming and it was like the busiest time of the year and I had to sit back and do almost nothing. It was super hard for me and because of this situation, my husband talked me into eating Thanksgiving dinner out at a restaurant and I absolutely hated the idea. I was so against it. I love the holidays. I love big meals and people coming to our home and all the little details, and instead we made a reservation at a restaurant downtown and had Thanksgiving dinner and it was okay. I mean, the kids thought it was really fun and I kind of went along with it, but it was super hard for me. I felt so sad, like it was the culmination of weeks of not being able to run my life or do what I most loved, and it just kind of felt like a punishment to me and I know that’s there. It is that kind of drama, but I’m giving you a glimpse into how it felt for me and how I was thinking about it. And, by the way, I don’t have judgment about others going to a restaurant for Thanksgiving, so if that’s you, don’t take offense please. None is intended. I just was really sad about this. It didn’t feel like I had much control.
Fast forward a couple of years and we’re on the phone, my husband and I, with a very beloved friend who was asking us about our holiday plans and she had known about this period of time in my life where I kind of had to put everything on hold. And now this is years, a couple of years later, and she asked what I was doing for Thanksgiving. And when I told her I’d be making a big turkey for Thanksgiving again this year, she paused and sounded kind of surprised. Oh really, I thought you guys always went out for Thanksgiving dinner because you don’t love cooking the turkey, and in that moment I felt absolutely offended. Wait what? No, I always cook the turkey. I’ve been cooking the turkey every year for 30 years. Oh, oh really, I just remembered that you guys like to go out. No, we don’t. I hate going out. Why would you think that?
Well, and I didn’t say all that out loud, I said all that in my mind in this kind of really shocked, panicky, kind of upset way, and my husband could see the look on my face because we were on the phone together, and so he spoke up kind of quickly and explained no, no, that was just one time when Lee was sick and she loves Thanksgiving, we’re doing a big turkey this year. But it bothered me. And then, a few years later, we had another conversation and she said it again. For some reason she has in her mind that I don’t like to host or cook or heck. Maybe she thinks I don’t even like Thanksgiving, I don’t know. But I felt maligned, I felt misunderstood, I felt insulted and every time I tried to correct it it only made it worse.
Now I prefaced this story by saying that being offended serves a purpose for us, right, and my being offended in this circumstance was what I think, as I’ve thought about it. A lot was an automated, protective response because something I cared about my image, my role, my identity as a Thanksgiving-loving turkey cooking homemaker who loves family and making memories and all of that. All of that got criticized, at least that’s what it felt like in my mind. Because if you knew this woman who kept saying that I didn’t like to cook turkeys, you would know she had no intention I believe, zero intention of criticizing me or hurting me, and I know this isn’t always the case. Sometimes people do seem to have an intention to try to get us riled up or criticize us, but intention to harm is not required to feel offended. We just have to have the thought of it, the story about it, in our head and bam, we feel offended Because we’re trying to protect ourselves, shield ourselves, make ourselves feel safer, actually in a very unhelpful way, because I think we all have seen and know that being offended can do some terrible damage and mostly to us.
I’ve seen people who felt offended by someone leave their church, leave their workplace, leave their friends and even leave their family. In our marriages we get offended Very often, actually, is what I’m finding as a therapist, and we make assumptions that someone said or did something, or did not say or do something that they should or shouldn’t have done, and we feel it that deep hurt, the insult, the outrage, and it affects us, our relationship and it can build up walls. So what does it mean when you feel offended? What does it do to you and what does it do to your body and what does it do to your thinking and what does it do to your relationships? How does it affect you in your life? Does it help you feel powerful? Does it protect you? I’m going to suggest that it doesn’t.
From personal experience, I’ve felt that feeling of being offended never seems to serve me well. Actually, I think it does the opposite, and I’m going to try to convince you of this only because I want you to be free of the suffering that comes with being offended. And I hesitated taking on this question because I worried about offending someone, which is to say that I worried that I would say something that might be interpreted as an intention to hurt you or judge you, and that is definitely not my intention. I want you to feel powerful, I want you to feel at peace, I want you to feel like you have a choice in how you feel and definitely a choice in how you behave in your relationships. So let’s break it down what happens when we get offended? In the dictionary, being offended is defined as resentful or annoyed, typically as a result of a perceived insult, and the keyword in this definition, I think, is perceived, because perceived points us back to the core, foundational understanding of how our mind works.
If you remember our episode on internal and external worlds, you’ll remember that everything that happens in our external world all around us what people say and do, the weather, all of our circumstances they are all happening outside of us and we have this imaginary line between us and all of that where our internal world starts and that’s where we make sense of what we see and experience. Take the rain as an example. Rain happens and we have a thought about it, several thoughts, in fact. You could say that we tell ourselves a story about the rain. Lately, austin, where I live, has been in a drought and it rained last week. My internal interpretation of that was thank heavens, the best news ever. We need rain so badly. I actually did a happy dance, called my kids, sent up a prayer of gratitude. A great happy story about the rain. A couple of years ago it threatened to rain on the day of my daughter’s wedding. Totally different story Rain, bad, no good, go away. Totally different feeling about the rain.
So that day, on the phone with my family member and the whole talk about the turkey, my story, my interpretation of what she was saying was so negative, so full of hurt, and here are some of what I was thinking how could she think I wouldn’t want to cook a turkey? Did she even know me? This isn’t me. I’m so insulted. What else doesn’t she think I care about? I don’t know if that was the exact story because it was a while ago, but even as I tell it, I can feel how important it is to me to be seen as a woman who cares about Thanksgiving. Why, I don’t know. Well, yeah, yes, I do know. It links to my values. I care about family and tradition and warmth and sacrifice, and I’ve sacrificed for years and in fact that’s why I was so sick because I sacrificed my way right into a medical condition and I got zero credit for that. I can feel the outrage building right now when I listen to that story.
Ever get insulted, offended, outraged when you slave over a meal and no one comments or says thank you. Or when you try really hard to find the perfect gift and you don’t get acknowledged. Or you suggest to your husband to take his fish oil and he refuses, and then his buddy says to take it and he does and you’re like, wait what? You listen to him and not to me. Well, the list can go on. In fact, here’s some things I gathered from my client stories, my stories and a couple of studies done in the psychological journals documenting things we get offended by.
In general. We get offended by people being late, people always trying to be early, people asking me if I will be on time, being falsely accused of something, not receiving credit for something, someone asking if they can help me when they’re at my home for dinner, someone not asking me if they can help me when they’re at my home for dinner. When someone calls me honey or friend who doesn’t know me well, being told to calm down. When someone comments on my clothing. When someone doesn’t comment on my clothing or my haircut. When drivers don’t follow the speed limit, slow down at a yellow light, speed up at a yellow light or don’t put on their blinker. When people put ketchup on the food I make for them. When someone interrupts me. When someone gives her opinion without me asking for it. When someone directly makes fun of me. When someone indirectly makes fun of me, when someone tells me I’m doing it wrong. When someone takes something from me without asking. When someone doesn’t offer to share what they have. These are just a few.
As I looked at this list, I was really struck by how much an internal story could really make or break qualifying to be offended. I mean, I can totally relate to the one about putting ketchup on food I prepared, especially if I worked really hard on a marinade or seasoning, like, hey, just try it first before you cover it in ketchup, right, but do you hear my story? And there’s a story behind calling me honey or friend. Don’t think you can earn the right to call me an endearment when you don’t know me and I haven’t granted you that privilege. Or the story could go man, I just love the south, where people call you honey or friend without even knowing you. It’s just so wonderful and warm Like these stories come from somewhere. They come from our history, from things that have happened to us.
I’ve worked with people who’ve been really mistreated in their lives and been spoken to, maybe in a condescending manner, by people who hurt them. If they get called honey by someone they don’t know, that could trigger a feeling or a memory of that feeling of disrespect. You could get offended by being called that endearment if you have a story in your mind that makes that endearment disrespectful Yep, even if the person didn’t mean it disrespectfully. So how do we deal with that? That’s kind of a simpler one, right? Maybe we just notice and it’s not a big deal. We can let it go. But let’s make it a little bit harder. What if it’s your mother-in-law and she comes to visit and she starts cleaning your house and you’ve already cleaned it actually and there she is cleaning your house. She’s cleaned it actually and there she is cleaning away. Could I have a story about what her cleaning means, especially that her cleaning is an insult?
Well, my sweet mother-in-law used to come and visit and several times she noticed something that I missed in my kitchen. She’s probably the sweetest mother-in-law in the world and I say that with full conviction, partly because she truly has been an angel in my life. I know I’m very lucky, very blessed but also it’s because I’ve done the work to allow that feeling to happen. I’ve made room for her to be herself, have her own ways and not have to meet all of my internal expectations. So we’ve both done work on this relationship and because, like any human being, I have my own vulnerabilities, my own past hurts and my own insecurities and this is what’s really beneath being offended. And my vulnerability showed up a couple of times with my mother-in-law when she used to come to visit, especially when my children were small.
I would race around the house in preparation, cleaning, organizing, making things look well let’s be honest making things look like they didn’t normally look. Normally my house wasn’t all perfectly picked up and everything in its place, and how could it be? I had five kids, husband who traveled, life was crazy. But when company came, I tried to make it look like it didn’t normally look. Do you ever do that?
I think most people understand what that feeling is like. They want their home to be welcoming and beautiful when people come to visit, and there’s nothing wrong with that, I think, inherently. I just want to point out that what’s really going on inside of me is that I was working off an expectation of how things should be, and this is how human brains work. It can really help us sometimes. It’s good to have expectations. We have visions and goals, things we look for. I kind of want you to do that sometimes, but we need to be aware that the expectation is there, it’s there, you created it, you’re working off it and it’s yours.
So the big key here is that your expectation, my expectation. It has ripples, expectations for others and how they should respond to our expectations, and we start making assumptions about all of this. So when I clean and beautify my home for a visit, I’m also if I’m going to be truthful, I’m expecting something from my visitor. It’s kind of a gift to them, my cleaning, or so I tell myself, and my expectation is that they’ll appreciate it or, at the very least, they’ll behave in a way that matches my expectation. So we’re kind of opening up the hood here and looking at things we don’t usually think consciously about. We operate on assumptions of what we want, our expectations, and then we assume that it’s right and we assume others should behave in some kind of way that honors those things.
So this is me getting ready for my mother and LaDucum and visit, and I remember one specific time when she came, we were having a wonderful time. She’s always very helpful and complimentary and of course she has her way of doing things and I have my way of doing things and she prioritizes things and I prioritize things and all of that is OK. We’re going to be able to do that, that is OK. But then she pulled out a frying pan to make some breakfast and stopped and looked at it for a minute. Oh Lee, honey, you need a new pan. And I felt that feeling, that little bit of insult, offended feeling, because I covered all the bases, I cleaned, organized everything, but dang it, I missed the pan. And that was my story. You guys, that wasn’t her. The truth is that she loves me and a pan has nothing to do with it and my pan needed replacing. I’m not great at noticing that kind of thing.
She actually ended up bringing me a new pan home During her visit. She stopped by the store and bought one and gave it to me as a gift and I had to grapple with my story in my head. Was I going to be offended or be OK with it and maybe even take it as a very innocent comment and an innocent gift? Over the years I’ve learned to work with my story and in fact, my mother-in-law has bought me several pans over the years because she cares about that, and now I kind of look forward to getting a new pan when she comes. It hasn’t really been every time, honestly, but a couple of times she has replaced something that she saw that looked a little worn out, and I’ve learned to let it go. I’ve learned to see it as even kind of endearing. Okay, let’s make it even a little harder, a little trickier.
What if you have a family member or close friend who flat out tells you you’re doing it wrong that’s not how they would do it or criticizes you indirectly or passively, or passive, aggressively, or even flat out aggressively to your face. What then? Well, what’s happening in your story? It’s so easy to feel defensive when arrows are coming our way. Get our shields up, get our swords out and feel like we have to do something about it. And really, what is it that we have to do? That’s what we want to ask ourselves.
Being offended can simply become an indicator light that tells us something does not feel good to me right now In the examples I just gave you. I think the work to do is on my side of the line, inside my story. Is this something that I need to take offense to Because that is my choice? And I think we have the same question we ask. Even when what feels like the behavior or the action is bigger and seems more obviously intended to harm us, we still have to ask the question is this something that really really is offending me, and is it possible I can push past being offended, push through it and address whatever needs to be addressing? Remember, you get to control what you think about what people say or do. If they criticize you, you don’t have to buy into it. It’s their opinion, not your truth, and I’m not suggesting that the answer to all of this is that we just keep changing our stories to be pleasers.
The goal of not being offended is not to be the ultimate peacemaker although I think playing the role of peacemaker at times is a very good thing but I don’t think that’s the goal of not being offended. The goal of releasing offense and becoming offense-proof is to protect your life, to take away your suffering, to simplify and make more room for positivity and to take your power back. Because in my Thanksgiving turkey story, who was getting hurt? I was. I was suffering. I still feel a little pain of not being seen and known and that bothers me. And then it swirls inside of me and, if I let it, it could hurt my relationship with this person that I love and adore and in fact it’s because I love and adore her that makes me so sensitive to what she says, thinks and does, and that’s all in me and what I care about.
A really interesting research paper studied what happens when people get offended and brings to light a lot of what goes on. They describe being offended as, quote a blow to our image and our self-image by someone we care about or that we care how they think of us. This triggers emotions of anger, disappointment, bitterness, rancor toward the other and often causes the break of the relationship and lowers your self-esteem. People may show two reactions to feeling offended a proud reaction, where one rejects the negative evaluation with anger and indignation, considering the criticism unjust and possibly breaking the relationship, and the other is a hang dog reaction, where one takes part of the responsibility for the offense and feels sadness, guilt, even fear, further lowering their self-esteem. What they found in this research study was that the higher your self-esteem, the less offended you got, and actually the more your esteem increased, and that the lower your self-esteem, the more easily offended people became. So high self-esteem protects against being offended, and when we put that into our language that we use here, what that means is being connected to your essential self, knowing that you are a whole, you are valuable, that you have wisdom and that that is untouchable. That’s the esteem that we’re looking for. The more you’re connected to that, the less offended you will become.
Low self-esteem predicts getting offended, which is so true for me. If I’m disconnected from myself and my sense of being okay inside, then I’m so much more sensitive to others’ treatment of me. In fact, I often find myself kind of looking for the negatives in what people are saying, because I’m already there in all of my own negative thinking. So we filter for the negative and I’m suggesting that we can flip that filter and have more room within us to work through all of this and that’s our responsibility rather than waiting for the change in someone else in order to feel better. Because that’s what we’re training for here. We’re training to be resilient, we’re training to listen to our wisdom, we’re training to be strong and powerful within our own sense of regulating our emotions and making our own decisions and creating a world that we can live in peaceably, within our own hearts. These are the things that women say they really, really want. I want to feel at peace, I want to feel safe, I want to be loved, I want to be accepted, I want to feel like I’m enough. And then someone comes along and does something or says something or doesn’t do something and we get offended. And what if people just didn’t have that kind of control over us?
Over the years, I have learned to be so much more offense-proof. I’m learning to notice, when I get offended, what it feels like, and catching it early and going inside instead of outside to deal with it, to work with it, because I get to decide what I think about things. I know it doesn’t always feel that way, but it’s absolutely true. Even if someone purposely throws an insult at me, I get to choose what to do with it. I can take it in, I can let it go deep, I can let it mean something about me and maybe even let it make me question what I know about myself. Or I can let it hit and bounce to the ground and it might sting a bit, it might surprise me, I might need to take a breath, I might need to do some inner work around it and make a decision. But if I can see what’s happening, if I can know that I have a choice, I can go back to my foundational knowledge that I’m okay inside, no matter what anyone else thinks or says or does, then I’m on my way to getting that bulletproof, offense-proof skin that’s going to protect me in such a stronger and more reliable way.
So what I think we should ask ourselves do I want to be offended or not? Can I just let this be something that doesn’t have to be personal? Could I choose to not be offended? And if I’m not offended, what would I be instead? Could I just be disappointed, maybe a little confused? Could I feel grateful? I mean, how many times have you not been invited to something that you’re kind of glad you’re not invited to, but you’re also offended that you weren’t invited? Like, what is it that makes us offended? I should have been, I should have been invited, and then we make it mean something, something really negative. And there’s the story again we put this rule on it and then we make it mean something. And I’m suggesting that we stop making it mean those things.
If you have a woman at your church that comes up to you and feels to you like they’re saying snarky things to you, what does that mean about you? So I had a client where this was happening. This was happening with a woman at her church, where she went to church and the woman kept coming up to her and dropping these what felt like to my client insults. And so one day we were talking about this again and I finally just said you know, what does it mean about you? Just because she says those snarky things, does that mean that they’re true? And she answered well, no, of course not. That’s what makes me so mad, because she shouldn’t say those things. Okay, I get that, but why be offended? The bottom line is, if someone comes up and tells you that you’re not smart, pretty lovable, capable, good enough, it’s your job to decide whether those things are true or not. So I’m not saying that you have to love every behavior.
If you have a mom that comes to your house and tells you that you’re doing everything wrong. What does this say about you and what does it say about your mother? I can’t tell you how many conversations I have with women, helping them come to some workable relationship with their mother or their mother-in-law, who comes into their home and visits or has phone calls or any interaction, and they feel like their moms are just doing it wrong. And my clients want me to help them set boundaries so these women don’t come into their lives anymore, and that’s an option. We have the option of setting a boundary and saying you don’t have access to me, I’m not letting you come around, you can’t see your grandchildren, you can’t talk to your son, you can’t talk to me, and sometimes very rarely, I would add, that is the right thing to do, but most of the time that is a very big and harsh solution that has some permanent ramifications, and so then we start to look at how to tell their mother-in-law or mother to do something different, which, of course, you know what happens the moment we try to do that their mother-in-law or mother gets offended, and sometimes I’m talking to mothers and mother-in-laws who are trying to get their daughters and daughter-in-laws to be better according to their idea of what that’s supposed to look like.
Right, and that’s all coming from our insecurities and I’m not using the word insecurity to be offensive. See the trap we can fall into. I don’t mean it in a horrible way. I just mean that we have places in our lives that don’t feel secure. I’ve got them, you’ve got them, you’ve got them that have them, that just mean our tender spots.
So what if we just looked at our tender spots and said why does this bother me so much? How does it bother me so much that I don’t get invited? Why does it bother me so much the way that lady talks to me? Why does it bother me so much that my mother-in-law comes in and makes suggestions, or wants to clean my bathrooms, or just sits there and holds the baby and doesn’t help, or looks at my husband when she’s talking, or compares me to her daughters or tells me outright that I’m doing it wrong? Why does it bother me so much?
And you’re going to have an answer and it’s going to come from the things that matter to you and the things that you value, and I’m perfectly fine with us going to that place and trying to figure out why we feel so hurt by these things, because our goal is not for you to be somebody’s victim and just let go of the offense and then sit there suffering. My goal is for you to not suffer. Then we comfort ourselves and attend to the pain that we’re feeling inside and go back to what we know is true that we are okay, that we’re whole, we’re valuable, we’re wise because I know I harp on that a lot, I know we’ve done several episodes on it and I’m telling you right now we’re going to do more on the same topic, because it’s the core, foundational place of safety for all of us and it doesn’t matter what anybody says to you. It can’t change those things. That’s your home base, and when you and I feel threatened and we’re not feeling secure, we need to go back to our home base, where we know that truth, and it has nothing to do with anything the person has said or not said to us.
This is our first step, and the hard part of this is when we have experiences that don’t match our expectations and it’s a drawing and it’s upsetting, because that’s how we’re wired we measure everything to see if it’s going to match our expectation. So what if you started to just expect your mother-in-law or that friend or someone to come and be a little bit of a bull in a china shop and say some things that you would never say and imagine yourself being unaffected by it. Is that possible? I think it is, and why would we do something like that? So that we can make it easier for the people to say hurtful things? Nope, the purpose is that we’re free from the control of other people’s moods, comments and actions. And once we realize that we are free from the control of other people’s comments and moods, we kind of downshift into a different kind of emotion. We’re moving out of offended, where we just have this insult and the story. We’re so stuck in that and we start to look at what is it that I really do need to address here? Do I need to set a boundary? Can I just let it go? Now?
I want to pause here and make some distinctions, because I’m a therapist who works with a lot of people with hurt feelings, moral injuries, even abuse, and I think it’s helpful to separate out some terms so we can get a picture of what to do when we feel insulted or offended and how to kind of triage it. You know, if I were an accident victim coming into the ER, the medical team would triage it, put a patient through an examination to determine the seriousness of the injuries. Is this a splinter, a sprain, a broken bone or a life-threatening heart attack? How you triage something determines what action you’re going to take based upon how threatening this is to your life. And I’m suggesting we can triage offenses.
Let’s start with the dictionary definition, once again being offended, resentful or annoyed as a result of a perceived insult. Now let’s ramp that up one level the definition of harm Physical injury, moral injury, something evil or wrong. Now let’s ramp it up to the definition of abuse To treat a person with cruelty or violence, especially repeatedly. Okay, here are three levels of hurt we experience, and in the literature and the psychological journals they’re triaged in order of intensity of injury. Being offended is the low man on the totem pole, but I also think we feel offended when we are experiencing abuse.
The feelings of outrage and being wronged are part of the same protection system. So maybe this is helpful for us to recognize that we have this kind of alarm system, the smoke alarm, let’s say, and it can go off when we have a huge fire and it can get set off when we blow out a candle or cook some bacon in the kitchen. I mean, we’re learning to understand and work with our minds and bodies and though we’re complex, we’re also kind of very simple. We have one system that does a lot of things and our job is to understand the feelings we’re having and let them point at what is happening and then decide what to do. So there will be times that I get offended by someone looking at me funny or a small comment.
Also times where I’m offended by someone physically trying to do harm to me or to someone I love, and I think this requires different responses and it’s helpful for me to make a distinction between them, because I’m learning to not be bothered so much by people’s comments and I’m also learning to set some basic safety boundaries and hold to them, which means sometimes I let things go that are really not harmful to me, like someone’s opinion, and not let things go when I think that something is becoming unsafe. So safety is a big helper in deciding, and I think we can restore our own internal personal safety by going back to what we know about being whole and valuable. That’s our work to do, no matter what someone says about our turkey or our frying pan or our clothing choices, being invited and not invited, the way people drive or how they choose to vote all of that they’re just not threatening to our wholeness or our value. They don’t have to impact how we feel about ourselves. In contrast, if your physical or emotional safety is being threatened, then you have to do something about it and set a boundary. Maybe it’s just to have a simple conversation, but maybe you have to put limits on the relationship You’re acting, on your need to be safe and holding a boundary In this situation. You have to work with the external problem.
Okay, let’s review some steps to not being offended. Number one look at your expectations and notice what your shoulds are. What is the thing that you think should have happened or shouldn’t have happened, and notice that that’s affecting you. Number two establish your safety. Do a safety triage. This will help you decide if you really need to do something about this and take it head on and have a conversation or set a boundary, or whether the work to do is on your side of the line in your story. Number three determine to take your power back. Your power lies within you, not external to you.
We choose to be offended. This is a hard statement to hear, especially when we feel so hurt, when we feel insulted, when we’re having that story in our mind. It feels offensive to hear that we are the ones choosing to be offended, but it is true. When someone does something or says something, it’s not the thing that makes us feel that way, it’s what we think about the thing that makes us feel that way. And this is where we actually get to decide to be offended or not. If you believe a negative comment that someone says to you, then it’s going to hurt, and if you don’t believe it, then it won’t. In fact, I often find myself thinking I wonder what’s going on in their mind and heart that they would say that I don’t think this is about me.
Number four what do you really need and what can help you get it? So I want you to consider how being offended helps you or doesn’t help you. Asking what you really need is going to help you get focused on solving the problem from your side, and it’s going to be tempting to say I need them to do something different, but I really want you to be thinking about that reassurance that you need within yourself that you’re okay, so that we take the power back, we take that sting out of what somebody’s saying and we kind of pull back into where we’re safe and we settle ourselves down and then you can decide what you are going to do about that. But we’ve got to meet that need of restoring your safety by your own hand so you can feel secure and make that decision. Number five once you’re kind of feeling safer, you can consider if there’s anything you can learn from this situation or from this person. Sometimes, when we’re feeling insecure, it’s hard to hear a suggestion or a request or a criticism. But once we’re secure, those comments don’t have the same power to hurt us. There might be something that we can take as constructive, as helpful, and be able to see through that pain that’s now being soothed, to be able to learn something from the situation.
Number six practice assuming the best. You know, it’s that assumption, ability to make assumptions, that gets us into trouble with being offended. We assume the worst, we assume malintent, we assume that someone meant to insult us and I think that when we’re feeling a little more emotionally safe, once we get connected to ourselves, it’s much easier to assume something positive. You know. Assume the store clerk, your friend, your spouse, your mother-in-law, that they might have had a rough day, that they might not be at their best. Assume that there’s nothing wrong with you, so they might be struggling. In other words, where you can give the benefit of the doubt. I often think about how much I want someone to give me the benefit of the doubt, and this is a great opportunity for us to elevate how we look at things and how we interact with each other, so that we can start to rise above this giving offense and taking offense. Surprisingly, I find I have so much more compassion when I drop the offense and start to make different assumptions and that negative spiral actually turns into a positive one.
And I think there’s some wisdom in saying that we can take a higher road. And what does that really mean? You know, when I actually looked up the definition of taking the higher road and this is what it says to take a more honorable or ethical course of action. Why would we get on a higher road? Like it could seem like it’s because you know somebody says that take the higher road. You know, don’t be offended, you do the work. And sometimes it could feel like we’re letting someone off the hook. But I think we take the higher road because that’s the road we wanna travel on. That’s where you wanna go, that’s where I wanna be is up on that road, on that road that is taking me where I wanna go, instead of keeping me stuck in the mud feeling awful and taking offense.
So drop the struggle and walk away. Set a boundary. If you have to Be generous wherever you can, prioritize the big picture. Let’s look at feeling offended as a messenger, learn from it and then let it go and get our power back. What proof do we need that we’re okay? As long as we look for that truth externally, we will be susceptible to being offended, but when we understand that we’re already okay inside, we don’t have to prove it. People don’t have to acknowledge it and you don’t have to defend it. I know this is hard. I want people to see me and love me, but when they don’t, can I be okay? And the answer is yes. So let’s pick our battles wisely.
Don’t wait for your mother-in-law to change to find some measure of peace or gratitude or appreciation in your relationship with her. Don’t wait for your friend to change before you feel peace. You don’t have to be the closest. You don’t have to tell them your deepest and most tender thoughts and feelings If you don’t feel completely safe in doing so. You don’t even have to trust them, but you also don’t have to let their struggles hurt you.
Ultimately, this is what happens when we’re successful at letting go of offense, it’s easier to be in the world. People can be imperfect and make mistakes and be opinionated and maybe even a little bit bossy, and it doesn’t affect our happiness because it’s not about you. And when you feel that safety within you, you will feel freedom Freedom to navigate whatever the situation is and be more at peace. So I thank you for this very tender question. It’s a good reminder for me. I have to remind myself frequently, reset my thinking, remember where my choices lie, and I’ll probably have to keep practicing this forever. Since I felt more safe inside, I find that less and less I get offended, and I hope the same will happen for you too. Thank you for spending time with me today and I look forward to seeing you next week. Take care.
The Leadership Parenting Podcast is for general information purposes only. It is not therapy and should not take the place of meeting with a qualified mental health professional. The information on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition, illness or disease. It’s also not intended to be legal medical or therapeutic advice. Please consult your doctor or mental health professional for your individual circumstances. Thanks again, and take care.