Taking offense at even minor things is a phenomenon that has been growing steadily 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-aggressions all serve to reward people for taking offense at minor issues.
In today's social media world fueled by likes and shares, portraying oneself as a victim who has been offended is a way to gain attention, sympathy and support. It also serves to reinforce the belief that their experience was profoundly harmful. By speaking out about the offense they feel vindicated.
How it affects mental health
Taking offense at what someone else says or does is a choice. It can have profound effects on your mental well-being and sense of self worth. This tendency to take offense 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 and being offended shows serious hypersensitivity and very low self-esteem. By constantly putting yourself in the position of feeling offended, you may start to create a 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 serves to increase the discomfort and fear.
How do you stop?
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 and about minor issues, you begin to lose the ability to identify if the individual is meaning to be offensive.
- Understand that offense does not equal harm: Harm is a physical (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: Take some time to analyze 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 that you are hypersensitive to an issue, you can make the choice to NOT take offense and 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 is a battle!