Ten years ago, I felt offended most of the time. It was horrible: I was miserable and fearful, and it put a strain on my relationships, as my friends and relations struggled to communicate with me without either inducing angry floods of tears or being frozen out and ignored for months.
Looking back on it, I see two reasons I was so easily offended, reflecting how imperfect I was, in both directions. As you know, my definition of perfect is being happy as you are, while constantly striving to improve. In that state, you’ll be the perfect you: secure, fulfilled and robust, not easily offended.
In order to be happy as you are, you have to be who you really are, the true and authentic you. Ten years ago, I still had the vestiges of the self-image I grew up with – God’s gift to a world that desperately needed my help – but it had become clear to me that the world wasn’t seeing me that way. In an attempt to come to terms with this, I had reinvented myself as a victim and started to see myself as an unappreciated, misunderstood martyr.
However much I told myself it was the world’s problem, not mine, and how being a victim preserved my self-esteem (I really was God’s gift, even if nobody wanted it), I was insecure and unhappy. The world owed me an apology and, unless it wised up and gave me the recognition I deserved, I would be forced to retreat from it. I withdrew into my flat, slammed the door and waited… but the world went on turning without me.
Anything short of gushing praise I perceived as an insult. Even gushing praise could sometimes offend me, if it was for the wrong thing. Life was a minefield, for me and for anyone interacting with me.
Being easily offended is both a cause and a symptom of a fragile psyche. Feeling constantly under attack is exhausting and debilitating, which can foster doubt, insecurity and neediness. If you’re racked with doubt, insecurity and neediness, you’re more likely to feel yourself constantly under attack. For me, this became a vicious circle.
How to Be Less Easily Offended
Here are some thoughts to help you take less offence (if any), less often (if ever):
- Work on looking at yourself objectively, so as to have as realistic an image of yourself as possible. If you really know who you are, you’ll automatically be more robust because you won’t be relying on external affirmation for your self-esteem. In his excellent Maximum Confidence, Jack Canfield makes the point that if I say you’re stupid or ugly, you may be offended, whereas if I say you’ve got green hair, you’re unlikely to be. It’s distressing to be told you’re stupid or ugly if you suspect I might be right. Because you know for a fact your hair is not green, my comment doesn’t faze you.
- To a great extent, people will take you at your own valuation. If you’re always telling people you’re rubbish, you run the risk that they’ll believe you. If they reflect that view back to you, you’ll probably be offended, but who put out the disinformation in the first place?
- Before you leap into feeling offended, take a few minutes to consider an alternative interpretation of what’s happened. Maybe that person you waved to didn’t actually see you. Maybe that person who disagreed with you (see below) was not trying to correct you but offering an interesting debate.
- Sometimes people express themselves badly, or lash out when they’re tired or angry. Sometimes people forget things and make mistakes. It doesn’t mean they don’t value you; it simply means they got it wrong this time: look at the big picture.
- People can hold differing views and still respect – even love – each other. Just because someone sees the world differently from you, it doesn’t make them inferior. Equally, just because someone disagrees with you, it doesn’t mean they think you’re inferior.
- Separate what you do from what you are. One of the main reasons I used to be so easily offended was that I was struggling to be perfect, in the sense of flawless and fabulous, and if someone considered I’d made a mistake, that meant I’d failed and therefore wasn’t a worthwhile human being.
- The quicker you are to take offence, the more it impedes communication. If people are always agreeing with you for the sake of peace, how can you learn and grow? Also, unless you can discuss problems, how can you solve them? Something I used to get very upset about was people not remembering what I’d told them. I recently had an enlightening conversation with a friend I’d stopped seeing because she offended me so badly in this way. She told me she’d done her best to retain everything I’d said but she’d just started a new job at that time and had a lot of new information to process and file in her overloaded mind. I could have made allowances for this, if I hadn’t been so self-absorbed, but the big thing she said was that I used to talk far too much; the barrage of talk was overwhelming and she just couldn’t take it all in. If she’d told me this at the time, I would have been offended – yet how easily all the misery could have been avoided, if I had been able to interact with her differently.
Offence Is Not Given, It’s Taken
Believe it or not, you can choose whether or not to take offence. Being easily offended serves no useful purpose; it simply creates stress, for you and for the people you’re forcing to walk on eggshells.
If you expect to be offended, you will be; it’s possible to interpret almost anything as an affront. On the other hand, if you’re secure in who you are and take a more positive view of the world, even direct verbal attacks will be water off a duck’s back.
From this position of strength, you’ll be able to accept constructive criticism and, rather than shrinking into offence, use it to help you improve.