“We should be too big to take offense and too noble to give it.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
Are you too easily offended?
Here’s a test:
- Do you explode in fits of anger over little things?
- Do others say you make mountains out of mole hills?
- Do you frequently take things the wrong way?
- Do others feel they have to “walk on eggshells” around you?
- Do others consider you “high maintenance”?
If so, your hypersensitivity is robbing you of happiness.
I know it’s much easier for me to tell you to stop taking things so personally than it is to actually stop taking things so personally. Still, there are ways to thicken your skin and enjoy life with more happiness and less contention and hurt feelings.
1: Talk Yourself out of Being Offended
It can be just that simple. In the heat of the moment, try asking yourself these questions: “What am I getting so bent out of shape for? Does this really matter? What’s the big deal?” Reason with yourself: “Did he really mean it the way I was just about to take it? Is he truly actually trying to hurt me? Well, then, what is he really trying to say?”
Tell yourself the person who is the potential offender has as much right to his opinion as you do to yours. Besides, they’re only words. What can words do? They certainly can’t break my bones!
Remember, the reason we usually feel offended is because of the meaning we attach to what is said or done: “That means he really doesn’t care!” “She’s saying I am no good!” “I knew he didn’t really love me!” “She wouldn’t say that if she was …” And so the internal interpretation goes.
So simply reframe it. Talk yourself out of the offense by telling yourself: “This person is simply expressing his opinion, and listen to how interesting it is! I find it so fascinating that someone can have such opinions that are almost the exact opposite of mine!”
You will be happier as you learn to talk yourself out of offense and internalize the sticks-and-stones-may-break-my-bones-but-words-will-never-hurt-me philosophy of communication.
2: Put Yourself in the “Offender’s” Shoes
This will have the added benefit of being less offensive to others, as you learn to be “too noble to give offense.” In any event, if you can slide your feet into their moccasins for a minute, you can learn to see things from the offender’s perspective. And then, just maybe, you will see that you too played a role in the drama. And perhaps you will also come to see that the offender had no such intentions of offending.
3: Assume a Benevolent Motive
Unless proven otherwise (you don’t want to become someone’s dupe), assume the person in question has noble intent. Maybe the language was clumsy, maybe even ill-advised, but assume a good heart. That should take the sting out of the bite and put some happiness back in your day.
So don’t hold on to the words people use to get at the thing they are trying to express. Hear the idea and ignore the clumsiness of the expression.
4: Practice Detachment
Many people are easily offended because they can’t emotionally differentiate between their thoughts and their inner sense of self. When identities are too closely tied to one’s opinions, and those opinions are then disagreed with, many feel like they, themselves, have been rejected, the core of who they are have been shoved away, pushed to a corner and crushed. This, of course, hurts, but is highly inaccurate.
To overcome hypersensitivity, realize that your opinions are not you. And certainly, any given opinion or set of opinions are not the whole of who you are. To the degree you can detach your ideas from your identity, you will live a happy, fulfilling life with little opportunity to feel offended.
5: Learn Humility
A well-known religious leader once said that whenever he hears that he has offended someone, his first response is to stop and think if, in fact, he may have said or done something that could have given the impression of an offense. That, by itself, is a great attitude of humility that would make him almost immune to offense.
But he didn’t stop there. He went on to say that he often found that he had indeed said something that could have been construed as offensive. He would then seek out the offended person and apologize for the misconstrued word or deed. Humility is the friend of inner peace and equanimity. And peace and equanimity are the friends of happiness.
6: Love Truth more than Being Right
If the truth, whoever possesses it, is more valued than the perception that you are the one who knew it first, then opposition to your thoughts and beliefs will be inoffensive no matter how offensive the other person is trying to be. You are not emotionally attached to your position. You only hunger after truth. So opposition to your point of view offers no grounds for offense. You simply want to know the truth, even if you are never the place it originates.
7: Overcome Self-Centeredness
The It’s-All-About-Me mentality is fertile soil for being frequently offended. Every word out of every mouth, every action or inaction, all that is done or undone, all motives and intentions become a reflection on you. That is a HUGE burden to carry.
If everything is reduced to how it affects you, if you reside at the center of everything, no wonder you are so frequently offended! Move away from the center of everyone else’s life. You likely aren’t really there anyway. Nor should you be, in most cases. Allow most of life to be indifferent to you. My bad mood isn’t about you. Your mom’s neglect isn’t even about you either. It’s about her! This way, less in life will offend you and happiness will be much less fleeting too.
Besides, they’re entitled to their opinion. So let them have it … cheerfully!
8: Reserve Judgment
Finish the discussion. Let the talk continue to its natural end. So often we jump to conclusions, assume an ill intent, create meaning to a word that then hurts and offends. Resist that urge and delay judgment until the conversation has run its course. You just may find there is no offense to be had by the time you get to the end.
9: Accept Imperfection
If you expect others to act and speak a certain way, or assume others will be as kind or compassionate as you, if you’re offended when they don’t rise to the level of your expectation, you will almost always be offended or on the verge of it. Instead, allow people to be human. They are, after all.
We all have foibles, idiosyncrasies and personality and character flaws. So do you! Yours just may be different than theirs. So just let it be, shrug and let it slide off your back. Don’t hold on to the imperfections of others so tightly that you strangle yourself in the process! Release! Let go! Breathe. Relax.
Part of accepting others’ imperfections is also learning to forgive them their past mistakes (so the current problem isn’t blown out of proportion as an extension of a previous problem unresolved) and create a sort of Forgiveness Default Setting in your heart that you automatically go to when confronted with offensive language or behavior.
Remember, people are imperfect. You are imperfect. Life is imperfect. And that’s just plain A-Okay! When you can accept their imperfection (and your own!), you will be well on your way to a life of more emotional stability and happiness.
10: Accept Yourself
Learn and grow and improve, of course. But accept where you are along that path. You could hardly be anywhere else, given circumstances, after all. So accept yourself deep inside. Validate your inner being. See yourself as more than your behavior. You are also your potential.
You are of God, after all. None of us live up to expectations. But accept that too, not as an excuse to stop the moral climb, but as an understanding that where you are is fine for now, at this moment. Move from there, but right now, here, you are complete.
This self-acceptance will de-claw others’ ability to offend you. It won’t hurt because your validation doesn’t come from their opinions about you. It comes from within … or from above. People who are internally fragile – no matter how “tough” their exterior – break most easily at the wrong or misplaced word or deed.
So grow your inner self. Become self-accepting. And life will be a more consistently happy place to live.
Many thanks to Ken Wert for this excellent article and his kind permission to reprint it!