What offends us reveals more about us than it says about the offender. Why? Because we take offense when something that matters to us is disrespected, ridiculed, or dismissed. The offender might be unaware that they rubbed us the wrong way.

Insults, overcoming insults, Garland McWatters quote

Our feelings get hurt.

When offended, we typically react indignantly. “How dare you,” we lash out, returning the insult, perhaps even louder and with greater intensity. We even have one or more physical sensations of anger that go along with the indignation–a form of anger.

Whatever we say or do, we feel justified in our actions at that moment.

We call people who are easily offended, thin-skinned, because it doesn’t take much to get under their skin.

Just as each of us is motivated by different things, we also are offended by different things.

Time to take a look within.

In most cases we learn to be offended.


When offended, we have the opportunity to stop and ask, “Why did that provoke me? Am I making more of this than I should?”

There are several categories of offensive culprits, to which we all have been programmed to react.

Beliefs and values are challenged or ridiculed.

We are born a blank slate as it pertains to beliefs and values. We adopt the beliefs and values imprinted on us throughout our upbringing, usually from parents and authority figures we seek to please. We also tend to adopt their responses, because we saw how they acted, and heard what they said when their belief system was called into question.

Therefore, we react similarly, unless we challenge the underlying belief or value. When we shift our beliefs and values away from what was originally imprinted, we risk offending those from whom we learned them.

The inertia to remain status quo is strong. Escaping the pull of those beliefs and values takes a lot of emotional energy and psychological capital.

Most don’t rise above them.

Those who do come to their individual conclusions about their beliefs while still respecting the beliefs and values they left behind, are on a path to self-discovery and maturity.

Our sense of what is proper, mannerly, or appropriate is irked.

This also is learned.

It’s very easy to offend someone by just acting yourself. Banned in Boston, but it plays in Peoria. Highbrow versus lowbrow. Animal House manners won’t cut it at the country club. Snob or vulgar depends on one’s perspective.

This is often the territory of cultural diversity workshops. It’s just as important to learn what others regard as offensive as it is to let it go when others unwittingly offend you. They might not know better, and there probably is no reason why they should know.

This also is the realm of political correctness, which has fallen on hard times lately. The idea is to go the extra mile to be sensitive to the sensibilities of others. Maybe we do try too hard sometime, but I’m glad we are trying.

To blow off other’s feelings by saying, “Toughen up,” doesn’t solve the larger problems. Even if that’s what you really believe, try a little kindness and empathy. Try to understand why a particular act, phrase, slogan, euphemism, logo, or cartoon is so upsetting. You might also get some clues why you, too, get so upset by similar affronts to your sensibilities.

If you know who you are, and if you are comfortable enough in your own skin to let unintended slights pass–again, maturity and self-knowledge–then you feel more INPowered to overlook the offensive acts.

Direct insults or ridicule are aimed at us individually or at family or friends.

When someone is intentionally and maliciously insulting you, it is difficult to hold back. But there is a story behind their anger.

If you can remain quiet and still, you will hear the story.

When you bear the onslaught of their verbal abuse and vituperation, you learn that you can hold back when you would rather match them insult for insult. You grow.

The best way to put out a fire is to deprive it of fuel.

When you stand and take the heat, they will burn out. Then, when you offer your empathetic response and lead them down the cool path of reasoned and non-judgmental conversation about their story, you douse them with the cool and refreshing waters of compassionate understanding.

You can stand firm in your impenetrable fortress of self-respect, because you don’t need their respect to prove yourself.

Your ability to forgive flows from your ability to understand the source of the offender’s motivation and not feel like you have to correct them.

When you know your own triggers and can avoid reacting to them,
others will see you as strong,
self-assured, and
Garland McWatters, leadership development, leadership training, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Oklahoma

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