Taking offence

Published Categorized as behaviour management

We can probably nearly all remember a time when we were offended by the actions or words of another but do you remember how you responded? Did you become defensive? Did you go quiet, withdraw and sulk? Did you go and moan about what happened to someone else? Did you ‘attack’ back? Or did you deal with it in an emotionally intelligent way?

When we are offended and we have poor emotional awareness, we tend to respond in an automatic way. That way might be the way we have always responded, depending on any automatic thoughts that were triggered and whether we tend to be an aggressive, passive or passive aggressive person. But the thing is, every time we are offended, I would argue, is an opportunity to learn: to increase our emotional awareness, to learn more about ourselves and to become more intelligent in how we manage situations that trigger our emotions.

Let’s take those things one at a time staring with:

1) To increase our emotional awareness.

Being offended can trigger a strong emotional reaction in us, especially if we are not overly conscious about what’s going on for us. If we set out to really notice when we take offence, instead of moving to our automatic responses, we can pause and employ some curiosity. To know that the same ‘insult’ or ‘affront’ can trigger quite different reactions in different people was what started my curiosity. I wondered how our different personalities, thought tendencies, different levels of self-esteem, ways of interpreting what happened and our behavioural responses, managed to differ so much between people. So I started noticing when I felt offended and decided to avoid the set behaviours and look a bit deeper.

2) To learn more about ourselves.

What we become offended by can teach us about ourselves. Chances are, our ‘sensitivities’ come from an earlier (or early) experience and quite often those sensitivities are not based in reality but come from a distorted self-belief. So if you’re offended by someone dismissing what you said and this taps into a self-belief that  – possibly – people don’t think you’re clever, you’re not important or your ideas are always foolish (for example) then you are likely to default to that belief being triggered. This will then trigger your usual response if you just let the process continue as it has always done.

What you find offensive, often has touched upon a self-belief. If you can bring that self-belief into awareness, you then have the opportunity to challenge it – as chances are it was something you were left with from childhood or from a particularly shameful experience in the past. This can eventually prevent further offence and you’ll start to see that the person doing the offending is either being thoughtless, stressed or generally does not behave well and that what they said was probably nothing to do with you but says loads about them.

3) To become more intelligent in how we manage situations that trigger our emotions.

Once you have 1 and 2 in place, 3 tends to fall into place on its own. However, a further tool you can use is that of reframing. When we are offended, we tend to make the situation all about ourselves. Reframing helps us to think more flexibly about anything that has offended us by challenging how we have interpreted the offence. This can include some thought about what could be going on for the person who offended us: how they are feeling, what their real intention was and whether they have just been thoughtless. Most people hate to think they have offended someone and few people actually set out to deliberately do so unprovoked.

So the following table gives some examples of how we can interpret the same incident quite differently. Children can learn to do this if the adults in their lives learn to model it. So with the process of firstly becoming aware of the offence and then becoming curious about what is happening for you, you can start to decrease the chances of taking genuine offence, which can actually help you challenge other people’s actions in a more measured way.