“Everyone is offended by everything these days!”
“People are so sensitive these days! They need to toughen up!”
“I was only joking! Why can no one take a joke anymore?!”
Those phrases are quite popular….you’ve either heard people say it, or you’ve said it yourself, or other similar variations. For some reason, this is such a controversial subject these days. Whichever person you are, it’s worth discussing.
Let’s unpack this.
The first definition that came up when I googled “offended” was “feeling or expressing hurt, indignation, or irritation because of a perceived wrong or insult.” When someone tells us we hurt or offended them, we don’t get to tell them that we didn’t. It is THEIR feelings and THEIR experience. By saying they are being too sensitive or that isn’t their reality, that is an example of gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and abuse where someone intentionally twists someone else’s perception of reality for their own gain. So in this case, that person that is telling you that you are too sensitive, they are trying to change your mind for YOU to be the problem in that situation, not them. Their gain is that they are not the bad guy, and you are. If they are the good guy, then they don’t have to take a look at themselves and admit they made a mistake. For them, it is easier to blame someone else, make you feel crummy, and go on their merry way like that conversation never happened. Yet, you are left with all these hurt and shameful feelings, and even questioning yourself sometimes too.
Common phrases people have when someone tells them they were offended by their words or actions:
“It was just a joke.”
“Back in my day…”
“Yea well life’s not fair, not everyone will like you…”
“Man, nobody can say anything these days without someone getting offended.”
The amount of memes I see online making fun of people being offended is cruel. Now, let me be clear, I can appreciate a funny meme (I even post them every Friday on my business social media pages). But some of those “memes” are perpetuating the abusers, discounting the pain of others, and spreading the message that it is totally acceptable to hurt other people's feelings.
Just because we say something one way, doesn’t mean that person took it and understood it the way we intended too. Everyone is different and everyone perceives things differently. A conversation is how someone perceived what you said, not your intention. Asking people to take something the way WE meant it and not the way THEY experienced it, is like asking them to be a mind reader. Being open and listening to the other person will allow time for clarification on both sides.
Here are some helpful tips to help you reflect on your own feelings and behaviors:
If we are thinking they are being too sensitive, that might be your first clue that it might not be the best idea to say it.
Be more curious than judgmental.
Questions we can ask ourselves: I’m wondering what about that is offensive? I wonder what their experience is for them to feel this way? I’m wondering if they’d be open to telling me? I’m wondering if I’m at a place where I can listen without judgment and possibly learn from my mistakes?
“People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” -Brene Brown
Put your pride aside.
This could be one of the more difficult ones to do. This is because many times it can be hard to admit when we are wrong or when we hurt someone. Sometimes it could be easier to play dumb or point the blame onto someone else. This will take more work, for some, but it can be done. This skill comes with lots of honesty. Being truly honest with yourself will allow you to grow as a human being.
Reflect on why.
We learn and grow by reflecting. Ask yourself why do I feel this strong urge to not give this person compassion? Is it possibly that you weren’t allotted the same compassion for things that offended/hurt you? Was it because no one gave you grace for your thoughts and feelings? Are you projecting your feelings onto this person?
It’s not about being right.
The conversation isn’t about being right or wrong. It’s about feelings. Feelings aren’t right or wrong, that’s why they are feelings. Imagine if someone told you…You shouldn’t be sad that person died, you weren’t even close to them!
Have some empathy/sympathy.
Empathy means being able to put yourself in someone’s shoes. Sympathy is acknowledging another person’s hardships. If we aren’t capable of having empathy towards someone yet, the least we can have is sympathy for them.
Over the last couple of years, this has been a controversial topic. I’m not sure how or why it turned into such a debate and have people so divided. In my opinion, I think this topic shouldn’t be up for debate. This has to do with empathy and understanding. We are all connected, we are all human. At the very least, we don’t have to say anything at all. We don’t have to put someone down every single time we see things differently. But more importantly, we should never put someone down for their feelings. Life is hard enough as it is, let’s not be one of the reasons why it is hard for someone else.
As a therapist, as a mental health advocate, as a compassionate human being, this troubles me deeply. It is my life’s work to listen to people and advocate for them. When I hear someone degrade someone else for how they are feeling, my heart bleeds for the other person. All people want is to have a sense of belonging. How can someone feel like they belong, when their feelings are being questioned, shut down or made fun of. Part of this “offended movement” makes me hopeful because it’s also telling me that more people are speaking out on their feelings and not letting abuses continue. They are letting other people know that words CAN be hurtful and they are brave to express that to another person. Not everyone is in a safe environment to do so, however, hopefully this movement will push change. Change is hard, I get it. But let’s not forget that change can be good. Growth means there is change. “We can do hard things.” - Glennon Doyle
The language you use is very important. One word can change the entire meaning or tone of your statement.
Here’s the thing. We’ve all hurt someone, whether it was intentional or unintentional. We’ve all been hurt ourselves. The difference here is, being open. Will we make mistakes? Yes. However, that is how we learn. “Let’s not let perfect be the enemy of the good.”
When we know better, we do better. Now that you know better…..it’s up to you to do better.
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