We live in a world where everyone is offended by something.
It could be the color of a person’s hair, the way they hold a spoon, the tone of their voice, or it could also be because of something they saw on social media — everyone has something they’re sensitive about, and when they come across it, they get upset.
According to experts, these could be the reasons why people are so easily offended.
Anna Jetton, Psy. D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Growth Peak Counseling
One thing to keep in mind is that offensive comments are offensive to the person receiving the comment because that is how they are interpreting the comment. It is how they come to develop this interpretation that varies from person to person. It is also the reason why not all offensive comments are perceived to be offensive.
For these reasons, it is important to have a willingness to hear the other perspective first before choosing to dismiss them because they happen to see the world differently.
They may be anxious
People who are easily offended may also struggle with anxiety and a need to control their version of the world. They are used to being in control of things in their lives. As a result, they may find themselves needing to control others’ responses as well.
Taking offense to a perceived insult can be a function of anxiety in that it requires the other person to acknowledge and potentially tailor their thinking and behavior to match the offended person’s worldview. Essentially, they have a need to see their version of the truth as the only truth, which can help mitigate their experience of anxiety.
They may be driven by guilt
People who have engaged in offensive behavior sometimes have a tendency to overcompensate with moral rectitude as a way to help lessen the guilt they are feeling, as well as convince everyone else (and themselves) they are not truly a “bad” person.
Along these lines, it can also be a form of projection, which is a psychological defense mechanism we all use at some point to tolerate our negative attributes. Taking offense can be a way to disown the part of ourselves that might actually agree with what is being said by putting the responsibility on the other person.
They may be insecure
People who feel insecure have often been invalidated and learned others will not respond to their needs in helpful or meaningful ways. They typically have not learned how to get their needs met assertively and often respond in a passive aggressive manner.
As a result, they may find they are more easily offended than others as a way to acknowledge their pain and seek validation of their experience.
Related: Why Are People Insecure?
They are trying to rewrite a pain from their past
Offensive comments are just that to the listener – offensive. Offensive comments tend to strike deeply at a past pain that has not been worked through yet.
Being offended is a way to validate and address the pain by speaking to it and for it in the moment and in a way a person may not have been able to do in the past. It is as if they are standing up for themselves in a way they were not previously able to do at the time the pain was originally inflicted.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
On occasion, we all become offended. Sometimes it’s an appropriate response and sometimes it isn’t. There are several reasons we are offended too easily.
Being highly sensitive
Some people are simply more sensitive than others. That’s their temperament, how they’re wired. It’s very hard to be overly sensitive and have healthy relationships, but this is a changeable quality when you recognize this is how you are.
One strategy when you feel hurt by someone’s remark or lack of attention is to consider: How else could I think of this action except as being meant to hurt me. You might think that someone is having a bad day, they’re actually trying to help you, or that they’re simply inept at being tactful.
Having parents who modeled oversensitivity
If your parents were easily offended, then became defensive or went on the offensive, you won’t have learned skills in childhood to handle untoward remarks or actions and will think that this is how everyone responds to them. When you have the mindset that you need to feel hurt and fight back, you are missing out on growth opportunities.
Consider whether your parents’ mindset was “you hurt me, I’ll hurt you back” or sulking when people criticized them. If so, it’s time to realize that your parents were unhealthy role models in this respect and look to others to see more effective ways to respond to others.
Having an abusive or traumatic childhood
When we are abused or traumatized as children, the actions taken against us get stored in our brains differently than less distressing memories because they are highly emotional and seen as a threat.
Even when we’re adults, we have sore spots which can easily get re-triggered. If you were left out of activities or bullied as a child, every slight in adulthood might tap into those ugly memories and make you feel as you did as a child.
The way out of this is to remind yourself that you don’t have to feel heavily wounded now because you’re not as fragile as you were in your youth.
Expecting the world to be nice
Some people have unrealistic expectations of others. They think everyone should always be nice and are not used to being criticized. This often comes from having parents and other relatives who try to cushion every critical comment and keep a child’s self-esteem high. These children grow up to be people without resources to manage criticism.
The way around this mindset is to learn that criticism can be useful and to welcome it from people we trust. Rather than think about someone’s comment meaning, “You’re bad,” think of it as saying “You could be or do better!”
Aniko Dunn, Psy.D.
Doctor of Psychology, EZCare Clinic
Research has also proved that these feelings are known as “self-conscious emotions”, when someone is offended at small things like if you’re not answering their “good morning” greetings and they are not being the first person informed of a change of plans. These are an example of insecurity demonstrating as an offense with implications of anxiety, fear, and sometimes a bit of manipulation.
Following are a few more reasons, why people get offended easily:
They are anxious or have an anxiety disorder
People who are easily offended have an abnormal desire for control and actually suffer from anxiety. They normally live and operate in a world where they feel like they are in control. They believe that they are right and their insight towards truth is actually a truth. They have no room for other people’s thoughts and beliefs.
Holding resentments helps them to feel empowered
They are passive-aggressive because they don’t know how to have an emotionally healthy conversation with others. Being passive-aggressive is a form of power that they want to maintain in a relationship because they don’t know how to express themselves.
They have insecurities
Some people may develop insecure attachment in their childhood, which continuous towards their adulthood. They think people don’t respond to their needs, therefore, they shut down their own needs or overreact.
They overreact and get offended by people for not getting what they actually want. They start thinking people are not there for them or people are taking their advantage, that’s why they become inflexible and inflexibility is trauma itself.
They are in pain
People who get easily offended, if you research a little deeper, you will find that they have gone through any trauma, abandonment, and negligence. This is the reason they become emotionally isolated.
They enforce their values and beliefs upon you
Sometimes you came across people who continuously point out you on small things which are emotionally draining, upsetting and you often think that they didn’t like you.
But don’t worry it is not about you, this behavior actually defines them. If people get offended don’t take it personally, in reality, they want to project their values and beliefs upon others.
They need your compassion and love
When we encounter people, who are constantly making grudges and get offended by small things, we want to avoid them but maybe those people require love and empathy more than anything else.
Everyone deserves empathy and regard. If we give them the same compassion instead of avoiding them, then we will understand that it is not personal and they have their own work to do.
Sometimes they just need recognition, give them respect, and maintain a healthy boundary in a relationship with them.
Career, Change, and Executive Coach| NLP practitioner | Time Line Therapist | Licensed Career Coach
Why are people so easily offended?
You know the story, you make an innocent comment about something you have noticed or something your friend, partner or a work colleague has done and the next thing you know, they have taken umbrage at what you said. They are quietly seething, how dare you pass comment on their choice of *partner, shoes, haircut, decision, work project *delete as appropriate!
You feel mortified, that wasn’t what you intended, you churn the conversation over in your mind: ‘What did I say?’, ‘Am I insensitive?’, ‘Are they over-sensitive?’. And before you know it, a mole-hill has turned into a mountain. But what if the truth was a little less dramatic but nonetheless a little more difficult to navigate?
Our map of the world
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), is the art and science of personal excellence and explains how we build our own individual outlook on the world – taking in information through our five senses from the external world around us.
It is estimated that during our leisure time alone (and not counting work) we process over 100,000 words every day, and in order to understand one person speaking to us, we need to process 60 bits of information per second.
Related: How Does NLP Work?
Our language – the words we use, the tone, the pace, the intonation, and other non-verbal communication such as body language form a critical part of our communication with each other and feed into our view of the world.
Whilst we all use the same words – sometimes loosely and interchangeably, every word has a different implied meaning for each of us based on our outlook on the world. Language is used to help us code and recode information, giving meaning to our perspective on the world. And this means words, and their meaning and intention can easily be misunderstood.
In order to process such enormous volumes of information, our brains distort, delete and generalise information in order for us to continue to function. But in doing so, the subconscious brain also looks for patterns and meaning behind the information based on what it has already learnt.
These new shortcuts are essential to remain efficient, keep us alive and safe from threat.
And this is often where things go wrong! How we see the world (known in NLP as our map of the world) has been unwittingly shaped by our own unique early life experiences and the influences around us – consciously and subconsciously. We unconsciously take on many of the beliefs, values, opinions, judgments and biases about the world around us from our early caregivers without question or challenge.
As we grow, our model of the world is built up by language (including our internal self talk), our memories – conscious and subconscious, decisions we have made or plan to make, our personalities, values, beliefs and attitudes to the world.
These beliefs and judgements aren’t tangible or even necessarily real, they are simply filters to help the brain organize information and navigate the world around it.
We use this lens to understand and experience our world and this determines how we respond – our interpretation of what is said, our internal dialogue to ourselves, how we feel about things, our mood, and ultimately our physiology. How we then act and behave is all driven by this internal point of reference which is largely subjective and very often flawed.
Related: The 18 Best NLP Books
Patterns and triggers
For someone who is more easily offended than others, it is more likely due to the fact that their brain has been conditioned to respond in certain ways to certain triggers, based on how they see the world. Many of these patterns of behavior are auto-pilot responses – we often don’t realize we’ve reacted in a certain way until it’s too late.
Anything that challenges one’s viewpoint may be rejected by the brain as a threat
Those who are more easily offended may hold particular views on what they feel is ‘right or wrong’, ‘acceptable or not acceptable’, and therefore anything that challenges this viewpoint may well be rejected by the brain as a threat. The physical reaction is to feel offended, upset, or angry.
We often expect others to behave or respond in a similar way to us but it is this very expectation that can trigger the negative response if things don’t play out as expected.
There are things we can do to manage our triggers more effectively, and therefore reduce the likelihood of experiencing negative and unhelpful states such as taking offence or feeling hurt by the actions of others. These include:
Understanding that everyone sees the world differently, based on their experiences, memories, beliefs, values, decisions, personality, and attitudes.
Even people that experience the same event, in exactly the same way, will still filter it differently based on their internal map of the world and will associate different meanings to it.
Understanding this and building your awareness of the fact that your brain references its old ‘maps’ or patterns to determine how to respond in a new situation gives us flexibility to really look beyond what is said or how someone behaves.
Without this conscious awareness, our brains have a strong tendency to re-use their preferred maps or old patterns, regardless of the territory – ie regardless of the context of the new situation and what might be different.
Building up your self-awareness of your triggers.
Spend time understanding the context of the situation and what you were most offended by and why. Was it one of your values that were challenged or what you believed? Did you mis-read the situation or misunderstand what was said? What was the intent behind the communication and what was the context?
Spending time being curious about your reaction will help you to understand what it was that was that you found to be offensive. Understanding this will then help you clearly communicate what you want from the other person.
Ask yourself if there is another version of the truth that could be applied to the situation.
Not everything is the way it seems, and keeping an open mind in communication is key to ensuring you fully understand a situation before you respond. I recently coached an introverted senior leader who had taken on a new Executive Board position. They came into one of our coaching sessions one day feeling deeply offended by another board member because the colleague hadn’t responded to any of their emails.
This simple act of not responding had been built up in my client’s mind to be an indication that they weren’t credible or supported in their new post. The issue grew as they began creating their own version of reality that the colleague was being dismissive and not accepting of the change in leadership.
As we worked through this issue, we explored other versions of the ‘truth’ to the situation and unpicked that it was the leaders’ beliefs and values that led them to this conclusion.
What was clear was that they had felt the new role was a big step up for them, and as an introvert, they wanted to make sure they assumed the new responsibilities with appropriate authority and credibility. It was their own limiting beliefs that led them to take offense by the actions of the other.
When I saw my client for the follow-up session, it turned out that the colleague had not been receiving all the emails as there had been a problem with the email account and they had been extremely apologetic to my client!
Ask yourself about the intent of the other person.
Look beyond the words used, however clumsy, to understand the intent and calibrate on their behaviour. People are not only their behaviour, so consider what else is presented to you to understand the context and language of others.
I was recently coached by a new client who had changed jobs and had ‘landed’ very badly in their new team. After a number of weeks, those around the client had built up a picture of him that wasn’t particularly complimentary – they had heard his words without considering the intent and context and had formed a view of the sort of person they thought he was.
He was deeply mortified after receiving this feedback, and it was clear that his intentions were well-meaning, he had just not been particularly skilled at communicating!
Remember you are in charge of your mind, and you can choose how to respond.
Whether we realize it or not, we all have a choice about how we respond. No one can make us feel a particular way – we choose our mood, even if we are not consciously aware that we do.
As a coach, I often hear people say that another person made them feel a certain way, perhaps a work colleague or partner made them feel angry or offended because of their actions or something they said. It is often easier to blame others and give them responsibility for our feelings, but ultimately it is our choice how we decide to act.
A more empowering way to respond if someone says something or does something that offends you is to take control and own your feelings. It is perfectly OK to feel offended or hurt but the important thing is to raise this with the other person. Be clear about what it is that you want the other person to do differently.
Often, the offense is created as a result of poor communication or misunderstanding so stating what you want and how you want to be communicated with is a much more resourceful state to be in.
Self-esteem at a basic level can be defined as the value we place on our self. When people don’t feel good about themselves they quite often project those feelings onto others. Meaning, any and every little thing they hear might be interpreted as something negative or a critique.
Whereas someone with high self-esteem would be able to hear the same comment and either consider the source and not take it personally or consider the source and take the comment as constructive feedback.
When I think of communication styles, I’m primarily referring to being assertive, passive, or aggressive. The most ideal communication style is assertive.
When people are uncomfortable in asking for clarification of comment, they may be offended by something that was not meant to be offensive. This is representative of someone with a passive communication style which quite often, but not always, is reflective of low self-esteem.
Rather than clarify the comment they internalize it. Not everything has to be clarified but the receiver of the comment must have a good sense of self or high self-esteem in order to hear a comment and not take it personally.
If the comment was meant to be offensive that says more about the person who said it rather than the receiver of the comment. In other words, consider the source in this situation.
Let’s think of cognitive distortions as a fancy way of saying distorted or inaccurate thinking. We all engage in cognitive distortions at times by making assumptions. Some people however, engage in them more often than not which greatly contributes to feeling offended.
Some very popular cognitive distortions or unhelpful thinking styles are assumptions, black and white thinking to include always/never thinking, and jumping to conclusions which can lead to mind reading. Since we can learn to control our thoughts, why not “assume” that the comment was not meant to be offensive.
The moral of this story is that people can learn how to be less impacted and less offended by the comments, thoughts, and opinions of others. That concept is so freeing!
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
People have histories that can form why they respond the way they do.
Everyone tells themselves stories as to why someone said or did what they did even when they have no inside knowledge of motive. Mostly these stories come from our past experiences. You may have broken another’s unspoken, at times even unconscious, rules of engagement.
Lack of personal liberties in the family
Think about your own family—were there things you could not talk about? That wasn’t allowed to be funny? If you can’t think of anything, I would suggest you make a list of what was okay or not okay to say.
What was okay or not okay to feel? How about what you were allowed to do? What if you weren’t allowed to have a different point of view, a sense of free time, or change your mind?
Many of these commonly fall in the personal liberty arena—what one says, thinks, does, how, and who one spends time with. Do the exercise—everyone who has completed this exercise has come up with something.
If you are stuck google the term a personal bill of rights. You will find tons of sheets giving examples of rights each human being needs to have. Read them off, see which ones make you uncomfortable – those will be the ones that are against your family of origins rules of engagement.
For example, if you were never allowed to say no to your parents you may become reactive when your child says no even if it is “No, thank you.”
Another example of an unspoken rule violation – I have a friend that married into a large family who vacations together. Despite a large number of people, all activities are expected to be a group event – you can’t go to the beach solo with your partner or play a game of soccer in the backyard with a few members.
No one actually tells him he “can’t” but when attempts are made he is peppered with questions as to why he doesn’t want to hang out with the ‘whole family,” is he angry with someone, given multiple multiple alternatives to do with the family instead and if all else fails members express hurt feelings to discourage the maverick family members.
Lack of ability to give and accept feedback from others
Many in our world were not taught or allowed to give feedback to others—at times they were shamed for informing another what they think and feel.
If you do not have the practice of sharing and accepting another’s point of view it may not be in your wheelhouse to give to another. Think about the story of the listener and ask these questions.
- Are there reasons why they may not know how to receive feedback?
- Do they give others feedback?
- In the past, have you seen them accept constructive feedback well?
If someone responds in a way that seems out of character or immature for their norm, then consider you may have stepped on a history that has nothing to do with you. That is when getting curious really serves you.
When someone responds in an overactive way and if it is appropriate, get curious as opposed to escalating the situation.
Ask if they are comfortable sharing more about what they are experiencing. Ask open-ended questions and do not try to argue them out of their point of view. Rather, find out what you are missing and look for points of agreement to empathize.
For example, “I am so sorry you felt attacked, that wasn’t my intention. I hate feeling attacked as well.” In that example, I empathize with the feeling of being attacked.
When you know that you are going to bring up a difficult subject or respond in a way that the listener has a history of over-responding, think about asking permission to bring up the subject – this is an old-school therapy trick.
Say, “I would like to ask you about something but I am afraid this is going to be a hard subject for both of us, is now a good time?” Or you can say “Hey I have something on my mind but it is hard for me to bring up, can you help me out by letting me say it before responding? It would really help me.”
Why does this work you ask? Because if you ask the received permission to bring up a hard topic, research tells us that they will respond better. Most people like to be asked permission and help. It is a chance to shine.
Another way to break the cycle of offense is to describe the dynamic as if you are watching it on tv, with no judgments, name-calling, mind-reading, or assessment of motives, just the facts you see from the outside.
Let’s use an example – Mary gets into arguments with her mother about the frequency of which she needs to call her. Mary’s mom may start calling her at work if she feels the need, leaves multiple messages on her voicemail, or sends her rapid-fire texts if she doesn’t pick up.
Mary could say “Mom I have a life outside of you and am not on call” or “You are really needy and have to get some hobbies” but neither statement would help her situation, even if they are true statements. What could help is if Mary describes the dynamic with mom, “Hey mom you know that thing we do where you call me, I don’t pick up, you keep trying to text me, I still don’t pick up and then we both blow up at each other when we talk. How can we change that? I am worried it is taking a toll on both of us.”
This way Mary is giving mom a chance to be part of the solution instead of being the problem. Having a hard time imagining fitting into your scenario? Think about how you describe the struggle if it was no one’s fault.
Often, if I was teaching this technique to Mary she would look at me like a deer in headlights with the question but what if she tells me that I should just pick up? That is fine – mom is entitled to her opinion, it is not your obligation to accommodate it.
You can say, “Yeah, mom I know you have said you don’t understand why I don’t pick up, you have made that clear. I have said I am not going to do that, so I wonder what else we can do since it isn’t happening.”
Notice that the response is firm but accepting. Do not try to argue them out of their point or see things your way – that is a ticket to hell every time. This is where the power of examples works in your favor, I always try to give folks 3 alternatives.
Mary could say, “This is what I thought of but I am open to your suggestions. We can agree 1) I will call you once on the way home from work @ this time. 2) We can set a standing day each week where I call you. 3) You can email me and will get back to you with answers if they are only a line or two, if not I will get back to you about it the next time we talk.”
NOTE: Do not make any suggestions you don’t want to enact, ever.
Have an answer for the rebuttals that are easy breezy in tone. If you know the person well you will know the rebuttals. One of the keys to difficult conversation is to not attempt to match the volume and tone of the offended.
You don’t have to take up a fight just because someone else wants them. You want to bring water, not kerosene to a fire. If the other party can’t hear that you may have to ask for her to think about it and you will take on the responsibility to ask her about it in a week
What if the listener doesn’t respond well?
You didn’t fail because the other person responded poorly. Your responsibility is how you behave with integrity not how another responds. You are introducing another way of resolving conflict and some folks automatically fight change. Wait till the dust settles, try it again.
Developing a new skill set is akin to making a new friend, it takes a lot of practice and contact over time to make it work. Even if it doesn’t work you can use this skill for someone else or a new situation.
Life Coach | Motivational Speaker | Owner, Bergeron Well-Being
Our belief systems are challenged
For most people, a large part of our self-perception consists of the things we believe to be true. If someone does or says something that contradicts what we believe, it causes us discomfort as we attempt to integrate this new information into what we hold to be “true.”
This causes us discomfort which can be handled a few different ways.
The most basic way to handle this discomfort is to be offended as we sense that this different way of thinking or action doesn’t line up with ours, so we outright reject it. The alternative would be to pause and reflect if maybe our old viewpoint may be flawed.
But it’s easier to simply label the other person as wrong as opposed to questioning the comfortable views we hold onto.
We see one of our flaws in the offending party
Sometimes the thing that bothers us the most about other people is really our discomfort with an element of ourselves we see in them. Someone who has a very strong stance against smokers may be very shameful that they themselves can’t stop drinking so they project.
We judge someone else for not being able to control themselves when we are not in control.
Different means bad
In modern society, we find ourselves increasingly entrenched with others who share our beliefs and demonize those who don’t.. It can be a pack mentality that leaves little room for open dialog or discussion.
Dr. Chun Tang, MRCGP/DFFP
General Practitioner, Pall Mall Medical
It is quite universally recognized that certain words and actions can be offensive, but the process of taking offense from something is much more complicated than this.
With linguistic research suggesting that people are not always necessarily offended when they witness rude language, it is instead thought that people get offended for a range of different reasons.
When explicitly rude or hurtful language is directed to us, we, of course, take offence at this. However, there are often occasions when no words are used and people instead take offence at what was implied or what the person was ‘getting at’.
Sensitivity and expectations
When this taking offense occurs, it seems to boil down to our expectations. The act of taking offense, or feeling offended, often occurs due to an experience of negative emotions.
These negative feelings and emotions are often caused by a word, action, or statement that conflicts with our expectations and what we believe to be the right behavior, in a moral and acceptable sense.
Being offended is deeply rooted in the expectations that govern our daily interactions and behavior.
When a person is easily offended, this could be caused by them struggling to differentiate between their emotions and the context in which they are communicating with someone or witnessing a situation.
If a person’s emotions, thoughts, and sense of self are too closely tied to their opinions, and then that person experiences someone clashing with these opinions, this can cause a feeling of rejection.
This kind of reaction is closely related to hypersensitivity and there are many ways to overcome this. It is important that people take the time to reflect and understand their reactions to statements and other opinions and don’t let themselves become controlled by their sensitivity.
As it goes, some people are just more sensitive than others.
Some of us have highly sensitive brains that respond in an intense way to both negative and positive stimuli. Due to the way they respond, their emotional reactions tend to be stronger as things feel like a much bigger deal to them than the rest of us. People who fall into this category often offend easily as they are sensitive to the feelings of others, themselves, or an overall view of injustice.
It could also be that a person is easily offended at minor things, as opposed to big events. An example of a scenario where a person could be easily offended by minor events is if they are not the first person informed of a change of plans or if they receive a compliment that doesn’t necessarily sit well with them.
This scenario is an example of a person’s insecurity manifesting as an offense with overtones of anxiety and fear. Often people are easily offended due to a manifestation of their own insecurities.
It could also be that people who are easily offended have an abnormal desire for control and typically suffer from anxiety. As people of this nature tend to strive for a need to control, there’s no room for other people’s realities or beliefs, hence why they become easily offended at minor situations and scenarios.
When dealing with people who are easily offended, always try to be empathetic. As challenging as it can be, it is important to try to consider life from another person’s shoes.
However, if you yourself feel you are easily offended and it is becoming a problem, always consult with your GP if you feel that you are struggling to deal with your emotions and this is having an impact on your daily life.
Master-Certified Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming
Being easily offended these days seems to be the national pastime. Why this is so is a complex issue these days. Imagine what life was like before the internet, before media, what were people busy doing? People worked, farmed, and were involved in their communities and religious congregations supporting and helping each other.
These days we have many reasons to be easily offended.
The rise of social media and being able to speak, type, and or video our thoughts, means that we have the ability to speak to others without actually seeing their faces.
Many things posted on the internet would not be said face-to-face, which causes humans to be a bit more callous in their posts. People are also more sensitive, feeling the post is speaking directly to them or their group. Thus they are more easily offended than those before the rise of the internet.
We all know that society is polarized by politics and differing worldviews. We know that there is a political agenda by some to divide and multiply this by deliberately offending and criticizing as much as possible for political gain. Thus they research the topics that are most likely to offend and purposely post for this reaction.
A deep dive into individual and societal values reveals another reason for this. As societies grow in value levels, many are growing from a level 5 business society to a level 6 social society. People in this values level love everyone and are tolerant of all behaviors, except differing thoughts. They are typically most critical, easily offended, and sometimes violently opposed to those that think differently.
Humans love drama and thrive on it. This could be a sore spot or offensive in and of itself, yet we have raised a society of people that feel entitled to everything and responsible for nothing. It is easy to be offended by small things if your major needs are met. Conversely, it is easy to feel victimized if they are not being met and you don’t feel responsible for them.
What else is possible?
What modern brain research has taught us is that taking offense personally is the key to changing behavior. What offends you or that you hate about others is exactly the thing inside of you that you need to change at some level. You just have to look internally for the core source of the offense.
When you change your mindset you can see the offender as a teacher and the offense as a gift.
Dr. Alice Fong
Integrative Naturopathic Doctor, Amour De Soi Wellness | “Virtual Stress Doc”
Past lived experiences
I think people’s past lived experiences shape how they perceive and interpret other people’s actions and words. Something someone said to one person might occur entirely differently for another individual.
We have to understand that people are designed to make assumptions based on what we already know, and filling in the blanks on what they think the other person’s intentions were, is oftentimes not very accurate.
An example from my own life:
One time, I was in a weekend communications seminar, and a guy approached me. The first thing he said to me was, “Ni hao ma,” which means hello in Chinese. From an outsider’s perspective, a person might think there’s nothing offensive about that and they might think he was simply being friendly by saying hello.
But as an Asian-American woman, I was highly offended and annoyed by it, and simply groaned, “Hi” and walked away. Little did he know about my past lived experiences.
One, as a Chinese-American woman, I’ve had a lifetime of being shamed for not being able to speak Chinese, and two, there have been several incidences throughout my life where I would be walking down the street and men would roll down the window of their cars and scream “Ni hao ma” or “Ko ni chi wa” as a form of racially charged sexual harassment.
So needless to say, I was offended by the fact that this was the first thing out of his mouth because he was making the assumption that I speak Chinese based on my appearance.
Somewhat piggy-backing off my last point, I think poor communication is also a huge contribution to people being easily offended.
People are constantly making assumptions—and yes, that can be annoying and offensive a lot of times—but from that communications course I took that weekend, I realized that me walking away and being offended and not expressing why I was upset by it, will just leave him being ignorant and he will probably continue to speak to other people who look “Chinese” when they may or may not be able to speak the language.
What I needed to recognize was that I was reacting based on my past lived experience and understand that he meant no harm by it. So later that weekend, I decided to tell him about why I was offended and my past lived experiences so that he could better understand why I thought that was inappropriate.
It also helps if both parties communicate clearly, ask questions, be curious, and don’t jump to conclusions. If we don’t communicate about our experiences, then all that is possible are assumptions, which leads to more frustration.
Dr. Cali Estes, PhD, MCAP, MAC, ICADC
Psychologist | Cognitive Behavioral Therapist | Founder, The Addictions Coach
Negativity starts to become more normalized than positivity
People are increasingly easily offended in part because they are being bombarded with negative terminology in the news. Buzz words and terms like ‘dangerous, unethical, harmful’ etc. are thrown in headlines more often in the news for shock value and to get more readers on a topic.
Negative issues in the news are the new norm. In a 30 min news segment we see 29 minutes of destruction, mayhem, and 1 minute of positive press, like an 11-year-old with a lemonade stand.
Psychologically, this conditions your brain to expect negative news and feel incomplete without it. When you are bombarded with this on social media, in real life (covid shutdowns, no work, etc), and tv, you start to become increasingly negative. Negative becomes the new normal.
In a world where ‘cancel culture’ is the norm, people are looking to be offended, it almost seems as if they are addicted to it.
They hop on social media, or stroll through the neighborhood and are on the prowl for offensive signs, colors, anything that they can grasp onto and spin. Negativity starts to become more normalized than positivity. They are addicted to the negativity to feel normal.
It’s a destructive cycle and just to feel normalized people will look for something to be offended about.
People then jump on that bandwagon and it gives the person even more attention and praise, which in turn makes them feel good. Hence, being offended makes them feel happy.
Candace Kotkin-DeCarvalho, MSW, LCADC, RYT, CCTP
Clinical Director of Outpatient Services, Endeavor House North
Having worked in the mental health and addiction treatment fields for more than a decade, I have found that many more people than we realize are struggling with anxiety or other issues that can affect how they react to everyday situations.
This can make it seem to others as if they are easily offended, but behind the defensiveness and hurt feelings, there are often some complicated emotions that have nothing to do with the triggering comment or conversation.
People impacted by complex trauma, in particular, may have exaggerated reactions to minor situations compared with others. This is called hyper-arousal, something that most trauma victims experience long after abuse ends. These reactions can come across as being easily offended to others who may not know their history, or who don’t understand the long-term impact of trauma.
Social anxiety disorder is another mental health disorder that can lead to a perception of being easily offended. This disorder is fairly common, affecting about 7% of Americans, according to the National Institute on Health — or about 1 in every 15 people.
Anytime you attend a party or other large social gathering, the odds are good that you’ll interact with at least one person struggling with social anxiety. When you see someone overreacting to a harmless personal joke or leaving abruptly because of a slightly uncomfortable interaction, consider that it may be a mental health disorder—not a personality trait—that is driving their reaction.
Related: How to Get Rid of Social Anxiety?
I think the key to interacting with anyone who appears easily offended is to simply be empathetic and try to put yourself in their shoes. Consider that their experiences, mental health history, or other factors may be part of their reaction.
By practicing empathy, you may find that you aren’t so offended by those who are easily offended!
Licensed Professional Counselor | Relationship Coach and Director, Synergy Coaching
We focus on numbing our feelings rather than expressing them
As a therapist, I have noticed that most people are walking around feeling pretty irritated most of the time. This could be due to many factors both internal and external. Overall, we are a busy society that puts little value on mental health. We tend to focus on numbing our feelings rather than processing them.
All of us have big emotions whether we let them out or hold them in. Emotions are part of what makes us human. When we feel a big emotion, those feelings need to be processed or worked through. This will happen whether we intentionally do it or not.
Intentional processing involves behaviors like journaling, talking it out, exercising, and meditating. When we don’t intentionally process our emotions, we often fall into numbing or destructive methods such as zoning out in front of our screens, drugs and alcohol, retail therapy, and dumping our emotions on other people.
When we numb our feelings, they are still there after we finish numbing. Since numbing is such a big part of our entertainment in the US, many of us are carrying a lot of emotions just waiting to come out.
This puts us into what John Gottman calls “Negative Sentiment Override.” When we are in “Positive Sentiment Override,” we assume that other people have positive or neutral intentions behind their behaviors. If someone says “How was your day?” we assume they are being polite or are genuinely curious. When we are in “Negative Sentiment Override,” we assume that others have negative intentions. If another person says “How was your day?” we assume that they are judging how we spent our time or are being intrusive.
The real answer to reducing how easily offended people are is to improve the processing of our emotions so that we are not feeling so irritated all of the time.
We each need a personal plan that helps us process these emotions. On a societal level. we need to encourage people to do more than just “self-care” which seems to imply resting, setting limits on our work time, and taking vacations. It needs to also include specific activities that help us process our emotions.
Former US Marine | Mental Toughness Expert | Professional Speaker | Author, “The Emotional Marine: 68 Mental Toughness and Emotional Intelligence Secrets To Make Anyone Instantly Like You”
We don’t know how to control our emotions
Our nation has become a society of people that gets so easily upset at the drop of a hat. I believe it’s all because we haven’t been taught how to control our emotions.
We’re emotional creatures that are hard-wired to feel first, and think later. When someone judges us and/or offers any type of criticism, our initial reaction is going to be an emotional one. When we process information tied to our emotions we tend to take a “personal hit” because we view the information as being an attack on us.
When we’re able to set aside the emotion and process information logically, that gives us the ability to analyze the information with a level head and decide objectively if there’s anything we should change.
Logic and emotion are inversely related; as one goes up, the other goes down. If we don’t remain in control of our feelings, we run the risk of becoming “intoxicated in emotion.” This is where we’re incapable of thinking logically because we’re so overcome in our emotions.
Constantly being aware of our emotions (self-awareness) gives us the ability to remain in control of our thoughts at all times. This awareness allows us to digest things people say then decide how we will respond (self-regulation).
Every emotion is simply a signal delivering a message. Even difficult emotions like fear, anger or sadness are serving an important function. The secret is to not try and ignore and/or suppress these emotions, it’s learning to control them.
Related: How to Express Your Emotions
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Have you ever thought, “you make me so annoyed“, or “his actions are making me upset?” You might be surprised to hear this: People don’t make us feel a certain way.
It is actually how we perceive a situation or things people say or do that influences how we feel.
Our thoughts guide our feelings and feelings influence actions. Therefore, we have the power to manage our thoughts, and through thoughts, we gain access to our emotions.
Here’s a simple model: Situation —> Thought —> Feeling —> Behavior
Do we choose our thoughts/feelings?
Let’s try a quick exercise. Close your eyes and picture a car. Can you do it? Picture a banana, can you see it? Now feel sad. Just feel it. Can you do it? What did you have to do to feel sad? You had to think about something that would get you there. Perhaps you thought of a sad story.
Regardless of what you thought, the point is that it’s almost impossible to command your feelings. Has anyone ever said to you something like, “Come on, you have so much to be grateful for, don’t be sad”? How often has that been helpful? How many of you have said, “Yeah thanks — I will now choose to be happy”?
You see, we typically don’t have direct access to our feelings; we generally only have access to our feelings through our thoughts. So you are not alone if you feel frustrated when people told you to just “be happy”.
Now, if our feelings are affected by our thoughts – as our exercise just demonstrated, we do have control over our thoughts, and we can influence our feelings by learning to slowly retrain how we think.
So, why are people so easily offended?
They engage in thinking errors
It is because people often make assumptions that are not based on facts, or have expectations that are not reasonable or realistic. They sometimes engage in what we call – thinking errors.
Thinking errors are ways that our mind convinces us of something that isn’t really true. These inaccurate thoughts are usually used to reinforce negative beliefs or emotions — telling ourselves things that sound rational and accurate, but really only make us feel bad.
Jumping to conclusions
One example of thinking error is “Jumping to conclusions”, which is the tendency to make irrational assumptions of a situation or about a person. For example, you may quickly conclude that your friend does not like you because they did not respond to your texts. What if there is another explanation? It may be that their phone died, or they lost their phone, or they fell asleep!
Thinking in “should” or “must”
Another thinking error is “shoulding/musting”. People who are easily offended are people who usually think of ‘shoulds’ or ‘musts’. They have a rigid view of how they and others ‘should’ and ‘ought’ to be. These ironclad views or rules can lead to disappointment, anger, frustration, resentment, and guilt when they are not followed.
So, let’s start examining whether or not we make these unrealistic and unreasonable demands on ourselves or others, and if so, how can we think in a more realistic and reasonable way?
Speaker | Entrepreneur | Child Advocate | Author, “30 Days to Happiness”
Feeling of inadequacy and lack of security in life
Think about it. When we’re secure in our identity, our work, and our home life, we’re less likely to take offense. When all is well in our world, we’re better able to let offense (or perceived offense) roll off our shoulders like water off a duck’s back.
Our problems and challenges feel more pronounced when all is not well in our world.
When we lose our job or when our loved one leaves us for someone else, we feel inadequate. When we feel inadequate. We’re in a more vulnerable, fragile place. Consequently, when we’re left out of the group, or our birthday is forgotten, or we’re not invited to the party, it’s much more likely that we’ll take offense.
One sure-fire way to be happy (and stay happy), and not be battered about by every opportunity to take offense, is to know, really be certain of, how awesome you are.
Did I say, “Perfect?” No. We all have flaws. But when we embrace ourselves, flaws and all, we’re more likely to accept the flaws of others, including their actions (or failures to act) that can lead to us forfeiting our happiness for offense.
Exchanging our happiness for offense is never a good swap. Don’t do it. Decide right now that you are awesome and happy with yourself, and that you will not give anyone the opportunity to replace your happiness with offense.
Kevin R. Strauss, M.E.
Emotional Health, Wellness, and Human Behavior Specialist | CEO, Uchi, LLC
Anyone who feels their value is attacked feels offended
A way of saying offended is to say, “I’ve been hurt” and, more specifically, “You’ve hurt my feelings.”
A person who feels offended is experiencing emotional pain. The human brain recognizes two kinds of pain, physical and emotional, and is unable to distinguish between them. All your brain knows is, I’m in pain so do something about it immediately!
Emotional pain (or health) is rooted in our ability to give and receive love, connection, and belonging. This is not to be confused with mental health which is a person’s ability to focus, concentrate, think clearly, and perform cognitive tasks. These are the definitions I prefer.
This helps explain why someone really smart can behave so destructively. They’re simply attempting to ease the pain with their behavior while they’re still able to finish their report for work or school. It’s amazing how comforting ice cream or beer can be, for a few minutes, after being dumped by our girlfriend or boyfriend.
When it comes to emotional health, we humans have a basic need for love. If ever we feel shamed, judged, degraded, or neglected, it’s an attack on our value, as a human, which means we’re not worthy of love. Anytime our need for love is unmet or compromised we react; most often through our behaviors. Anyone who feels their value is attacked feels offended.
People who are easily offended, most likely, have experienced emotional pain, in their past, and could have lower overall emotional health.
The more easily offended a person is the deeper their emotional pain probably is. Any similar experience can trigger a person emotionally because it reopens a wound or it could be a way of protecting themselves from experiencing again a similar pain from their past.
Someone who is easily offended isn’t broken or overly sensitive. The question we should be asking is, What pain has this person experienced before which they are attempting to ease or defend and protect themselves from now?
Diana Levy, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Founder, Adens Mom
Oversensitivity, insecurity, excessive need to control, and strict moral standards
Much has been written on the topic of why people easily get offended. Oversensitivity, insecurity, excessive need to control, and strict moral standards are possibilities. The offense could actually be an accurate criticism, perhaps delivered in a sarcastic way.
If someone offends you, ask yourself if you are overreacting or being triggered by personal issues. Then consider if the comment is rationally objectionable. Perhaps, there is some self-improvement to be gained.
Either way, a good way to handle an offensive comment is to briefly imagine that the offender is your psychotherapy patient.
- Are they dealing with ignorance, unresolved issues, or faulty personality traits?
- Does insulting you make the person feel less insecure or powerless?
- Are they projecting their own shortcomings onto you?
Even a bit of insight into the offender will help you to take the comment less personally.
Either ignore the comment and move on or respond in a way that gets your point across succinctly: “I find your comment offensive. There are healthier ways to communicate if you have something important to say.”
Lucky for the offensive “patient”, there will be no fee for the therapeutic intervention! Hopefully, you will feel empowered rather than offended knowing you handled the situation well.
Sex and Relationship Therapist | Maternal Mental Health Certified Women’s Health and (in)Fertility Expert
Social media and lack of differentiation
Social media has created a place for everyone to feel like they are not alone. While this is a beautiful thing for individuals who have struggled feeling like they don’t fit in, or are alone in whatever journey they’re on, it can also be problematic.
Ironically, now when TV is in color and technology has advanced, we as a culture and society are moving to a place where we are seeing life in black and white.
If someone doesn’t think or believe in what we believe, we’re offended. It’s truly as if the offense has become the only defense we know how to use when there is a difference.
As a psychotherapist, much of my work is centered around a concept called “differentiation”. This is where we are able to exist in our feelings and identity, and tolerate when others feel or behave differently so we do not become reactive to it.
If we can be differentiated, we can tolerate the thoughts and feelings from others that may be offensive, but rather let them be a reflection of the person saying it, rather than taking it personally and making it about us. It’s a tough process to learn, but one that is so freeing!
If we can only learn to notice and let go, rather than hear and hold on to, perhaps we can not be offended as often and instead learn and lean into what someone is really trying to say.
Resource Director, Test Prep Insight
Taking things too personally
When others make comments, and you are easily offended, it is most likely because you believe what other people say may be true about you. When you get upset or angry when someone makes a comment about you, that means some part of you agrees with them.
This may be subconscious. When you become grounded and confident, it won’t matter what other people say to you or about you because you realize that what a person says is more about them than you.
Related: How to Not Take Things Personally
Being a judgemental person
It is often the most judgmental people that get offended the most easily. Judgemental people often have high expectations for themselves and others.
They get offended when people don’t do things they believe to be right, whether it be about recycling, littering, volunteering, driving too fast, or driving too slow.
Judgemental people think their way is right. And when others don’t do things their way, they become angry, frustrated, and offended. People are easily offended when they have a rigid view of the world, and can only see things one way.
Civil Litigation Attorney | Author, “50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life”
It took me a long time to stop taking things personally. I really started working hard on this when I got sober and divorced at age 50. I finally realized that none of our realities is the same.
I cannot possibly know what is going on in someone else’s life. Maybe someone’s behavior is affected by a bad health diagnosis or other bad news. Once I realized that, in most cases, what others do has little or nothing to do with me, I was able to let go of being affected by others’ actions.
Before I came to this realization, I was easily offended when I perceived what other people did as slights, as commentary on my worth.
I am now able to not react immediately but to respond with love and empathy. And my happiness is no longer dependent on others. I am responsible for my own happiness and can find it within myself.
Often those who are easily offended have not worked on themselves and their own happiness. We must let go of what we cannot control in order to be truly happy.
Artists Manager (Composers), Polyphony Arts
I’ve spent a fair amount of time being someone who is easily offended, and I also have an interest in comedy, which often causes offense, and psychology, which may be able to explain it.
I believe that people being easily offended arises from two factors, which are contributed to from both sides in most situations.
The first factor that leads to people feeling offended is that an awful lot of people are already hurt, in an emotional sense. To use an example, if a person is trying to go about life with a broken leg, things that would be of no issue to an uninjured person become immensely painful.
It is the same with emotional wounds, psychological trauma or even simply hurt feelings – things that wouldn’t bother an emotionally uninjured person can cause a lot of distress to someone with existing wounds.
This goes hand in hand with ignorance or a lack of empathy from the often accidental offender. They may not be aware of, understand or even be able to try and comprehend the mental state of the offendee, and then will not understand how some of the seemingly insignificant things that they say or do may be received as something deeply offensive.
This has been my experience on a number of different occasions. As a young woman who has been a victim of sexual abuse, harassment, and even just simple teasing because of my gender, I am much more easily offended than some when it comes to anything surrounding these topics, because of deep-rooted emotional pain.
However, I am learning to manage this, which brings me on to my next point.
Lack of consideration
The second factor is as follows: a lack of respect and consideration for other’s points of view causes a great amount of offense, both as a person who is offended and as someone who offends others, however inadvertently.
If you experience something that offends you, do you ask why you feel that way? Or why others may think in a different way to you? You may come to the conclusion that you disagree with their thought process or beliefs, but at least you have tried to understand where they are coming from.
If not, how can you expect others to try and be considerate of your feelings or thoughts?
If you find that you have offended someone, the same applies – try to understand the reasons why this person has reacted this way. Do you understand where they are coming from? If you do, you may choose to apologize, or simply note that you differ from one another.
Even better, try to consider before you speak or act if you might cause offense, and why that might be. Then, you have the option to act with empathy, respect, and consideration, and if others are still offended, you will be aware that it is probably out of a lack of understanding from their side.
I have learned, from both accidentally offending others and being offended in the past, that if I do not try and understand the misunderstanding, with respect for the other person’s experiences, thoughts and feelings, then it only perpetuates bad feelings for myself and others.
To consider the viewpoints of others when you feel offended is undoubtedly more effort, and difficult for your ego, but will certainly result in a more empathic and grounded state of mind.
If you find yourself being offended a lot, it helps to realize that you are the main person suffering from this. Choose, rather than trying to bring others into your suffering, to act in an empowering way that will alleviate some of your pain. Understand it, and then let it go.
Founder | Founder and CEO, Active Leader
Unmet needs causes stress and stress responses
Scientific research (Maslow’s Hierarchy) shows that we all have fundamental needs. Once our basic survival needs are met, we focus on our psychological needs. Those needs are met by others (how others treat us). Two of those needs stem from empathy (or emotional energy) and esteem (or self-consciousness).
The dominant needs for both empathy and esteem fall into the higher spectrum. Meaning people need encouragement, an outlet to express emotions without fear, emotional understanding, feelings of being heard by others, personalized approval from others, diplomatic approaches to communication, deep desires of respect, and compassion from others, etc.
All those examples fall into the high side of both esteem and empathy (the low being more direct and frank communication needs, candor from others, objective and logical feedback without emotional responses, etc.).
Even though most people are in the high spectrum for empathy and esteem, the dominant pattern for outward behavior falls into the low spectrum. Meaning, most of us communicate with direct, objective, and logical styles without deep levels of emotion. We all talk to each other in ways that do not fit our needs!
When our needs go unmet, it causes stress and stress responses. Those stress responses come out as overly emotional, overly sensitive, defensive, frustrated, etc.
There are different levels of low and high needs. And that’s the problem. Most people assume it all works the same. But just because two people have high needs in esteem and empathy doesn’t mean those levels are equal.
Some people have incredibly high needs; so high they are unrealistic, and any simple thing can come across as disrespectful and unthoughtful and therefore offensive.
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