“I’m offended by that!”
And you know what? That’s okay.
There are some things that we really should be offended about…
You should be offended by someone mistreating you.
You should be offended by someone trying to take advantage of or coerce you.
You should be offended by toxic behavior or the mistreatment of others.
That burst of anger and hurt response is your brain telling you that this is a potentially harmful situation that needs to be changed.
But…and it is a BIG BUT…
To be continually offended is to live with a steady stream of anger that will undermine your mental and emotional health.
That anger can cause depression, aggravate anxiety, negatively affect your physical health, and damage relationships.
So how can you stop being so easily offended by so many things while still reacting and responding to the things that are truly offensive?
Let’s start by asking an important question:
Why do I get so easily offended?
Like all emotions, the feeling of offense differs from person to person, but as the introduction to this article alluded to, it’s not necessarily bad to be offended.
A person who is acting disrespectfully can evoke offensive feelings by your perception of hostility whether you’re easy to offend or not.
Those feelings are your brain telling you that something is wrong and you should be doing something about it.
That something might be disengaging and getting away from the source of offensiveness or it may be standing up for yourself.
But here’s where your problem begins…
People who are easily offended (that’s YOU) find these feelings are easily triggered by benign comments or actions. Their sensitivity causes their brain to find hostility where there is none, which causes that defensive response.
Why does it do that? Here are several potential reasons:
1. A challenge of personal values or beliefs may feel disrespectful.
You may hold strong beliefs or values that make you more sensitive to opinions and easy to offend because they challenge your beliefs.
For example, if you deeply value equality and fairness, you may find that you are easily offended by injustice, discrimination, and disrespect to other people.
Anger because you feel that your personal values or beliefs are being attacked is reasonable, but if you’re easily offended, you’ll constantly be in that negative mental space.
2. Cognitive distortions may twist your emotional reactions.
Cognitive distortions may make you easy to offend.
Strong beliefs can fuel confirmation bias. That is, you may seek out information that confirms your beliefs whether you’re correct or not. If you’ve reasoned yourself into a wrong idea, you may find yourself easily offended by exposure to the right ideas.
Many people believe that there are no right or wrong ideas, because ideas are personal views and we’ve been told over and over that they are valid.
That is simply not true. Your opinion is just wrong if you believe something like the moon is made of cheese. There’s no reason to defend that truth.
Cognitive dissonance happens when a person holds two contradictory beliefs without ever examining them. Any challenge to those beliefs may cause you offense because it’s forcing you to confront that dissonance, which is upsetting for many.
3. Low self-esteem may cause you to feel attacked.
People with low self-esteem are more sensitive to criticism whether constructive or not.
If you have healthy self-esteem, constructive criticism is an opportunity to grow in your relationships while junk criticism is just discarded as unwarranted views.
It’s much harder to tell the difference if you have low self-esteem because any criticism can easily trigger your defensive mechanisms.
Low self-esteem is related to low self-worth and image. People with low self-worth are more easily offended when they encounter situations that challenge them. These situations hurt because they challenge that person’s need for validation from others because they can’t validate themselves.
4. Emotionally sensitive people feel the world more intensely.
Emotional sensitivity may be why you’re easily offended.
People with heightened emotional sensitivity react strongly to different opinions, slights, or criticisms. Sometimes it’s healthy, sometimes it’s not.
That emotional sensitivity can come from low self-esteem, abuse, trauma, stress, depression, anxiety, or just a personality quirk that many people have.
Some people are just more naturally emotionally sensitive than others. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it can fuel your anger, offense, and disrupt your happiness.
5. Past trauma makes you more sensitive to certain situations.
Trauma changes the way you experience certain emotions. Different situations, topics, and behaviors can trigger emotions related to your trauma which evokes a defensive response.
That is your brain trying to prevent you from being hurt again. It’s responding quickly to the perceived hostility to give you the greatest opportunity to defend yourself or escape.
The result may be quick anger and offense.
6. A lack of empathy makes it difficult to understand context and intent.
It may seem counter-intuitive that a lack of empathy would cause you to become more easily offended.
The issue is that people with low empathy still feel emotions, but their brain isn’t interpreting the world in a typical way. As a result, they misunderstand other people’s feelings and viewpoints.
They miss important context in the perspectives and intentions of others that further contextualize the statement.
For example, someone may make a benign joke, but the person with low empathy interprets it as an attack because they can’t read the context that will allow them to interpret the statement as a joke.
7. Cultural differences may be causing misunderstandings.
Cultural differences play a significant role in what people consider offensive. What may be acceptable in one culture may be offensive to another.
Certainly, it is reasonable to be angry or offended if someone is disrespecting one’s culture out of maliciousness. However, many people don’t understand because they’re innocently ignorant.
They may not have been exposed to your culture, so they don’t have the context to understand.
What could be a learning, bridge-building experience then turns into a hostile one.
It’s easy to be offended when your group identity feels under attack. By nature, people are community-based, social animals. An attack on your community may feel like an attack on you, even if it’s not.
Some examples of group identities include political affiliations, social backgrounds, religious beliefs, and sexual identity.
8. Miscommunication causes misunderstanding.
Sometimes, offense arises due to miscommunication. Words are imperfect. They have different definitions and nuances. People often have different ideas of what words mean that are not always correct.
In addition, some people are just bad at expressing themselves verbally. That problem is much bigger in an emotionally charged situation where you may not be communicating well.
It’s much easier to offend and be offended if both people are angry because they may just be throwing words at one another.
That’s not limited to words, though. Sometimes actions may be offensive because of a misinterpretation of context or intent.
9. Sensory overload may increase your vulnerability.
Certain types of mental health concerns, such as autism and anxiety, may cause you to experience sensory overload.
“Sensory overload” is quite literal—your senses are overloaded. Because your emotions are overloaded, even small things can cause big explosions of anger. You might think of it like tossing a bucket of gasoline on a fire.
People experiencing sensory overload may interpret benign statements or actions as hostile. You may also have a more difficult time shrugging off negativity that would otherwise not bother you.
10. Social media and online culture thrive on outrage.
Social media and online culture are a poor reflection of real-world social dynamics.
People don’t always act the same online as they do in real life. They may say or do things online that would have severe repercussions offline that they don’t experience. You can look at pretty much any argument on social media to see that.
Social media algorithms are also working to keep you engaged, to keep you on their platform. To do so, they feed you information that they are interpreting that you’ll like.
The result is that you may find yourself in an echo chamber of people who are agreeing with and facilitating misinformation, loading negativity on you, making you more emotionally sensitive.
People who immerse themselves in that kind of negativity regularly will find that their own tolerance for adverse experiences is reduced. Therefore, small issues become big ones, and misunderstandings become offenses.
11. You may lack the emotional resilience to shrug off minor slights.
Emotional resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and not let minor slights disrupt your emotional state.
If you have a lack of resilience, you are more prone to taking offense. Small things explode into much bigger things because you can’t shrug them off. A friend making an off-handed comment can be enough to make you mad and offended.
People with emotional resilience can let minor offenses and misunderstandings simply slide off their backs, investing little to no emotional energy into an unnecessary response.
They have more patience to communicate and unwind these issues before they become big problems. As a result, they are not easily offended.
What are the signs that I’m easily offended?
It’s important to understand the signs that you are easily offended rather than reasonably offended. The following are indications that your offense is inflated.
- Frequent Emotional Reactions: You may get upset, angry, or hurt by comments or actions regularly, even if they are not meant to be offensive. You may feel resentful or bitter when provoked.
- Reacting Quickly: You react strongly and swiftly to what you see as offensive comments without taking the time to understand the other person’s intentions or context.
- Taking Things Personally: You take neutral or innocent remarks as a personal attack or criticism, even if they are not directed at you. This causes strife in your relationships.
- Difficulty Handling Constructive Criticism: You feel hurt or defensive when someone gives you feedback or constructive criticism. It is difficult for you to accept feedback as a way to grow.
- Engaging in Arguments Easily: You often engage in arguments and confrontations over minor disagreements and differing opinions. You often escalate these situations and make them worse.
- Avoiding Uncomfortable Conversations: You often avoid discussing controversial issues or sensitive topics because you’re afraid of becoming emotional or enraged.
- Feeling Anger or Resentment: You hold onto feelings of resentment, anger, or grudges related to past offenses, even if the issue has been resolved or others have moved on.
- Difficulty Letting Go: You find it hard to let go of minor annoyances or slights. They continue to bother you long after the incident.
- Frequent Complaints: You regularly complain about the offensive behavior of others or how you’re treated.
- Isolation: You tend to isolate yourself from situations and people that you believe might offend you. You limit your social interaction in such a way that it becomes harmful to you. (i.e. losing friends, missing out on fun or important things.)
- Physical Reactions: You experience physical symptoms when you feel upset. You may feel symptoms such as increased stress, tension, or heart rate in response to your perceived offenses.
- Interpreting Motives Negatively: You often assume negative motives behind people’s actions or words rather than alternative explanations.
- Difficulty Accepting Differences: You often struggle to accept and respect different opinions, beliefs, or lifestyles. They may make you feel confused, mad, or afraid.
- Limited Tolerance: You have a low tolerance for discomfort or inconvenience. Minor inconveniences can lead to feelings of offense. The reasons that other people give are often not good enough.
- Seeking Validation: You frequently seek validation and reassurance. You feel that you need to have your feelings validated so you can justify to yourself that you are correct rather than be challenged.
10 Ways To Increase Your Tolerance To Offense
This section explores some of the more actionable tips that you can use to become more thick-skinned and less easily offended.
1. Research and understand the other side of the argument.
By making the effort to better understand the perceptions, intentions, and backgrounds of others, you can reduce your likelihood of taking offense to their comments.
Researching and learning more about others fosters empathy, which reduces miscommunication.
We all need to be able to accept that people with different backgrounds will have diverse experiences and beliefs, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Developing your empathy and understanding also improves your communication skills because you’re more apt to listen.
2. Develop your emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence includes the ability to recognize, understand, manage, and effectively use your own emotions while being considerate of others.
People with developed emotional intelligence are more self-aware, empathetic, better communicators, and in better control of their impulses.
That is, a developed emotional intelligence will help you better control your responses to potential offenses.
3. Remember the person behind the statement.
To remember the person behind a statement is to keep in mind that there is a human being delivering a message or statement.
The message or statement itself is not a standalone thing that can only be taken at face value. The person behind the statement provides additional context that should be examined and considered before you react.
They may have a different background or experiences than you that would explain their statement or actions that you can learn from. They may also just be an a**hole who likes making other people miserable—someone who you should avoid.
4. Develop your communication skills.
Effective communication involves some important skills that will help with conflict resolution and stop you from getting so easily offended.
Active listening allows you to better hear and apply context to a statement. Many people are thinking of what they want to say next instead of just listening to the other person. This leads to a lack of clarity, and clarity matters because offense may be taken due to a lack of comprehension.
Effective communication also allows you to provide feedback or discuss sensitive topics without being offensive which could easily kick off another argument.
Developed communication skills help you avoid taking a person’s words personally.
5. Choose your battles wisely.
Emotional energy is a finite resource. You only have so much to expend before you get tired and burnt out.
An easily offended person is often putting out so much emotional energy that they get burnt out quickly, which makes it harder to be resilient.
The best way to conserve your energy is to be selective about which battles you decide to fight.
Not all of them are worth it. In fact, a lot of them aren’t worth it because they make no sense.
If you can figure out what’s important to you, then you can stop letting things bother you, choose the right battles, defend truth, and disengage from the rest.
6. Explore methods to build emotional resilience.
Emotional resilience is a powerful shield for deflecting offense. Resilience allows you to maintain perspective and not overly personalize offensive comments.
People with strong emotional resilience are less likely to interpret comments and actions as personal attacks because of healthy self-esteem and self-worth. They understand that their self-worth does not need validation from others.
Their coping skills allow them to take a step back, examine a situation, and then step back into it if they so choose.
Emotional resilience can be recharged by lessening stress, limiting your time with draining people, and taking time for yourself.
To build it, you may need the help of a professional to better understand why you lack it in the first place. That may be the result of abuse or trauma that must be addressed first.
7. Embrace self-reflection and personal growth.
What does it mean to embrace self-reflection and personal growth? The key word in that statement is “embrace.”
Some people fight self-improvement. They know they need to grow or change but they won’t allow themselves to do it.
Instead, they cling to their old way of doing things because it’s comfortable and familiar. They may also believe these older habits are correct, even if unhealthy, just because they’ve been doing them for a long time.
You’ll need to be brave and accept the path ahead of you if you want to improve.
8. Explore mindfulness and meditation.
Mindfulness and meditation are two well-studied, scientifically verified methods of cooling emotions and limiting your reactions.
Mindfulness tends to help in the moment. Meditation, on the other hand, is something that builds up benefits over a longer period.
Meditation is about identifying emotions and stress, accepting them, and then letting them go. The more you practice, the cooler your head should become when confronted with stressful situations.
9. Address mental health concerns you might have.
Different mental health concerns can affect the way you emotionally respond to a situation.
If depression, anxiety, trauma, PTSD, or other mental illnesses are part of your life, your emotional regulation may not be properly tuned.
It is always worthwhile to consult with a mental health professional to help you examine what you’re thinking and feeling, and why.
Is The Battle Worth It?
The question of offense, and being easily offended, isn’t necessarily an easy one. There are things that you should feel annoyed and angry about.
Those feelings are your brain telling you that something is wrong and that you should do something.
But that shouldn’t happen a lot if you’re in an emotionally healthy place.
To provide some context, let’s look at some examples of reasonable things to feel offended and irritated by.
Violations of Human Rights
Many find it appropriate to be offended by policies or actions that violate fundamental human rights. That may include systemic oppression, discrimination, or hate speech.
Offense is a natural response to actions, speech, or legislation that treats other people unfairly. It is through these things that people are denied equal opportunities on the basis of characteristics like sexual orientation, religion, race, gender, or lifestyle.
No one should be okay with actions that bully others. Harmful actions that cause suffering, pain, and distress are reasonable reasons to feel offended. That may also include things like harassment and violence.
Intolerance and Hate
Intolerance, hate speech, and bigotry perpetuate harmful stereotypes and prejudices that hurt everyone. They drive wedges into society between groups that should come together to help one another. Oftentimes, this is what bigots are counting on so they can better appeal to other like-minded bigots.
Ethical and Moral Violations
Actions or practices that go against your personal ethical or moral principles are a valid reason for offense. Sometimes you need to be willing to stand up for what you believe in.
Disrespectful behavior, such as rudeness, condescension, or dismissiveness, can be a valid reason for offense, especially in personal relationships. Healthy personal relationships must involve mutual respect or they are doomed to failure.
You have the right to set and defend your personal boundaries. If someone crosses your boundaries, it’s appropriate to be offended and to stand up for yourself.
People who respect you will want to know and respect your boundaries because they want you to feel comfortable and safe. You typically don’t want to spend much time with people who don’t respect your boundaries.
Final thoughts on being offended too easily.
There are right and wrong times to be offended.
Offense should not be something that happens on a hair-trigger. It should not be something that happens over perceived attacks or in the blink of an eye.
As you can see from this article, there are so many different factors that can drive the anger that comes from being easily offended. It may be a violation of personal values, cultural, miscommunication, and so many.
But don’t allow people to get to you easily.
The simplest way to know whether or not it’s a problem is to look at the effect on your life: Is it happening often? Is it ruining your relationships or opportunities? Is it having a negative effect on your mind or life?
If you can answer yes to any of those questions, it’s time to take action to pursue solutions and put in the work to improve.
Don’t hesitate to seek out professional help to get to the source of your sensitivity and treatment so you can gain greater control over your negative feelings.