11 reasons why you get offended easily, according to psychology

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So, you’re wondering why people and their words/actions/opinions offend you so easily.

Why you get riled up so quickly whenever something even a little bit controversial flies by your radar.

Well, let’s dive into your mind and look at some of the most common psychological reasons why you get offended by the little things as well as the big things.

Why do I get so easily offended?

Like all emotions, the feeling of offense differs from person to person, and 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. You don’t let other people affect you or your state of mind so readily.

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 are thick-skinned and have more patience to communicate and unwind these issues before they become big problems. As a result, they are not easily offended.

Why It Matters

Taking offense is not an entirely bad thing, but if it becomes a regular thing and harms your relationships, mental health, and life opportunities, then it needs to be addressed.

If you continue the way things are, you risk driving people away and experiencing even more severe emotional responses to people and the things you see/watch/read.

Instead, learn to rein in your knee-jerk offended reaction to everything and everyone.

Your next step should be to read this article: 9 tips to help you stop being easily offended by things all the time.

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.