Personal Offense

So many people these days take deep personal offense to potentially hurtful words spoken that are not directed at them personally. They are easily offended, and unable to let go of that feeling. As a result, these people carry a significant amount of mental clutter unnecessarily. This weighs them down emotionally, robbing them of joy.

I am not sure how this came about, I only have theories. Parenting and socialization play a role of course. Perhaps the newer generations lack a strong sense of personal identity. Perhaps they have not developed a thicker skin due to a lack of hardship in their lifetime. This may be the backlash effect of the fact that now is the safest and time to be alive. After all, hard times make tougher people …. and therefore easy times make weaker people, by definition.

The way I see it, there is only two reasons why someone’s words would offend us so bad that we internalize them:

  1. We believe deep inside that the words they speak may be true, and we are unwilling to face the possibility that they are.
  2. We don’t recognize that the words of another person are only that; the opinion of another person.

The first reason has the solution right in the reason itself. That is, consider and explore the possibility that these offensive words may be true. Either we learn something new about ourselves, and make some personal changes as we see fit, or we learn that those hurtful words don’t apply to us. Either way, the next time we hear those hurtful words they will have no effect on us. It’s just that simple.

The second reason is really the one I wish to explore.

Let me start by saying that opinions aren’t real. They don’t change the reality we live in at all. It is not until we listen and internalize them that they have value. They loose all power once they are ignored or internally compartmentalized. Ignoring and compartmentalizing does require a strong personal identity on our part. We must be confident in who we are, and that we are good people.

If the person speaking their opinion is someone we have no value for, and no reason to interact with in the future, their opinion is easy enough to ignore. Since they will play no part in our lives, there would be the reason to apply any value to what they think or believe.

If on the other hand, there is a possibility we will have future dealings with this person, that they carry a certain amount of value in our lives, then we can learn to compartmentalize. That is, create mental boxes in which to place their opinions, words, and gestures that define the source of their hurtful comments. Doing this frees us from the mental stress of carrying those words by dismissing them as a result of a character flaw they have. It does not completely devalue the words as we are still retaining them for informational purposes, but it does rob them of negative emotional value. Some of these mental boxes are:

  • Ignorance – Their hurtful words and beliefs are a result of being uninformed or misinformed. They either will not educate themselves, or are in a situation (a bubble) where that information is not easily available.
  • Pain – Their beliefs stem from a deep mental wound, and holding on to these beliefs fills the void created by a tragedy in their life. These beliefs are held purely by anger/sadness, and are not based on logical reasoning and rationality.
  • Insecurity – By believing the hurtful things they say, they permit themselves to live with the parts of themselves they believe are weaknesses.

I am sure there are other boxes, but I do believe these are the most common.

Side Note: I think of the movie “Dr Sleep” and how Danny used mental boxes to trap the spirits haunting him. It may help to think of it that way.

Mental compartmentalizing serves to identify these words for what they are, and relieves us of the burdens of carrying the emotional loads of others.

If we are compelled to help those with these burdens (these false beliefs), compartmentalizing can serve as a starting point to help them. The type of box we are putting their words into determines the area we should address with them. If they are ignorant, educate them. If they are in pain, provide care. If they are insecure, start by making them feel better about themselves. Address the source of their words and beliefs, and the changing of their beliefs will happen naturally.