The feeling of being offended is a warning indicator that reveals to you where to look within yourself for unresolved issues. Throughout your life you are going to be offended. People will say or do things intentionally or unintentionally that will hurt your feelings, attack your honor, and strike at your values. As a follower of Jesus, it is crucial that you learn how to manage the emotions that come with being offended for your protection, the relationship with those who offend you, and the glory of God.
In this article, I want to address what God’s Word says about being offended along with three important questions: What does being offended mean? Why are people easily offended? And how can I manage my emotions when offended?
Let’s start with Proverbs 19:11, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (ESV). Being offended and being angry go together. They are the two sides of the same coin.
- When you get offended you are going to experience some level of anger. You may be tempted to become annoyed, irritated, frustrated, or outraged depending on the level of intensity of the offense. However, “good sense makes one slow to anger” when insulted. Good sense refers to being sensible, using discretion, and being insightful about the insult and your emotions of anger. Sensible people use reason to evaluate an insult. In their mind they are asking questions like, “Is that true? Do they know what they are talking about? Does it matter what they say about this?” When you use discretion you are deciding what is necessary to say or not to say in response to the insult. Discretion holds back unnecessary responses that will only escalate the insult and the anger. Being insightful refers to having or showing an accurate and deep understanding of why you are offended and why the person may intentionally or unintentionally offend. In order to gain “good sense” about insults you have to answer the three questions we are looking at in this article. Remember, you are going to be insulted and offended throughout your life. The sooner you develop emotional maturity and awareness in the arena of insults the sooner you will feel happier, less anxious, and free from resentment.
- The other side of the coin says, “It is his glory to overlook an offense.” An offense is that feeling you experience when your standards, principles, or self is attacked whether real or perceived. An offense occurs when you feel wronged in some way by another, whether it was in what they said or did. When we are wronged or insulted our natural reaction is to get angry and retaliate. However, we are told that it is better and to our “glory to overlook” the insult. Most insults do not warrant or deserve our attention. The best reaction is no reaction. Overlook it. Ignore it. Pay no attention to what they just said. Don’t take it seriously. As a result it will be to your glory. It will be to your credit and demonstrate your maturity, wisdom, and insight. You will have succeeded in deescalating an unnecessary conflict and won the admiration of those observing.
Before we address the three questions let me add that just because you are offended doesn’t mean you are right. Many people confuse being offended and being right as the same thing. They think, “If I’m offended by what they said they are wrong and should not have said it.” Not necessarily. Some things need to be said. Truth often stings and hurts. This is what Proverbs 27:6 is referring to when it says, “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy” (NLT). When a friend is being honest about your weight, parenting, language, attitude, or some behavior that is not healthy for you it will be uncomfortable. Most of the time, it feels like an insult and however that particular offense is meant to help you grow.
What does being offended mean?
When a person is easily offended they usually get upset over little things. People will describe this person as someone who makes mountains out of molehills, they frequently take things in the wrong way, people have to walk on eggshells around them and others consider them high maintenance. If people have described you in this way you are probably easily offended. So, what does being offended actually mean?
Even though we have already addressed some aspects of the meaning of anxiety, I want to give it an official definition. To be offended is to have one’s honor and self-concept attacked whether real or perceived.
- When your honor is attacked (real or perceived) you will feel offended. When you feel like your honor is being attacked you feel like someone is trying to damage your reputation. This is also described as character assassination, defaming, maligning, slandering, or vilifying (Matt. 15:19; Rom. 3:8; 2 Cor. 6:8; 12:20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8).
- When your self-concept is challenged (real or perceived) you will feel offended. Your self-concept is a collection of beliefs about yourself. Your self-concept answers the questions “Who am I?” and “How am I doing as a person?” Your self-concept may involve you being a spouse, parent, employee, student, woman, man, single, married, rich, poor, white, black, etc. This will include your sexual orientation, gender, ethnic background, and religion. When an area of your self-concept is attacked you will feel insulted. You have beliefs about yourself that may include, “I am a good friend,” “I am a nice person,” or “I am a hard worker.” When these beliefs are challenged you will become defensive.
One of my self-concept deals with being time consciousness. Time is important and valuable to me. I don’t like wasting time. I find fulfillment in productivity. My day typically starts at 5:30 a.m. and doesn’t slow down until around 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening. Those hours are mostly filled with work items. I have a home office and this is usually good, but sometimes it can be an inconvenience. The people who live in the home with me will often ask me to do things they could do for themselves or they underestimate their time for other things. By default they come to me to ask if I can help them or do something they are responsible for. During work hours I find myself being offended and insulted by their request because it feels like they don’t see my time as very valuable. Most of the things I work on have deadlines. It feels like they don’t value my time and think I can just drop what I’m doing and help them. Whether this is their intent or not is not the issue. The issue is I perceive their actions as an insult because it devalues the importance I place on my time and productivity. Without them knowing it they have challenged my self-concept when it comes to time-management and being productive. This says more about me than it does about them. When an area of your self-concept is challenged you will become offended or annoyed.
When you are insulted you are going to be tempted to retaliate. Listen carefully to Peter’s advice, “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing” (1 Peter 3:9, NLT). When you feel disrespected take the high road and bless the person. Be kind. Speak words of love and forgiveness. Look at them with compassion, not vengeance.
Insults can take two forms: what someone says and what someone does. If you believe you are a hard worker and you overhear someone say, “I think Jim is lazy. He shows up late, leaves early, and takes to many breaks.” That is an attack on your self-concept and that will hurt. If you believe you are typically a clean person and someone says, “Why don’t you spend more time cleaning the house? This place is a wreck.” That is going to sting and you will be tempted to retaliate and defend yourself in anger. You may find yourself becoming bitter toward the people who view you differently than you view yourself.
Even though many insults come to us in offensive statements, we often encounter insults through other’s actions. For example, a wife may become offended if the husband is leaving his dirty socks in the living room. She thinks he is expecting her to pick them up. Her honor and self-concept are both attacked. A boyfriend may feel offended if his girlfriend seems embarrassed to be with him in front of some of her friends. An employee may feel disrespected and unwanted if they were not invited to a staff lunch.
These insults can be either intentional or unintentional. An intentional insult occurs when someone says or does something they know will hurt you, upset you, or insult you at some level. They are deliberately wanting to hurt, embarrass, or shame you. They know that what they are saying or doing will upset you and that is their intent. Often times this is masked behind sarcasm, joking, or side comments. Don’t confuse this with the “wounds of a friend” mentioned earlier. A friend knows that what they are about to say or do will hurt you, but it is for your good. This is constructive criticism. Their intent is not to hurt, but to help even though they know it will hurt.
Many insults happen unintentionally. The person says something or does something that upsets you but it was done accidently or inadvertently. They didn’t mean anything about it. Sometimes people will say things that are offensive to someone else not knowing that it is offensive.
How do you know when you or someone else has been insulted? By their words or body language. They may say something like, “What you said hurt me,” “You have hurt my feelings,” or “Why are you so mean?” They may say nothing at all. They may quietly leave the room, roll their eyes, sigh deeply, shake their heads, etc. If you are paying attention to it, the person will give signs they have been insulted. Emotional awareness is not only being aware of your feelings, but the feelings of others.
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!” The more easily offended a person is the deeper their emotional pain probably is.
Why are people easily offended?
The following is a compilation of reasons why some people are easily offended based on various psychologist and counselors. If you research why people are easily offended you will come across these and more. These are simply a sampling to help you have insight and understanding of why you and others can be offended with so little effort. Many of these overlap and are similar, but each has its own important nuance.
Every person, including you, has faults and weaknesses. A fault can be a moral weakness, intellectual weakness, character weakness or an emotional weakness which all affect relationships.[i] With that in mind, look carefully at Colossians 3:12-13, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (NLT). Faults are not necessarily sins. They are weaknesses. Flaws from the Fall. People are already hurt, in an emotional sense – flawed emotionally. 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, things that wouldn’t bother an emotionally uninjured person can cause a lot of distress to someone with existing wounds. Everyone has an emotional limp or sore spot. This is one reason why we should make allowance for each other’s faults. Many of these faults, flaws, and weaknesses can be identified in why we are offended so easily. When you or someone else gets offended, you have just discovered an emotional sore spot. Remember, when you are offended it reveals more about you than it does the person who is offending you.
Why are you, and others, easily offended? I could easily say it is due to the sinful nature. This would be true. However, because of the sinful nature we are broken in specific ways. The answer to that question, why are people easily offended, looks at some of the details of our brokenness. It reveals the emotional tender areas that need to be healed. Some of those tender areas are listed below. You will discover you relate to several of these and notice the people in your life may also have several of these tender emotional spots.
Because of guilt
Some people are easily offended because of their guilt. Guilt can create a sensitive area in one’s life. If you feel guilty about not being a good parent, then a comment that challenges your parenting skill can easily offend. This is why some people having a conversation with others about parenting may misread someone’s comment as a statement about their parenting weakness. Unintentionally they have just been offended.
Because of past pain
Some comments by people can strike deeply at a past pain (abuse, divorce, failure, etc.) that has not been worked through yet. Even when we are adults, we have sore spots which can easily get retriggered. 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. For some, being easily offended derives from their past experiences of trauma, abandonment, or neglect. As a result they are easily offended when people leave a relationship. This sense of abandonment can appear when someone leaves your church because of a job transfer, a friend at work takes a better job somewhere else, or a friend moves away to be near family. Even though all these are meant to have no offense or insult to them a person can still feel offended due to their past pain.
Because of sensitivity
Some people are simply more sensitive than others. That’s their temperament, how they are wired. It’s their emotional temperature. Physically, some people are more sensitive to cold or hot weather than others. In a similar way, some people are more sensitive to sarcasm, joking, etc. An innocent joke or a playful sarcastic statement can easily be taken the wrong way by someone who is overly sensitive. Some people may be generally overly sensitive, while others may be overly sensitive in certain areas.
I am overly sensitive when it comes to my work ethic. When I was younger I was lazy and hated to work. Didn’t want to be responsible. Over the years God has matured me and I enjoy a good days work, productivity, and getting the to-do list done at work or home. However, if someone makes a comment or friendly joke about me being lazy I sense myself becoming angry and insulted. I am aware of this sensitivity and usually I am able to ignore their statements and move on. Even though I know I am a hard worker (with workaholic tendencies) and they are trying to be funny and don’t mean anything about it, it is still a sensitive area in my life.
These sensitive areas in our lives are many. Some people are sensitive about their looks, weight, intelligence, cooking, yard, children, marriage, finances, and a host of other things. Just be aware that sometimes people are going to say or do things, usually unintentionally, that bumps a sensitive or sore spot in your life.
Because of our worldview (NLP)
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), is the art and science of 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 in order to understand one person speaking to us, we need to process 60 bits of information per second. 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 and those speaking to us. If your NLP is healthy, then you will be less offended, but if it is unhealthy you will find yourself misreading the various communication signals people are sending you and can become easily offended by what you think they are saying. If you discover that you are often offended at school, work, church, home, and other places where people are that is a good sign that your NLP needs attention.
Because of cognitive distortions
Cognitive distortions is a fancy way of saying bias and 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 splitting, emotional patterns, false assumptions, jumping to conclusions, and should/must thinking.
- Splitting: This is the psychological term used for black and white For this person things are either “right or wrong,” “acceptable or unacceptable,” or “best or the worst.” If they think something is right, but someone challenges them with another right option they can become offended believing their view is being attacked or belittled. When this happens they can become upset, angry, and offended. Black and white thinking can make you hypersensitive to other’s opinions and make it difficult to accept criticism without deep insecurity. That can prevent you from genuine growth and self-compassion.
- Emotional pattern: For someone who is more easily offended than others, it can be due to the fact 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 behaviors are auto-pilot responses – we often don’t realize we have reacted in a certain way until it’s too late. An emotional pattern is a reoccurring feeling to a similar event. An event can be just about anything. For example, your mother critically spoke to you growing up and you became conditioned to respond with the feelings of being offended or rejected. Now that you are grown you find yourself still responding the same way when someone says something similar your mother would have said to you or sounds like your mother. The emotional pattern is triggered by the event of someone sounding like or saying something like your mother would say. Your automatic response is the feeling of being offended.
- False assumptions: We get offended by something we don’t know. For example, we get offended by someone because they have not responded to any of our emails. We fill in the gap with false assumptions like, “They are ignoring me” or “They don’t like me so they are not responding to me” or “They don’t think I’m important enough to respond to my email” when in reality we don’t know why they are not responding (vacation, sick, internet is down, busy with more important issues, lost their phone, etc.). I call this a phantom insult; it feels real, but it’s not. A phantom insult is created in our mind and haunts us until we know the truth.
- Jumping to conclusions: This is very similar to false assumptions. False assumptions causes you to jump to conclusions. This is the tendency to make irrational conclusions of a situation or about a person. For example, you may quickly conclude that someone 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! Most people never to jump to a good conclusion, they usually jump to a bad conclusion. The difference between a false assumptions and jumping to a conclusion is the assumption is what you think may be occurring while the jump to a conclusion is what you are convinced is happening. Once you have jumped to a conclusion you will have to be proven that your conclusion is wrong. This distorted thinking can lead to feeling offended and insulted on a regular basis.
- Should/must thinking: People who are easily offended are people who usually think in “should” and “musts.” They have a rigid view of how they and others “should” and “ought” to be. These tight views or rules can lead to disappointment, anger, frustration, resentment, and guilt when they are not followed. This is a cousin of the black and white If you think someone “should” do something and they don’t you may take it personally and be offended by it. You think, “The pastor should have come by to visit me in the hospital, but since he didn’t he doesn’t care about me.” This kind of thinking can occur even if you don’t know if the pastor even knew you were in the hospital. A wife may think, “I take care of the kids all day so my husband can go fishing with his friends. He should at least tell me thank you. It’s obvious he doesn’t love me or appreciate me.” Once you have decided what someone should or must do, you set yourself up to be offended if they don’t do it.
Because of same species syndrome
The story you tell yourself is often forged in pain and suspicion and can significantly limit your life. One way to notice it is when you take a singular truth and make it universally true. Something painful happened in your past and you then project that onto every future scenario that is similar. Another way to notice the story is to pay attention to same species syndrome. A couple of church pastors in your past used power to cause you pain. This is a singular truth, but your internal filter makes it universally true: now all pastors are suspect. This universal truth is reinforced by same species syndrome. The previous pain came at the hand of some church leaders; therefore, all church leaders are highly suspicious resulting in being easily offended by all pastors. This can be applied to anyone who looks similar to the person who hurt you, sounds like the person who hurt you, etc. We can become easily offended by them simply because they remind us of someone else who offended us.
I struggle with same species syndrome with those who remind me of my father. My father was an alcoholic, selfish, and uncaring. I never felt loved by him. When I encounter someone who sounds like him, looks like him, and has mannerism like him I immediately feel like they don’t like me and my emotional trigger is to struggle liking them as well. I have become better with this sensitivity and reaction, but it does reveal an area of pain in me that needs attention and healing.
Because of an unspoken rule violation
Everyone has these unspoken rules in their mind that when violated can become offensive to some. For example, if you were never allowed to say no to your parents you may become offended when your child says no even it is “No, thank you.” Another example could be like the man that married into a large family who vacation 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 wife or friend or play a game of volley ball on the beach with just some of the group. No one actually tells him he “cant” 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 alternatives to do with the family instead and if all else fails members express hurt feelings to discourage the maverick family member. If a person violates an unspoken rule they risk offending others who know the rule.
Because of a challenged belief system
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.”
For example, A Christian is talking to an unbeliever. The unbeliever calmly states their current belief about the church, “I don’t think people need the church. They are always asking for money. Besides, religion has caused so many wars and conflicts over the years. I’m better without it.” The unbeliever is not being mean, he is simply stating what he believes. However, the Christian may become offended and get angry at the person because the unbeliever’s statement challenges the believer’s own beliefs and values. Instead of feeling compassion, they feel offended by the unbeliever because their personal beliefs and values are rejected.
I have seen Christians argue and offend each other over theology; one believer believes in predestination while another believes in free will, one believes women should be pastors and one doesn’t, one holds the view of a literal hell and the other doesn’t, and the list could go and on. The bottom line is: one is offended that the other cannot see nor accept his view. I’ve also witnessed Christians insult each other over methodology; how the church should be governed, how the money should be spent, worship styles, traditional versus contemporary, how to dress at church, how to do evangelism, etc. Again, one or both is offended because their belief system is challenged or rejected. They take this personally and feel offended or insulted.
Whenever your belief system regarding any issue (theology, parenting, taxes, government, etc.) is challenged you may feel you are being insulted and offended because most people cannot separate their personal beliefs from those challenging it.
Because of 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 they are judging how we spent our time or are being intrusive. Negative sentiment override can tarnish any question and make any statement offensive to the listener. The simple question “What’s for dinner?” can be taken as an insult implying that the person never or rarely cooks. The statement, “The trash needs to be taken out” can be seen as an attack on the person’s work ethic and they assume you think they are lazy for not taking the trash out.
Because of the lack of differentiation
Differentiation is the ability to separate you from others. This is the ability to separate your values from another’s values, your beliefs from their beliefs. A differentiated person can stay calm and clear headed enough in the face of conflict, criticism, and rejection to think clearly rather than emotionally. They are able to separate themselves from what the person says and how they feel about what the person says. If we can be differentiated, we can tolerate the thoughts and feelings from others more effectively that may be offensive. Instead of taking it personally and making it about us, we are able to deal with understanding the other person and the insult (if there was one).
Because of judgementalism
It is often the most judgmental people that get offended the most easily. Judgmental 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. Judgmental people think their way is right. And when others don’t do things their way, they become angry, frustrated, and offended.
It is like the mother who gave unsolicited advice about home cleaning to her adult daughter. The daughter politely listened, but didn’t apply the advice. As a result the mother was offended. The mother had a certain standard of clean for the home that her daughter did not have. The mother judged her daughter’s standard and skill, offered advice, but the mother felt rejected and unappreciated because the daughter did not apply her advice. Judgmental people struggle with other standards they deem to be to low and feel offended when their advice is not taken seriously.
Because of anxiety
If a person struggles with anxiety they can be easily offended. One aspect of anxiety is the need to control. When someone says something or does something that makes you feel less in control it can offend you.
I heard about a mom and dad going over to their son and daughter-in-law’s new home. The young couple had unpacked most things and arranged the furniture the way they liked it. The parents, on their own, began moving the furniture around the leaving room to where it made more sense to them. They were trying to be helpful, but it was offensive to the young couple. This created anxiety for the couple and a feeling of being insulted at the same time.
Because of insecurity
If a person struggles with insecurity they can be easily offended. People who feel insecure have often experienced being overlooked or their achievements invalidated. As a result they may become easily offended in their areas of insecurity. They can become easily offended if they feel ignored in some way.
When the husband gets up in the morning he is wide awake and ready for the day. His wife wakes up more slowly and doesn’t want to talk until after her first cup of coffee. The husband says “good morning,” but the wife does not reply immediately or replies with a grumpy tone. The husband, due to some insecurities of being ignored, becomes offended due to the perceived unloving response of his wife.
Because of poor modeling
If your parents were easily offended, then became defensive or went on the offensive, you probably didn’t learn healthy responses to offensive statements. If your parent’s mindset was “you hurt me, I’ll hurt you back” or sulking when people criticized them you probably picked up some of their bad responsive habits. 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.
Because of expectations
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.
Because of low self-esteem
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: “I don’t like me, so you don’t like me either” or “I think I’m worthless, so you think I’m worthless.” As a result, 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.
Because of poor communication
Often, the offense is created as a result of poor communication or misunderstanding. Some people are terrible communicators. They sound angry when they are not. They use words that can be easily taken the wrong way. They don’t think through what they are going to say or how it will sound. As a result, they are generally offensive and can be clueless of how offensive they are.
On the other side of poor communication is the skill of listening and interpreting what others say. Some people don’t know how to listen, ask questions for clarity, or repeat what the other person says for better understanding. As a result, they walk away from the conversation being offended based on what they think they heard and understood without follow through or clarification.
Managing the Offense
In researching this subject in the Scriptures I have noticed the majority of statements in the Bible about being offended or insulted are directed toward the one being offended, not the one doing the offending. Being offended has more to do with you than the person who offended you. I think we try too hard to change the person who is offensive rather than changing us who are offended. You will never get rid of offensive people. Intentionally or unintentionally, you are going to bump up against statements or actions of others that will insult or hurt you. Someone once said, “Freedom of speech gives others the right to offend me, whereas freedom of thought gives me the right to not be offended.” So, how do we manage the emotion of being offended?
Don’t pay attention to everything people say
Throughout your life you will read an email, text, something on social media, or overhear a conversation at work or home about you and it may not be flattering. When that happens remember Ecclesiastes 7:21-22, Don’t pay attention to everything people say—you may hear your servant insulting you, and you know yourself that you have insulted other people many times (GNT). Don’t take to heart everything people say about you. I had a friend who once arrived late to a lunch engagement. When she arrived she walked up to the table and asked, “What you all been talking about?” Someone jokingly said, “We’ve been talking bad about you.” Without hesitation she said, “Well, it couldn’t have been bad enough.” Whatever you overhear someone else say about you is probably not the worst thing they could say if they really knew you. Besides, I’m sure you have talked bad about other people. Show the same amount of grace and forgiveness toward those who insult you as you would want someone to show you if you insulted them.
Train yourself to love rude people
Loving rude people is not easy. You will need to work at it. However, when you love people it’s easier to forgive them. Proverbs 10:12 reminds us, “Hatred stirs old quarrels, but love overlooks insults” (TLB). To overlook something you have to look above it and past it. You need to see the big picture. Consider who the person is whose offensive. It could be they meant nothing by it, or it could be they intentionally meant to hurt you. Be the bigger person. Is this worth arguing over? If so, what is the best way to address this without you being offensive back. Most insults are unintentional. Overlook the insult and move on. Be more committed to the person than the insult.
Learn to stay calm when insulted
You don’t always need to react or especially over-react when someone insults you. Proverbs 12:16 states, “A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted” (NLT). The Bible does not tell us how to stay calm in this situation because it will be different for many people. For some they need to pray, quote scripture to themselves, or maybe simply breath, talk to themselves about what was just said, think privately, or count to ten. Whatever technique works for you to remain calm use it. You do not need to respond. You don’t always need to correct or challenge. There is a time and place for everything and when you are feeling offended and angry may not be the best time. A wise person stays calm when insulted.
Be quick to forgive an insult
Forgiveness prevents a grudge growing inside you. Proverbs 17:9 says, “He who covers and forgives an offense seeks love, but he who repeats or harps on a matter separates even close friends” (AMPC). To forgive someone means you no longer hold them accountable for what they said. This doesn’t mean you remove all the consequences, but it does mean you release yourself from becoming their judge and executioner. Forgiveness releases you from their offensive statement. It keeps you from having a grudge and getting trapped in the prison of bitterness. Forgiveness frees you.
Let me be clear, forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending like they didn’t do it or it didn’t hurt. Forgiveness is not denying, approving, or diminishing the wrong that was committed against you. Forgiveness is not ignoring the wrong. Forgiveness is not enabling sin. Forgiveness is not forgetting about the offense committed against you and pretending like it never happened. Forgiveness is not dying emotionally and no longer feeling the pain of the transgression. Forgiveness is not reconciliation because reconciliation is involves both forgiveness and repentance. Forgiveness is not neglecting justice. If the offense was a criminal act, then justice should be applied. From your perspective, forgiveness covers the offense with grace and mercy. (For a greater detail on what forgiveness is and is not, see my article “Forgiving Others”).
Make allowance for people’s insults
Giving someone an allowance is giving them permission to be unkind, rude, selfish, and offensive at times due to their own sinfulness and brokenness. Good parents give children an allowance to make messes, to accidently break toys, and wet the bed. They expect children to be messy. In a similar way, give the people around you an allowance to be offensive sometimes. Give them space to be emotionally messy. Ephesians 4:2 says it this way, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love” (NLT). Making allowance is learning to tolerant others annoying faults with love. Some people’s faults are offensive. There will be people in your life that come across offensive and annoying to you because of how they look, the words they choose, the tone in their voice, or their body language communicates something irritating to you.
When people are grieving they may say something or do something that is rude. Make an allowance for that. After a twelve hour grueling shift at work, your spouse is going to be tired and exhausted and may be impatient with you. Make an allowance for that. People’s brokenness are more easily seen when they are grieving and tired. Because of their faults and your own faults, give them some space (this is grace and mercy).
Be patient with difficult people
Being patient with people is learning how to respond in slow motion. Everything slows down. There is a time delay in effect. Emotionally and mentally you give yourself a time out to review the play and make an accurate decision. James 1:19 says, “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (NLT). Notice the slow motion: slow to speak and slow to get angry. You are not in a hurry to defend yourself or retaliate. You are not in a hurry to get irritated, annoyed, upset or offended. James is actually giving us a step-by-step process for dealing with our emotions when we feel offended.
Step 1: When someone says something that offends you be quick to listen. Be a careful and thoughtful listener. Ask yourself question like: What do they actually mean? What do I need clarity on? Why do they feel a need to say what they said in the way they said it? What does their insult reveal about them? Why does their statement offend me? What is the best way to respond to them that would honor God, them, and me at the same time? Should I even respond?
Step 2: After you have listened be slow to speak. Choose your words and tone carefully. You don’t want to escalate the situation in the other person or yourself. Ask good questions like: What did you mean when you said….? Why did you feel a need to say what you said? Do you actually believe what you just said? When you do speak be honest. Tell them that what they said hurt you and explain to them why it was offensive to you (your personal anxiety, expectation, same species syndrome, etc.).
Step 3: If you do the first two I’m convinced the natural response will be slow to anger. This doesn’t mean you will not get angry, but it means your anger engine will not go from 0 – 60 in 3 seconds. You will notice that your anger is speeding up, but at a healthy pace; one that is easily manageable or slowed downed. Some people are difficult. Something about their personality rubs you the wrong way, their tone of voice is irritating to you, and for you they are high maintenance. Paul gave Timothy some good advice when he said, “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people” (2 Timothy 2:24, NLT).
Don’t bite back, but bless back
When we are offended our natural reaction is to offend back. We want to repay evil with evil. In reality, what happens is we try to repay evil with a greater evil. If we are insulted we will try to insult the other person with a greater insult. The classic example of this is when someone makes a bad joke or insult about your mother, you come back with one that is even worse about their mother. This insult for insult approach can cause a conversation to change topics quickly and escalate out of control. For example, Jack insulted Jill’s cooking. Jill returns the insult by degrading his home repair skills. Jack comes back with another insult about how messy she is. Jill comes back with another insult about how he doesn’t spend enough time with the kids. The evil for evil debate intensifies.
Retaliating with insults is an unhealthy way people try to control the person or situation. This is the opposite of what God wants you to do. God’s Word says, “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing” (1 Peter 3:9, NLT). One way to pay the person back with a blessing is to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Have a meaningful conversation with them before judging or punishing them for what they said.
Confront them when necessary
You may sense that you need to address the offensive individual. He or she has crossed the line several times and you believe the situation calls for you to have an encounter with the person to deal with the offense. If you believe it is time for you to have a serious and mature conversation with them about it then keep the following two scriptures in mind.
Matthew 18:15-20 begins by saying, “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back” (NLT). Some offenses are sinful. There are some things that people say that are sins against you. People can sin against you and offend you by what they say. The Bible calls these sins lying (Pr. 26:28), slander (Matt. 15:19), gossip (Rom. 1:29), complaining (Ph. 2:14), boastfulness (Rom. 1:30), harsh words (1 Tim. 5:1), foolish talk (Eph. 5:4), contentious speech (Prov. 18:19), deceit (Psalm 34:13), abusive speech (Colossians 3:8), and failure to speak (2 Cor. 4:13; 2 Tim. 2:12). If a person is repeatedly saying these things toward you, you may need to go privately and point out the offense.
When you have this conversation about their offense toward you keep in mind Paul’s advice, “If another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1, NLT). When you talk to them they will probably get upset, try to defend themselves, and may say more offensive things to you but you are to be gentle and humble. Be a good listener. Use calm words. Stay on point. Be careful when having this conversation because you will be tempted to fall into the same sin of being offensive toward the person if your emotions get out of control.
Every day you will have plenty of opportunities to get angry, stressed or offended. You can choose to not let little things upset you. Through Christ you can be a forgiving, patient, loving, and clam person who makes allowances for people’s faults. When you feel that you need to address an offensive person, you will be ready to so with gentleness and humility. Most of the time you simply need to overlook the offense and rise above it and move on.
- How does being offended reveal to you an area in your life that has some unresolved issues? What unresolved issues do you currently see in your life that cause you to be easily offended?
- What does Proverbs 19:11 teach you about being easily offended?
- Name two areas where you are easily offended when your honor or self-concept feels attacked or challenged?
- When insulted, what does 1 Peter 3:9 look like when applied to your life?
- How do you know when an insult is constructive criticism rather than an intentional insult?
- This article listed several reasons why people can be easily offended. Which of these do you see in yourself? What do you think that reveals about you?
- There are several suggestions given to help you manage the feeling of being offended. Which of these do you find the most helpful? Why?
- How do you stay calm when insulted? What tools or techniques help you remain aware, calm, and present?
- How do you know when its the correct time to address an insult rather than overlook it? How do you know when its the correct time to overlook the insult rather than respond to it?
[i] A morally weak person knows what they ought to do, but doesn’t do it. A morally weak person may tell only half the truth to avoid consequences, they will tell you they are going to do something but don’t. An intellectually weak person struggles to remember names, numbers, processes, order of things, dates, and the like. They will wrestle with complex situations that require careful thought. Character weakness refers to the aspects of a person’s personality and repeated behavior that have a negative impact. This person could be absent-minded, impractical, lazy, naive, nosy, or superficial. An emotionally weak person does not have the ability to manage their emotions and therefore are not able to accept and be aware of the way they feel. This person may struggle doing what they said they were going to do, are afraid of confrontation when necessary and will back off, and are unaware how their words and actions affect people negatively.