Your brother just made a joke about your appearance and you take offense at what he said. Now you’re seeking payback with a rude comment of your own.
Taking offense is a common response when we feel someone has attacked us.
The aggression can take many forms. It might be physical, such as when a driver cuts you off on the freeway. It can be in the form of a snub — every student in your child’s class except yours is invited to a fellow classmate’s birthday party.
It can even be imagined. You sense that your mother favors your sister’s children over yours, but you’ve never heard her say so.
Whatever the precipitating incident, our responses are surprisingly similar. We feel slighted, insulted or wrongly accused. We launch into an inner tirade, telling ourselves, “She can’t do that to me!” Or, “Why does he think he’s so special?”
Then we launch into retaliation mode. We want to hurt the perceived offender, whether it’s chasing someone down on the freeway, giving your sister-in-law a tongue-lashing or not speaking to your neighbor for years at a time.
Some folks make taking offense a habit. They see every incident as a slight. Even when the transgressions are minor or accidental, they reflexively kick into their “I’ve been offended” mode and turn molehill-size events into the Pyrenees.
The fact is taking offense and seeking retaliation are seldom productive. The process makes us agitated and unhappy. Then we behave in ways that are often worse than the crime itself. The situation inevitably escalates and assumes a life off its own.
Taking offense is also a choice. Rather than being victims, we can always control what we do.
How to avoid taking offense
Count to 10. Taking offense is a knee-jerk reaction. Learn to slow down the process by counting your breaths and relaxing your hands.
Quiet your thoughts. Replace aggressive words (“I won’t let him get away with that!”) with calmer, rational phrases, such as “I can’t control what she does,” or “No harm, no foul.”
Consider other options. Perhaps you opt to discuss the situation privately with the perpetrator or shrug off the event as inconsequential.
Let it go. Even if you’ve already taken offense, it’s not too late to alter your course. Simply quiet the internal agitation. Replace angry thoughts with accepting ones. Drop the matter whenever it arises in your head.
Practice patience. We all make mistakes. Recognize that the offender is a flawed human, just like you. Hopefully, someone can overlook your shortcomings, too.