Take Offense or Let It Roll Off You?

Take Offense or Let It Roll Off You?

Author: Dr. Julie T. Kinn is a clinical psychologist and the deputy director of the Mobile Health Program at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2). She oversees the development of mobile health applications to support the military community.

I’ve been slowly chugging through a great book, The Brothers Karamazov. There’s one section that really resonates with me:

“It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn't it? [A man who takes offense easily] likes feeling offended, it gives him great pleasure, and thus he reaches the point of real hostility.”

I’ve known folks who get offended very easily and then carry the insult around like a gem, polishing it and savoring it. As a teen and young adult, I used to be like this too. If I experienced rude customer service or heard someone say something insensitive, I would tell the story to any of my friends and family willing to listen. The retelling of the offense didn’t help, though. Instead of helping me feel better, it added fuel to the fire and made me think about the insult even more.

For some, speaking to others about distressing events helps boost mood. However, for individuals who are already prone to ruminating (thinking about negative topics over and over), discussing the event may not be helpful. Instead of relieving your hurt feelings, it could actually intensify them. Instead of letting your annoyance roll off you, you could become angry and experience all the negative health consequences that go along with anger: higher blood pressure, increased irritability, etc.

Let’s imagine that you have a typical annoyance at the coffee shop: when it’s your turn to be served, the barista helps the person behind you instead. The next time something annoying like this happens, I have three challenges for you:

  1. Try to be patient. Take a deep breath, and then assert yourself in an appropriate way.
  2. Avoid retelling the event. If you are near one of your friends or colleagues, a quick “can you believe this?” is okay, but don’t let this story become the headline of your day.
  3. If you find you can’t let it go, ask yourself, “Why am I angry?” Oftentimes we are actually angry at ourselves instead of the offending party. It’s uncomfortable to feel upset with ourselves and so we end up blaming others. For example, you may be annoyed at yourself for not speaking up quickly to get your coffee, or perhaps you feel guilty for your rude reaction after you were ignored. Another Dostoevsky quote for you: “A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense.”

In closing, I’ll leave you with one more quote, this one from the great psychologist, William James: “The greatest weapon against stress is the ability to choose one thought over another.” I know it’s easier said than done, but it sure is a great goal. What suggestions do you have for letting go of annoyances?

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