- Mental Health
The Consequences of Taking Offence
The opportunity to take offence
Most of us will have days when we will have the opportunity to take offence. I want you to know that the choice is yours and if you are smart you will not take offence no matter how justifiable it is for you to do just that. If you take offence then you will take in a lot of other stuff besides and this stuff is toxic it is poison and it won’t affect the person that you are offended by it will affect you.
In order to illustrate how you becoming offended hurts you I want to share with you a really small incident when I got my feelings hurt and became offended. This incident successfully messed me up for nearly twenty years. This is not something that I am proud of, in fact I feel really stupid that I allowed the feelings of offence into my life over something so trivial, and then I fed them almost daily so that their influence in me grew stronger. I want to tell you this because I don’t want you to be the same kind of fool I was, nor do I want you to suffer and inflict the same kind of damage to yourselves I did as a result of being offended for nearly twenty years.
The incident over which I took offence happened when I was about 13 or 14 years old while I was at school. I wasn’t going to tell you what this incident was because it was so trivial and it will make me look real stupid if I tell you about it. But I changed my mind because I want you to know that it is not the incidents that happen to us that are the problem, but our reactions to them. And it is by telling you just how stupid and trivial this incident was and what my reactions to it were, that you will be able to see this more clearly.
Please don’t form your opinions on how moronic I am until you have read the whole story, because you might have to eat your own words at some point and the sweeter our words are about others the easier they are to swallow later when they come back to us.
There was a bank of lockers in our form room (do you Americans call it a homeroom?) each one had a label to identify whose locker it was. Someone had scrawled on each label the word ‘STALE’ in capital letters. Stale was the nickname of one of the boys in our class at that time. I know, I told you it was stupid and trivial.
Well we were unaware of this when the teacher gave us all a piece of paper and told us to write in capital letters the word stale and our names. We did this and they were collected in. The teacher then looked at all the pieces of paper and decided that it was my handwriting that looked like that which had been scrawled on the lockers and based on that he decided that I was the one responsible for the scrawling which had been done on the lockers. The punishment that I was given was not particularly grievous. I had in fact experienced far worse punishments in the past (which I had unfortunately deserved), but the punishment was not the problem. My problem was in the fact that this time I didn’t deserve it.
My punishment was only very minor; all I had to do was write out a hundred times ‘I must not write on school lockers. ‘I had endured rightful punishment before this incident and after and each time without any problems. I had been given the strap, the cane, lines, detention and been sent out of the class. All these punishments, were as far as I was concerned at the time, par for the course, if you did something wrong and were caught then you got what you deserved, and it was soon over and forgotten.
However, because I had not done what they said this time, I burned with a sense shame and of injustice. I had a righteous indignation burning in me. I went to this teacher and told him that I hadn’t done it. His reply to my protests of innocence crushed me beyond words. He said that he only had my word for that, and he didn’t believe me. He wouldn’t listen to anything more that I had to say on this subject, he said nothing I could say would change his mind. My pride was hurt, my integrity was doubted and my word not accepted. I had been judged and found guilty.
I went to my form (class) teacher and told her, she said she although she wanted to believe me like the other teacher she had only my word that I hadn’t and the other teacher had evidence that I did, so she could do nothing about it.
This was an insult added to my injury. This was all made a hundred times worse because these two teachers had been my favourite teachers. I had liked both teachers very much and up to that point I respected them both. They were both excellent teachers and this made their treatment of me and their opinion of me all the more damaging.
Here come the consquences - shame, humiliation, rage, anger, a sense of injustice and betrayal
I was also very angry with my classmates, because one of them had written on these lockers. And while the teacher had stood there accusing me in front of the whole class they had knowingly kept silent and let me take the blame. That was something that I would never do, let someone else to take the blame for something that I did. What’s more I couldn’t understand how they could just sit there and allow me to take all the blame, and still live with themselves afterwards?
I know I know I told you that it was only a silly minor incident, but the affects that this incident had on me, were out of all proportion to what had happened, and the affects of that incident went on for years. I came to hate the teacher that had accused me, with a red-hot hatred. I couldn’t see him without all the feelings of shame, humiliation, rage, anger, injustice and betrayal flooding over me. It physically affected me, I would become very hot and flushed, my heart would beat like a trip hammer, my stomach would churn and I could barely bring myself to look him in the eye or speak to him.
I would go to bed most nights dreaming of a thousand different ways to inflict every sort of pain and humiliation on this man. I would daydream and fantasise his death at my hands. Sometimes it would be at the hands of someone else, but always ultimately I would have the power to save him, and I would be the one who held his fate in my hands. In my fantasies he would plead and beg for me to believe him. Of course beg as he would for me to believe him and save him, I never would, I would instead give him back his own words, I would say to him like he did to me, ‘I only have your word for that’.
This day dreaming and obsession with the hatred I felt for this man did not end when I left school. I carried this hatred with me until after I had children. It was more than twenty years after the incident, before I got free from the hatred I had for this man. A hatred that was often the last thing that I thought about before I went to sleep at night and often the first thing I thought about in the morning. It ate at me like a cancer, and the more I entertained the hatred the more it grew, and the more its hold on me grew. I can almost hear you saying to yourself, how stupid can this woman be and still be able to breathe? How stupid is she to let this small thing have such an effect? Well however much stupidity it takes, I had it and then some to spare.
The hatred and all the other feelings that went along with it were just as powerful twenty years later as they were the day it happened to me. If anything the feelings had grown, not diminished. If my mind touched this incident, I could still feel the burning shame and humiliation; it was as though it had just happened. It was amazing how all sorts of things would trigger the memory of this incident and all the feelings that went with it.
Who pays the consequences?
When God dealt with me concerning my hatred of this man, I finally gained my freedom. It was not this man that my hatred had imprisoned for more than twenty years, it was me. It was not this man that my hatred and fantasies had damaged, it was me. No doubt the day after the incident, that man had forgotten all about it. He had probably not given it another thought in all those twenty odd years.
I, on the other hand, had lived with it almost daily and in the process I had been well and truly bent out of shape by it. Any wonder God doesn’t want us to treat people unjustly and unfairly. Is it any wonder that God wants us not to jump to conclusions about things, and why He doesn’t want us to go around making all sorts of assumptions about people? This teacher came to a wrong conclusion based on a wrong assumption and I let it screw my life up for a very long time.
Because of these feelings that I allowed to take over and dominate my life I shut many good things out of my life and I had been imprisoned or shut in with all these bad feelings that I had. How did I get my freedom? The same way I could have done the moment it happened, I forgave the man I hated and I prayed for him. I asked God to bless him. How did I manage to do that feeling the way I did? I didn’t, I couldn’t, but yet it happened. It happened after I had an encounter with the living God
During that encounter I saw my life as it really was, and I experienced the unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness of God. When the amazing grace of God touched me in this way it transformed me and my feelings about others. When I did forgive this man it was like a ten ton weight had been lifted off my shoulders, I could at last sleep at night, without the dreams of what I would like to do to him.
In conclusion don’t get caught in this trap like I did, if you are already caught get out by forgiving the person who offended you regardless of what they have done. Why should I? you may be asking, do it because it is in your own best interest. Given the opportunity to take offence do yourself a favour don’t take it.