You're Not Upset...You're Offended...
“You’re not listening to me.”
And why is this?
Is it because you blab and blab and blab?
Is it because you have attitude?
It’s much simpler than that.
When you find the other person has tuned you out it's because of this:
They find you offensive.
See, it’s not that they find you boring or pedantic, condescending, or whatever.
They actually find you offensive.
“Just...just...leave. I can’t even stand the sight of you.”
Often times when a conversation becomes heated, one or both parties begin to mentally check out just prior to when the verbal darts fly or as soon as one lands.
And when I say dart, it’s not far off base.
Here is the definition of offensive.
Offensive: causing displeasure, causing someone to feel resentful, upset, or annoyed, actively aggressive; attacking. (Merriam-Webster)
“actively aggressive?” “attacking?”
Now look at the derivation of the word offensive.
Mid 16th century: from Latin offens- ‘struck against’, from the verb offendere (see offend).
In the very DNA of the word offensive is the idea of being struck.
As a counselor and consultant, I have had the opportunity over the past forty years to witness what actually happens when couples argue or their conversation derails.
When you see these arguments played out on TV or the movies you kind of go down river with the dialogue and watch how it unfolds.
But if you could rewind this conversation you would become aware of the exact moment where one or both of the parties felt like they had been struck.
You’ll see it on their faces.
They pause and think for a billionth of a second...and then say,
“WTF did you just say?”
See, they heard it as the verbal dart hit them right where it hurts.
They can’t believe it so they make sure they heard you straight.
This is mishandled by many counselors as “The Laughlin’s just had a misunderstanding.”
I’m sorry. But that is a French fry short of a happy meal.
THERE IS NO UNDERSTANDING WHEN YOU ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF BEING OFFENDED.
See, there’s this tiny moment where shock is being registered because you cannot believe what you are seeing and hearing what’s coming out of your partner’s mouth.
“When Bev gives me that face and starts wagging her finger at me, I don’t even listen. It’s all I can do to just nod until she is done.”
“I was completely shocked Ed went and spent that money we set aside for our vacation on an investment in the stock market.”
Ed checked out pretty much when Bev’s voice and finger came out.
And Bev is in shock. See, she’s trying to understand. She can’t. She’s still in shock. The verbal bullet hit her but not until she reached down with her hand where the wound was did she see the blood.
Both have been offended by the actions of the other.
Being Offended Has A Soundtrack:
When people are in an argument both sensory channels of sight and sound are in play. It's like being at Chernobyl and hearing the blaring siren going off and noticing the red light flashing at the same time.
You run for the exit.
Ed sees and hears Bev. As soon as she begins pointing her finger and her voice ratchets up, he’s gone.
People checkout of the conversation way before the argument.
The truth is the argument is the byproduct of one or both parties having mentally checked out of the conversation.
And with Bev, the crazy thing is she knows Ed has tuned her out as she’s berating him.
“You didn’t hear a single word I said, did you?”
He pours fuel on the fire by looking at Bev blankly (to appease her) and says,
“Yes, I did.”
This just makes Ed more offensive to Bev because she knows he just lied.
Trouble in Your Marriage...Or Have Your Been Offended?
Years ago, when my daughter first got married, she called me one night practically in tears. From time to time she will call me to get some advice about her marriage.
I wondered what was up but knew just to listen.
She started relating how offended she was by her husband chewing his food with his mouth open while eating dinner.
When she started relating her upset, I thought there was a serious issue in their marriage.
But let me tell you.
Her husband's behavior was offensive to her.
She was so upset she was in tears and she thought she had made a big mistake getting married and “how in the world was she going to deal with this?”
And here is the point in all of this:
Once you feel offended, once you feel annoyed or attacked be it verbal or visual, all understanding goes out the window.
My daughter was trying to understand how the hell her husband could behave like a heathen.
The truth is this is where most couple conversations go off the rails.
They do not discern there was a point of shock and keep talking past this point.
They go down river in their conversation mistakenly thinking they can correct where this relationship canoe is going.
We’ve all made this mistake.
We get caught up in the conversation current thinking we’re bright and intuitive or whatever. This is all fine, except your spouse or partner is back upstream still in shock because her dream trip to Italy has disappeared into some new tech stock.
If you inspect this yourself, I’m willing to bet you’ll find moments when your spouse or partner did or said something that just made you livid. I mean you thought this person in front of you morphed into something alienesque they were so offensive.
And in that moment you are not even with them in that canoe.
Your body may be as you go downstream, but you are not.
And they’re yammering away and you appear like you’re still in this conversation.
You are incensed.
And if you go back to where the sparks started flying, you’ll often find a point where one or both of you were not just upset.
You were outright fucking offended.
Slow Down the Video:
If we slowed down this hypothetical video here’s what it would look like so you can see how it could apply in your life:
You’re in a conversation with your spouse or partner.
You’re both discussing the Keto Diet and the conversation is going along fine and your partner brings up a point that rocks the boat.
You actually feel it. They say:
“You’re a bit overweight you know.”
Now, let’s be honest. If you are overweight you know this, right?
It’s not new news. You already know this.
But it’s like when we were in grade school and we’d say,
“Yeah, well, you don’t have to rub it in.”
But even though you are aware you are overweight you still feel struck.
And for that infinitesimally tiny moment you are offended.
It registered on your personal Richter Scale. It may not have been seismic, but it was enough for you to feel it and that’s where your attention on the conversation gets hijacked.
You continue to talk but you now have 50 units of attention on your partner and 50 units of attention still on that remark.
You can’t quite move off that “You’re a bit overweight you know” comment even though you guys are talking about trying the new Keto diet.
You were excited about Keto but now you’re like WTF?
Now this is just an example to show you how and where your attention in a conversation can get derailed.
People continue to talk not observing that their partner was offended.
Because when couples come to me, I ask each of them where the argument started and one will say, “It started when we began talking about money,” and the other will say about “It’s when Ed mentioned I was overweight.”
And the relationship canoe went where?
On the rocks.
This idea of being struck is extremely important.
Listen: In the midst of a heated argument try poking your spouse or partner with your index finger in the middle of his or her chest while you’re upset and trying to make your point.
They will never even hear you.
They will go all Bruce Lee on you, bat your finger away, and threaten to break your finger if you ever do that again.
Being poked or struck leaves a trace in your mind like no other.
Especially because being struck for no reason is offensive.
Facing What You Can’t Face:
When you are on the receiving end of a communication that you both hear and see and you are offended, the pure shock of it does take your attention out of present time.
It’s like walking down the street and hearing the screeching of car brakes.
You are for that split second riveted on that sound.
If it’s too close you might feel that you might get hit by the car.
I cannot emphasize to you the effect of both sight and sound upon one’s mind.
The fact is the same thing occurs with words and one's physical demeanor.
Unfortunately, when conversations get heated so do words and gestures. It just comes with the territory as things ratchet up.
If you or your partner throw a zinger, your intention in doing so is for that communication to zing----like a ninja star---right between their eyes.
And as you intended, your verbal dart or ninja star lands with a shock.
Honestly, if you walked over and punched them in the face and broke their nose, it’s about the same thing.
The feeling of being struck whether verbal or physical is coming from the same strand of DNA.
Days or weeks or even months later a client will tell me,
“I have to be honest. I love my husband, but I still cannot believe he did that. I mean, I’m not really over it.”
What to Do?
If you can see this in your own life whether it’s with your spouse, a family member or even a colleague, you will be at the first step that’s needed to prevent this canoe from capsizing in the future.
And admitting that you’ve done this puts you in the driver's seat.
See, anyone can tell you over a coffee how Joe or Sally offended them.
The receiving flow is the easiest to say.
What’s tough is admitting when you have done it to another.
Listen: We all have been offended.
But it’s not so easy to own up to the fact that we have let fly our own share of zingers and ninja stars.
Yet, if you take ownership for this, you begin to see your own responsibility in contributing to capsizing a conversation let alone a relationship.
And if you will confront it, i.e. face up to the fact that you have done so, you take some power out of the DNA of being offended at all.
You will in truth restore you own ability to confront and stay calm in the midst of the heat and keep your finger off your own trigger.
And if you are not so quick to let loose the fury of your own zinger, then you begin to be at cause over the heated conversation and not be part of the heat itself.
And really if you look at it, someone needs to be the calm in the storm, otherwise it’s all storm.
So, why not you?
If you have any areas of your personal life you have attention on and want to improve, just click on the link below for a free phone consultation. There is no obligation to do anything else. There is no pitch. And there is nothing to buy.