Psychology for Living

Gwen Randall-Young
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Taking offence can hurt too

I once read a statement which was so powerful that I have never forgotten it: you create as much harm when you take offence, as when you give offence. It had never occurred to me that taking offence could be a harmful act.

Upon reflection, I realized that taking offence can actually be an aggressive stance. Think about it; when we take offence we are saying that another person did something wrong. We are judging that person for a sin of commission or omission. We are choosing to be hurt, because by our rules and/or expectations, they should have behaved differently. Those who have many expectations about how others should respond to them are often upset a lot, because people do not always do what we wish they would.

Now just to clarify, I am not talking here about real offences, such as lying, cheating or stealing. It is the perceived ­offences, such as someone not making us important enough, or central in their decisions, plans or actions. We are being co-dependent when our mood, feelings, or sense of worth depend on another. A sure signal that co-dependence is operating is when we think or say: "If he/she really loved/cared about me, then...."

The implication is that because they did not live up to our expectations, they do not love or care about us. Of course this is tremendously unfair. It is virtually impossible to defend against such an accusation. The accused ends up feeling guilty, hurt, frustrated, perhaps angry, and maybe a little less trusting. All this, because they have been blamed for something that, in most cases, was never intended. It may be wise to think twice before we choose to take offence.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychotherapist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or CDs, visit


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