Does an Offense Put You on Defense?
by Dr. Laurel Shaler
Have you ever thought to yourself, “I can’t help my responses. God made me this way!” Well, maybe…but, maybe not. The reality is that you may have more control over your responses to people and things than you believe. In fact, the notion that you can’t help yourself may be as much an excuse as your responses are a bad habit. Let’s take a moment to look at personality characteristics and the truth behind them.
In a nutshell, there are two types of personality characteristics. Trait personality characteristics are those we are born with; they are stable over time. State personality characteristics are temporary and can frequently change. Personality traits are usually hereditary and God-given, while personality states change depending upon many different factors. It may be helpful to think of state personality characteristics as being like the weather and trait personality characteristics as being like the climate. The overall climate of where you live does not easily or quickly change, but the weather may change from day to day, month to month, or season to season.
A personality trait tends to last over time, such as being social or shy, whereas a personality state is more temporary, such grief after the death of a loved one or pet. Your sadness does not mean that you have a sad personality. It does not mean you are always sad, or that you will stay sad forever. Rather, your circumstances are dictating the state of mind and emotion you are. Likewise, just because you have a positive temperament as a trait personality characteristic, it does not mean you are always happy.
Regardless of whether our personality characteristics are consistent day-to-day traits or temporary states, it is possible to work on areas of our personality that are causing us problems in our relationships. If you don’t believe that’s true, then you can throw out cognitive-behavioral therapy (the most researched form of therapy in existence) . . . and you can throw out the Word of God. The fact is that the Bible makes it clear that we can change. Romans 12:2 tells us we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Whether you typically react to offenses in a manner consistent with your personality traits or whether you typically react to offenses based on your mood on a particular day, it is possible to change your response to offenses.
At this point, you might be thinking, but she was rude! Or, but you don’t know my mother-in-law—or sister, friend, or whoever. I certainly don’t know the people in your life, but I am writing to you. You see, you are the only person you can control. You can’t change anyone else, nor can any of us. If, however, you are willing to work on developing empathy and extending grace, you can break the bad habit of being easily offended. You can learn to let go of the offense, regardless of what the other person does or doesn’t do.
Throughout our lives we are presented with all sorts of opportunities to take offense. Yes, they are opportunities! (Count on the counselor to offer a positive reframe.) For example, I’ve heard from many women about all the, ahem, comments they received when pregnant. One told of a relative who asked to stand next to the woman in a photo so she would look thin. Another mentioned a friend who asked her if she was having twins (she wasn’t!). And yet another, who was actually pregnant with twins, said she heard the comment, “Better you than me” more than once. (Her reply? “I agree!”)
In these situations and many others, we can choose whether to take offense. The other person may very well have been rude or insensitive, and it may be something that needs to be addressed, but it does not help our relationships when we allow others to hurt our feelings, especially when we allow this over and over. It also takes a toll on our own emotional well-being. At some point, we have to take stock of the situation and realize that we can choose to extend grace and let go of an offense, and that often times it is for our own good that we do so.
I have to offer a disclaimer here. I am not saying that serious or repetitive offenses should be overlooked. In fact, illegal acts done against you should be reported to the police, and all people should be in a safe and healthy environment. No, I am not talking about the big stuff. What I am talking about are those minor annoyances or pesky problems that get in the way of our relationships. When we get upset over every. little. thing. When people have to walk on eggshells around us. When people stop wanting to be around us all together because we’re constantly getting upset. It may be time that you just let it go. Choose your relationships over being right. Choose your relationships over being offended. Choose your relationships over yourself.
Adapted from Relational Reset by Dr. Laurel Shaler (©2019). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.
We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below or like us on your Facebook page. Be sure to check back each month for more articles and products available at your local Christian bookstore.