Secondhand offense is like a cultural virus. It permeates our world and infects anyone who allows it to have access to his or her heart and mind. It spreads to everyone unless their emotional immune system is resistant through kindness and resilient through gathering objective understanding.
My definition of offense is: observed or perceived attitude, belief, or action that insults, displeases, or angers the recipient or target.
The secondhand element reveals that the offense is borrowed from another. In other words, secondhand offense is invited in when we grant access to someone else’s offense to affect our thoughts and emotions.
Secondhand offense is destructive to our emotional health and it leads to propagating a false narrative. We become a pawn in another person’s experience; this only widens divides, advocates toxicity as a noble cause, and alienates us from valuable people.
When I was dating the love of my life and we were discussing marriage, he told me that he was not going to wake up to my cigarette breath. I had to choose between either him or cigarettes. I chose him! But my smoking habit was not only a physical addiction, but also an emotional one. It was so hard to quit! For love, I made the hard choice to give it up. However, I still carried the emotional addiction for almost ten years! Though I never put another cigarette in my mouth, I craved it. When someone lit a cigarette, I would linger close and breathe deeply. Even if it wasn’t mine, I would still get caught up in the effect.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that secondhand smoke not only causes lung cancer in those who have never smoked, but releases over 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of which are toxic and can cause death.1
My husband decided that he was not going to marry a smoker; I decided I wanted him more than smoking. Not only did our choices result in over 40 years of marriage and counting, they also gave us both a greater quality of life!
Secondhand offense is not just about you, but the original owner. It is their offense. Something happened to them or they perceived something and chose to harbor hard feelings. They chose not to forgive, to slander the offender, to spew negativity towards their reputation, to allow it to take them captive and to toxify their life. When you choose to breathe in that information, neural memory is formed like data entering a computer in your mind. The more you rehearse the original owner’s offense, the more established the memory becomes in your own brain. You take it on as if it were your own. Think about it, it is not even your experience and it is creating an automatic pattern of thought in you about a person, experience, or belief. The more you “breathe in” secondhand offense, you can become addicted to the crisis, drama, and offense that is subconsciously searching for others to poison.
“Every person must recognize that he or she possesses the power to either accept or reject the negative, fear-based thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and beliefs that knock at his or her mind’s door.”2
Just as the Center for Disease Control wants to protect people from secondhand smoke, I want to protect you from secondhand offense, which is toxic to your mental health. Guarding your body from secondhand smoke will protect you from toxic chemicals; guarding your mind from secondhand offense will keep you from emotional toxicity. You are the guardian of what you will think and say as well as what you entertain from another individual. When you protect your private world from offense it will empower you to lead others, be solution driven, and help to create a positive atmosphere in your spheres of influence.
We understand how caustic offense is when we harbor it in our hearts. It is also damaging to every relationship in our lives. Offense never unites; it only divides. It can threaten the health of our marriage, the connection to our children, our work relationships, and separate us from our dearest confidants.
Every day we may be confronted with the invitation to embrace the foreboding darkness of a perceived threat to our values, beliefs, or dreams. However, we carry within us the power to choose how we will think, what we will believe, and how we will respond to every opportunity presented to us, whether good or bad.
Each of us has accepted those offensive invitations in the past, but today we can choose to break their power to control us. We can lift the proverbial weights to build the muscles of self-worth, confidence, and healthy response when faced with this inevitable affront. We have the power to choose and when we choose powerfully it will build our character and mature us. When we push past the desire to retaliate and push through the negative emotions of offense, we have done the brave thing and set ourselves free.
With much love and validation,
Dr. Melodye Hilton
2 Hilton, Melodye, Unmasking Prejudice: Silencing the Internal Voice of Bigotry, Atlantic Publishing, 2019. p 22
‘Unmasking Prejudice: Silencing the Internal Voice of Bigotry’ invites all of us to recognize and remove the hidden masks of prejudice so that we can have a hand in changing the cultural narrative and bringing healing to our land.