I used to be quite the wet blanket as a kid, always getting bent out of shape over the silliest things. Coincidentally, I didn’t think much of myself, and I constantly looked to others to assess my cool factor. Here’s the thing though. I’m not so sure that it’s much of a coincidence. My lack of self esteem probably had more to do with what I found offensive than the actual teasing did. For example as I’ve grown into my feet, I’ve found myself less embarrassed when I trip–even if all the other kids still laugh at me. I don’t associate tripping with my big stupid dopey feet anymore (why would I? They’re just the right size for me), but rather a divot in the sidewalk. This shift in my self perception has everything to do with how I feel when I do something silly. You can call my feet skis all you want to now and I’m not going to cry…because I disagree. (By the way, I don’t really have as big of a hang-up about my feet as it sounds).
I can only speak accurately for myself on this one, but I’m going to through it out there anyway: We’re offended most by things that we find a grain of truth in. All of us.
I figured this out when my ex boyfriend told me I had a caustic sense of humor, and was therefore not funny. (Like I said, ex-boyfriend). Interestingly, I was completely fine with that remark. The truth was that I disagreed, and thought he was an idiot. On another occasion, I was waitress-ing at a bar known for it’s caustic sense of humor, and the cook cracked a joke about my intelligence…EXCUSE ME? I fumed about it for days.
What is so different between these two criticisms that one bothered me and the other didn’t? Two opinions, maybe said in jest, but only one was offensive. The key factor was my opinion. I have never thought of myself as especially smart, because all of my grade school friends were in extra super honors classes, while I was only in honors (why schools establish so many levels of specialness I don’t know). Anyway, intelligence was important to the crowd I spent time with, and my test scores were never quite good enough to keep up with them. The result: sore spot.
Whether or not either of these jerk-offs were right about me is beside the point. I might not be funny; I might be smart…who knows. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how a comment is intended. It’s offensiveness rests solely on the psyche of the person it’s directed at. Think you’re bony, but someone calls you fat? You’re more likely to laugh than cry. Consider yourself to be caucasian, but told you resemble a purple people eater? That’s not going to mean much to you.
The stronger your self perceptions are, the less effect contrary opinions have. So the next time you find yourself offended by a comment, ask yourself why. I would be very interested to hear the results.