Hypersensitivity: How Offensive!

By Beth Hyduke

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First, I think it's helpful to establish what hypersensitivity really is. The dictionary defines offense as "the act of displeasing someone, or causing resentment or affront to another person." When someone is offended, they often describe themselves as having been "wounded, hurt, upset, disappointed, resentful, or insulted." Many people, Christians included, walk in constant bondage to perpetual offendedness and hurt feelings. They have submitted to the Lord in many areas of their life but for whatever reason, they have withheld the area of emotions and feelings from Him, choosing instead to internalize and obsessively dwell upon their negative feelings of hurt, betrayal, being ostracized, etc. Since these feelings become a primary focus in their life, it inevitably leads to a vicious cycle in which those negative feelings begin to color all personal interactions, making them feel isolated from, and victimized by, others. They tend to overanalyze every action, word, and motivation and interpret them through the lens of suspicion and distrust. Soon, everything anyone says or does to them is suspect as a deliberate or subversive attack. Such individuals lose the joy they are called to have as Christian believers (John 15:11, Galatians 5:22, Philippians 4:4-8), instead focusing on the petty, inconsequential negatives, living in dejected defeat instead of as victorious and redeemed children of God. If we are willing to identify the root cause of offendedness, confess it, and willingly turn it over to God, we can reverse this downward spiral in our lives and possibly even help others to address it in their lives by our example and testimony.

Ironically, causing offense and taking offence has the same root cause — self-centeredness. This is easy to see in people who routinely cause offense. Their behavior is generally perceived to be rude, abrasive, and inconsiderate with the ulterior motive of elevating or furthering themselves in some way by putting others down. But it is equally true in those with perpetual hurt feelings who tend to be hypersensitive and self-pitying that their priority is themselves. A propensity to be personally offended almost always has at its heart, self-centeredness; hence, familiar self-pitying, self-centric statements like: "she was mean to me...I was overlooked...did you see how she looked at me?...I'm not appreciated...I never get the recognition I deserve...nobody likes one cares about me...etc...etc."

Since self-centeredness is the root cause of all offense — both giving and taking offense — the solution is identical for both offense-causers and offense-takers. The Bible tells us we must die to self so that we can live to Christ (Galatians 2:20). Putting the self to death is key to letting go of hypersensitivity, touchiness, and being easily offended. We follow Christ by daily taking up our cross (Luke 9:23), willingly relinquishing our selfish "rights" and "claims," and committing our way to Him. The old nature, the self, is the tool Satan accesses to manipulate and oppress us through sin (Ephesians 2:2-3). Although it is impossible to control what others say and do to you (thereby creating an artificial environment where your feelings never get hurt), as a Christian, it is possible to control your capacity to allow your feelings to be hurt by deliberately and daily putting to death the old self nature that offense so readily feeds on.

From my own personal experience, I can tell you that most of the time I have gotten my feelings hurt it came as a direct result of becoming disillusioned with some other person, usually someone I trusted and was close to, and was therefore deeply disappointed when they let me down in some unexpected way. It is useful to remind ourselves that putting high expectations on other people who are just as fallible as we are will only ever end in disappointment. Because all mankind is born with a sin nature (Romans 3:23), every person alive will eventually fall short of our expectations and let us down. The Bible teaches that our hope and expectation should be in the Lord, not in other sinners like us. Psalm 62:5-6 says, "For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken." Putting our hope in God realigns our priorities and refocuses our attention off ourselves, our feelings, our tendencies to obsess and over-analyze, as well as off others and their outrageous treatment of us, and back onto the One — the only One — who is worthy of our hope, expectation, and trust. In other words, the cure for being easily hurt and offended by others is to draw closer to Christ.

I would encourage you that you are by no means alone with this problem. I would hazard to guess that all people, even Christians, struggle with harboring grudges and trying to get to a place where they can forgive and get past feelings of resentment towards others. I certainly have and do. But I have also found that when I am resting in Christ, trusting in Him, meditating on Him and His Word, I have peace with others — a peace that is not dependent on what they do or don't do to me, or say or don't say to me, but is instead a natural outworking or byproduct of my relationship with God. It is no accident that when Jesus identified the greatest commandment, He started with a loving relationship with the Lord; and only then, successive to that, came a loving relationship with other human beings (Matthew 22:36-40). The second originates in, depends upon, and flows out of the first.

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Published on 6-18-15