Offensensitivity: How to Let Go of a Defensive Attitude

by Andy Wood on March 31, 2015

in Five LV Laws, Insight, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Freedom, Protecting Your Investment

Sad little girl sitting on grass

In an old strip from “Bloom County” back in the early 80s,  Opus, the beloved big-nosed penguin, is sitting at a bus stop with a Polish guy, a black guy, a white guy, an old lady and a midget (um, vertically challenged person)…

Black Guy (to Opus): Ya know… you penguin types offend me.
White Guy: Hey… I’ll tell ya what offends me… dirty words, that’s what!
Polish Guy: Polish jokes offend me.
Black Guy: Stereotypes offend ME.
Old Lady: TV sex offends me!
White Guy: LOOK! That sign is offensive!!
Midget: I made that sign and I’m offended!
Polish Guy (to Black Guy): Frankly sir, you offend me.
Black Guy: Well! I’m offended at your offense.
Old Lady: Those nudes offend my womanhood!
White Guy: Those gays offend my manhood!
Midget: This comic offends my offensiveness!

All: MY GOSH… LIFE IS OFFENSIVE!! AAAAAIGH! (they all run away, leaving Opus sitting at the bus stop)

Opus: Offensensitivity.

Have you checked your offensensitivity levels lately?  Some days it just seems that all of life is offensive.  And other days, well, maybe we have enough grace to let a few people be completely wrong.  This just in from Serenah:

I have just read your put your stingers up piece and it was helpful. But how do you put your stingers up permanently when you are in a situation you can’t remove yourself from? I know God is trying to teach me to let go of defensiveness but I don’t know how?

Fair question.  How do you drop your guard when every day feels like a march into the enemy’s camp?  Here are a couple of thoughts on the fly, but thoughts worth taking a look at.  Offensensitivity is the result of three overlapping things:  Fear, Framing, and False Beliefs.


Like stingers on bees, people get defensive when they perceive danger.  That’s great when you pick up that tool you left in your yard and a rattlesnake crawls out. But every person you meet isn’t a snake in the grass and the world is not out to get you.  So when you’re feeling defensive, ask for God’s help in identifying exactly what it is you’re afraid of.

Most of the time, your fear is aimed at some other emotion:

  • “I’m afraid I’m going to feel embarrassed.”
  • “I’m afraid I’m going to feel pain.”
  • “I’m afraid I’m going to feel rejected.”
  • “I’m afraid I’m going to feel humiliated.”

So… suppose your fear is valid.  Does your relationship with Christ offer you any help for the object of your fears?  Does He offer any answers for rejection, hurt, or embarrassment? Can He teach you something, protect you from something, grow you into something (namely His image)?  Can he give you the grace to love offensive people – ahead of time?

Yes, I’m asking if your Christ is bigger than your crisis (or feared problem).



Back to the rattlesnake illustration.  You go to the backyard and pick up a tool you left there.  Out crawls a rattlesnake!  Headed the other way!

Now… how do you respond?  You have four options:

  • Run just as fast the other way (probably my preferred choice).
  • Freeze in place.
  • Pick up the tool and chase the snake, where you proceed to introduce him to his Maker.
  • Calmly watch the reptile slither away, admiring God’s handiwork in designing his markings, and rejoicing that you get to live on the same planet with such a fascinating creature.

Let me know your secret if you chose option 4.  Meanwhile however you choose to respond will be based on the same data (you’re surprised by a poisonous snake fleeing from you), but with different framing.  One frame says, “That’s a poisonous snake and he can kill me!”  One says, “That’s a poisonous snake and I don’t know what to do next!”  The third says, “That’s a poisonous snake and one of us is going to die today!”  The fourth says, “Wow, that anti-anxiety medicine is really working!”

How you face your fearful or offensive circumstances is all about how you frame it. Sometimes what you perceive as dangerous or offensive in others is just somebody’s pain talking.  Or it’s their fear.  Maybe they didn’t get up this morning with the express intent to ruin your day. Maybe it isn’t about you at all.

Here’s the really cool thing about framing:  You have the capacity to reframe any situation or person you face.  If it helps, you can even make up imagined stories about them.  Better still, find out their real stories.  Ask questions.  In Covey’s words, seek first to understand, then be understood.

False Beliefs

“Why are you being so defensive?” my wife asked me one day.

“Because you’re being so offensive!” I snapped back.

In truth, my reaction was based on a false set of beliefs that questions (in this case my wife’s) were an expression of mistrust. She was just asking for information.

Offensensitive people are governed by a set of beliefs, most of which are false.  For example, some people believe that simple disagreement is a form of rejection or rebellion. Their belief says, in effect, “If you love me, you will love my opinions.”

I know! Sounds crazy doesn’t it?  Until you’re the one being shown up by a disagreement.

False beliefs come in all shapes and sizes.  Here are some of the ones I’ve had actually blurted out to me over the years:

  • I HAD to defend myself!
  • These outsiders are coming in here to take over our church!
  • I know what the Bible says about worrying, but I can’t help it.
  • I just have to make an A!
  • The only reason he did that is… (fill in your judgmental blank).

When we find ourselves in hyper-defensive mode, our lives are being governed by a set of beliefs that are often not based on truth. The only way to drop your guard is to challenge the beliefs with truth. But for this you may need someone else’s perspective, such as a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor. Sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is to lay your beliefs out there for someone else to examine – even if they may sound ridiculous to verbalize.

After all… the reason they may sound ridiculous is because they are.


Life isn’t all one big offense, and you’re only hurting yourself with the belief that it is.  Challenge your assumptions. Reframe your perspective.  Face your fears. You may find that the most offensive-looking people in your world today may well be your best friends tomorrow.

Pam Sumrall April 15, 2015 at 9:25 am

Good stuff and just what I needed today…always appreciate your perspective and still consider you our pastor. Miss you & Robin so very much!

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