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Author Topic: When everything you say is an "insult".  (Read 14116 times)

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When everything you say is an "insult".
« on: June 25, 2014, 03:41:58 PM »
Many years ago, I was in a group of friends that I tried to keep in touch with after I moved to a different city. One day, I got an email from one of them who was sadly ending our friendship because she couldn't take all my belittling comments any longer. I honestly had no idea what she was talking about. I thought I had always been cordial and friendly, and I was horrified that I may have said something to offend her. But she declined to provide any concrete example.

I consulted with another friend in our group to find out what had happened. Apparently, every time I had said something complimentary, she had interpreted it as a slight.

For example, if I had said:  "Oh wow, that is the coolest t-shirt!"
She would interpret it as: "You have ugly pants."

If I asked a question: "Have you tried this design software? What do you think of it? We might get it at work."
She would hear: "The software you use sucks. We're getting better stuff."

I know that I am not responsible for someone who chooses to be offended not matter what is actually said. And I don't think it would be either appropriate or practical to apologize. I feel bad that her feelings were hurt, but how would one apologize: "I'm sorry I said your new haircut looks great"...?

However, for future reference, is there any way though to mitigate/manage bad feelings with someone who is like that?

Note: I never use sarcasm, and no one else in our group did either. And there were two of us who "got dumped" for being so "cutting with our remarks". The other person who was "insulting" is a friendly, outgoing individual who never has a bad word to say about anyone.


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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2014, 03:47:58 PM »
No. Someone who is THAT determined to find offense in ordinary, everyday comments will find it no matter what you do.


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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2014, 03:53:16 PM »
Nope, there's nothing you can do unless you want to chase after them and grovel for forgiveness over every imaginary slight. Blah.

As for how to respond to them, the only thing I can think of is along the lines of "I'm saddened and puzzled to hear that you found me so insulting. I certainly never meant to hurt you, and honestly can't recall what I might have said that was so terrible. I accept your decision and wish you the best of luck."


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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2014, 03:53:36 PM »
Allow me to introduce you to my post on Magic Words.

The short answer is no, there isn't anything that you can do that will make this unreasonable person turn reasonable.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2014, 03:54:48 PM »
You are well shed of this person.  I have cut off an ex-friend who would get offended at totally innocuous things I'd done.  I got so tired of walking on egg shells that I realized the friendship wasn't worth it to me anymore.
After cleaning out my Dad's house, I have this advice:  If you haven't used it in a year, throw it out!!!!.


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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2014, 03:57:19 PM »

Your former friend sounds like had some serious issues unrelated to you if "Nice shirt!" translated in her head to "Hideous pants!"

To use a computer analogy, there is programming you can write so that when someone enters a phrase, a different phrase is outputted. Think typing in 'Soo Saint Marie Michigan' and Google gives you addresses for 'Sault Ste Marie MI'. In this case, whatever programming was running in her head was taking genuine compliments and turning them into stealth insults.

I think the only way this could be/have been addressed is if the person in question gives you a clue as to the faulty translation running in their head. Otherwise, there's no reasonable way to guess that in her world, it was perpetually Opposite Day, and she was feeling hurt by it.
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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2014, 04:01:51 PM »
is there any way though to mitigate/manage bad feelings with someone who is like that?

Nope.  No. Nyet. Non.

Besides, why would you want to be friends with someone who is obviously insane and so determined to be upset?
No one ever says, "Why me?!?!" when something good happens.


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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #7 on: June 25, 2014, 04:04:30 PM »
I would quickly divest myself of this "friendship" and consider myself well shot of that woman. She's bound and determined to be upset, but you don't have to put up with her nuttiness.
"It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more to stand up to your friends" - Harry Potter


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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #8 on: June 25, 2014, 04:18:55 PM »
Well, as it's been many years and I'm no worse off for not knowing her anymore. I'm not too terribly worried about that particular situation. I was wondering more in the general sense of if there is some kind of strategy that could be used to manage such a person if you sort of have to.

For example, what if there is a co-worker who is similarly bonkers? Or a relative prone to imagine incessant snark?

In the case of my former friend, all I can do is shrug and say "Oh, well. Not much I can do about that." and unburden myself of the cranky individual.

I was wondering more about mitigation/management for the hypothetical case where you don't have as much of a choice about the association.

shhh its me

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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #9 on: June 25, 2014, 04:21:50 PM »
If they say something at the time you might be able to work around it but if they don't even tell you then there is nothing you can do.

I had a supervisor at work do this once , I said something to the effect , "you look spectacular today" her reply (in a hiss ) "So I normally look like poopadities."  Never ever complimented her again. *she always looked good but this was just the perfect color and cut for her.


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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #10 on: June 25, 2014, 04:25:34 PM »
That's one friendship I would be more than happy to let go.

Some people are just determined to find the worst-possible way of interpreting other peoples' words.


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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #11 on: June 25, 2014, 04:39:36 PM »
What a wet blanket. I'd just refrain from giving them say complements.


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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #12 on: June 25, 2014, 04:46:09 PM »
Others have given good advice, but I just want to add that I think you handled the situation perfectly from what you described.  I've hung out with super sweet, never-make-a-mean joke type people and I've hung out with let's-rib-on-each-other-as-hard-as-we-can type people so I've hard times where I've had to catch myself not to make a cutting remark with the wrong crowd that would've gotten a laugh with the other.

In your case, I think it was really smart that you went to someone else who had witnessed it and asked whether there was credence to the accusation.  It is so possible to say things we don't realize will hurt other people.  I have a friend who just recently got fairly.... judge-y... and I don't think she realizes it.  Not worth ending a friendship over, but I can see it from the other side.

I agree with others who have said it is a blessing that this person is an ex-friend.  Some people look for things to be victims over and that's not a good type of person to form a friendship with because eventually you'll be the only one around to 'victimize' them.


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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #13 on: June 25, 2014, 05:32:38 PM »
I've known similar people, and in my experience the best thing you can do is keep being as courteous as possible and allow their offense to be theirs. If an oversensitive acquaintance blows up at me over something innocuous, I've found groveling or scrambling to fit myself to their perception of the world tends to just stress both of us out - it validates their unreasonableness, which feeds the cycle and helps them feel justified in getting upset when it inevitably happens again. And then, of course, it leaves me resenting them for making interactions with them so incredibly difficult.

With people like that, where I've really carefully examined what I've done and determined that they're definitely being unreasonable, a puzzled or surprised reaction works better than a defensive or overly apologetic one. You don't want to be condescending at all, of course - more like curious. So if you can phrase something like, "How did you get that from what I said?" as a genuine question, that can help disarm things. Or even, "I'm sorry, can you explain what I did wrong so I know for next time?" If it's something like the shirt/pants thing in the OP, I'd go with, "That's an interesting assumption. I assure you, I only meant what I said, which was that I liked your shirt. Is there a way to make that more clear next time?" And then, if she suggests something you feel you can reasonably comply with, go with it. If not, then politely request that she ask you for clarification next time she thinks you're insulting her, because you don't want to be misinterpreted again (and then maybe stop complimenting her in order to make your life easier).

Of course, if they won't come out and say that they're offended, there isn't much you can do. In that case, I just continue on as though they aren't offended, and when they see they aren't getting the intended reaction out of me they tend to either try something new (like coming out and saying what's bothering them) or distance themselves from me. If a coworker suddenly stops saying hello to me in the morning, I don't distance myself and stop saying hello back - I just keep right on smiling and saying hello as if nothing is different. It usually works pretty well, and it deflates most attempts to paint me as the bad guy in the situation.

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Re: When everything you say is an "insult".
« Reply #14 on: June 25, 2014, 05:43:17 PM »
I can understand if you have a snarky personality and she has a different type of humor, but what you described is just nuts. There's nothing you can do to make it better for this type of people except avoid them.