phobia of offending people

I have a phobia of offending people.


The fear has several aspects: first, I fear that if I offend someone, they'll try to get back at me somehow; second, I empathize with the person taking offense, and feel bad myself. That is, if I told someone "I think some negative thing about you", I would see their reaction and empathize with being told by someone "I think some negative thing about you", which is a very painful thing for me to hear.

If someone asks me to do X, it just feels wrong to say "no, I won't do X. sorry." I feel like I need some excuse.

the thing is, I know this is bad for other people. At least, often it is. Sometimes it's good for other people as a way of taking advantage of me, but that is more the exception than the rule, I think. Though, I don't have a good sense for that. I generally trust people.

..it's bad because I end up leading people to believe I'm fine with things that are hurting me, until I can't cover it anymore, and even then I don't blow up at them — I'm not even offended or angry at them — it's just that they can tell I'm hurt, and it occurs to them that they've been hurting me, and they didn't want to, and then they feel bad. And I feel worse.

..and it's hard to talk about, because people always fear "am I doing something to offend him, and he's not telling me?" Generally I am never offended, I just end up doing things I didn't want to do — knowing full well that's it's my own fault, and things would have been more efficient if I wasn't worried about offending the other person — but that's what happens. It's a phobia, like fearing spiders for no reason, and I just can't bring myself to express negativity to someone if I think they'll be hurt by it.

and I don't know how to fix it. I feel like I need practice offending people, but I'm too afraid to do that. Generally I don't mind failing a lot to learn something, but only if I'm the only person affected by the failure.


it is also connected with this fear of people reacting negatively. I can imagine convincing myself that I'm actually helping someone by being honest with them about my feelings.. but I do fear them not taking it well, and being angry..

it is also like offending someone gives them a point in a social game, and they can feel socially justified in using that point to harm me. Perhaps they'll refuse to talk to me, and feel justified in doing so, expecting me to grovel a bit, essentially begging forgiveness.

this is a game I suck at, because I want to be on "good terms" with everyone. If I'm not on good terms with someone, I stay up at night worrying about it.

so perhaps part of the puzzle is being ok with being on people "bad lists"..

it's a little more subtle than that though.. I don't mind someone hating me, or thinking badly of me, if I haven't done anything to them. At least, if I don't think I've hurt them.

But if I do think I've hurt them.. if I think their grievance is legitimate.. then I'm stuck. They have power over me. They can control me by witholding forgiveness for that grievance. And I think my real fear is the lack of freedom associated with this.

.. hm..

if I don't want to do something.. if I could, but I don't want to give that much of myself.. what could I possibly say to someone that would make that be ok?

them: Could you please help me do X?

me: no, sorry.. feels too curt, and it feels like an explanation is needed
me: no, I don't want to.. feels too mean, suggesting I wouldn't do things for this person that I don't want to do, e.g., I'm unwilling to sacrifice at all for them

it feels like a negotiation..

and saying no outright feels too final. What if they really need it?

me: I'd rather not right now, how important is it? ..maybe.. feels like I'm putting them in an awkward position.. hm..

somehow I want to let them know that it's ok that they asked, and they should feel comfortable asking in the future..

..ugg.. people are so complicated..

what I want to say is something like: I don't want to give much of myself right now. The cost is high. If you're willing to pay a lot of social capital, I'll do it.

..but I'm complicated too.. I don't like people to be curt and dismissive with me. If I ask someone for something, and they can refuse in a way that makes me feel sheepish for having asked, and I hate that..

hm.. this will require more thought..

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