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How to Find the Offense within the Offense

Last updated on June 8, 2021

The offense is, “They broke the nose.” The offense within the offense could be, “They hurt my pride.”

What Hurts Is the Emotional Interpretation

Actions are just actions. They become offenses only when they are interpreted as being personal in some way.

An offending action is offensive because it is somehow an affront to my ego. That’s what makes it personal. That’s what makes it stressful. And that’s why the emotion shows up.

The closer I can get to identifying what’s really bothering me, the more my work addresses that deeper, hidden offense that I am holding in a given situation.

The Work Starts with Identifying the Stressful Thought to Question

This usually consists of identifying a specific time and place when someone did something offensive to you. And you write down what they did:

He hung up on me.
She didn’t reply to my email.
She ignored my instruction.
He spent the money without consulting me.

This is a good way to start writing a Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet. Finding a clear offense brings a lot of focus to a worksheet. Once you find the offense, you can simply write it on Line 1 of the worksheet, “I am hurt by him because he hung up on me.

But Here’s a Way to Get Closer to the Offense

Before writing the triggering action down on Line 1, consider for a moment why that action really bothers you. What is is about that action that hurt you, or angered you? You may want to use the prompt, “It bothers me because it means that s/he _________.”

This can lead to finding the offense within the offense.

Here’s an Example

He hung up on me.
It angers me because it means that he overpowered me.
It hurts me because it means that he doesn’t love me.

As you can see, these are two very different interpretations of the same action. This is what makes it personal. What is stressful for me in this situation may not be the same as what is stressful for another person if they were in the same situation because their interpretation may be different.

What matters is how I interpret it in the moment that I was stressed. When I find it, then I’m doing The Work on the thing that’s actually bothering me. I’ve identified the heart of the matter.

And when I do The Work on the central point of my stress, chances are that I will address the issue completely, and my turnarounds will provide the needed balance for my stress.

Practice Looking for the Offense within the Offense

In my experience, it’s usually worth the effort.

But in case you don’t find anything, that’s okay too. I also frequently use the triggering action itself as the offense that I write in Line 1.

Have a great week,

“A powerful way of prompting yourself is to add “and it means that _____” to your original statement. Your suffering may be caused by a thought that interprets what happened, rather than the thought you wrote down. This additional phrase prompts you to reveal your interpretation of the fact. The answer to the prompt, for the purposes of inquiry, is always what you think your statement means.” Byron Katie, Loving What Is

About the author

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.

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