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They said WHAT? How to Respond to Offensive Questions and Comments

Has someone ever asked you a question or made a comment that left you looking like a deer in the headlights?

Maybe a well-meaning family member asked you the dreaded, “So when are you going to have kids?”

Or your mom asked you, for the hundredth time, when you’re going to settle down and get a “real job.”

Or maybe a friend casually made a comment that left you speechless because it was so obviously inappropriate—but she didn’t seem to be phased by it at all.

There are many factors that can contribute to this kind of situation. Depending on your generation, geographical area, background, and values, you may have wildly different ideas about what kinds of conversations are appropriate, compared with people who don’t share those traits. This disconnect can lead to misunderstandings and, in some cases, outright harm.

So, what do you do when someone says something you find hurtful or offensive—especially if it seems like they don’t see it that way?

Pause and Breathe

One of the first things I suggest doing is practicing the pause. Just pause and take a few deep breaths before you respond to whatever has been said. If you’re experiencing a stress response, pausing and breathing can help to calm down your central nervous system. When you do that, you’re able to get out of tunnel vision mode and see multiple possibilities.

Be Respectful, But Firm in Your Response

In this moment, it might feel difficult to respond in a kind, respectful manner. However, it IS possible to set a boundary with someone without being rude. Here are some ideas:

  • “Thank you for your concern, but I am okay.”

  • “I really appreciate that you care, but right now I’m only looking for positive feedback.”

  • “Thank you so much, but your concern really isn’t needed. I’m happy.”

Even if you are respectful with your response, you may still get pushback. Setting boundaries is often uncomfortable, and your family member or friend certainly could take offense to your response.

This is when it’s important to remember that you are not responsible for other people’s emotions. Yes, it’s important to be kind and considerate. The goal should be to thoughtfully create a boundary—not to launch a personal attack on the other person. However, it’s not your job to take on the other person’s emotional response to your boundary. If they have a problem with it, that is something they need to process and work through.

The Bottom Line

We are all going to encounter people in our lives who say things we find offensive or intrusive. Remember that YOU are in control of your response. You don’t have to simply accept the offensive comment or question for the sake of “being polite.” But you also don’t have to be unkind in order to get your point across. There is a middle ground, where you can create a healthy boundary while also being respectful to the person.

Are you looking for more personalized help navigating difficult conversations or creating healthy boundaries in your life? I’m here to help! Book a consultation with me here.


The content found on Integrative Counseling and Nutrition Consulting platform is not intended to be a substitute for professional therapeutic advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your psychiatrist, therapist or other qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a mental health condition.


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