I noticed something tonight that’s bothered me for years, but I never really articulated it before now. I’m sure we’re all used to vile, hateful comments all over the internet (and, come to think of it, all kinds of other places as well). There’s one particular variety that always bugged me, though, and for the longest time I couldn’t put my finger on why:
“If someone saying that is enough to hurt your feelings, you have bigger problems.”
“If you’re that upset over this, then there’s something wrong with you.”
“If you can’t even handle stepping on a scale, you have serious issues.”
My kneejerk reaction has generally been, “That’s not true!” And in many (most?) cases, it isn’t. Being offended by something obviously meant to, well, offend, is generally a sign of listening/reading comprehension. But what about when it is?
I’m thinking in particular of the last statement in the above list. The reality is, my relationship with the scale has been problematic to varying degrees for about half of my life so far. It’s much better than it used to be, but I honestly don’t know if it will ever get to a point where it could be considered healthy.
I may talk more about that in a future post, but this one is not specifically about eating disorders. It’s about mental health. It’s about “issues,” be they officially recognized psychiatric conditions or just stuff your brain makes you deal with. Yes, anonymous commenter, you may well be correct in saying that a person who reacts this way to that thing has some sort of issue. What exactly is your point?
I ask that question because the statement – generally assumed to be an accusation – that the person being addressed has issues seems to be intended as a dismissal of that person’s point. Do this person’s issues make the point raised invalid? Are people with issues not entitled to be heard? What, exactly, does pointing out issues add to the discussion?
Yes, some people are more sensitive than others. Some are easily offended. Some have PTSD or phobic reactions that may be triggered by certain things. I assume this is what’s being referred to. So?
I suppose that if someone were to say, “You shouldn’t say that because it offends me personally,” then dismissing that person on the basis of issues might be a way of saying, “No one else is offended. It’s just you. Therefore, this is not actually offensive.” However, even if we accept the unlikely claim that only one person in the world is offended by this thing, should that mean the one offended person gets no voice?*
Of course, in some cases the “issues” attack is not even related to taking offense at an idea. I refer back to the example of the scale. If someone points out that my pathological fear of weighing myself indicates that I have issues, what exactly has that person accomplished?
As far as I can tell, this is meant to give that person a sense of superiority. I don’t have any mental health problems. I don’t have internal struggles. I don’t have issues, the way inferior people like you do. I’m better than you.
I think it’s time to start calling bullshit. If your knee hurts when it rains, I don’t think I’m better than you because it doesn’t hurt me. If your skin burns to a crisp the instant the sun hits it, I don’t think I’m better than you because my skin is less sensitive. And if someone makes a snarky comment or tasteless joke that upsets you, I don’t think I’m better than you because it didn’t hurt me.
Look, offensiveness is, by its very definition, entirely subjective. I think it’s absolutely worthwhile to talk about why something affects one person a certain way but not another. I also don’t think you can have that conversation without acknowledging that some people are naturally more sensitive than others. But the mere fact that someone is sensitive does not mean that person’s opinion has no value. So, yes, as a matter of fact, I do have issues. I will be bringing them, along with all of my other thought processes, to the discussion. Issues, after all, are not grounds for dismissal.
*This voice refers to criticism, not censorship. I am not saying that if something offends one person, that is a sufficient basis for suppressing it. I am saying the offended party should have the right to say, “Hey, I don’t like that.” That is not even remotely the same as trying to silence someone. Are we all on the same page here? Good.