Triggered: Are You Annoyed, Offended or Hurt?

Karith Foster
Triggered: Are You Annoyed, Offended or Hurt?

Annoyed is being in a library and the study group a few tables over just cannot keep it to a whisper. Offended, on the other hand, is the feeling you get when "that co-worker"  looks down her nose at you as she routinely offers unsolicited advice on how you should live your life, raise your kids and do your job. And when your feelings are hurt, it cuts deep. It feels like a personal attack. It actually aches in your heart, leaving you wanting to both lash out at the offender and find comfort in an emotional band-aid.

My Story: “What Are You?”

"What are you?" I was asked that question more in my first few years in New York City than I had been in my entire 23 years of life before arriving on the planet's most diverse island. I don't know if it was my burnt sienna skin tone, my indistinguishable features, or my accent - part mid-western, somewhat southern, and a tad British - that intrigued people. But like the saying from America's oldest gossip rag, "inquiring minds wanted to know." I attribute part of this curiosity to basic New York City culture, where having a claim to an ethnic identity is like a name tag at a business meet-and-greet. After all, it is the home of Ellis Island and still where so many immigrants first make land when they arrive in the US, bringing, if nothing else, their heritage with them.

But what's so cool about NYC is that while there's this fluid sense of armband tribalism, it's not a qualifier nor is it held against you. People who ask "What are you?" generally just want to know if "you're one of them" - are you Puerto Rican, Egyptian, Somalian, Korean, Russian, Italian, Brazilian…

However, that's not where I'm going with this particular article. This piece isn't about your genealogy, your heritage, or any other chosen or given cultural identifier. This is a thought piece about what you become and how you react when something disrupts your sensibilities. 

What happens when something rubs you the wrong way, upsets you, or pierces your armor? 

As human beings, by nature or social evolution, we have become steadily more reactionary. We've likely always been so when we feel under threat of any kind, but the intensity of threat and reaction has undoubtedly increased since the rise of the internet, 24-hour news cycles, and reality TV - all spaces where decorum is sparse.

So, I ask you to think about: 
  • What triggers you?
  • Why it does? 
  • How this shows up in your behavior, actions, or words?

This leads us to the real question I need you to answer - when something you perceive as negative comes up what are you?
A.  Are you annoyed?
B.  Are you offended?
C.  Or were your feelings just plain hurt?

ou may be asking, "Well, what's the difference, Karith?" 

Let's explore those emotions below. In an effort to establish what the difference is, I'm going to share the actual definition and my interpretation.

Option A: Are You Annoyed?

The Dictionary Definition:
The term "annoyed" refers to a state of being mildly or moderately irritated, frustrated, or bothered by someone or something. When a person is annoyed, they may experience feelings of impatience, agitation, or annoyance that may manifest through verbal or non-verbal expressions such as sighing, eye-rolling, or complaining. 

My Take: 

Being annoyed usually occurs when someone else does something to you or around you that (at least in your mind) you would never do - like pronouncing the "L" in salmon. There's a term for these common annoyances - pet peeves. And just like unconscious bias, we all have some. But unlike unconscious bias, we're probably well aware of what they are. You're likely thinking of some right now: slow drivers in the fast lane, people with 25 items in the 10-item-or-less checkout lane. The list can go on and on, like a CVS receipt. But the variety of annoyances doesn't stop at pet peeves; when I think about being annoyed, multiple scenarios immediately come to mind. A fly or a mosquito at an outdoor event, especially one where there's food you're trying to consume - that's Grade A annoying. A child kicking the back of your airplane seat while you're trying to work, or sleep. So annoying! Your own child saying "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy" 200 times to get your attention, all just to show you a rock they found that looks exactly like every other rock you've seen that day? People asking you what you do for a living - and when you answer honestly, "Well, I'm a doctor.", they proceed to tell you every symptom they've been having the past 20 months and expect a free and accurate diagnosis. (Word to the wise: never tell complete strangers you're a comedian unless you're ready to be bombarded with "Hey, I got a joke you can use!") 

These things are life things. They come up, and the person or thing being annoying is 99.99% innocent. They likely have no idea they're trying your nerves. Hopefully, these are all things you roll your eyes at, laugh off, and move on from because they are minor infractions not intentional ones. So, whatever temporary disruption was caused, the recovery is quick, and you go on about your day. 

However, if you're NOT able to let these little things roll off your back easily, maybe you need to do a quick self check-in to see why this is the case. What's going on physically: Are you hungry, aching, tired, dehydrated? Mentally: Are you stressed, exhausted, worried about a plethora of other things? What's happening with you that makes the small stuff big stuff? How can you implement some coping strategies?


We get annoyed at the little things; they're like a gnat on our fruit salad or a rabbit in our flower bed - not something we're thrilled about but certainly not the end of the world.

Option B: Are You Offended?

The Dictionary Definition:

The term "offended" refers to a state of being hurt, upset, or angered by something that is perceived as disrespectful, insulting, or inconsiderate. When a person is offended, they feel a strong emotional reaction due to a perceived violation of their beliefs, values, or personal boundaries. Offense can be caused by various factors, including offensive remarks, actions, or behaviors that are discriminatory, insensitive, or demeaning. Being offended often involves a sense of indignation, hurt feelings, or a feeling of being wronged. It is important to note that the experience of being offended can vary greatly from person to person, as individuals may have different sensitivities and interpretations of what is considered offensive.

My Take:

So many things can be deemed offensive - from body odor or bad breath to pejorative language in the form of slurs or epithets. Generally, these are things that have been deemed rude or unacceptable by collective society, and thus, labeled offensive. This is an ever-changing landscape. What was considered acceptable 20 years ago may now raise eyebrows at best, at worst, it could cost you your career, livelihood, or reputation.

We're clearly heading into extremely difficult territory because we may not all agree on what's offensive based on our personal preferences and experiences. So, we need a bit of a checklist here. When it's not quite obvious if something is offensive, ask yourself: Would you say it in a church, mosque, temple, or place of worship? Would you tell it to your mother? What about your grandmother? What movie rating would it receive - G for general audiences? PG-13? R for restricted audiences? Determining whether something is offensive requires a dual lens - seeing it from your perspective and using conscious empathy to see it from another's perspective. But here is where we can tiptoe ever so slightly into a sand trap. People may base what they find offensive on assumptions versus actually asking someone else what they think or how they feel. There are scenarios now where the hunt for offense is in such demand that some take it upon themselves to be outraged for an individual or entire group without even bothering to consult the alleged “offendee”.

So before you let your blood pressure spike or your heart rate escalate, decide if you're offended for yourself or someone else. Also, determine what it was about the "infraction" that you found offensive. What do you gain from being offended? See, we all get something out of how we choose to view things and how we choose to respond. This may not be easy to read and even less easy to digest. By being offended, we may get proof that a certain type of person or group is bad, thus justifying our position or stance. Maybe we get a scapegoat? Do you get to flex your proper upbringing and publicly display what a good person you are? Do you now get to justify your claim for the -isms or phobias that exist and of which you will be a perpetual victim? There is so much to unpack here. But these are some of the critical questions we must ask when we are offended by something or someone.

Are you upset because someone offended your sensibilities? Did they cause you to be uncomfortable? Did they make you blush? Were they calling you out on something you aren't ready to deal with?


Offense is a murky territory, like navigating a foggy swamp or stepping onto a slippery rock surface - it's not a fun ride, and we have to tread carefully, asking ourselves essential questions and sometimes letting others have their say, all while not losing our sense of humor.

Option C: Are Your Feelings Hurt?

The Dictionary Definition:

The term "hurt" refers to emotional pain or distress caused by someone's actions, words, or inconsiderate behavior. Experiencing hurt feelings can be a result of feeling neglected, unappreciated, or disrespected, and it can manifest in various emotional responses, such as sadness, disappointment, or anger. Like being offended, the experience of hurt feelings can be subjective and vary between individuals, as personal history, values, and emotional sensitivity play a role in shaping how we perceive and react to various situations.

My Take:
Ever heard that old nursery rhyme, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?" Well, that's not always the case. Sometimes a careless comment, intentional slight, or brazen criticism can feel like a paper cut on the skin or a bruise on the heart. We may find ourselves replaying the situation in our minds, stewing in our hurt feelings, and possibly even fantasizing about some sweet, sweet revenge. (No need to deny it – we've all been there, right?)

But let's pause for a second and again, ask ourselves some tough questions: Why did this specific comment or action hurt our feelings? Are we giving too much power to the person who hurt us? Are we letting our own insecurities and fears fuel our hurt feelings? Are we harboring any resentment or jealousy that has amplified the pain?

The truth is, we cannot control how others treat us, but we have the power to take those lemons and make a fabulous pitcher of lemonade or heck, go all out and make a lemon meringue pie. What you have before you is the opportunity to flip the script – turn that hurt into a powerful motivator for growth, strength, and understanding.

Remember, even if someone else doesn't see or appreciate your value, you are still a rockstar. Take the high road when they take the low road. You've got this.


Hurt feelings are inevitable, but it is up to us not to let others’ ignorance or spite drag us down or define our worth. Take time to reflect on the situation and your emotional response, analyze whether you're giving away your power to others, and use the experience as motivation to grow and become more resilient. Keep a sense of humor, find kindness within yourself, and remind yourself that you are a force to be reckoned with — don't let anyone else's actions dull your shine.


In conclusion, navigating our emotional responses – annoyance, offense, or hurt – can sometimes feel like trying to dance on a tightrope, blindfolded, in high heels. Sure, it can be a challenge, but with a little bit of self-awareness, empathy, and resilience, we can transform those emotions into powerful, life-enriching experiences. 

Remember to ask yourself those tough questions when you experience negative emotions, keep an open mind, and practice empathy towards others. It's important to recognize that we all come from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, and that ultimately, we are responsible for our own feelings and reactions.

So, next time you find yourself bothered by something or someone, take a deep breath, look within, and ask yourself: "What can I learn from this situation? How can I grow, and what lesson can I take away?" You might be surprised at how much wisdom and strength can emerge from even the most uncomfortable situations.

And remember, my friends, laughter truly is the best medicine. Find humor in the little irritations that come our way, share a light-hearted perspective with others, and never forget that life is too short to spend wallowing in negativity. By approaching life with a proactive, positive attitude and choosing resilience over resistance, we can all become better versions of ourselves, together.

Are You Ready to Do DEIB Differently?

What Others are Saying about Karith’s Humor:

“Not only did Karith knock it out of the park, she actually inspired a new dialogue within our leadership team. Her approach to use humor, real-life situations, and frankness were so refreshing and made it safe for people to openly engage. She immediately disarms people from thinking they’re going to feel guilty for not doing more, or not saying the right thing. She encourages you to embrace NOT being perfect. People responded to her in a very real and authentic way. I’d hire Karith again over and over, she’s that good!” 
Paul Benson, CHRO
Woodward, Inc

“Building on her life’s story and experiences with delightful humor, Karith created a light and relaxed space in which hard truths about ourselves could be held without judgement. Students opened themselves to her in a profound way and received wise and loving advice in return. I intend to invite Karith back to my classes in the future and enthusiastically recommend her to other educational institutions."Amer Latif, Associate Professor
Emerson College

“Rarely do you find someone both gifted in the art of communication and compassion that even the most controversial and uncomfortable of conversations lose their edge. In place of anger and confusion, Karith masterfully brings peace, calm and resolution - not to mention the appropriate amount of humor. Her unique and powerful take on DEI is just what the world needs right now." 
Susan Scott, Founder
Fierce Conversations