In this post I will argue that suddenly being offended by someone and suddenly not trusting someone are different responses to similar underlying primal emotions or instincts.
Both reactions, though sudden, typically occur after a build-up period of doubt or suspicion.
An “offense” can occur for many reasons but usually it is due to words, lack of words, behaviors, or something a third-party said.
The same is true for a sudden loss of trust.
Though these two responses have underlying similarities that are primal—a sudden feeling of revulsion or disgust—they produce different effects.
If one feels offended or insulted a small war may ensue. This war may be open or hidden. It may be brief or long. The “offender” may or may not be aware that any offense occurred and, even if they are aware, that a war has begun.
Similarly, a sudden loss of trust is a primal response that arises from the same conditions that give rise to feelings of being insulted.
Avoidance seems to be the main strategy of people who interpret the same “offensive” words or behaviors as sign of untrustworthiness instead of offensiveness. Why go to war with someone we don’t trust? It’s better to avoid them.
Some people who feel offended, may also decide simply to avoid the person they perceive as having offended them, though I believe this response is less common among this type than rankling feelings that may give rise to acts of malice.
Being offended or insulted is a form of disgust or revulsion that cues in aggressive cultural or idiosyncratic thoughts and behaviors.
Loss of trust also arises from feelings of revulsion or disgust, but cues in different cultural or idiosyncratic behaviors, principally avoidance.
For myself, subjectively, if someone insults me or I perceive their words or actions to be insulting, I almost never become angry but rather stop trusting them.
I think, this person is not a friend because they are attacking me, or competing with me, or trying to harm me. I might still spend time with them, but will no longer feel an intimate bond with them. The trust has been broken.
Ideally, when primal feelings of disgust or revulsion are generated in these ways between friends, we should be able to discuss the matter and fix the problem, if there was one. In reality, though, this rarely happens.
In this, we can see that our primal emotions are incommensurate with our brains.
Neither response—being offended or ceasing to trust—is a good one. Both disrupt relations and cause suffering.
With a close friend, a technique like FIML can deal successfully with primal feelings, but with others it is all but impossible. And how can we get close to people anyway if it is so easy to feel insulted or mistrustful?
Huge cultural differences swing on and around these different perceptions of primal feeling. A culture than supports or encourages avoidance rather than violence may work well for the members of that culture.
But if someone from that culture is dealing with someone from a culture that encourages violence rather than avoidance, avoidance may be interpreted as a further offense, inciting even more violence.