“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dreams. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”~ Don Miquel Ruiz
Why are we so quick to take things personally? Do we actually believe that everything is always about us? In fact, research suggests that we significantly overestimate how much we are singled out and judged by others. When someone says something negative or nasty about you, it actually says more about them. Right now, you can make a decision to no longer emotionally react to other people’s issues (see previous post respond rather than react). It takes practice and patience to stop taking things personally but once you accomplish it, your life will become completely transformed.
“You don’t have to control your thoughts, you just have to stop letting them control you.” Dan Millman.
Taking things personally is an automatic negative habit of mind where you make everything about you. It’s like you’re the center of everything that happens and where you believe that all situations have something to do with you, which in reality isn’t true. When you believe you are the cause or the object of negative events, then you are personalizing. Here are a few examples of personalizing:
- If a friend seems distant, if a boss is angry about something, if your sister doesn’t call, you see yourself as the cause of their emotions and behaviour.
- If your co-worker doesn’t greet you like they normally do, you start thinking about what you might have done wrong to upset them, when really it has nothing to do with you. Maybe they had a fight with their spouse before coming to work.
How to stop taking things personally
- Avoid jumping to conclusions. Give the benefit of the doubt to the other person and remember to listen to their entire story, then ask questions to clarify their viewpoint. Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly when you are being confronted. Don’t make assumptions about judgment or criticism seemingly directed at you. Maybe it’s not about you at all, but about them and their own projected perceptions. In fact, it’s almost always about them, their issues, their needs.
- Make decisions on your self-worth and not on what others say or think about you. Eleanor Roosevelt said “no one can make you feel inferior without your permission” so don’t give them your permission. Realize that your self worth depends on you and not what others say about you. Of course, relationships will always play a prominent role in our life. But the more you know about yourself, the less you will need others to tell you about yourself.
- Take a different perspective. Ask yourself how an unbiased outsider might view this situation. Ask yourself what might be impacting that persons behaviour such as, they’re having a bad day, their personality type, etc. If they were rude to you, it’s almost never about you but a reflection of their own issues.
- Understand your predominant personality type or Striving Style. Each of the eight striving styles have a dominant and/or preferred communication style. Learning about your predominant needs and fears, as well as that of others, will offer a deeper insight into how you respond and what might trigger you. Learn more.
- Consider the big picture. Instead of taking someone else’s comments personally, take a moment or two and think about the bigger picture. What do the people who know you best think about you? Doesn’t their opinion matter more than this person?
- Give up your judgement. Most of us have preconceived notions about people and situations. It’s just the way we are. That being said, no one likes to be judged. When we let that judgement go, it frees us up to see the person and situation in a whole new way. By giving up the judgement, we might actually find out what the real issue is.
- Practice being strong. Strong in who you are and what you believe. When we have confidence in ourselves, it’s much easier to stay neutral and avoid buying into somebody else’s baggage or their issues.
- Be aware of your triggers. If you are a sensitive person you likely have radar that constantly catches negative comments that hurt you. Know what makes you feel vulnerable. When you are aware of your sensitive spots, the things that trigger your emotions and reactions, you can prepare yourself if an interaction arises that attempts to draw you in. When we take something personally it’s often related to rejection in some way. Something has happened in the past that triggers our limbic brain, the emotional center of our brain. Do you know what triggers your emotional responses? If you do, that’s great. Recognizing the triggers is the first step in disengaging. When we take something personally we do not stand in our own power but buy into others weaknesses.
- Think about comments or criticism as a growth opportunity. When faced with critical comments, take them in a constructive way. Ask yourself if there is any truth to it and what you can learn. Ask yourself how you can grow and let the rest of it go.
- Create a space between yourself and your reactions. Your initial response might be to react emotionally. If possible, don’t follow that knee-jerk reaction. Take the time to rein in your emotions and assess what’s really happening before you respond (refer to my post on respond rather than react). In general, it’s a good idea to create a healthy personal space around yourself. When you create some space or buffer between yourself and another person, personal boundaries have less chance of being crossed or blurred.
- Let go of the need to please. Realize that you can’t please everyone. Work to reduce the impossible demand that you need to be perfect.
- Listen carefully to gain clarification. Hopefully, your emotions will take a back seat while you ask this individual to fully explain what’s on their mind and what they want from you. Listen carefully before you respond so you can discern what makes sense and what doesn’t (Refer to my post Are you listening?).
- Enlist some support. Seek counseling or enlist the help of a trusted friend to help shift your perspective on yourself and others.
If you practice these techniques over and over you will re-wire your brain and find yourself becoming more neutral and less affected by someone else’s negativity. As you develop these techniques you will stand in your own power and confidence.
When you find yourself thinking that someone else’s behaviour was caused by you or their feelings about you, think about other options or reasons why they might be behaving the way they are. Or, consider why they might be behaving the way they are if you weren’t in the picture. Notice how your emotional reactions change when you recognize that their behaviour is not about you.
Now, your turn:
Reflect on recent situations in which you have taken things personally. How did you make it about you, (What did you tell yourself? How did you interpret their actions?), and how did it affect your behaviour? Now think about other possible interpretations of the situation that don’t attribute the cause to you. Share in the comments.