How Not to Take Things Personally
Are you always blaming yourself when other people don’t treat you well? Are you sensitive to what others think of you? Do you get emotional and defensive to any form of criticism? These can be signs that you take things too personally, which can take a huge mental and emotional toll on you.
It’s a self-destructive habit that drains you of all your energy and positivity and makes you constantly reevaluate your self-esteem. You may feel hurt, offended, neglected, or betrayed by other people and get angry and somewhat aggressive. Then you may spend hours or even days ruminating about what happened, unable to learn from that situation and move on.
Taking things personally is exhausting and overwhelming and can contribute to negative, self-limiting beliefs, preventing you from pursuing your goals and achieving success in your career. The more you take things personally, the more difficult it is to objectively assess the various situations you encounter at work, and the more challenging it is to build authentic professional relationships.
Why do I take things personally?
One of the most common patterns of the human mind is personalization. We can only experience life as ourselves, so we view ourselves as the center of our world. We see every conversation, event, circumstance, etc. from the viewpoint of how it relates to us. Not seeing a bigger picture leads to adverse effects. We tend to react to the actions and words of other people as if they are a personal judgment or statement about us.
Another biased form of thinking that involves taking things personally is mind reading, which is believing that someone is making a critical judgment about you. That may occur when you misinterpret what someone else is saying if there’s a communication breakdown, or in an ambiguous situation where you haven’t received any direct feedback.
If you tend to take things personally when they are not personal, it’s because you feel insecure and are projecting your insecurities on other people. You think that people will dislike something you don’t like about yourself. You expect others to doubt your abilities to do things that intimidate you. You may also expect others to reject what you reject in yourself.
How to stop taking things personally
We can’t control what other people do or say, but we can control how we react to it. We can choose what to internalize, which means take it personally, and what to disregard. Anyone can learn to stop taking things personally and eliminate stress and anxiety that come with it.
Although not taking things personally doesn’t come naturally, this skill should be honed. Here are 5 tips on how to stop taking things personally.
Question your own perfectionism
Many people who take things personally are focused on avoiding failure and harsh judgment, so they often work really hard to be flawless and excellent so no one will criticize them. They are very disappointed when they get negative feedback because it feels like all their efforts were wasted.
You can reframe your reaction in a few ways. One is to incorporate getting better at receiving feedback into your perfectionism. You should be an overachiever when it comes to dealing with commentary and facing the haters.
Another way is to change your perfectionism, although it takes time and work. Develop compassion for yourself and accept the fact that you can’t be perfect at all times. Know your worth and learn to accept yourself as a person. Try to realize that you are enough just as you are and that specific people value you and your personality.
Realize that it’s not about you
Although it may seem personal, people rarely do things because of you – they do things because of them, their wants and needs. People’s reactions and behaviors are about their perspectives and experiences. So in challenging situations, you should always try to expand your perspective and look at what is happening from someone else’s vantage point.
Don’t jump to a conclusion, but ask yourself, “What else could this mean?” What if there might be another explanation for someone’s words and actions? Try to see something positive in the intention of the other person. This way, you’ll be able to look at the situation more objectively and make space for understanding rather than irritation.
All people have emotional issues they’re dealing with, and it can make them rude, defiant, and downright thoughtless sometimes. They may be doing the best they can, or they may be not even aware of their issues. In any situation, you can learn not to interpret other people’s behaviors as personal attacks.
Instead, you should learn to see them as non-personal encounters and respond to them gracefully or don’t respond at all.
Ask for clarification
Avoid negative assumptions because it’s a sure way to create misunderstandings and conflict. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask people what they mean. Give them a chance to repeat themselves or to elaborate on their ideas.
But it’s important to do it tactfully, without being too emotional and blaming the other person, and without triggering emotional reactions in other people. Sometimes, it makes sense to be vulnerable, open up and let others know how you feel. Doing this, you can increase the chance that they’ll understand you and take your needs into account.
Recognize your triggers
Self-awareness is a crucial skill for everyone, and it’s especially useful in learning your triggers. What are the situations where you tend to react in impulsive ways that don’t make you proud? We don’t always have control over these triggers, but we have control over how we react to them.
If you recognize and identify why these triggers bother you, you’ll have more control over the situation. You won’t be just blindly reacting to them, you’ll know why you’re reacting that way and will be able to adjust accordingly.
It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of negative thinking when you’re idle. But if you are busy, it’s hard to find time to think about other people and care about what other people think.
You should fill your life with people you care about, such as family and friends, work that brings you joy, volunteering if you like to help others, find a meaningful hobby, and prioritize accordingly. Chances are that the strangers and people you hardly know but who are passing judgment aren’t going to cross your mind.
Focus on the positive
It’s possible to find something good in every situation and encounter. So instead of dwelling on what happened or didn’t happen or what hurt you, you should look on the bright side. Any negative situation can teach you a lesson you just need to learn.
You can train your mind to remember something positive when it encounters something negative and focus on it. For example, you can think about the good things that you’ve experienced and the compliments that you’ve received. A good idea is to keep a gratitude journal or try expressive writing.
Since you only take things personally when they trigger insecurity, you should start by reducing your insecurities. It’s all about learning to trust other people, accepting yourself as deserving and worthy, and being mindful.
The most effective way to break bonds with insecurity is to work with a counselor. They can help you understand the real reasons why you take things personally and teach you strategies to challenge your negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
A viable option is to try online therapy on Calmerry, where you can connect with a licensed therapist who will work with you to help you undo the habits that keep you stuck. Learning how not to take things personally at work and in relationships will give you more control over how you respond and your emotions and make you feel more empowered.
Iryna is a passionate content writer and life-long learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She has a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences and Special Education and is studying for a Master's degree in Psychology. Iryna uses her knowledge and writing skills to create well-researched articles that educate readers and empower them to take charge of their mental health and practice self-care.Read more