Taking things personally is one of those things that we all know we shouldn’t be doing, but that few of us are capable of suppressing. We know that in the vast majority of cases things are not personal, and yet the tendency for most of us is to be ‘egocentric’ and to think that things are about us, whether good or bad.
For instance take a situation where all your friends went on a night out and didn’t invite you. You have two ways you can deal with this – you can either put it down to a misunderstanding or to nothing, or you can get upset and end up shouting at your friends and reducing your chances of getting invited next time. Of course the former response is the healthier of the two.
Likewise you might find yourself on the receiving end of some verbal abuse from someone you don’t even know – perhaps you have been served by a rude checkout assistant or sales person, or perhaps someone with road rage has shouted at you. You again have two options here – you can either see them as rude and unpleasant people who shout indiscriminately and will no doubt get their comeuppance, or you can see them as attacking you personally because of some character trait of yours. Or perhaps small comments that aren’t even directed at you are being misinterpreted at subtle digs – there are countless cases where you can take comments personally but often there’s no need to.
If you’re prone to making those personal and hurtful assumptions then it’s likely that this will be upsetting you and damaging your self esteem – and it might also be putting unnecessary strain on your relationships. It’s important then that you get out of these destructive habits and start looking at events more objectively. Here we will look at some steps you can take to stop taking things so personally.
Shrug it Off
First of all, even if you choose to take comments and events as personal digs or as being your fault, you don’t necessarily need to get so upset by this. If you’re very affected by what people seem to think of you, then it’s likely that you are giving what they say a lot of weight and that you take it very seriously. Only you know the circumstances surrounding your actions and only you know your true motives. Thus you shouldn’t take other people’s interpretations of your character as gospel – you know the truth and you don’t need their approval so just shrug it off. It takes true confidence and bravery to do things that you know will be unpopular when you believe in the reasons behind them.
And anyway who are they to judge? Remember that most people you meet will be just as desperate for your approval and chances are that they’ll have flaws of their own too. Remember these and don’t worry too much about your own as a result.
Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt
You don’t realize it, but when you take things personally you are not being very generous with regards to your own character assessments. If you think people are judging you then that means that you are essentially accusing them of being critical and somewhat aggressive – most people mean well by what they say and so it’s probably more likely that this is just a misunderstanding. If anything, then reacting personally to comments that aren’t meant that well is more likely to make people critical of you. On the other hand by rising above it and choosing not to take it personally you will often make them feel humble and re-appraise their judgment.
If this doesn’t convince you that the insult or criticism wasn’t meant as it sounded, then another strategy you can use is to assess the situation more logically. Don’t give in to your immediate emotional reaction – rather take a step back and think about what’s transpired. For instance if you’re upset because you weren’t invited to an event then think – was it an event that they maybe thought you wouldn’t be interested in? Or was it an event that perhaps they didn’t think you could make? Alternatively maybe it’s that the organizer of the event, whoever was responsible for the invites, doesn’t know you as well as the others in the group. When you step back and stop being egocentric then it’s usually easy to see that there are many other possible causes for your not being invited.
Don’t Blame Yourself
Some times there’s no doubt though that the person is being aggressive and that they did mean to be critical. In the case of the rude checkout assistant for instance this likely isn’t a misunderstanding – it’s obvious when someone is being rude. However you need to view this not as something you’ve done wrong, but rather as their problem. If they’re being rude or aggressive then chances are it’s because they’re not happy. This is their problem then and they are going to suffer from it more than you as a result when they upset the wrong person, or when they get home and realize they’ve had a day of arguments and unpleasant conversations.
If someone you know is regularly acting badly towards you then it may even be that they feel threatened by you because they are impressed by you – and actually that’s a compliment in a way.
Focus on the Positive
Our friends say countless nice things about us on an average day and this helps to slowly boost our self confidence along with our opinion of that person. However it then often only takes one negative comment for all of that to be broken and ruined and we tend to blow it right out of proportion. If someone has given us 20 compliments in the last month and one insult then why should this damage our self confidence? If you’re feeling low then, try to recall the positive things that have been said to you, and even consider writing them down.
All of this is really a form of what is called ‘cognitive restructuring’ in cognitive behavioral therapy. This essentially means that you’re altering the contents of your thoughts and the way that you think so that you change your emotions and the way you act. We tend to get into habits when it comes to the way we think and these can sometimes not be good for us. In this case you are showing cognitive bias and egocentricism which is causing you to feel victimized. You need then to learn to change the way that you think and you can do this by first of all making a conscious effort to monitor your thoughts.