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How To Stop Taking Things Personally!

Thoka Maer

Do you take things personally? (And who doesn’t?) Here’s how to stop

As social beings, we define who we are, in part, by and through the relationships we have. Most of us interact with an assortment of people every day, from our most intimate relationships to strangers on the street.

Obviously, how involved we are with certain individuals will color the level and intensity of our interactions with them.

We are often dependent upon others for our happiness, our security (emotionally, financially, and other ways), and sometimes, our safety.

We often look to others to fill our needs. When these others are supportive, encouraging, caring, and giving, we may feel fairly satisfied in our life.

But when those we are attached to are judgmental and critical, or even aggressive and abusive toward us, we may find ourselves in conflict, caught between the need to have these people in our life for whatever reason and satisfying our own needs.

When we take things personally we are giving certain individuals more power over us than they deserve or should ever be allowed to have. In effect, you are allowing someone to question what you feel and believe.

You are trusting someone else to tell you who you are, instead of relying on what you know to be true about yourself; what really defines you as a person without any outside influence.

In essence, taking things personally keeps you tied to someone else and, in the extreme, can even make you feel like a victim.

Instead of just reacting when someone pushes your buttons, these are some things to consider when you find yourself caught up in an interaction/confrontation in which you feel your personal integrity is being challenged.

Here are some strategies that I’ve come up with. 

Strategy #1:

Realize that it’s not about you

When I take things personally, I’m always convinced that their actions are about me. When I see someone looking at his phone when I’m speaking, I feel offended and think, “Hey I’ve put so much effort and time in this presentation. I want respect.”

But in fact, it isn’t about me. What if I try to look at it from the other person’s perspective and ask myself: “Why is he or she looking at his or her phone?”

Maybe she’s just received an important message, one she’s been waiting for. Perhaps the topic of my presentation is not really his cup of tea, or, on the contrary, she finds it so interesting that she wants to take notes on her phone.

By shifting my focus from “me” to “we”, I won’t take it so personally. If I try to see the intention of the other person, I make space for understanding rather than irritation.

When you put your son to bed and he doesn’t want you to and he throws himself on the floor and screams, “I hate you,” do you take that personally?

Probably not, because you know it’s not about you; it’s about what he wants and needs. He’s angry because he just wants to stay up a bit longer; that’s all.

Whenever you start to take things personally, look at the other person’s intention. Of course, this seems simple … in theory. In real life, it turns out to be a heck of a job. When you see two colleagues talk to each other, look at you and start laughing, do you think: “Oh, they must have noticed my new shoes and I want them too?”

No. You think, “They’re laughing at me” or “They’re gossiping about me.”

It takes a lot of effort to say to yourself, “Hang on, I have no clue. They might be laughing about something that has nothing to do with me.”

Seeing the positive intentions of the other person requires discipline and training. I became a kind of referee to train my brain not to take things personally.

When the “It’s not about me” strategy doesn’t work, it usually means it is about me.

Then, it’s time to use:

Strategy #2:

Give yourself some empathy, or speak up

Let’s say a driver is tailgating me. Even if I think it’s because he is in a hurry, I need to ask myself: “Was I driving too slowly?”

And when I do, I may realize that I was at fault — and I’m uncomfortable because I don’t like that part of myself which made a mistake.

That’s when you need to give yourself some empathy and say something like: “Oh, this hurts; I’m longing so hard to be perfect” or “I’m longing to be right, and I feel sad when I don’t feel that way.”

Sometimes, it might make sense for you to speak up. If someone walks away while you’re talking to them, tell them: “I’m in the middle of my story, and you just left me to switch on the TV. It feels as if you don’t care about what I’m saying.”

By opening up, being vulnerable, and stating how you feel without blaming the other person (this last part’s important), you increase the chance that they’ll understand you and take your needs into account.

In the next hours, days, and weeks, I hope you’ll find some things to take personally — and I think you will! — so you can test out these two strategies.

This piece was adapted from a TEDxMechelen Talk. Watch it here:

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