How to Not Take Everything Personally
When was the last time you took something personally?
The feeling is unforgettable—at least it is for me. My face gets hot, I feel anxiety creep in as my heart starts pounding, and I often get flustered to the point of speechlessness.
It’s a feeling that’s so human, but every time it happens I’m never entirely sure what to do about it or why it's happening.
Abigail Brenner, M.D., explains in a piece for Psychology Today that when we take things personally, “we are giving certain individuals more power over us than they deserve or should ever be allowed to have."
Her definition helped me realize that what I'm feeling when I take things personally is often just that: a loss of power.
I’ve decided I'm not OK with that (and I’m guessing you feel the same way) so I scoured the Internet for ways to relieve some of that self-imposed pressure that comes when you take something personally.
Here's what I learned:
Accept How You're Feeling
If you find yourself taking things personally, it's first important not to beat yourself up about it.
Practicing self-compassion means accepting the emotions that may accompany this feeling—emotions like embarrassment, anger, and the pressure to fix things.
Once you accept these feelings, you’ll be more equipped to work through all of them with a clearer head. It’s only human to experience the range of emotions that we have, and understanding that is a necessary step to putting self-acceptance into practice.
Don’t Jump To Conclusions
We love to tell ourselves stories to try and make sense of how we're feeling or what we're experiencing. And when we take things personally? We're always the main problem in those stories.
I often find that automatically anticipating the worst is a sign of trying to protect myself. But when you’re always jumping to conclusions, it can impact your emotional and mental health.
One way to ease out of this habit is by taking a step back and examining the whole picture.
Have there been times in the past that you’ve wrongly jumped to conclusions and taken something personally when it wasn't about you? Most times, Brenner says, it's likely that someone else's behavior is not about you.
"Maybe it’s not about you at all, but about (someone else) and their own projected perceptions," Brenner writes. "In fact, it’s almost always about them, their issues, their needs, and their desire to control you and/or a situation."
Think about those times and how your perspective was narrow, and try to keep that in mind if you’re jumping to conclusions.
Have there been times in the past that you’ve wrongly jumped to conclusions? Think about those times and how your perspective was narrow, and try to keep that in mind if you’re jumping to conclusions.
When you practice empathy, you’re putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and letting yourself consider all that factors that might influence what they're saying or doing.
“Try to understand what the other person is feeling/thinking/trying to convey,” Brenner explains.
We all deal with things in different ways, and some may have coping mechanisms that aren’t always positive.
How can you challenge your assumptions and try to approach the situation from a place of understanding of these differences?
Sometimes taking this step back can ease your anxiety and give you a different viewpoint.
Go High, Not Low
When people say things that we might take personally, it’s easy to want to hit right back. But if this feeling comes over you, try remembering former First Lady Michelle Obama’s wise words: “When they go low, we go high.”
It’s a great mantra to remember to fight back with compassion and kindness if you feel comfortable doing so. But if it’s a situation in which you are in harms way, it may be time to adjust your relationship altogether.
“If it becomes clear that this person can’t respect you and your space and insists on creating a situation over and over again that’s meant to make you uncomfortable or feel badly about yourself, or to personally attack you, devalue and belittle you, and constantly attempt to bait you, you need to rethink the relationship,” Brenner explains.
You may need to give yourself time to examine your emotions before responding, and that’s OK too. Ask yourself: Is the effort to keep this person happy worth it? Do I want to keep giving my power away to them?
Don't forget: It's your right to ask for clarity if things feel personal, and you get to decide how to respond or take action once you hear from that other person.
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