If you struggle with learning how to stop taking things personally, you are not alone. Like learning to master patience, learning how to stop taking things personally is one of my biggest struggles as well, and has been from a young age. I even have a story about it from when I was in kindergarten, but more on that later!
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What is Taking Things Personally?
When you take things personally you “interpret a remark or action as directed against oneself and be upset or offended by it, even if that was not the speaker’s intention.” This definition stings me a bit because I know that I’m often guilty of doing exactly what it describes. Do you find yourself all too familiar with it as well?
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Why Do People Take Things Personally?
There are many reasons that people take things personally. Most of the reasons have their roots in insecurity. Insecurity fuels the inner critic and we start an inner dialogue that second guesses ourselves. Before we know it we start worrying too much and have convinced ourselves that the fiction of what might be, is actually true!
Overthinking plays a huge part in taking things personally. In fact, I can’t remember a time that I took something personally that overthinking was not involved. I have also seen it said that taking things personally is a sign of low self-esteem. However, on a personal level, I disagree.
While I think my self-esteem is just fine, I do know that I am an empathetic person and it grieves me to hurt other people’s feelings. Highly sensitive people also have a tendency to take things personally. In my opinion, if you have a tendency to take everything personally, know that it’s not necessarily because something is wrong with you or your mental health. It could just be a natural tendency you have as a result of your personality, which is most likely very caring.
Can Taking Things Personally Affect Relationships?
In a word: yes. When you constantly overthink every little thing your overreactions can damage your relationships both in your personal life and at work. That’s one of the reasons that learning how to stop taking things personally is such a needful skill.
How to Stop Taking Things Personally – 10 Tips
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Tip 1 to Stop Taking Things Personally: Remember What the Person Means to You
When we start overthinking about some little thing that a person did or said, it can be very upsetting. One of the best ways to stop yourself is to remember what that person means to you.
For example, a few months ago my husband put the trash out the night before for our garbage pick up. The next morning when I came out, dogs had gotten into the trash and strewn it around. It was one of the coldest mornings of the year to date, and the kids and I frantically gathered up trash before the school bus (and the trash truck) got there. Our fingers ached from the cold and I realized too late that the kids’ gloves were not in their coat pockets. We were all irritated.
“Why did he do this to me?” my inner voice started to whine. “Why are the kids and I picking up trash on the side of the road freezing our fingers off?”
“Stop. Just stop.” I told myself. “My husband loves me. He put out the trash last night to HELP me. I cannot imagine my life without him. It’s not his fault that a dog got into it last night.”
After reminding myself how much my husband means to me, I felt all my irritation and thoughts of feeling sorry for myself fade away.
Tip 2 to Stop Taking Things Personally: Ask Yourself if You Can Use the Criticism Constructively
Criticism is hard to take, even if it’s well-meaning. However, it can also be valuable feedback on how to improve. Approach what was said objectively and as factual information. Then, you can use the information as constructive criticism to improve what you are doing. That might have been how it was meant in the first place. We always have room to grow.
Tip 3 to Stop Taking Things Personally: Remember that You Are Not Responsible for Other People’s Feelings or Reactions
This way to stop taking things personally is hard for me. I wrote about it in more detail in a post about personal boundaries. You are responsible for your own thoughts and feelings and presenting them in a respectful manner to others. Other people’s thoughts and feelings are their responsibility. Just because someone is upset, it does not mean it is your fault or that you had anything to do with it.
Tip 4 to Stop Taking Things Personally: Remember that Hurting People Hurt People
Sometimes I feel as loveable and cuddly as a porcupine. Usually it has nothing to do with the people around me. Most likely I am upset at something entirely different. However, my poor family may be the ones that take the brunt of my funk mood.
I am not alone in this because often hurting people hurt other people. I have become more conscious of this, and am working to improve it. As I said above, there is always room to grow.
Think about how it feels on the other side though. What if you are the one that gets snapped at? Did it have anything to do with you? No. The person that you were interacting with was hurting.
Tip 5 to Stop Taking Things Personally: Don’t Guess, Ask!
When you find yourself starting to take things personally and wondering if someone meant this or that, don’t guess, ask!
For example, I had just finished emptying the dishwasher and loading dirty dishes back in. It had taken some time to get the kitchen clean and I was exhausted, but it was worth it.
Then my husband came in from mowing the yard and reached in the cabinet to get a glass for water. He looked at it and discovered it still had a bit of crud on it from the dishwasher that I had not seen. “Dirty,” he commented as he put it down on the countertop over the dishwasher.
He continued this operation and found that many of the glasses had small specks stuck to them. What I heard was:
“Dirty!” *Boom* as he put it down on the countertop. “Dirty!” *Boom* “Dirty!” *Boom.* After about the sixth glass, with my stomach sinking after each one, I started to cry. I thought he meant that I was a horrible housekeeper. I should have noticed the glasses were not all spotless when I put them in the cabinet. The kitchen should never have been allowed to get to the state that it was in. Staring at the glasses on the countertop, I thought he meant that I needed to clean it all over again.
“What’s wrong?” He turned and asked, puzzled. I asked him if he had meant all those things I had started thinking in my head. “No, of course not!” he answered. “I was just trying to find a clean glass for water because I’m thirsty.”
Tip 6 to Stop Taking Things Personally: Delete the Trolls
Instead of taking things personally, especially if it’s online, delete the trolls. As I said in tip #4, hurting people hurt people. A well known phone company used to have a motto that said “Reach out and touch someone.” With the promise of staying anonymous on the internet, many people have changed that to “reach out and slap someone” if/when they are hurting.
In gaming lingo, these people are called trolls. They like arguing as much as pigs like mud. They like getting a reaction. If you take it personally, it makes them feel temporarily better. These are the people that are in the habit of tearing others down to build themselves up. Trolls are toxic.
The best way to handle them is to press the delete button, block them, unfollow them, or put them on ignore. That’s why we have those options on most social media platforms. Delete the trolls and don’t give them a second thought.
Tip 7 to Stop Taking Things Personally: Silence Your Inner Critic
My inner critic is pretty mean, and yours probably is too. I mentally say things to myself that I would NEVER say to a friend. Start squashing those ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) like the insects they are named after. Often times when we take things personally, it’s because our inner critic tells us there might be an element of truth to the perceived criticism.
Tip 8 to Stop Taking Things Personally: Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes
One of the best tips to stop taking things personally is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If my husband wants to walk in the yard alone for a bit before supper it doesn’t’ mean that he doesn’t want to talk to me. It simply means that he needs to relax from a long day at work. The rush hour drive home felt like combat. He needs some time to decompress, feel the soft spring of grass under his feet, listen to the creek and the birds. This practice allows him some decompress time to himself so he can enjoy his family more.
Tip 9 to Stop Taking Things Personally: Pray for the Other Person
We all need the prayers of those we love. I many of the reasons that I mentioned above, something could be going on in the other person’s life that we have no idea about. They may be dealing with personal or family issues, they may be facing a health crisis, or they may just plain not feel well that day, or have had a hard day at work. We don’t know everything that other people go through, even those close to us. Everyone is fighting their own battles. Instead of adding to it by taking something personally and overreacting, pray for that person.
Tip 10 to Stop Taking Things Personally: Give Yourself Some Time To Distance Yourself from Your Emotions.
If I am having a very hard time not taking things personally, I may walk away for a bit. Giving myself cool down time allows me space to process the situation and separate myself from my emotions.
It’s much better to walk away and cool down than to react out of emotion. Emotions are wonderful, but they are not logical. Sometimes we need some time distance ourselves from them so that we can use the other tips on how to stop taking things personally.
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Need More Help To Stop Taking Things Personally?
More Ways to stop taking things personally
Forbes – How to Stop taking things Personally
The Pearl Perspective: How Changing Your Perspective Can Change Your Life
Psychology Today: How to stop taking things personally
The Last Thing You Need to Know About How to Stop Taking Things Personally
Not taking things personally can be very hard, but I am glad to know that there are ways to go about it. In kindergarten, I was even convinced that my art teacher hated me because she had a headache and looked at me grumpily! I tend to take things personally because I genuinely care about other people and it pains me to think that I might have upset them. I need to remember to try the 10 tips above.
The next time I start to take something personally, I’m going to stop and remember what that person means to me. I ask myself if I can turn the criticism into constructive advice, and will silence my inner critic. Reminding myself that I am not responsible for the thoughts and feelings of others – only my own, is the next step. Then, I will try to put myself in the other person’s shoes and remember that hurting people hurt people. I pray for them, and if it is still bothering me, then I ask them about it. It’s much better to know how someone meant something rather than guessing.
If I don’t think that I can do any of these things right away, then I will give myself some time to distance myself from my emotions. I find that a good brisk walk and some self care is an excellent way to do that. Learning not to take things personally will help me as well as everyone around me. What is your best advice for how not to take things personally? Leave me a comment below to share your advice or your struggles. You are not alone! We are in this together!