How not to take things personally

Most people get upset, angry, offended or feel attacked precisely because they take things personally. If you also have this tendency, below are some ideas that I hope can help you:

It's not about you

Taking things personally means allowing someone else to hurt or offend you in some way. Yes, people express their opinions, criticize, give "advice," but between what they say and what we feel lies our own perception, our way of relating to their words and actions. No one can make you feel bad without your permission, and what people say is often about them, not about you.

For example, someone may accuse you of being selfish because you don't give up your plans to meet their needs. However, this isn't really about your selfishness; it's about their selfishness, the one who uses manipulation and emotional blackmail to make you feel guilty for not sacrificing yourself for them.

People perceive reality and behave in a certain way based on their mental programs, beliefs, interests, visions, and experiences. For example, a person who has built up a lot of aggression and frustration will seek ways to manifest exactly these aspects in their life. They will look for more "reasons" to feel angry and frustrated. Being accustomed to getting angry and focusing on what's wrong, they can find a reason for annoyance and frustration if, out of ten correct things you do, you make one mistake. They may get irritated and blame you, but it's not about you (you didn't make them angry); it's about how they're used to perceiving the world and reacting to it.

Someone might envy you, discourage you, or try to hinder your progress because your success can confront them with their lack of courage and determination, their passivity, and their limiting beliefs. These are aspects they don't want to change, but they also don't want to accept and acknowledge.

In other cases, people may do certain things without even focusing on you, without targeting you – for example, someone you know might not greet you on the street because they're lost in their own thoughts, preoccupied with specific problems, in a hurry, or distracted. Often, we excessively worry about how other people see us, what opinion they have of us, or what opinion they might form, but we forget that they, too, worry about how other people see them or simply pay attention to themselves, their interests, and their issues.

Not taking things personally also means understanding that people are not against you; they are just putting themselves first.

Observe who is talking to you - there's no reason to feel "affected" by the opinions, comments, criticism, or even "hatred" of someone who doesn't truly know you, who doesn't serve as a role model for you or someone you admire. In addition, if someone behaves harshly, instead of becoming aggressive, angry, offensive or defensive, try to understand why they behave this way, why they choose to be the way they are.

Consider the other person's intentions and motivations - for example, if someone is determined to be right at any cost, they will use any means to prove that they are right (even if they aren't). They will devalue your opinions and try to dominate, solely to satisfy this need. Don't take personally the way they behave because they act this way out of fear and insecurity. On the other hand, if this behavior repeats, you don't have to accept an interaction or a relationship with a person who doesn't show respect and whose rigidity negatively impacts the relationship - set clear boundaries and limits of interaction.

Observe what aspects of yourself lead you to take things personally - when this happens, it's generally because something the other person said has touched a sensitive point of yours. For example, if you have a complex about not having completed higher education, you might take it personally when your boss rejects a proposal you made in a department meeting, thinking it's because of that. In reality, it might be because another proposal from a different colleague is easier to implement at this moment, or maybe a different option was chosen by majority vote for various reasons. You judge yourself for this thing and expect others to judge you the same way.

- deep down you also believe what the other person said – someone can tell you, directly or indirectly, that you lack ambition and determination, and this can trigger a defensive response because you know they're right, but you don't want to accept or acknowledge it.

- there could be a reactivation of an older wound – for example, if someone disapproves of you or criticizes you, it can trigger a strong emotional response because it reactivates a childhood wound. Maybe you were abused, constantly criticized, or humiliated, and now any events or situations similar to those in your past trigger the same type of reaction. When you notice that your reaction is disproportionate to the stimulus (for example, you burst into tears or have a tantrum if your friend doesn't answer the phone), ask yourself who or what the present situation reminds you of.

- check if you have unrealistic expectations - often, people have unrealistic expectations of others, especially in romantic relationships, where they expect their partner to do everything for them, live for them and their wellbeing, take responsibility for their happiness and life etc. When these expectations are not met, they feel betrayed, disappointed, and angry. It's impossible for our desires, interests, and passions to perfectly align with those of our partner – we are unique, distinct human beings. If your partner chooses to do something that doesn't align with your expectations at a given moment, instead of getting upset, understand that each person has the right to live as they see fit, and it's not healthy to place the responsibility for your happiness and life on others. In general, people act for themselves, to satisfy their needs and interests, and we are the ones who choose to believe that they act against us. In fact, we are the ones who expect others to prioritize us over themselves – isn't this selfishness?

If you have a poor opinion of yourself, you'll interpret things and situations you go through in line with this self-view. If you feel insecure or worthless, you'll take personally what others say or do. If you lack self-confidence, any word can destabilize you, and you may see ill intentions and dangers at every turn.

Confront your fears and don't run away from what you don't like about yourself. Develop self-confidence, show yourself compassion, make your voice heard, ask others what they mean if you're not sure instead of interpreting things in a certain way and getting upset. Try to look at the bigger picture or consider things from a different perspective before rushing to draw conclusions.

Take control over your thoughts and emotions. When you allow people to upset you or make you doubt yourself, you surrender your personal strength. However, it's up to you how you relate to what they say or do.

Dr. Ursula Sandner


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