Have you ever found yourself ruminating and overanalyzing what someone said to you hours after a conversation? Or worried that when a friend doesn’t text you back that they are upset with you? Perhaps you feel hurt by your co-workers actions and feel like they are “out to get you” in the office. Or maybe someone says something which you take as an insult or you assume a person doesn’t like you if they walk past without saying hello.
Why is it so hard not to take things personally? We are human and we all struggle with this from time to time. It’s easy to feel unloved and unwanted when people aren’t able to communicate and connect with you in the way you expect. And it’s so hard not to internalize that disconnection as a reflection on your worth. But the truth is, the way other people behave and function is not about you. In one of my favorite books, “The Four Agreements”, author Don Miguel Ruiz writes,
“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz
This concept seems easy on paper, but it can be hard to put to practice in our lives. When it comes down to it, you’re in control of how you interpret things. Think of how much happier you’d be with a new perspective. Here are some suggestions on how to shift your mindset and adjust your interactions so you can live in peace.
How to Not Take Things Personally.
- Realize: It’s just not all about you. Other’s interactions and way of being is a reflection of them and it’s nothing personal. If someone is being unkind to you, remember that they’re probably behaving this way because of something that’s happened to them in the past or present; which has nothing to do with you. They might be having a bad day, going through a rough period, or it might just be their personality. Everyone has their own issues they are working through. Once you realize that the world isn’t all about you, you will be happier.
- Wait to respond. Controlling your response in any given situation allows you to reflect on what’s happening and calmly communicate with the person that might be getting under your skin. Before reacting to another’s actions or saying something you might regret, STOP. Pause and take a deep breath. Resist the urge to act immediately through a difficult emotion. Instead, create space to develop an appropriate response and then act with intention.
- In difficult conversations, use Nonviolent Communication. Nonviolent communication is also known as Compassionate Communication or Collaborative Communication. It was invented by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s and focuses on self-empathy, empathy, and honest self-expression. It’s a four-step process based on (1) observation, (2) feeling, (3) need, (4) request. When I went to wellness coaching school, we studied Nonviolent communication as a technique to have difficult conversations. For example: “Dan, when I (1) see dishes in the sink, I (2) feel irritated because I’m needing (3) the kitchen that we share in common to be clean. (4) Could you please do your dishes?” You’re not taking the fact that he hasn’t done the dishes, personally; you’re communicating how you feel without being irrational or demeaning. You can learn more at The Centre for Nonviolent Communication.
- Have Empathy. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes by trying to understand what the other person might be feeling/thinking/trying to convey to you and what his or her circumstances are that may influence their behavior.
- Seek clarification before jumping to conclusions. Instead of making an assumption, first ask the other person for more information and give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s too easy to assign motives to others. You think they say something a certain way and before you know it you’re getting mad at them before you even speak to them. A better option is to give them the benefit of the doubt. If they do something that confuses you, ask them about it without judgment.
- Be okay with being vulnerable and expressing when someone’s actions hurt you. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable by expressing our feelings can help resolve conflicts. My friends know, when there’s a disagreement or mis-understanding, I want to talk it out right away. I believe it’s far better to be uncomfortable being vulnerable and have a difficult conversation than to live with upset in your heart.
- Take comments or criticism in a constructive way. If you are criticised, ask yourself if there’s any truth to it, and what you can learn. Even if it wasn’t said in a nice way, you can still learn something. Take the lessons and choose to see the positives in every experience.
- Don’t dwell on it. Every moment we spend dwelling over the past, even minutes ago, we lose precious time Now. Obsessing over what happened and holding on to anger, resentment, or hurt only causes pain in your life. Learn what you can from the situation and then let it go. I know it can be hard to do, especially if you feel upset and hurt. But it’s very important you don’t obsess over past pain and problems. For these things have the power to poison your heart, your mind, your body, and your life.
- Realise that you can’t please everyone. No matter who you are or what you do, there will always be people who dislike or criticise you. You can’t change other people and all you can do is be yourself. At the end of the day, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Don’t change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you.
- Distance Yourself from Toxic People. Sometimes it’s extra challenging not to take things personally because you are around toxic people. If you know someone who insists on destructively dictating the emotional atmosphere, then be clear: they are toxic. If you are suffering because of their attitude, you’ve tried the steps above, and it doesn’t seem to help or they don’t seem to care one bit, then ask yourself, “Do I need this person in my life?” When you delete toxic people from your environment it becomes a lot easier to breathe. If the circumstances warrant it, leave these people behind and move on when you must. Be strong and know when enough is enough! Letting go of toxic people doesn’t mean you hate them, or that you wish them harm; it simply means you care about your own well-being. Don’t let toxic people rent space in your head. Raise the rent and get them out of there.
- Make sure you have plenty of time for Self Care. Think about how you feel when you haven’t slept, had enough quality nutrition, or haven’t had enough time for yourself. Cranky, moody, and easily upset, right? If you don’t make enough time to care about yourself, you will be more sensitive to taking the words and actions of others personally. But if you give yourself the consistent self-care and love you deserve, you will feel strong and grounded within yourself and other people’s actions and words won’t get to you as much.
- Learn to love yourself. Realise that your self-worth depends on you. It does not depend on what others say about you. We take things personally when we care too much about what others think. Instead, give that validation to yourself, so you don’t have to rely on other people to make you feel worthy of love and care. It’s natural to want to feel accepted and loved, but don’t give your power away to other people. When you don’t feel confident in yourself, you will always seek that feeling from other people, but it will never totally satisfy you. Stop relying on others to fuel your self-esteem and love yourself. The love and attention from others should just serve as an added bonus to what you already have cultivated within.
Can you imagine how many problems could be avoided or solved by practicing this concept and following the steps above? It does require awareness, effort, persistence, and time to stop taking things personally, especially when it’s something you are used to doing. It’s well worth the effort. You will find that your self-esteem and overall quality of life will improve when you stop taking things personally. Commit yourself to self-awareness so you can monitor the times that you’re reading too much into a situation. Practice the suggestions above so you can resolve conflicts externally or internally with calm. Little by little you’ll see a change in your perspective that will positively impact your relationships, especially the one with yourself.
It all boils down to a choice. A choice we sometimes forget we have, but one that can either strengthen us or weaken us. Next time an opportunity arises to take something personally, which will you choose, fear or love? The reality is: the world is impersonal and people do annoying, painful, unimaginable things every single day. That doesn’t mean you have to let that get under your skin. The more you focus on things that make you feel good personally, the less you will take things personally, and the more you will enjoy life.
Writing is one of my personal passions and I loved writing this piece. I hope it helps you in your life, let me know your thoughts in the comment section below and thanks for sharing this article. If you don’t like it, I promise I won’t take it personally.
In health and gratitude.
Credit: Caroline Jordan