Don’t take it personally, but…

What does it mean to take things personally?

To take things personally means to feel hurt, offended or even betrayed by a person’s words or actions that may or may not be addressed to you. Taking things personally is to perceive something someone says or does as a personal attack. 

When you take things personally your fight or flight response is triggered. You might feel obliged to defend yourself or you might close up and withdraw, feeling inadequate and ashamed.

Either way, it is not a nice place to be.

What does taking things personally usually look like?

Ever felt offended when someone expresses dislike to something you are fond of? Someone doesn’t like your favourite movie and you jump to defend it?

Ever felt like you have to prove your opinions and choices are “the right” ones, and anyone who disagrees with you must be proven wrong?

Ever dwelled on someone’s comment or action, trying to figure out what they “actually” meant and if it is about you?

Ever received a not so positive feedback about your work that made you feel like you are worthless and incapable?

Ever assume someone dislikes you just because they didn’t greet you back?

Ever felt you have to defend your taste in movies, music or general lifestyle?

Yes, that is what taking things personally looks like.

Who is more likely to take things personally?

A person with a lot of insecurities is more likely to take things personally. If you have low self-esteem you are more likely to take negative comments to heart as there is a part of you that is afraid that they are true.

If you have low confidence you are more likely to get triggered by situations and interactions that relate to your insecurities. It makes you susceptible to people’s (perceived) judgment.

High confidence on the other hand helps you shrug off any negative comment you might encounter. If you are confident in yourself and in your choices, what others think doesn’t bother you as much.

However if you are too confident in yourself, to the point where you think you are always right and the world should revolve around you, it could also lead to taking things personally. If you have a too high perceived personal importance, you assume everything is about you. And it is not.

It’s your ego that wants to be acknowledged and considered all the time. Your ego doesn’t accept criticism and is willing to fight anyone and anything that challenges its high self-image.

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How to stop taking things personally?

  • Gain perspective – Realize it is not always about you. If someone is rude it’s about them, not you. They might be going through something rough, they might have a bad day, or it might just be how they communicate.

What people do is rarely about you. No one thinks about you as much as you’d like to believe. Most of the time we are all in our heads, preoccupied with our own worlds. 

  • Everyone is entitled to their opinion – Their opinion has nothing to do with you, just as your opinion has nothing to do with them. If you do not like the music they like, this does not mean you dislike them. Maybe he’d never wear what you are wearing, this doesn’t mean he has anything against you. It is just his opinion, relating to his own personal preferences.

Even if for any reason they do not like you, this does not decrease your worth. It is just their opinion. 

  • Do not assume – One of the main reasons you take things personally is you make negative assumptions about a person’s words or actions. “They are laughing, they must be making fun of me”, “He didn’t return my call, he must be mad at me” and so on. These are nothing but your interpretations and you tend to pick the ones that most resonate with your insecurities.
  • You decide how much value to assign on someone’s opinion – When you notice you take something a person said or did personally, ask yourself how much does this person mean to you. Do you value that person enough to allow them to dictate how you feel? But if you do:
  • Learn to accept negative feedback and grow – Sometimes we take things personally because we actually made a mistake and realizing it is making us uncomfortable and defensive. Admit you are wrong and accept the criticism in a constructive way. Use this as a lesson and an opportunity to grow and improve yourself.

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