Do you feel like any feedback is a personal insult? Or does one comment from your partner send you into a spiral of self-loathing? If you answered yes, you may need to stop taking things so personally.
When you stop taking things so personally, you gain confidence and realize that you get to decide how you react. And by refining your reactions, you are able to foster healthy relationships with open communication.
This article will give you guidance on how to objectively assess feedback and control your reactions so you can thrive in all aspects of life.
- Why do we take things personally?
- What happens when we take everything personally
- 5 ways to stop taking things personally
- Wrapping up
Why do we take things personally?
None of us want to be overly emotionally reactive and easily offended. We’d rather be happy. Yet, many of us still behave this way.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you’re taking something personally? The research has a few ideas.
One study found that individuals who were more anxious and had lower self-esteem were more likely to exhibit heightened emotional reactivity.
I personally find this to be true for me. Whenever I’m anxious or doubting myself, I tend to be more reactive to feedback or situations.
Just the other day I was feeling anxious about a treatment session with a patient who has been difficult. This patient gave me what would have been considered benign feedback to most people.
But instead of just hearing what they were saying, my emotions quickly got involved. While I didn’t let the patient see my reaction, I felt deflated for the rest of the day.
And this was all based on one statement they said. It sounds almost silly in hindsight.
But I realize that what is at the root of that reaction is my own insecurity and anxiety. And working on my own confidence and self-love may be part of the antidote to taking things personally.
What happens when we take everything personally
Is taking things personally a bad thing? From a personal standpoint, it usually triggers an excessive emotional response in me.
And more times than not, the emotions that I feel after taking something personally are negative.
The research seems to confirm my personal observations. Researchers theorize that when we become less emotionally reactive we experience greater happiness.
Keep in mind, they aren’t saying you should be emotionally numb. They’re saying there is a difference between healthy reactions and overly reactive responses.
This was further confirmed by a study in 2018. This study determined individuals who were more emotionally reactive were at a greater risk for experiencing anxiety, depression, and stress.
All this research indicates there isn’t much to be gained by taking things personally. And I think on some level we all intuitively know this too.
But it’s a hard habit to break. I’ll be the first to admit that I still take too many things personally on a daily basis.
However, with increased awareness of the issue, I am becoming better at self-regulating my response. And like all things in life, it takes practice and repetition before it becomes a habit.
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5 ways to stop taking things personally
These 5 tips are going to help you better control your emotional reactivity to stop taking things so personally. It won’t happen overnight, but with consistent practice, you will get there.
1. Ask yourself if the feedback or statement is true to you
Many times, I take something personally because I am accepting a statement as true with no examination. But stop and ask yourself if you think there is any truth in what the person is saying.
For example, has anyone ever told you that they think you try too hard? It’s a piece of feedback I’ve heard throughout the course of my life.
I used to accept it and let it hurt my feelings. But when I grew up, I started to take a harder look at this feedback.
I asked myself if I honestly thought I tried too hard. The truth was there were many times when I felt like my effort simply matched the task.
When I took a really hard look at it, I realized that most of the people telling me I was trying too hard weren’t trying at all.
I decided that I didn’t find this feedback to hold any truth to it. And that made it easier to let it go instead of internalizing it.
2. Work on your confidence
Everyone tells you to be confident. I feel like I’ve been told that since I was young.
But why does confidence matter when it comes to taking things personally? Confident people aren’t as reactive to things that could hurt them.
Confident people love themselves enough to let go of external feedback. And confident people are okay with not being everyone else’s cup of tea.
I’ve had to work at building my confidence in myself over the years. I’ve done it by directly asking for feedback that I know may not be positive.
I’ve also built my confidence by respectfully setting boundaries. This was especially important in relationships where people were continually saying unkind things.
If you foster a sense of confidence in who you are, you don’t take things personally because you start to realize how awesome you are.
3. Realize that we all struggle with communication sometimes
Unfortunately, we all say things we don’t necessarily mean. And other times we just communicate using the wrong words.
Be patient with your fellow human beings because we all mess up. I know I’ve said things that I didn’t intend to hurt someone, but they did.
When you take the time to remember that the person communicating may be the problem, it can help you let it go.
Not too long ago I had a friend who told me that I sucked at being a supportive friend. My first reaction was, “Ouch-what did I do to deserve that?”.
Turns out that friend was really upset because her boyfriend had just dumped her. At that moment, I was asking her what she wanted for dinner.
Because I didn’t immediately ask her what was going on in her world, she took her emotions out on me. She did later apologize.
But I came to understand that her emotions were dictating her response. And if I hadn’t let it go, it could have ruined a friendship.
4. Value what you think of yourself more than others’ opinions
This is easier said than done. Trust me, I recognize that.
But if you don’t value your own opinion, then other people’s opinions will always dictate how you feel. And that sounds like a recipe for disaster.
I remember in grad school I had a few classmates who thought I was trying to be a teacher’s pet. I went to office hours for extra help and I’d answer questions in class.
From my view, I was trying to learn the material well because this was my future career. But I took this feedback personally for a while. I even tried to stop answering questions in class.
I was self-conscious and wanted to avoid looking like a suck-up. My roommate, who was also my classmate, noticed my behavior.
She asked me why I cared about the opinion of people who I probably wouldn’t talk to a few years from now. It hit me that she was right.
I cared more about my personal efforts and education than their opinions of me. Learn to value your own opinion and suddenly the opinions of others become much less important.
5. Journal your emotions to process them
If you can’t seem to let go of something, it’s time to take up your pen and paper. Journaling your emotions and thoughts can help you process them.
When you see all of your thoughts and feelings out on paper, you give your feelings room to breathe. And once you let it all out, it’s often easier to let it all go.
When I find myself ruminating over a situation at work or with a loved one, I write out my thoughts. This helps me pinpoint flaws in my own logic and reactivity.
And by writing it down, I feel like I’m helping myself learn how to not repeat the same mistakes. I can then respond in a healthier manner the next time I encounter a similar situation.
Your journal won’t get offended. So genuinely let it all out and relieve yourself of the weight of taking everything personally.
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It’s easier to react and take things personally than it is to take the higher road. But taking things personally is a recipe for poor mental health. Using the tips from this article, you can become aware of your own reaction patterns and refine them to reflect your true confidence. You may realize just how good it feels to be back in control of your own emotions again.
When was the last time you took something way too personal? How do you plan to stop taking things so personally? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!