When other people are disrespectful or neglectful, it’s easy to think we’re the ones at fault. We create situations in our brains of a friend who was offended by something we said, or a boss who hates us for no good reason. But not only are these thoughts detrimental to our mental and emotional health, usually, they are completely untrue. Learning how to not take things personally can enhance our self-confidence and our life satisfaction.
As someone who was raised by a highly sensitive mother, I am the queen of taking things personally. In the past, when someone didn’t text back right away, I thought I had offended them somehow. If someone talked about someone else being judgmental, or lazy, or gaining weight, I would secretly wonder if they were really talking about me.
I was hyper-aware of how I would act or what I would say about certain subjects or opinions. I spent my time and mental energy doing everything I could to never offend someone.
And it was exhausting!
Walking on eggshells to prevent our own and others’ feelings from being hurt is not the way to live.
Eventually, I was able to see that I was taking every opinion, spoken word, and email personally and that I needed to get out of my own head and out of my own way. It wasn’t easy. But eventually, I was able to view people’s opinions as objective and personal to them, not to me. Because the honest truth is that most people say and do things because of their own values, opinions, and soft-spots, and they don’t really have anything to do with you.
If you want to feel more connected with others, less offended (and less defensive), and more satisfied with life, not taking things so personally will help you with all of those things. So here are 9 ways that you can learn how to not take things personally.
How to Not Take Things Personally
1. Be Aware of Your Sensitivities
We all have weak spots. A lot of the time, these things are trauma-based or fear-based. According to LoveBasedBiz, fear-based emotions are anger, grief, shame, guilt, bitterness, judgment, jealousy, frustration, doubt, insecurity, and more.
Basically, these are the feelings and reactions we have when we are afraid of something. (To learn more about this fear/threat response, check out this post about Non-Judgmental Mindfulness.)
Personally, I have always been afraid of being a burden on others, so when people call me “needy or clingy”, I get majorly upset. What kinds of things are you afraid of in your life? What are your sensitive spots? Maybe you immediately feel tense if someone asks you for money, or you worry when others call you “quiet” or “aloof”.
Take some time to learn these things about yourself. Brainstorm your own sensitivities and fears.
2. View the Situation from the Other Person’s Eyes
Remember those fear-based emotions from #1? Often, when other people experience these emotions, they can unknowingly take them out on others, including you.
If you’re on the receiving end of this kind of reaction from someone else, it can feel like a slight to you. But chances are that the person is reacting to something because of their own fear. They probably aren’t even attacking you, they’re just attacking the thing itself. I’ll give you an example.
I had a student in my first year teaching who was short of stature. He was about 5 feet tall and as a junior in high school, he wouldn’t get much taller. One day in choir class, he had his hood over his head and he was slouching in his chair, which is not good breathing posture. I asked him to “Sit tall.”
A few days later, his mother came into my office and berated me for calling her son names and being bigoted against short people. As a new teacher, I did not have the communication skills to know how to stand up for myself or to explain the situation. She stormed out. After brainstorming with my mentor teacher, I invited the mother back a few days later.
I explained to her about proper breathing technique and why I had asked her son to sit up. She told me, “No, you asked him to ‘sit tall’.”
My student was sensitive about his height.
His mother was sensitive about defending her child who had probably been teased about his height his whole life.
Once I realized this, I was able to be more sensitive to his concerns and asked him to “have better posture”. I also reminded him privately that if he didn’t want to be called out in class about his posture, that he should remember to have good posture throughout class. I was able to stop taking things personally, which resulted in a better experience for everyone.
3. Know Your Worth to Not Take Things Personally
When your self-esteem is incomplete or low, you may take things more personally than you would if you had a healthy self-worth.
When you know your worth, you’re more likely to view things from an objective perspective (and it’s easier to see things from another person’s perspective.) In fact, low self-esteem is connected to things like worry and anxiety. As Verywell says,
The problem for most people is that they struggle to accurately read the amount of acceptance and rejection in their lives, leading people to have low self-esteem.
When we have a higher self esteem, we’re able to see through all the clutter to read a situation more accurately.
4. Be Aware of Others’ Assumptions of You
How have you been labeled all your life? Young and naive? Brainy but not street-smart? The slut? The jock?
Knowing how others have viewed us in the past can contribute to an incorrect or incomplete perspective of what others see in us now. As someone who graduated from high school as a valedictorian at 17 years old, I was the “young one”. I may have been accomplished for being so young, but I was incredibly emotionally immature. And others would treat me this way. As I got older, I expected that others would continue to view me in this way.
But as I aged, people began to view me as more of an authority, especially new people that I met. Yet I was stuck in the “young” mindset. I was assuming others would see me how I had been seen in the past, and it was 100% false!
How do you assume that others view you? Are these assumptions true, or are they just a part of the past?
RELATED: We Become What We Think About
5. Don’t Assume Anything
Wanting to learn how to not take things personally is a fine goal, but it does require a little finesse.
When you’re trying to look at things from another person’s perspective, this is just a guideline. When we start making assumptions about this person, these assumptions could then inform our own words or responses, which could potentially backfire.
Don’t assume that the other person is saying something because of their own insecurity. Don’t assume they’re being untruthful or that they’re trying to hurt you.
Often, the things people say are automatic responses based on the social conditioning they’ve received in the past. They may not have meant what you interpreted their words as.
6. Consider the Source to Not Take Things Personally
Has someone insulted or criticised you flat out? Maybe it does indeed seem like this person is intentionally trying to hurt you, stir the pot, or cause trouble. In this case, think about the person. Have they been intentionally hurtful in the past? Have others had issues with this person before?
Here are some situations you may find yourself in that it’s just best to let any hard feelings go:
- when the person has a reputation for causing hurt and angry feelings
- when you’re unlikely to ever see the person again
- when you’re involved in an altercation online (avoid the comments of ANY public post!)
- when you know that the person has suffered trauma in the past which may be influencing how well (or how poorly) they handle a tough situation
It’s a little easier to not take things personally when the source is not reputable.
7. Learn about Social Conditioning
Many of these listed above include what Kasia Urbaniak calls “the conversation under the conversation”. This is the tone, underlying meaning, and assumptions that we make while we are interacting with another person. (For more about Kasia, read A Woman’s Guide to Power Unbound.)
Most of this “conversation under the conversation” is caused by social conditioning. Social conditioning is when we adhere to a set of norms or guidelines set out by society. We grew up seeing and believing in these social constructs, but really, they’re all just made up.
Think about it. Why do you say “excuse me” or “sorry” when you bump into someone? Because we’re expected as a part of polite society to do so.
There are many different things in our lives that our society expects out of us, for example, stopping talking when someone interrupts us because we don’t want to be rude. Or feeling guilty if we cause someone to feel unwanted bad feelings.
Being aware of these “autopilot” functions can help us understand why people do and say the things they do, and why we shouldn’t take them so personally.
8. Don’t Waste Your Time
One thing that prompted my own need to stop taking things personally was the fact that it was wasting so much of my time and mental energy. I was so worried about what others were thinking of me that I didn’t think about whether I liked them in the first place.
In many cases, like in #6 above, those people do not deserve your time or energy. But even so, when you are worried about what another person was thinking when they said something to you, even if that person is close to you, you are just spinning your wheels. If you’re close to the person, stop beating around the bush and just ask the other person what they meant when they said XYZ. They may have had no idea that they even caused this kind of anxiety in you.
And if they did mean to grind your gears? Even better to call them out on it.
Worrying is causing you stress in the present about something that happened in the past, and what it might cause in the future. Why sacrifice your present moment for something that might not even be true?
9. Don’t React
If you want to say something to this person who criticised you, or ask that friend if they really were offended by something you said, do it with a thoughtful response.
By definition, “reacting is emotional, responding is emotional intelligence.” Responding takes into account a desired outcome, is more objective, and sees the situation from different perspectives.
Reacting can possibly even make the situation worse, especially if the other person didn’t even know he or she caused these feelings.
So instead of getting flustered, bent out of shape, or hurt, take a deep breath. Pause and think about these other 8 steps. When you’ve thought about some possible outcomes and you are feeling less reactive and more self-confident, talk to the person honestly and with integrity.
READ MORE: How to Control Your Emotions FOR GOOD
When we remove ourselves from the situation in this manner, you may find that the thing you were taking personally was nothing to get upset about at all! And if you find out that you indeed should take the thing they said personally… then maybe you should surround yourself with people who don’t purposefully hurt others.
Set those boundaries, see things objectively, and start to take back your time and power! These are tried and true ways to learn how to not take things personally!
Do you take things personally?
What is something that’s helped you to overcome taking things personally?