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How to Not Take Things Personally

Do not take things personallyAre you struggling to get past the actions or words of others? 

Do the attitudes of family members seem to be all about you? Do you feel at fault? Maybe you think you’ve done something to trigger their emotions?

Has someone criticized you or your work? Are you having difficulty letting that go? Do you feel you’re internalizing their words?

I’m such a loser. Why can’t I get anything right?

You’re not alone. 

It’s difficult to resist taking the actions of others personally, especially when they lash out at us, or say things about us, or to us, that are less than kind.

Mark Twain once said, “What other people think about me is none of my business.”

We should take that advice a step further. What they think about us is rarely about us; it is simply a reflection of their own internal struggles.

Of course, there is a balance to be struck. We don’t want to stop caring about other people and their feelings. That can easily lead to dehumanizing them. We don’t want to disengage completely from life, as if we don’t care about anything that happens to us, or around us. But we do need to let go of some of the negative emotions.

Here are some ways to take things less personally:

Resist the Shouldn’t

Most of us leap to the following default thought pattern whenever something negative happens. 

That shouldn’t have happened! 

It’s not right! 

It’s unfair! 

They shouldn’t have done that!

You might be right. They probably shouldn’t have treated you wrongly. But they did. It happened. Be aware of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’. They are unhelpful. Don’t should or shouldn’t on yourself, or others. Whatever happened, happened. The question now is simply what are you going to do about it? How will you respond?

Can the Perfect 

This is part of the shoulding we do. 

We think the world should be perfect, that we should be perfect, that others should be perfect. But it isn’t, we aren’t, and they aren’t. Can it, as in toss it in the trash can. If you think you must be perfect, then you will suffer from criticism of all kinds, mostly self-inflicted. Learn to accept that all things, situations, and people are imperfect.

Replay the Past with Extreme Caution 

It can be helpful, in some situations, and especially with a therapist, to replay past scenes, or future scenarios, but only to play out constructive responses, not to fantasize about revenge. 

If you find yourself locked in the negative thought pattern of replaying past scenes, just so you can figure out how to get even with the offender, then you are doing more harm than good. Talk to your therapist about this.

Get Busy and Stay Busy 

One of the best ways to drive out negative thought patterns, of all kinds, is to occupy your mind with something else. If you can focus enough to work, then work. If not, then do something fun: play a game, call a good friend, go for a peaceful walk, or do some other kind of exercise.

Be Curious 

Be an inquisitor of your thoughts. Question them. Don’t just accept them as fact. Emotions aren’t facts!

Why do I think that? 

Is it true? Or am I just projecting my thoughts on to someone else? 

Do I actually know what they think? 

Be aware of these thought patterns and try to interrupt them. Remember: what they think is none of your business.

Resist Your Gut Reactions 

There is great power in refusing to react. Silence and inaction are not passive, however many people think they are. Sometimes the best response is no response. Especially if the offense was trivial. Sometimes it’s best just to ignore negative stuff. 

What’s the Source? 

Who is the offender? Is it a stranger? A coworker you don’t really like to begin with? Or is it someone you trust and love? How often do you find yourself obsessing over negative comments from strangers or passing acquaintances on social media? 

Think about it. Would you ever ask this person for advice, in a normal situation? Never take advice or criticism from someone whose opinion you would never seek. 

Stop Assuming 

Assumptions are usually wrong. We don’t actually know why other people say or do what they do. As we’ve already touched upon, it is rarely about us. They are having a bad day, or life. As a result, they project that outward onto other people, like toxic vomit. 

It is impossible to really know why they do what they do. Resist the urge to assume you do. Of course, if it’s someone we love and respect, we can always ask them. 

Get Clarification

If you know the person, especially if they are close to you, then stop, take a breath—to avoid reacting—and calmly ask them to explain their words or actions, and their reasoning behind them. 

You’ll probably be surprised to discover they weren’t really thinking about you; they were just reacting to some scenario playing out in their own head. Once they’re aware of the effect of their actions, they may well apologize.

Be Assertive 

It is good to set boundaries and enforce them. This is true no matter our relationship with the person. Part of a good relationship is setting and understanding the other person’s boundaries, and their ‘buttons.’ If we understand them, we can avoid pushing them, or trespassing over them. 

To explore more on this topic, consider these articles:

Don’t Take It Personally

How to Stop Taking Things Personally

6 Ways to Not Take Things Personally

Professional Help is A Call Away

As with all aspects of mental health, sometimes you need a professional counselor to help you work through this stuff. 

At RDU Counseling for Change, our counselors and therapists have the tools to help you work through whatever your issue may be. We offer therapy for individuals, couples, or families both in person and via telehealth. 

Contact us today to book an appointment!

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  • Kelly Harrison

    Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC)
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  • Sallie Ratcliffe

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