Don’t take it personally…..It’s not all about you! And I mean that in the nicest way. It’s common to imagine that others are thinking about and responding to you much of the time. You aren’t conceded or selfish. However, this is a common thinking error that leads to taking things personally when they are not. Below I shed some light on how you can untangle your thinking and stop taking it personally.
People who take things personally, tend to assume that 1) others are thinking about them all the time, 2) those thoughts are nearly all negative and judgmental and/or 3) others are intentionally hurtful or the world is against them. They assume that if someone says something negative to them, it is about or because of them. Seriously, people aren’t thinking about you as much as you think. We are all thinking about and responding to our own internal selves.
Let’s consider an example. Mary’s new boyfriend, Joe, doesn’t text her back for two hours and when he does his answer seems curt. Mary feels hurt and anxious. She texts Joe incessantly and when she finally talks to him, she yells at him for being thoughtless. Joe in turn yells at her, calling her controlling.
- Consider other possible explanations. Mary has jumped to a conclusion and assigned meaning to Joe’s behavior without knowing the real reasons for his delayed, short response. Notice when you are jumping to conclusions (especially negative conclusions) and consider alternate explanations. Perhaps Joe was very busy at work. Perhaps Joe just got a speeding ticket and is in a bad mood about that. The possibilities go on and on. Remember, it’s not all about you!
- Our words and behaviors are reflections of us, not the person they are directed at. Joe’s yelling doesn’t mean that Mary is controlling. It only means that Joe lost his patience. Likewise, Mary’s response doesn’t mean that Joe is selfish or not interested in Mary. It is a reflection of Mary’s hurt and fear. When someone treats you poorly, it doesn’t mean anything about you. That can be hard to believe if you are in the habit of believing all the negative things people tell you.
- Stop telling your victim story. The more you tell yourself and others how unfair life is or how you’ve been mistreated, the more you reinforce this negative thinking. When you focus on the negative like this, you give it strength and power.
- You aren’t the only one this has happened to. You aren’t the only one who’s been flipped off by an angry driver. So, why are you taking it personally? Joe’s able to not take it personally when he remembers how Mary yelled at her mother last week. But even if he didn’t know this, it would be helpful to remember that he isn’t the only man whose girlfriend has yelled at him and he’s not the only person Mary’s yelled at.
- Others are not usually trying to hurt you. Yes, things still hurt even when there was no ill intent. But, it’s easier to not take it personally when you realize most of the time people are not intentionally targeting you. Sometimes people are simply tired, busy, hungry, angry at someone else, etc. Again, it’s not usually about you even when it’s directed at you.
- You can’t please everyone. Some people aren’t going to like you or what you do no matter what. You can’t control what others think of you (and you shouldn’t try to). Only what you think of yourself matters.
Like any other change, this will take practice. Be patient and gentle with yourself and soon you will begin to notice opportunities to think differently and not take it personally.
Sharon Martin, LCSW © 2015