Taking things personally is a habit that can harm and even end relationships if we allow it to continue. Why do we take things personally, and what does that even mean?
When we take things personally, it means that we are misinterpreting someone's thoughts and actions and believing them to be targeted toward us. People who engage in this behavior often have low self-esteem and may even have trouble loving themselves, which is why they are more susceptible to believing others may be actively trying to put them down.
To remedy this thought pattern, we must seek to understand both the habit itself and the underlying cause: low self-esteem. Here is what you can do to address both of those factors.
Consider Other Explanations For Behavior
Perhaps you have met a few people who have decided to use their time to make you feel terrible. While this is a very real and unpleasant experience, in most cases, it’s highly unlikely that the majority of people in your life are actively malicious. Your boss probably did not give your co-worker that promotion because they think you are flawed. Your friend probably did not hang out with your other friend last weekend, without you, because they both hate the way you dress or the way you laugh.
People have plenty of reasons behind their actions that have nothing to do with you. It may be that, in the case of your co-worker’s promotion, they were simply more qualified. Your friends are also allowed to deepen their relationship with each other without you present. There is a concept in psychology that the simplest answer is most likely, and the more complex the conclusion is, the more solid evidence you will need to justify it – commonly known as Occam’s Razor.
Adjust Your Expectations
We are often let down because we hold people to high expectations, but the people in your life likely do not think about meeting your expectations throughout their day. They have their own lives and expectations that may be different than yours. Adjusting your expectations for the people around can help you reframe your understanding of people’s motives.
In times when it is important for two or more parties to be aware of others’ expectations, then communicate them directly. At this point, the group can have a discussion about how they can strive to meet each other’s expectations. Of course, it is important to grant the flexibility to others that you would like for them to extend to you.
Challenge Your Assumptions When You Feel Threatened Or Hurt
Sometimes, our thoughts can be false because our perception of the situation at hand has been altered by our emotional state. This is what’s known as a cognitive distortion, and it can lead to us interpreting the words and actions of others through a biased lens that doesn’t have much stake in reality.
The next time you start to feel threatened or hurt by someone else, try to challenge these distortions. Ask yourself, ”Was this done to hurt me intentionally?” If the answer is false or debatable, ask yourself why you feel so affected by their actions. What was it that they did to make you feel the way you do? It could be that someone’s behavior is a trigger that connects to a past experience where you felt ignored, hurt, or belittled in some way, and you may be projecting those same emotions onto the person who has no idea what reaction their behaviors stimulate within you.
Start looking at others’ actions through the lens of a detached, unbiased observer. Once you start to evaluate other people's actions through this perspective, you can often see the flawed thinking that takes place when you take things personally.
Find Ways To Boost Your Confidence And Self-Esteem
Without confidence and high self-esteem, it's easy to succumb to negative thinking that influences you to feel inferior to those around you. Just like we cannot always expect others to meet our standards, other people are not responsible for instilling a sense of self-worth within us.
What are the things about yourself that you love? In what ways are you skilled or talented? What do you bring to your family, friend group, or work setting that others may not? Finding ways to use those strengths and tap into those abilities can serve as reminders that you are competent, caring, curious, or courageous, to name a few valuable attributes. When you start to believe in yourself, it is likely that others will follow suit. Here are a few other ways to boost your self-concept:
- Learn More About Why You Feel the Way You Do- Believe it or not, there is a reason why you may issue the same put-downs to yourself. They may stem from your childhood because your parents weren't supportive enough, or they may connect back to moments when equally insecure people bullied you in school. Whatever the reason is, identify it and consider working through those issues with the help of a mental health professional.
- Change What You Can, Love What You Can't- Everyone has a part of themselves that they would like to improve or change entirely. For some, this may be a personality trait, but for others, it could relate to a physical feature. The most important thing to remember when you are trying to become more confident and improve yourself is that you should improve what you can, and accept or love what you can't.
- Embrace Positivity- Negativity is a necessary and unavoidable part of life. What isn't, however, is the negativity that you bring into your own life via your internal dialogue. Ignore negative inner thoughts that put you down. Stop engaging in activities that reinforce your negative thoughts. Start focusing on what you love about yourself rather than what you don't love as much. Embrace positivity, and you may be more likely to develop confidence.
- Look And Act the Part- It can be difficult to be confident if you don't feel confident. Tell yourself that enough is enough and find some clothes that make you feel powerful. Start walking taller and raise your eyes to the people around you instead of averting them or looking away. Start conversations rather than trying to avoid them. You and those around you will see this shift in behavior and treat you the way you want to be treated. Like a character from The Perks of Being a Wallflower remarked, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
- Set Boundaries For Yourself And Others- It’s going to be challenging to attempt to live a life without boundaries. Being “boundary-less” is a great way to allow people into your life who may take advantage of you, as well as an open invitation for you to continue putting yourself down. Rather than letting people come in and tell you what to do, set boundaries. If someone disrespects you, tell them clearly why it is not acceptable. If YOU disrespect you, tell yourself that it is not acceptable. Being assertive about your boundaries doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive. Being respected by yourself and others can significantly raise your confidence.
- Take Care Of Yourself- If you haven't already, it is vital to incorporate self-care into your daily routine. Self-care is the act of making sure that your own needs are met in all aspects of your life. Start working out, eating healthier, and getting the most out of your life. Your body and mind will know if you are not fueling it or keeping it satisfied, and this type of neglect can contribute to low self-esteem.
- Achieve Greatness In Small Steps- Rome wasn't built in a day, and your confidence won't take such little time, either. Confidence is built – and maintained --through small, intentional actions and small, attainable goals. If you have trouble following through on basic tasks, make a goal to organize a small section of your house today or to start taking daily walks. When you see that you can meet these goals, you may start feeling more confident that you can tackle your larger goals.
Seeking Support For Self-Esteem
One of the best benefits of speaking with a licensed therapist is that they can serve as a detached observer – someone to “check” you when your language veers more toward “victimhood” versus agency. They can do so using evidence-based treatment approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a method that centers on reframing thoughts in order to affect desired feelings (like feeling enough, feeling confident, and feeling open-minded).
If you think you can benefit from this type of help, but you don't know where to begin, consider BetterHelp as a launchpad. BetterHelp is the world's largest e-counseling platform that can help you connect to affordable and convenient counseling. By taking the initial questionnaire, you can connect with a therapist uniquely qualified to support you in your desired outcomes within 48 hours. From there, you can schedule appointments from a preferred location and at a time that works for your schedule.
Online therapy shows just as much, if not greater, effectiveness in supporting people with low self-esteem when compared to face-to-face therapy. In a ten-week study, 22 participants with anxious or avoidant attachment styles and neurotic- or stress-related disorders – all of which are correlated with low self-esteem – took part in an online group therapy intervention guided by a clinical psychologist. The study leaders confirmed that participants experienced reduced levels of anxiety and avoidance in addition to diminished depressive symptoms and feelings of loneliness.
Therapists are nonjudgmental resources with a wealth of understanding about how the mind works. Take the first step in changing patterns of taking things personally to assigning empowered meanings by reaching out to a therapist on BetterHelp today.
How do you train yourself not to take things personally?
To train yourself not to take things personally, you can learn to stop worrying about people’s comments or actions by adopting a different perspective. For instance, when someone offers constructive criticism, try to view it as an opportunity for growth rather than a personal attack.
Why am I taking things so personally?
Taking things personally often stems from self-limiting beliefs or the fear that you feel inadequate. A licensed clinical psychologist can help you explore these emotional triggers and work on healthier coping mechanisms.
Is it possible to stop taking things personally?
Yes, it is possible to avoid taking things personally through conscious effort and problem-solving techniques. Having a clear head helps you interpret situations more objectively, minimizing the emotional impact.
Is it normal to take everything personally?
While it’s not uncommon to occasionally take things personally, doing so consistently can be a sign that you are a people pleaser or struggle with self-esteem. If this is affecting your well-being, consider seeking professional advice.
Why is it good to not take things personally?
Not taking things personally allows you to focus on what really matters and opens the door for personal growth. You are less likely to feel attacked and more likely to engage in constructive dialogue.
What is another way to say don't take it personally?
Another way to express this sentiment is to say, “Try not to take it to heart.” This offers a different perspective on the situation, helping you to reframe your thoughts.
How do you know if you take things too personally?
You’ll know if you’re taking things too personally if you tend to internalize negative things, even when they are not directed at you. In these cases, you may find yourself overthinking or feeling wronged easily.
How do you respond to ‘Don't take it personally’?
A healthy response could be to realize the person may not mean any harm by the comment. You are the only person in charge of how you react, so you could say something like, “I understand you didn’t mean that in the wrong way. Thank you for letting me know.”
How do you deal with someone who takes everything personally?
When dealing with someone who takes things personally, it’s important to approach conversations with sensitivity but also to set boundaries. Use a specific example to clarify your point and minimize misunderstandings.
Why do people say, ‘Don't take it personally’?
People often say, “Don’t take it personally,” when they want to offer feedback or an opinion without offending you. They may recognize that their comments could be interpreted the wrong way and aim to preempt any hurt feelings.
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