How To Not Take Things Personally

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated May 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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.

To remedy this thought pattern, we must seek to understand both the habit itself and a common underlying cause: low self-esteem. Here is what you can do to address both of those factors.

People’s actions, while hurtful, aren’t always meant to hurt

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 intentionally wanted to exclude you. 

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.

Out of all the reasons people have to do the things that they do, it is among the least likely that they make choices based solely on their opinion of you.

Adjust your exectations

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. 

Getty/Luis Alvarez

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.

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 internal dialogue might not be helpful or healthy. 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). 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
People’s actions, while hurtful, aren’t always meant to hurt

If you think you can benefit from this type of help, but you don't know where to begin, consider BetterHelp as a launchpad. 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.


While it can be difficult, at first, to accept that our inner thoughts are likely at the root of our lack of self-confidence – and not others’ intentions – the more we work to catch ourselves when we are using disempowered language and reframe it toward a positive end, the more likely we are going to feel the positive emotions and outcomes associated with having genuine self-confidence. 

Therapists can be 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.

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