What Causes You to Take Things Personally and How to Stop

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It’s not about you

One of the things I find most fascinating about people is that if you put ten individuals in the exact same situation at the exact same time, then you ask them to describe what happened, you get ten different stories. Nobody is lying but each person pays attention to different things and creates meaning based on their own interests and filters.

In addition to that, people have emotional habits, meaning that those who are primarily angry find a reason to feel anger anywhere they go, those who are frustrated find ways to experience even more frustration, those who live in appreciation notice things to appreciate etc. What they feel comes from habits and mental programs more than from anything you have or have not done.

Please remember that next time you hear someone expressing criticism. Don’t immediately assume they are attacking you or even blaming you at all. They are thinking the way they always think, speaking the way they always speak, and reacting in habitual ways. What they say reflects who they are more than who you are.

They aren’t even thinking of you

While you’re busy worrying about what people think of you, they are busy worrying about what other people think of them! OK, I admit, it’s not true for everyone. Some are busy worrying about looking good, hiding flaws and insecurities, others are busy focusing on finding solutions to problems, and others are busy working to support their goals and advance their own agenda.

The bottom line is: you are not the center of everyone’s world, and in most cases, they aren’t even thinking of you. So, take a deep breath and give yourself a chance to relax. You are not under fire.

What is it REALLY about, anyway?

If you tend to take things personally when they are not personal, it is because something has hit a nerve. You are projecting your own doubts and insecurities on other people. You expect people to dislike what you don’t like about yourself. You expect them to doubt your ability to do things that intimidate you. You expect them to reject what you reject in yourself.

For example, if you feel inadequate because you are the only person in the room without a doctorate degree, you will judge yourself and expect others to judge you for it. In reality, if a meeting was called, it is because something needs to be discussed and people are focused on dealing with the issue. In that moment, nobody cares about what is or is not on your resume. If you make a suggestion but people around the table decide to do something different, it’s not because you don’t have a doctorate. Another idea may have more merit, or be easier to implement, or may seem preferable for any number of reasons, but it’s probably not personal. (For things that are personal, check out this article).

Here is another example: if despite your hard work and high productivity you still feel that you should do more, when someone points out something that wasn’t done, you will think they are blaming you, even if it wasn’t your responsibility in the first place. You attach meaning to what people do and say, based on your own filters and mental programs. You will see what you are ready to see and dismiss the rest. That’s how the human brain works!

How to stop taking things personally

Since you only take things personally when they trigger an insecurity, you must start by reducing your insecurities. The most effective way to do it is to work with a coach. I invite you to speak with me about facilitating the process so that you can be free and empowered sooner than later. But in the meantime, here are some pointers:

1. Set clear and measurable standards for yourself. Meet your standards, keep yourself accountable, and you will no longer be haunted by the “not enough” voice. You will know what it takes to be enough or do enough and people’s comments will no longer trigger you.

2. Develop compassion for yourself. Once you have set high standards and met them (more often than not), accept the fact that “doing your best” varies from time to time and you can’t be perfect at all times. Give yourself more appreciation. Give more attention to what you are doing right than what you are doing wrong.

3. Face your fears and keep growing. If you’ve been avoiding something uncomfortable, that “thing you’re hiding from” controls you. The only way to be free from fear and regret is to face what scares you. Take one small step, then another, then another. Build new skills and competencies.

4. In challenging situations, remember not to make things about you. Expand your perspective. Look at what is happening from someone else’s vantage point. Ask yourself “What else could this mean?” or “What needs to happen to fix this problem?”.

5. When appropriate, simply ask people what they mean! Making assumptions is a sure way to create misunderstandings and conflict. When in doubt, simply ask! I can show you how to do it tactfully, without emotional charge, and without triggering emotional reactions in others.

And there is so much more I’d like to share with you! Let’s team up to change old habits, create new ways to think and feel more empowered so that you can express your full potential. Talk to you soon.

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About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.