We sometimes get offended by what other people say or think very hard about some things that other people do. You may experience emotional unrest thinking about what you might have done wrong for someone to do or say what they did.
However, most of the time, these things aren’t because of you, and sometimes, they aren’t even about you at all. When you take things personally, you put unnecessary pressure and negativity in your mind. So you may ask, how to not take things personally?
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What Does It Mean to Not Take Things Personally?
Well, here is what it means to take things personally. Lisa walked into the elevator at work to get to her office floor. She met a colleague and greeted her as she would on any other day.
However, Lisa didn’t hear her colleague’s reply and instantly assumed that there was a problem. She spent all the time in the elevator, about 5 minutes, coming up with different reasons why she had been ignored.
Bottom line: she believed that it must have had something to do with her personally. Finally, she got to her office, and while she went about her work, her boss walked in barking requests. Her boss, Heather, had stopped with the friendly smile and gentle tone she used during Lisa’s interview.
Now, it was mostly terse emails, a lot of frowns and didn’t validate Lisa’s work as much as she would like. Although Lisa was very good at her job, she wasn’t sure about that anymore with Heather’s attitude towards her. She started to doubt her abilities and took things personally.
If there is one thing we can get from this scenario, it’s that Lisa was not a happy person. She needs to discover how to not take things personally for a happier life.
So, what should she have done differently? Let’s start by finding out why we take things personally.
Why Do We Take Things Personally?
As her job grew more stressful, this also had a ripple effect on Lisa’s personal life. However, she took the behaviors of her colleague and boss personally because she felt responsible.
She blamed herself for their response. Thinking about, if only she were more sensitive or smarter, then she would be able to fix all their problems.
But this is so wrong. Many of us are wrestling with the problem of feeling like everything is about us when, actually, it probably is not.
When we don’t take everything personally, life will be so much better. But this is actually more common than you think as it is a pattern of the human mind. We tend to assume personal responsibility for occurrences that we have little to no control over.
We see events happening around us and think that it’s because of us. In the process, we internalize these problems, words, and actions, and make our roles in them bigger than they really are. And when the event turns out negative? We somehow believe that we are the cause. It is like blaming but targeted inwardly. So, it’s a form of self-blame.
This spirals out of control with emotional effects such as depression, anxiety, and stress being a part of your daily life.
The thoughts we carry around influence our reality as they are connected to our feelings of control and happiness. Taking things personally only leads to a negative outlook, which doesn’t contribute to a happier life.
How to Not Take Things Personally
Let’s get back to Lisa. She believed that her colleague didn’t respond to her greeting, and it’s all her fault. Apart from the fact that she was wrong about her colleague not replying to her greeting, Lisa jumped into conclusions and made it all about her.
Here are some tips on how to not take things personally.
1. Investigate Your Thoughts
The best place to start is your thoughts. Most times, we unconsciously encourage thoughts where we blame ourselves for almost every situation.
In the elevator, Lisa’s thoughts were, “if my colleague couldn’t respond to my greeting, then it must be because of something I did; If Heather is unhappy, then I must not be doing well at my job; If the company is struggling, then it must be my fault.”
You need to investigate your thoughts, which are specific to the situation. The next step is to ask yourself if these are true. If you think they are true, how sure are you?
Here is a different way to look at it. “If my colleague couldn’t respond to my greeting, then she may have been too occupied with her thoughts to notice”; “Heather manages about 20 employees, and I have been doing good work, so it could be any of 19 people”; “Heather has a life outside of the company, so she may have other problems affecting her mood.”
Doing this puts the situation in perspective. When Lisa had the first set of thoughts, they felt very personal. However, if she had investigated those thoughts, she would have seen that they were much less personal. When you examine your thoughts, you will realize that you may have invented a huge chunk of it.
2. It’s Okay to Ask Questions
Rather than basing our thoughts on assumptions and taking things personally, you can ask questions if you are really disturbed about it.
Let’s imagine how things would have gone differently between Lisa and her colleague in the elevator:
Lisa: I greeted you and got no response, is something wrong?
Colleague: Oh, I responded. I guess I wasn’t loud enough, sorry about that.
Lisa: That’s alright. How’s your family?
What’s the result of this conversation? Lisa will understand that it was never about her, and by encouraging dialogue, she has one less thing to worry about.
Let’s see how the conversation with her boss would have gone:
Lisa: I realized that you have been snapping at me a lot lately, is it something I did?
Heather: Oh, of course not. You’re great at your job, I’ve just been stressed lately.
With this, Lisa knows that her work output is still excellent, and Heather’s attitude has nothing to do with her. Taking things personally is a ticket to getting worried over nothing.
3. Don’t Worry So Much About What Others Think of You
One reason why you take things personally is that you care so much about the approval of the person involved. A lot of us have been conditioned from birth into thinking that you must be accepted by everyone.
However, the truth is that not everyone will like you. In fact, not everyone has to, especially since you can’t control the thoughts of others. So, if you want to stop taking things personally, you need to accept that you can’t influence how people respond to you.
Accept yourself, and you will be able to attract those who will accept you for who you are. With those people, you don’t have to constantly worry about what they think of you because you know that they absolutely love you.
4. Get Out of Your Head
Most times, when you feel judged or criticized by someone, you may have blown it out of proportion because you are in your head. We’re always acutely aware of our weaknesses and flaws.
Therefore, when you think a statement from a co-worker was actually criticism, they may not have been talking about you at all. Instead, you projected your insecurities into that statement and took it personally.
Has there been a time in the past where you took something personally but later realized that what was said wasn’t about you? So, next time you’re tempted to take things personally, think about this.
5. Build on Your Self-Confidence
Improving your self-confidence gives you a decent level of immunity to the actions and comments of others. That confidence acts as a buffer, meaning that you won’t instantly jump on a negative comment about you and let it define your thoughts.
People with a low level of confidence are more likely to bristle at any negative comment thrown at them because they are quick to believe that it is true.
Yes, you have your flaws, but that self-confidence will let you realize that it’s not enough to hold you back or get in your way. You will encourage the positive thought that you can fix it, making it easier for you to shrug off these comments.
6. Look Through a Different Lens
When you shift perspectives, you will be able to look at things beyond your experience. If Lisa had looked at the office through Heather’s eyes, she might have been able to see that managing more than five people was a lot of work.
She may have also noticed that Heather’s attitude wasn’t always targeted at her. Lisa would have also seen the tons of responsibilities that come with managing the office. This would have helped Lisa realize that she wasn’t the cause of Heather’s attitude.
When learning how to not take things personally, you need to realize that not every situation will revolve around you. Instead, be willing to show empathy.
Empathize with the other person’s position instead of being locked up in a narrow self-absorbed point of view.
As much as you can, use these tips to understand when you’re about to take things personally and avoid them. When you don’t take things personally, you will be able to have a richer and more productive life.
More Tips on Living a Happier Life
- 10 Things You Need to Learn to Live a Truly Happy Life
- 13 Ways Happy People Think and Feel Differently
- 10 Scientifically Proven Ways To Stay Happy All The Time
Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com