You probably know what it feels like to take things personally. As teenagers, we likely did this a lot. Everything was about us…everything! If mom looked upset, it was because of us. If one of our friends looked depressed it was because of what we did. If someone forgot to say hi it was because they hated us. In adolescence, this is a typical reaction, especially for adolescent girls unfortunately. This reaction, however, does not necessarily go away in adulthood. I don’t know about you but I’ve had to keep myself in check after taking things personally at work or at home on occasion. As a matter of fact, the tendency to take things personally actually has a psychological name. You’ll find this tendency on any list of limited thinking patterns or cognitive distortions. It’s called Personalization and it’s a real psychological principle so don’t feel bad if you have it. Even as high-functioning adults, we all have some kind of cognitive distortion and I see Personalization in my office quite often.
How do you stop taking things personally? A twist to the popular 90/10 principle in psychology states that 90% of what people say and do has everything to do with them. So, no matter what someone else is saying or doing, 90% of it actually has nothing to do with you. If someone looks upset, before jumping to a conclusion that you are implicated somehow, remember that you most likely have absolutely nothing to do with it! There is actually a 90% chance that you have nothing to do with it. Even when you are in direct conflict with someone, you may have nothing to do with their accusations. Say, for example, you have a conflict with someone and they call you inconsiderate and rude. As a result, you may take things personally and feel quite bad. Moreover, a recipient of these accusations may do one of two things: a) get defensive and bite back or b) get insecure and self-depreciate. Of course, after a conflict with someone, you need to hold yourself accountable for your part in it. However, if the insult genuinely feels grossly disproportionate to what you merit, consider the following. Consider the fact that the insult may have everything to do with the person that issued them – their perception, their thoughts, their psychology, their emotions, their mood, their experiences, and their past. This kind of reflection may not only decrease your level of stress and increase well-being, but it can also enhance the quality of all of your relationships as a whole! After a conflict, instead of blaming people and/or taking things personally, you will actually have a more sympathetic and emotionally intelligent reaction to someone’s wounds and misguided resentments.
Unfortunate thing about this theory is that compliments, like insults, are not about you either. People’s compliments are just as much of a reflection of them as are their insults. But to that I say, who cares?! Accept compliments with flare and grace – at least they’re fun and good-feeling.