Learning to not take things personally can be very challenging because we’ve been conditioned from a young age to be influenced by external situations.
Taking things personally means an event or experience that didn’t go the way we expected it to, has caused us to feel some type of negative emotion, whether it’s sadness, disappointment, frustration, anger or lower motivation.
Why do we take things personally?
Some reasons why we take things personally include:
- We allow an event that happened to mean something about us and our identity.
- Our beliefs and values, which we conclude to be true for us, have been violated in some way.
- We’re insecure and find it difficult to accept the aspects of ourselves that are imperfect.
We’re all doing the best we can to live life. The danger of taking things personally is that we’re being influenced by external situations or things outside of ourselves. Instead of living from the inside out, we’re living from the outside in.
One of the most valuable things we can learn to have a higher level of self-awareness is to not take things personally, especially when things don’t go as planned.
During my corporate career, when I was the Operations Manager for a manufacturing company, maintaining adequate levels of finished product for our key customers was one of my main responsibilities.
On one occasion, there had been a few equipment failures, which caused customer stock levels to fall dramatically. The company National Sales Manager, who was based at another site, had come to our site for a visit and was advised of the situation regarding customer stock levels.
I remember him coming into my office and yelling at me, wanting to know what was going on and why stock levels were so low. He went on for about two or three minutes before he stopped to give me a chance to respond.
The first thing I said in a calm manner was, “Are you done? Or was there anything else you need to say?”
I think that took him a little by surprise and I then told him what was being done to get the situation under control. The conversation ended with me asking him not to yell at me again and that someone in his role needed to present himself in a more professional manner.
Had I taken what he said personally, chances are I would have made the situation worse by getting angry or defending myself in an aggressive manner. There are always things we can do to not let events or experiences affect us.
How to Stop Taking Things Personally
- Acknowledge what you’re feeling first then shift your focus. Events will trigger certain emotions for us. If those emotions cause us to have a negative reaction, rather than trying to hide or dismiss those emotions, it’s best to become aware of what’s coming up for us. Then we can question whether the thoughts we’re thinking, that are causing those emotions, are true or not.
- Give yourself space between what’s happened and your reaction to it. We’ve heard the saying, “Think before you speak,” which holds true on such occasions. Rather than jumping to conclusions or going with the first thing that comes to mind, it’s better to pause, then check whether our reactions are valid for the situation or not. Most times, giving ourselves a few extra moments can help us respond in a better way.
- Use the “Does it really matter?” test. Often, the things that upset us, will not matter in the long run. It’s beneficial to question whether what we’re experiencing at any given moment will matter in three months, six months, twelve months or two years from now?
- Accept that a person’s reaction has nothing to do with you, most times. How someone reacts to a situation is often a response to something that’s going on in their lives and it has nothing to do with us. Almost always, when someone calms down, they’ll acknowledge that they could have handled a situation better or done things differently, so there’s no benefit in us taking their reactions personally.
- Own your power. We can own our personal power by developing more self-confidence and focusing on what matters to us. Avoiding toxic people and maintaining a high level of self-care is important if we want to continue being in the right frame of mind.
When someone reacts in a way we don’t like, we don’t have to get even with them. If we can accept that people are doing the best they can with the awareness, knowledge, skills and resources they have available to them, then it’ll be a lot easier not to take things personally. If we do, we’ll give ourselves a much better chance of focusing on what’s important to us.
Action Step: Reflect on the last time an event or someone caused you to take something personally. Write what you learned from the experience and what you can do next time you’re in a similar situation.
Question: What is something else we can do to avoid taking things personally?