Earlier today I was feeling unwell at work and decided to take a sick day. Yesterday I had also injured my knee while running so I wasn’t the most graceful when walking today. As I was getting off the escalator, I accidently stepped on a man’s shoe and he tripped just slightly. He stared at me with annoyance and I told him “sorry” but realized he must not have heard me as I can be quite soft spoken at times. I could hear him cursing softly because of his annoyance at what I’m sure he perceived as rudeness from me. His reaction, reminded me that some of us take things personally even when our behaviors have nothing to do with the person. This man had no idea I was unwell, had a knee injury and can be soft spoken at times, but it was clear he assumed I was a rude person based on those minor events.
I struggle with taking things personally myself. Any series of events can trigger me to feel like something is personal, but I’ve been learning how to become better at not taking things personally. We are all human and it’s part of human nature to struggle to not take things so personally. As humans we tend to be a bit self-centered and can often have high expectations towards others without realizing that we rely on people to have realistic expectations for ourselves.
Below are some true stories of where I have personally seen this.
- One of my clients used to seem annoyed and grouchy all the time. He was a pain to work with and would constantly write emails that came off as aggressive and would even call when emails are not responded to within 10 minutes. If he ended up calling during a lunch break, he would even call my boss to check where I am and why I haven’t responded. I felt very stressed working with him and found his behavior quite rude. I decided to change my tactic and just respond in full kindness towards him and took extra measures to make sure someone was available in case I had a meeting or went on a lunch break. Turns out he was having a very stressful time at home and at work. He was the only one managing tasks and was barely making time to see his young son who he loved dearly. His behavior had nothing to do with me, but was a reflection of the disarray happening in his own life. I’m happy to say that now he’s one of the nicest people I work with, very flexible and relaxed. It took me treating him with kindness and giving him the benefit of the doubt for him to establish better trust with me and realize that even if things are going chaotic at home or at work, that I am handling things on my end.
- I have a friend who basically dropped off the map for a year. I was used to communicating with this friend pretty regularly so was a bit down when suddenly he became unavailable to talk to. I’d reach out and say hello but eventually it felt like a one-sided conversation and I decided to just move forward. After about a year, my friend contacted me and apologized for his behaviour. He realized that he hadn’t been a good friend to me or to others in his life. He explained that he was having a tough year. He had broken up with his girlfriend, work had laid off people so he was suddenly taking on way more work than normal and his family was having money issues so his savings had to go his parents.
- I have a family member who has always acted in ways that I felt were embarrassing, stupid or downright rude. I’ve spent years struggling with my feelings towards this family member. Upon learning more about this person’s history, background, how they grew up and the things they have experienced, I now realize this family member has suffered in many, many ways. Although I can take their actions personally, I now can emphasize and realize that they are battling their own struggles and insecurities that have absolutely nothing to do with me.
You have probably experienced similar things in many aspects of your life. Perhaps you are pursuing a new career or business idea and people seem to just blow off your ideas or not take them seriously which results in you taking their feedback seriously. Or maybe you have always viewed someone very negatively and suddenly realized they are dealing with something tragic such as the loss of a loved one. Here are some tips that can help you to not take things so personally.
1. Take deep breaths and practice being calm. One of the simplest and most effective things you can do to prevent yourself from overreacting is to practice being calm. Figure out the best ways that work for you to help you relax and feel peace. I love taking walks or listening to music when I’m feeling really overwhelmed. Try various things to help you calm down such as meditation, yoga, exercise, playing a game or taking deep, measured breaths.
2. Remember, it’s likely not personal. The things that you are taking personally are most likely not about you at all. Recently, I heard a story about someone who was worried that someone they work closely with does not like him. The reason this person felt this way is because when he tried to make conversation with the co-worker, the co-worker would not really say much in return. As a result, this person felt that his co-worker did not like him and was really worried he had said something to upset him. As it turns out the co-worker was just having a busy week and didn’t even realize he hadn’t been responding much. Most of the situations we take personally are similar to this story. People have many things going on in their lives. Someone who doesn’t say hello to you might just be exhausted from a busy week. People sometimes forget to reply to messages when busy. A person going through something difficult in their personal life may come off as distant or irritable. Do yourself and the people around you a favor and give someone the benefit of the doubt.
3. Don’t define yourself by how people react to you. One of the worst things you can do when taking things personally, is analysing what their actions mean and how that reflects on you. Here are a few phrases that you might feel when taking things personally. My boss seems to dislike me because he never seems to notice me. I wonder if I’m doing a poor job at work, or if people at the office in general dislike me and if I should begin searching for other job opportunities. A close friend never seems to reach out to me anymore. I wonder if I did something wrong, if he doesn’t like me anymore or maybe he just doesn’t want to be my friend anymore because I’m X, Y or Z. If he doesn’t like me, then maybe nobody likes me. Maybe none of my friends actually like me at all. Try to avoid falling into negative thinking by assuming that someone’s actions towards you are a direct reflection of your worth. This type of negative thinking will only leave you feeling worse and you may end up sabotaging your relationships over thoughts that exist purely in your own mind.
4. Question the expectations you have for others. It’s healthy and normal to have expectations of the people you encounter regularly but your expectations may be unrealistic. I’m a huge fan of saying thank you. I personally believe it’s really important to show your gratitude towards others. However, I realized rather quickly that not many people are able to always show their gratitude. People forget to say thank you sometimes, or are too busy or might have thought they said thanks but actually didn’t. I also forget to say thank you, even though I really try to remember to say thanks when I can. There are tons of reasons why people may not meet your expectations and if you look at yourself honestly, you will realize that there are times where you make mistakes, forget to do things or maybe come off a bit rudely because you are tired or busy. Change your expectations to be more realistic. That way when people don’t meet your expectations, you’ll realize that it’s okay and it’s normal.
5. Build your self-confidence. A huge reason why you may take things so personally is because you need to work on your own confidence. If you continually place your confidence based on what other people say about you and how they treat you, then your confidence will always be rocky.
6. Learn when to not take someone seriously. You will encounter someone who just doesn’t like you for whatever reason. A few years ago a woman told me in front of several people that she did not want me to go a trivia event where she would be at. I had no idea why this woman disliked me so much that she would say such a thing to me directly to my face. Our mutual friends apologized for her behaviour and told me she had low self-esteem. After she said that I decided to just leave her alone and let it be. I never analysed why she disliked me because I know that I didn’t do anything wrong to her. When someone treats you disrespectfully and you honestly do not think you did anything to warrant their behavior, then simply ignore and move forward. Not everyone will like you, want to be your friend or respect you. That’s just a fact of life. Some people will never understand your life choices and will always be critical regardless of how kind, genuine or wonderful you are to them. Instead of taking their words personally or bending over backwards to seek their approval, just move on and realize that you are better off without this person in your life.
7. Don’t be so hard on yourself if people misinterpret your actions. You really cannot control how people interpret your behavior. Let’s say that you respond to someone with thank you, and you genuinely meant it in a kind way but that person interpreted it as condescending. Is it your fault that person interpreted what you said wrong? Or what about times where you are dazing off and don’t realize that you are staring at someone oddly or in a way that may come off as rude? Should you really take their response to you personally? Sometimes what we say and do, even with the best intentions, can be interpreted wrong by someone. Honestly, there’s not much you can do about situations like that. I’ve noticed recently that when I’m with my boyfriend I may think someone said something weird, but he thinks it sounds completely normal or vice versa. Whenever we talk about how we interpret a situation differently, it reminds me that I’m likely misinterpreting how someone is coming off. Misinterpreting things is normal, but instead of taking it so personally, remember that it happens and move on.
8. Be authentic and act in a way that you feel is right. When you feel like someone is treating you negatively, take a look inwards and respond in a way that’s right for the situation. Is their feedback constructive criticism that you can utilize to improve your own life and performance? Check that you do not have a habit of taking criticism so personally that you cannot see when people are trying to genuinely help you. Is their response actually based on something you did do? You are not perfect but check that the way you respond to people may be worth revisiting. I used to have a habit of dishing out advice to people which came off from a good place. However, I realized that sometimes my advice could come off the wrong way to others and could make people feel uncomfortable. I still give advice but instead hold off on giving it unless people ask for it or dish it out in smaller amounts. The important thing to note is that I did not take their perceptions personally, but used it as a way to revise some of my own actions. You don’t have to take things personally, but can still recognize if there are ways you can improve the way you respond to a situation so that the outcome is more positive for everyone. Lastly, if you feel you acted right, then don’t worry about the people who come off negatively. You cannot control their actions or feelings, only yours.
9. Have healthy boundaries. A great way to not think takes personally is to establish healthy boundaries with others. Revise those boundaries if something doesn’t feel right. If you have a friend who is hard to get a hold of and doesn’t seem to accept any of your social invites, then it’s time to consider if you should continue inviting this person out or trying to reach out to them. Recognize if this dynamic seems unhealthy and do something about it. If a stranger you regularly have to interact with is making your personal or work life feel more negative, then think about what you can do to minimize that impact. Sometimes even smiling and being polite can go a long way towards minimizing the drama and negativity that occurs from interacting with that person. If a co-worker seems disrespectful towards you, then minimize your contact with them. Avoid the small talks and keep communication with them strictly professional. When you establish healthy boundaries, you minimize the amount of negativity you allow in your life and you realize that it’s really not personal.
10. Always remember that you are in control. Nobody else should be in control of your own thoughts and feelings, other than you. Stop giving others the power to make you feel bad about yourself. You are in control of your actions and thoughts. You cannot control how someone treats you but you are in control with how you react to their treatment.
Taking things personally might feel easy and be your immediate response to negative events, but work to hinder that line of thinking. Taking things personally can lead to unnecessary negative thinking and can lead to unhappiness within your life. Your life will feel much more peaceful when you take control over your thoughts and actions.