Are there ways to lighten up your life and not take things personally?
We asked experts to share their insights.
Charlene Walters, MBA, Ph.D.
Motivational Speaker, Own Your Other
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes
So often, we are so focused on our own wants and desires that we fail to look at the situation objectively. When we see things from another person’s perspective, we are able to separate our feelings and needs from what actually occurred and to look at things more objectively.
Focus on the positive
We can find something good in every situation and encounter. Instead of dwelling on what did or didn’t happen or what hurt us, look on the bright side. There is a silver lining in everything. Perhaps whatever occurred was really a benefit to you.
A clue that someone wasn’t a true friend or didn’t have your back, for example. Although whatever happened may have temporarily stung, it probably taught you a lesson that you needed to learn. Pay attention.
Develop a thicker skin and learn to shrug it off
Train your mind to move on to something positive when it encounters something negative. Focus on the good things that you’ve experienced and the compliments that you’ve been paid.
Keep a journal in which you capture your daily highs. Before long, you’ll become less sensitive and shrug off more by training yourself to focus on the positive.
Psychology Professor |
Author, Emotional Detox: 7 Steps to Releasing Toxicity & Energizing Joy
Learn and understand about triggers
Let’s say someone makes a comment or remark about your cooking or the items you forgot to include on the table. While on the surface you might think this person is being rude or judgemental, if you were to dig underneath those behaviors you would find undigested emotions.
Undigested emotions such as unworthiness, inadequacy, insecurity, and jealousy often lead to triggered behavior. It isn’t until you start to give yourself a chance to digest your own emotions, as they come up rather than deflect yourself from them with quick comments or distracting behaviors you will begin to truly see triggers for what they are.
As you begin to feel, your energy, awareness and insight increases. Having this new energy gives you the ability and resilience for taking things less personally.
Lisa Sansom, MBA, MAPP, PCC
Organizational and Leadership Development Coach | Consultant, LVS Consulting
Typically, we associate a negative connotation with “taking things personally” but sometimes it’s a very useful exercise. Often, the situation is that someone has said or done something that you take to heart, whether they meant it or not.
The first question is “Was this actually directed at me?”
Let’s say someone slams a door, and you figure that they are angry at you. Well maybe the wind caught the door and they didn’t mean to slam it. Maybe they are frustrated at someone else. Maybe they hurt their toe on the door and they are slamming the door to get back at the door.
You just never know, right? So is there an explicit message, or might there be another explanation for someone’s words and actions? Do you know for sure, or are you guessing?
Get curious instead of feeling righteous
Then let’s say that it is about you and it was aimed at you. What was the feedback? What was said and done? What information are you missing and who would have that information? How can you learn more?
And what if they are actually right, and you were actually lacking in that situation. What if you could use this situation to examine yourself and improve.
What if you actually could “take it personally” and use it as a springboard to something better: self-knowledge and self-improvement.
Sometimes it might be worth doing a little step back and considering that maybe this is a growth opportunity, and not a time to be offended or upset. How will you grow without feedback?
Actor | Life Coach
When we take things personally, we shine the light on ourselves. We put all the focus on us; how we’re inadequate and what we’ve done wrong. This base level of narcissism is necessary for survival, but it’s not the entire picture. While I have you here, though, let’s see what we can do with it.
Let’s shine the light on ourselves in a different way
Think back at all the times you’ve been in the driver seat of a situation like this. Think of the people you’ve hurt for one reason or another. You’re likely to find in most of those cases, the reasons you did what you did have much more to do with you than they do them.
Switch the roles back to where you are now. Whatever “injustice” has been done unto you may very well have nothing to do with you at all.
I’m reminded of a few years ago when I gave the dating apps a go and I would stop responding to girls somewhat regularly. Realistically, it was never about them. I wasn’t over my ex, I wasn’t ready, I didn’t know what I wanted and I was on there out of a weird sense of obligation.
Clearly, I was not in a place to start offering myself to a healthy relationship, so I’d be quick to look for ways out of a conversation I didn’t feel confident in pursuing further. This is the truth for many people doing the harming, whether or not they realize it.
Ask yourself, “How personal can this really be?”
For the sake of argument, though, let’s say it is personal. Maybe you did something that triggered the other party to act in the way they did.
Does the other party have an understanding of you as a person that even scratches the surface? They likely don’t know the real you (so few people do), and therefore it can hardly be personal at all as long as you’re not making it seem more personal by throwing yourself a pity party.
In other words, these people don’t know you, so their assessments of you are based on next to no information. Just like your assessment of their actions is based on next to no information.
Let’s keep strengthening their case, though. Just for fun, let’s say it is personal and they do know you well. Even if this was the case, these people don’t owe you anything anyway. Any degree of upset that comes from a situation like this is truthfully derived from you creating an expectation of them.
Surely it would’ve been polite for them to offer an explanation to you and because that’s more common it also becomes expected, but tying your worth to that expectation is where the whole thing breaks down and this is what my answer is all about.
Focus on getting your power back
That doesn’t mean harassing the other party or bullying them into a relationship they clearly don’t want. That isn’t power. Power comes from within, and it’s more than likely that you’re handling all your power over to the other party.
Being upset about what feels personal is normal, but it’s really a reflection of feeling owed something or not being made to feel good enough. You’re putting your signature into someone else’s hands, and when you don’t do that – when you take the focus off yourself and your own upset – you’re able to see this entire thing from different angles.
Related: How to Feel Good Enough
You can open your mind up to the possibility that it might not have anything to do with you. You can open your mind up to any number of reasons the other party acted the way they did.
Best of all, you can open your mind up to the fact that you don’t need this person’s approval or affection.
Author | Life Coach Certified in Counseling Skills |
Editor Specializing in Medical Topics, e-counseling.com
People tend to think in a confused way about their value or worth. They’re proud of something that they’ve done or hope to do until someone comes along and denigrates the effort and the result, and sometimes the person, too. So, the insulted person then figures that they deserved the dishonor.
That’s quite a leap! Let’s think that conclusion through to understand that nobody’s value or worth changed.
The person making the insulting remark is the problem, not the individual whose feelings are hurt!
Some people want to make someone feel miserable, The negativity has no relationship to the victim of the insult, though. The insulted person has their charm, their aspirations, their history of achievements. They didn’t deserve the insult. Their true worth doesn’t change with the negative commentary.
What’s happening is that the person making insulting remarks has served notice that they’re rude, and irrelevant to the issue and person they’ve tried to injure, They don’t plan on being irrelevant, but they are. You can prove it to yourself. Read on to learn how.
The words had no relevance to the verbally abused object
Hold an object in your hand. It can be a delicious food item, a bit of money, a piece of fabric, expensive jewelry, any object whatsoever. Look at the object. Think silently about its components and worth.
Next, make verbal insults to the object, such as “You taste awful, you’re just a stupid X, Y, Z. Nobody needs you. Hey, maybe you were popular long ago, but today, nobody needs you. Who’d pay for such junk?” Make other insulting remarks that you think of.
Then stop talking. Look at the object you just denigrated, for a long time. Did it stop being what it is? Did it change somehow? Improve? Lose value? No. It is what it is. The words had no relevance to the verbally abused object.
Repeat that to yourself. Next, consider the words directed at you. They provoked emotional pain. You felt hurt that someone thought too little of you, or that you lacked any merit at all. But when you insulted some objects, they remained the same, unchanged.
Put yourself in the place of those objects
Objects lack emotions. They have their own worth regardless of what someone thinks of them. That piece of jewelry is still expensive, desirable, worth having, isn’t it? So are the other objects that you might have yelled at. You’ll learn how to not feel unhappy when you’re insulted.
The person who tried to make you feel worthless didn’t change anything other than your perception of yourself. Focus on that reality. Your worth didn’t change, and the other person’s opinion is wrong.
You matter. Your ideas matter. Your values are worthwhile. You have worth unique to your personality and efforts. Take some time to readjust your perception of yourself. Focus on the fact that you are worthwhile, that specific people value you, your personality and efforts.
You like you, too! Your life is meaningful due to the unique value and contributions that you bring to life, regardless of the demeaning remarks.
Related: How to Live a Meaningful Life?
Now think of the person who insulted you. Something is wrong with them, not with you. Decent people don’t denigrate others. Being well-mannered, being nice, matters. The other person left that decency, good manners, and other nice values behind.
Don’t let their mean words matter. Walk away from the painful experience knowing that you’re OK, the other person is not. Keep that “I’m fine, he/she is not” mindset humming.
Remind yourself of your inner worth every chance you have. You’ll realize over time that you don’t have to feel hurt when someone behaves poorly to you. You have your own unique value. You can set your own agenda and stick to it, remaining emotionally strong, even if mean-mouthed critics tell you that your ideas and your essence aren’t valuable. As the song says, “Let it go.”
Spoken Word Poet | Author | Founder, March Forth Movement
Stay focused on the purpose of each conversation
As a black woman, knowing to not take things personally has become an important skill in my racial reconciliation work. While frequently engaging in the social change narrative, it is vital for me to stay focused on goals and on my purpose of each conversation, which is to gain an understanding, while planting and watering seeds of hope and trust.
They don’t know who you really are as a person
Being conscious of the fact that, oftentimes, the person that I am speaking with does not know me or my back story helps me not to internalize unintended offenses or microaggressions that used to trigger an explosion of anger or frustration within me. Being intentional about my own inner healing and knowing my worth has strengthened my character and soothed my hypersensitivities.
Accept that the person is walking on their own journey of life too
I approach each conversation discerning that I am unaware of their maturity level, psychological development, or if they are experiencing other major life stressors.
Remember that people have free will
Destructive words or behavior are unacceptable but I sincerely honor it when others make an attempt to build relationships and society. They do not have to participate in conversations to improve social change. If they are courageous enough to ask questions or share their perspectives in the spirit of unity, especially during this time of increased racial tension, then I kindly hone in on their efforts to be a part of the solution, no matter how potentially painful their current understanding may be.
Sexual Empowerment Expert | TEDx Speaker
I loved The Four Agreements when I discovered it, as one of the agreements was “Don’t take anything personally.”
Don Miguel Ruiz says ”Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
As soon as we integrate that concept into our lives, the better. And, the more we realize we are not just a victim of our circumstance, the easier it will be to forgive, forget and build resilience to life’s curveballs. The sooner we will be free to experience more success, happiness, and abundance in our lives.
When and if this feeling comes up for me I like to do a few things to get myself out of it:
I put myself in the other person’s shoes
We all have to deal with different things in our day and, so, at times, we just become an outlet for other’s state of mind. Be compassionate towards them.
People live in their own reality and perception of their world
Remind yourself that their reaction is not a direct indication of your world, or of who you are. You are not responsible for the actions of others, only for your actions and reactions. We don’t need to act and behave according to what others may think. We make our own choices as we are the ones who live our lives.
I learned from a young age that every single person has their inner world, and when they can’t handle it, that will spill into the outer world. This means they may take things out on you as you are there in the moment they release their words, emotions, or internal drama.
Keep compassion and love in your heart
It can be tricky to deal with all our inner thoughts of insecurity, low self-worth and hurt when those show up, and not project that on others.
So next time you feel like something is said or done to you on purpose ask yourself, “Is this true to me? Is what I hear true about me?”
If the answer is no, do not take it personally. Hold space for the person you are dealing with, as they seem to be going through something. If the answer is yes, apologize, and make a conscious effort to address the behavior or take the appropriate action to rectify your mistake.
Not everyone can communicate calmly and without heavy emotions involved so be patience, understanding and loving.
Certified Mental Health Expert | Family Care Professional, Maple Holistics
Avoid negative assumptions
The best way that everything becomes personal is by making negative assumptions. In order to not take things so personally make a conscious effort to rationalize your thoughts before jumping to any conclusions.
Before you assume that someone is having a go at you, take a second to ensure that you’re not overreacting to something that’s strictly business.
Knowing your triggers or insecurities is a key component of avoiding jumping the gun. If you know what you’re sensitive about, you’ll be more aware of when you might be taking something not-so-personal, personally.
Contrary to popular belief, not everything is about you
One of the major steps in not taking things personally lies in the understanding that people aren’t out to get you. Getting into the habit of taking things personally might indicate that you have underlying self-esteem issues.
People sometimes lash out and it’s not necessarily because of you but just because they’re having a bad day. Instead of taking things personally, take this as an opportunity to practice empathy.
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor | Founder, The Marriage Restoration Project
Apply the 90/10 rule
It’s only natural for us to take things personally but part of being emotionally mature is to realize it’s not always about you. Apply the 90/10 rule, that anything that really bothers a person and provokes a disproportionate reaction is 10% the trigger, and 90% the deeper issue that is being triggered.
In short, if it’s hysterical, it’s historical. When you realize this principle, you will understand that when someone says something or reacts, it is more about them than about you.
Instead of getting sucked into their drama, allow yourself to remain neutral and not react and know that if you are getting upset, take a look inside yourself to see why you are getting bothered, knowing it is more your issue than what he/she did to you.
Woman Empowerment Coach | Founder, MindHR, Inc.
Do not overthink anything, listen and move on
Remember everyone has issues and a story. How they act or don’t act towards you is a reflection of them and how you respond is a reflection of you.
Live and let live, walk away and don’t engage
You are in control of your actions. People say and do what they want as they want pretty much so it’s up to each individual to take responsibility on how they respond and seriously réalise how someone acts or treats you is an issue they have with themselves.
It’s hard to remember that when at the moment but take a step back, breathe and engage only when you are ready. What others think of you is not what matters. It’s cliche but it’s true ´what matters most is how you view yourself as you are with yourself more than anyone else.
Professional Life Coach | Lawyer | Author, The Party’s Not Over Until God Says So
Develop a good healthy self-image
Once you know who you are and you value yourself you are not as likely to let what others say or think about you have a negative impact on you. In fact, you will understand that it is not at all about you but instead it is all about the person and what they are dealing within their own lives.
99% of what people say and do has nothing to do with anyone but themselves
If someone is giving you their opinion, it’s not based on who you are but rather on who they are. If someone is judging you, it’s not based on your merits but rather on their perceptions of right, wrong, good or bad.
When you can begin to view the actions and words of others through this lens, it becomes much easier to distance yourself from what others do, say or believe because it was never about you in the first place.