Why We Take Things Personally and How To Stop
A few weeks ago my husband had chosen to not speak to me for a day. I was mistaken about the time we were supposed to leave for something and I wasn’t ready when it was time to go so he went without me.
Before I learned how to manage my mind, this type of scenario would have played out with thoughts like these:
- Why is he not speaking to me?
- I already apologized for being mistaken about the time
- This reminds me of all the other times he’s given me the silent treatment
- I hope he talks to me soon so I can defend myself
- I hate when he’s in a bad mood
- This feel so uncomfortable
This week I’m going to discuss why we take things personally, what we can do instead, why it doesn’t make you an uncaring person and the key to learning how to stop taking things personally.
Why do we take things personally?
We take things personally because we believe that people’s moods and actions have something to do with us. It’s especially prevalent when we feel guilty about something or when we suffer from low self-esteem.
When we react to circumstances it’s because of what we are making it mean by the thoughts we choose to think. Our thoughts about the circumstance create feelings of worry, shame, blame or defensiveness. Basically we are using other people’s words and actions as a reason to feel a negative feeling.
In the example above I could have felt defensive about him not talking to me because of my thought “I already apologized for being mistaken about the time” or I could choose to not take his actions personally.
My husband not talking to me was a neutral circumstance that I had a choice about what I wanted to make it mean about me.
What we can do instead
After working with the Manage Your Mind Model for quite awhile I have learned to no longer take things personally (for help with the model sign-up here for the free “5 Simple Steps to Reduce Overwhelm Today”). I can now see that other people’s actions and reactions are based on their thoughts and not the circumstance.
In my example, I did not cause him to feel how he felt, his thoughts did. Just like my feelings were caused by my thoughts, not by my husband.
Now that I know the power of managing my own mind, I chose the following thoughts about that circumstance:
- John seems upset with me and that’s ok
- I can’t really know why he’s feeling that way
- He’s entitled to choose whatever thoughts he wants to think
- He can choose however he wants to feel
I can’t even begin to tell you how liberating it feels to not take things personally. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, it just means that I know how to manage my own mind. I let people think what they choose to think, feel how they feel and react the way they choose to react. I know that each situation in my life is neutral until I make it mean something; that my feelings are created by the thoughts I choose to think.
Understanding how our thoughts create our feelings helps us to realize that if it’s true for us, then it’s also true for everyone else.
It doesn’t make you an uncaring person
So you may be thinking “Won’t this make me a cold person if I don’t care what other people think?” I used to believe the same thing until I found relief by managing my mind.
When you stop taking things personally, you allow people the space to have their thoughts and their feelings. If you’ve done something that you need to apologize for, then of course you should apologize. This is not about permission to behave badly.
It is permission to focus on what you think about yourself instead. What thoughts have you been having about yourself that aren’t serving you? That is being a caring person in the form of self-care.
The key that changed everything for me
The key was realizing that our feelings are within our control. We have a choice whether we realize it or not and everyone else does as well.
When you allow yourself to feel a feeling rather than resist it, stuff it or deny it, you allow it to pass through you rather than get stuck and show up in other ways.
This has made my life at home and at work so much easier. No matter what mood anyone is in, positive or negative, I know it’s because of the thoughts they’re choosing to think.
Learning how to not take things personally opens the door to a freedom that is hard to describe.
The next time someone is in a bad mood around you, just say to yourself “They are just believing their thoughts and that’s ok”. Then put your focus on how you want to feel instead.
After a day of my husband processing his thoughts and feelings he shared what his thoughts were, I listened with curiosity instead of defensiveness and we moved on. That’s what I call freedom!
- We take things personally because of the thoughts we think about other people’s moods and actions
- Instead of taking things personally we can learn how to manage our minds
- Not taking things personally doesn’t make us an uncaring person
- The key is to understand that our feelings are within our control and that we have a choice about how we want to feel