“You are not good enough!”
“I hate to break it to you, but I think you have to work more on this. It’s not that satisfactory.”
“Perhaps, you are not the man for the job. Try your luck next time!”
“Wow! You got a fast driving skill – the turtle out there would be ashamed.”
“Instead of polishing your nails, why not polish your skills?”
These are examples of some comments we sometimes hear at work or even at home coming from our family members. Offensive, are they not? Whether done deliberately or not, our knee-jerk reaction then is either to feel embarrassed or tear a little over it. We go to our little corner and try to nurse our wounded ego. We mope around for a while before deciding to gather ourselves together and go on with our lives.
WARNING: This article will help you on how to stop taking things personally
Now, the one-million-dollar question is – why do we take things personally? Why do certain words hurt us to the core? These are some of the questions we need to address first before diving into resolving them.
From a psychological point of view, Clinical Psychologist Nick Wignall mentioned in one of his blogs that we take things personally for some reasons. This includes the following:
- We are socially perfectionists. This means that we cannot stand people spotting our flaws. We constantly think that we have to be in our pristine glory – just immaculate, pure as white. Now, we start to think of ourselves as gods and goddesses – flawless and infallible.
- We have a negative view of ourselves. Perhaps, this stems from our upbringing – how our parents raised us. It originates from our bad childhood experiences. Perhaps, we have been bullied that it may have somehow affected the way we view ourselves altogether.
- We are afraid or embarrassed to be proud. This might not be true to everybody but in some of our cultures as Asians, we are taught to be humble, even to a fault. That degree of humility hampers us to take pride in what we do. As a result, we feel that we are not good enough because basically, we lack the necessary degree of pride in ourselves. Thus, when we hear comments as subtle as the ones above, we feel small and we go to the extent of belittling ourselves even more.
- We think too much of our emotions. Emotions are great, I must admit. However, if we overthink things, if we focus too much on our emotions most especially the negative ones, then we are bound to feel bad about everything. Even the subtlest negative criticism of others may offend us. It drives us crazy and all.
- We have low self-esteem. This is the result of what we mentioned above. Having a low self-esteem is rooted in our poor childhood, lack of self-care, fear of judgment, and negative self-talk. All of these factors bring about low self-esteem in a person.
So, now that we have established some of the reasons why we tend to get offended by comments we hear or how people behave, the next question is – how do we counter them? What are some measures we can do to stop taking things personally?
Of course, this requires a lot of courage and patience from us. We cannot just simply let go of those negative thoughts in our head in a snap of a finger. But it pays to try. With that said, below are some of the things to consider when someone tries to get on your nerves with their acrid words or when they try to push your buttons.
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1. Take a deep breath and get a grip on your feelings
As we are emotionally driven, we are reactive and we act on our feelings. But take it from Mark Manson, the Bestselling author of “The Subtle Art of not giving a F*ck”. He did mention in one of his posts that our feelings are often self-contained. It means we are the only ones experiencing it. Another thing is that our feelings are not always accurate.
Well, indeed, it sucks that we have to hear those horrible things from others but perhaps they did not mean to offend us. They did not intend to personally attack us. It is just that our brain tricks us into jumping to conclusions. Therefore, it matters that we pause and shrug it off.
Remember that everything is not all about you. Every negative word you hear is not directed to you.
2. Stop the habit of jumping to conclusions
I just mentioned that we are inclined to jump into conclusions. Perhaps, it has become a habit for us to conclude right off the bat that they mean what they say about us. Understand that what other people say is not completely about you.
One psychologist, Dr. Abigail Brenner, wrote in one of her posts that some people act aggressively towards others because of their issues and desire to control someone else. If you happen to be the receiving end of such negative behavior, that might be a little unfortunate. However, you have to realize that people tend to act on their anger. They do things rashly.
So instead of thinking that their criticism or comments are directed to you, it pays to take a deep breath and calm yourself. If your brain is about to think otherwise of yourself, learn to rein on it. Only you can control how you take things.
ALSO READ: HOW TO OVERCOME SELF-DOUBT
3. “Know Thyself”
You must have heard of this legendary philosophy “Know Thyself”. According to Greek History, this inscription can be found at the entrance of Apollo’s temple in Delphi, Greece. It basically means having fundamental knowledge about one’s self. This does not necessarily mean you have to know yourself entirely.
To know thyself is to become more aware of your weaknesses and strength, embracing them as integral parts of you. This is imperative because by simply knowing what you are capable of and what you are not, you can gain control over your life. You can easily man your life and get ahold of the direction of your thoughts.
As a result, you would no longer believe what negative things people say about you, may it be impulsively or intentionally. Become your own person and do not ever allow yourself to get swayed by unnecessary comments you hear. You know better than to give that power to others.
One powerful strategy to Know thyself is journaling. I started my journaling journey in 2018 and the effect in my life was dramatic. When you journal your thoughts, you get to reread them, acknowledge your weaknesses, process your thoughts and most of all become more aware of yourself which is the most powerful.
4. Stop underestimating yourself
This is apparently intertwined with the previous one. Underestimating yourself is the greatest enemy you can ever have. Instead of belittling yourself, zoom in on your strengths and the positive qualities you have.
Know and acknowledge that mistakes happen to everybody and it is not only on your side. No matter how hard you try, there are always these little flaws that pop somewhere. You cannot stop them and they are normal by the way. Mistakes are part of the learning process.
Therefore, do not fall into the habit of undervaluing yourself because of some mistakes or comments of others.
ALSO READ: DO NOT FALL INTO THE TRAP OF COMPARISON
5. View criticisms in a constructive way
To grow in our personal and professional lives, feedbacks are necessary. They are part of those basic things we need in our life. Apparently, for some of us who are not used to hearing criticism, our initial reaction is to get defensive towards it. Some words offend us; worse, they can bruise our sensitive ego.
Instead of taking things personally, learn to see the situation at hand at a different angle. Let your rational thinking take over and acknowledge that certain criticisms are needed in order for us to double check ourselves. Perhaps, we have been too wrapped up with our own little world that we failed to see even our mistakes.
Be the bigger person and accept criticisms. Make it as a tool to do better and perform more efficiently. Trust me, when you practice this on a daily basis, you will surely do fine.
6. Give the other party the benefit of the doubt
Every single thing is not about you. The world does not revolve around you and it doesn’t exist to kiss your ass! My apologies – that might be a little blunt. But I hope you get the message right there.
Learn to not let things be all about you or your feelings. More often than not, those words we hear, however offensive or rude or blunt they may seem, have nothing to do with our self-worth or value. It is just that things happen that way.
We are not perfect. We sometimes say things out of anger or insecurities or spite for others. We blurt things because of our inferiority. Same goes with other people around you.
So, give the person or those people the benefit of the doubt. What they say may not be all about you or what you do. Those things they say might have stemmed from their issues with themselves.
7. Keep your emotions in check
This is all about the concept of mindfulness. It is basically being aware of the present, of what is happening right at this very moment. But what I want to highlight here is being conscious or mindful of our emotions. Take a step back and check on your emotions.
Take a lungful of air. You need that – to calm yourself and not let your unwanted feelings reign over you. Calming our rage or irritation may seem hard and it might sound like the last thing we can do at that moment. But it is important to not react on impulse over it.
Meditation is the best way to calm yourself and let go of unwanted feelings. Experts have proven the benefits of meditating and one of them is to help you stop taking things personally. It is easy to start but it can be hard to be consistent about it. If you can relate, I highly recommend guided meditation by Teal Swan. She has a bundle of all her meditation guides.
8. Learn to let things go
One of the Greek Stoic philosophers, Epictetus, said and I quoted, “Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle. Some things are within your control. And some things are not.” We do not control what other people think of or behave towards us. We do not control how life unfolds before our eyes.
So, what is the best thing to not take things personally? Let it go.
Learn to move past things that are beyond your control. Focus on what you can do about those negative things that have happened. Perhaps, you can start concentrating on some lessons you can learn and the benefits you can gain from it.
9. Shift your focus from “ME” to “WE”
Belgian motivational speaker Frederik Imbo made his presentation in 2020 in Tedx Talks about not taking things personally. One of his personal strategies that I found quite striking which I quoted, “I simply need to shift my focus from ME to WE.” He went to continue that if we try to see the intention of another person, we make space for understanding instead of irritation or other negative reactions.
Perhaps, you have experienced holding your hand up to high-five someone, but that person didn’t high-five with you. It’s embarrassing, right? But it is not that he doesn’t like you. Maybe, he didn’t get the sign or he was not just used to doing high-five with others.
You might have attempted to strike up a conversation at a party but that person doesn’t seem to want to do anything with you. All those things are completely embarrassing and awkward, I know that. Yet perhaps again, the person might be feeling shy or uncomfortable. So, I beg of you – don’t take it against them.
10. Know what triggers you to take things personally
In Psychology, in understanding a person, an expert must examine her childhood. What makes him behave this way? What shaped her? What made her this mad? Psychologists investigate until they get to the source.
It is the same when it comes to us – ordinary people. We have to know the source of our reactive nature towards negative things or words. Why does a certain thing or word offend us? By knowing and understand those that trigger our behavior, we can better address it.
11. Be more compassionate with yourself
Tell me, what is one effective weapon you can use not to take things personally? It is self-compassion. It is the ability to understand, accept, and love ourselves. Our flaws. Mistakes. Imperfections. Strengths. All of it.
People may go around, walking all over us. But if we are compassionate towards ourselves enough, then those disrespectful and thoughtless behaviors or words coming from others would not mean so much to us. They would just be mere wind passing us. It might blow us a bit but not destroy us.
Be gentle with yourself. And you would no longer feel like a doormat – that people stomp on and treat like nothing.
12. Stop living in the Fairy Tale Land and start living in reality!
What did the American writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard say about lemons? Oh, right! “When life gives you lemon, make lemonade” This is such a powerful Proverbial phrase coined by Hubbard in 1915 – aiming to encourage people to have can-do attitude in the face of any misfortune.
Such misfortune such as hearing words that are sour and bitter to our liking is a part of our reality. We don’t expect our surroundings or people around us to be bowing and saying the words we want to hear. That only happens in the Fairy Tale World. Unlucky for you and me, we are in the REAL world.
You have to learn to grow a thick skin. Toughen your heart and become resilient. Otherwise, you will not be able to survive this world that seems to go with Charles Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest.
So, yeah, welcome to the real world, my friend!
13. Laugh it off!
Again, Elbert Hubbard had this to say – “Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out alive.” The key to not taking things personally is to have a sense of humor – even if we seem to be just wannabe jokers. That is okay. You can do this by flashing your sweetest smile upon the words you hear. Oh, I can feel myself cringing upon the thought. But seriously, laugh it off!
Some words are merely nonsense and ridiculous – like a shell that is empty and void of any life. Think about this – would it be worth it if you give so much thought about a word spoken by someone? Would it be productive? Would it make you feel better? No? If the answer is no – then you know what to do.
Shrug your shoulder and moved past it.
OVER TO YOU
Words, indeed, are sharper than a two-edged sword; it has a huge potential to break our hearts and put a mighty man on his knees. We easily get offended by them. We feel personally attacked and our sense of being is threatened. However, if we know ourselves and take things in a different perspective, then we will no longer hurt.
Know that things do not go our way – it usually goes in the opposite direction. They may frustrate us or even make us curl ourselves up into a ball, causing us to self-pity in a corner. But if there is one thing that we should not hand easily to others – it is self-control. We have power over our reactions and our emotions.
After all, such is life or as they say in French, c’est la vie!