3 therapist-backed ways to stop taking things too personally
Neha is a freelance writer passionate about providing well-researched and empathetic mental...
Click here to know more
Nilom Shah, Counseling Psychologist Nilom B Shah is a Mental Health...
Click here to know more
“My boss didn’t like my presentation. They must believe I am incapable of doing my work. They must believe I am terrible and incompetent.”
Sounds familiar? Criticism, such as the one in the above example, is often simply a reflection of the work, not the person. And yet, how many of us can separate the two?
It is quite easy to take things too personally. Most of us do it quite often. However, doing so regularly can negatively impact our self-esteem, confidence, and mental health.
Getting frequently hurt by other people’s words or actions and assuming that other people are actively trying to cause you emotional harm are signs that you may be taking things too personally.
Why do we take things personally?
It is perfectly natural to wonder and worry about others’ opinions of us. However, when we let that worry take over our thoughts to the point where it starts interfering with our life, it becomes an issue.
There can be many reasons why we take things personally. Some of these factors can be:
- Low self-esteem makes you more likely to worry about others’ thoughts.
- A belief that you are not enough leads you to believe all negative and harsh comments about yourself.
- Perfectionism leads to setting unrealistic standards. Even the slightest criticism can lead to taking all feedback personally.
- Social anxiety can make people more afraid of judgments and criticism.
Signs you are taking things too personally
Nishtha Budhiraja, a psychotherapist, says that being tearful and overly sensitive compared to your baseline self can be one of the signs that you’re taking things too personally.
“Thoughts like, I don’t want to interact with people because they will say something about me and feeling that you’re not good enough can also sometimes be a sign,” adds Nishtha.
Here are some other signs that you’re taking things too personally.
- Apologizing for everything
- Depending on other people’s approval
- Being a people pleaser and not setting boundaries
- Taking all criticism and harsh comments personally
- Getting defensive easily
- Avoiding tasks in fear of getting feedback
- Projecting harsh judgment on others
How to not take things too personally?
When you take things too personally, you give someone more power over you than they should have. You let them define who you are. The goal is to take that power away.
Nishtha suggests these three techniques to stop taking things personally.
Define the role that you’re playing in front of a person. When you’re processing a situation or an event that happened, try to define your role. Nishtha explains this with the help of an example. “Let’s say a child tells their parents that they are selfish and horrible. Of course, the parent is deeply hurt by that. So, we ask the parent to define their role in this interaction. The idea is to realize that my child’s expectations are not being fulfilled. Maybe, my role as a parent has fallen short here from the child’s perspective. Instead of being hurt, I’ll take it as feedback and work through that.”
Every role comes with expectations. Understanding those expectations and recognizing your role in the conversation can help you understand what happened.
Recognize that the other person is projecting onto you. In all our interactions, we create an image of the person we’re talking to. But our image may not necessarily be who they truly are. When you are in a hurtful or difficult conversation, imagine an invisible physical screen in front of you. The person you’re talking to is projecting onto you. They believe you’re the image they have created.
Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed and LCSW, explains projection with an example in this article. You normally accept your co-worker’s ideas at work. However, if you strongly support an idea once, and your co-worker blames you for always wanting your way, this is projection. In this case, you have to realize that what your co-worker is not correct. It is their opinion, and they are projecting it onto you.
“This technique will help you create a divide. They want you to be this person, but you recognize you’re not that. You don’t have to become what other people want you to be,” says Nishtha.
Separate facts and opinions. In this technique, you must realize that whatever the other person is saying is their feeling. They perceive you in a certain way. But their perception does not define you. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Maybe they do not know how to communicate healthily. Or they do not have good social skills. Or they do not know how to respect boundaries.
For example, in the situation we discussed in the second point, your co-worker called you someone who always wants their own way. This is an opinion and not a fact. When you separate the two from each other, you can make sense of what happened.
These three techniques are quite similar in nature. However, the idea is to find what works for you.
“It is important to remember that expectations, projections, and opinions will always be present. But you need to learn to recognize them to lead an emotionally stable life,” says Nishtha. Apart from these three techniques, you can also ask the person to clarify what they’ve said. Try not to jump to conclusions. Work on your self–esteem and be confident. Realize that perfectionism is not a realistic standard to set. And while most of us seek perfection in everything we do, it is simply impossible to do so. Criticism is a part of life and one that we need to accept.
Apart from these three techniques, you can also ask the person to clarify what they’ve said. Try not to jump to conclusions. Work on your self–esteem and be confident. Realize that perfectionism is not a realistic standard to set. And while most of us seek perfection in everything we do, it is simply impossible to do so. Criticism is a part of life and one that we need to accept.
It is natural to take things personally once in a while. And while it is not ideal, so is not complete depersonalization. Walk the fine line between these two states. Take things personally, but only sometimes. If you believe none of these techniques is working and other people’s comments regularly hurt you, do not hesitate to seek professional help.