Updated: Jul 20, 2020
I was a really sensitive child. I tried hard to please the adults in my life and that included being right and perfect at everything I did in order to win over praise.
I remember my Social Studies teacher, Mr. Sargent, had called on me in class. He asked me a question and brought me up to the front of room. I think I may have messed up the answer, and he gave me a hard time about it. I could feel the tears collecting in my eyes as I did everything in my power to hold them back. It felt like at the time that every eye was on me.
I realized that Mr. Sargent was hard on me because he wanted me to be my best. I ended up having him as my teacher again a second year (which I dreaded), but eventually learned to appreciate his brash style because ultimately, he was on my side. He wanted me to excel and he knew I could be better. I appreciated this so much that he was only one of two junior high school teachers to receive one of my high school graduation announcements.
Why was I so sensitive? I mean, sure I was a sensitive child in general, and I didn’t like to disappoint, but why did I have to take what he said to me in front of the class so personally?
Ultimately, it is our internal dialogue that determines if a comment or action is a personalized one. WE personalize it. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
I’ve learned through professional and personal experience that when we personalize comments and actions that really have nothing to do with us, it is damaging. It can eat away at who we are.
So how do we deal with it?
Easier said than done, I know. It takes a real level of self-awareness, emotional maturity, internal exploration, and a reforming of thoughts to make this happen. And sometimes, all of those processes have to occur simultaneously in the moment (which most of us are not readily equipped to handle). It takes practice, but here’s how you can do this.
Being aware in the actual moment and being self-aware about how you are feeling while receiving a comment, question or action is the first step. You need to ask yourself, why am I personalizing this? Does this person truly know me? Are they a coach on my side? Are they in it for me? Being aware that something is happening allows you to stop for one moment and recognize your mammalian brain stem attempting to take over. It’s about being aware that something is being said to you, and allowing yourself to stay present.
2) Emotional Maturity
After realizing that someone is saying something to you that feels personalized, and you’ve told your brain stem to chill out, it’s time for emotional maturity to kick in. Knowing the circumstances around the individual is helpful, but even if you don’t know the circumstances, it could be an opportunity to ask for clarification.
You can ask, ”What do you mean by that?” or, “Can you clarify further?” This allows for a misunderstanding to be resolved or gives the other person an out (or chance to clarify). There may be things you don’t know about them; like they may have had a bad day, or just received criticism themselves. This process changes the perspective and removes the personalization.
Having perspective or a bigger picture can help you to disconnect. Maybe this circumstance has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the fact you drive a blue car. I hope you can see that a blue car has nothing to do with your character other than you may like the color blue! Knowing who you are and what you are all about is crucial for this. If you don’t know this about yourself, then you may have to go through some internal exploration.
3) Internal Exploration
If there truly is something for you to improve, and you are embarrassed or unwilling to improve it, then you may personalizing it because you know it to be true and do not yet know how to address or improve it. I think this was the case for me with Mr. Sargent. I didn’t know who I was yet.
Most people who are solid in knowing who they are and what they stand for have an easier time deflecting comments or activities that are out of alignment with their core understanding of themselves… i.e., they don’t take it personally.
This could be an opportunity to start exploring internally about who you are, what you stand for, and your unique footprint in the world. Knowing these things about yourself creates a solid foundation for handling these situations.
If you don’t know what makes you tick, take the time to really get to know you. When someone approaches you with something that doesn’t resonate, you’ll know the comment was not actually meant for you.
Psychologist MaragaritaTartakovsky says, “when you want to teach people how to treat you, you do not begin with them, you begin with yourself. The way you believe about and treat yourself sets the standard for others on how you demand to be treated.”
4) Reforming of the thought
You are in the moment, self-aware. You have exercised emotional maturity. You know who you are, so now, you can reform the thought. You can take the comment and reform your thoughts in one of the following ways (none of which involves taking them personally):
- I care about this person, know they have my back, and they are coming to me. Let’s clarify what they mean, and address it.
- I know this person but I don’t think they have my best interests in mind. I will thank them for their thoughts and stay in alignment with who I know I am.
- I know this person, but I believe they are coming from a place of hurt themselves. I will hear them but know it is something they are expressing from their place of hurt.
- I don’t know this person at all, but they have a lot of opinions! I’ll just let them keep that to themselves.
There is a great tool on perspectives and talking through conflict called, “The Work,” by Byron Katie. She offers this information free on her website, and via app. https://thework.com/instruction-the-work-byron-katie/
It is important to know that sometimes, you’ll want to take things personally. You’ll encourage it even. This is almost 100 percent the case when you are looking to improve yourself. You may be open, willing, and interested in learning from people you respect or admire, people who you know are truly “on your team,” mentors, or even the client who didn’t pick you. Then listen, absorb, and consider what these folks are saying for the betterment and development of you.
Do you take things personally? Or consciously try not to? Comment below, and let us know about your thoughts or questions!
Hackspirit.com, “How to Not Take Things Personally,” by Lachlan Brown.
JordanHarbinger.com, “Why You Take Things Personally, and How to Stop.”