How to Stop Taking Things Personally

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Knowing how to stop taking things personally can help you maintain emotional resilience and foster healthy relationships. 

There’s a reason your brain likes to take things personally, and I’m going to show you why. And three steps to stop taking things personally. And I would say the third one is what really makes you feel secure. But first, story from my life.

So, full disclosure, sometimes I write videos for everyone else, sometimes I write videos for a client that I have in mind, and sometimes I write videos for myself. And this video is the latter. So, I grew up in a culture where being assertive was considered unbearably rude. And if someone did something you didn’t like, taking offense was our most commonly used defensive weapon.

And it’s a mental habit that I still fall into sometimes.

Why You Should Know How To Stop Taking Things Personally

So, story time. In my early 20s, I lived in Argentina for 18 months, serving a church mission. My co worker at the time was an Argentine, and sometimes we struggled to get along. Probably in part because I was just learning Spanish, and there were a lot of miscommunications.

So, one day, for example, I said, “Solo estoy intentando soportarte.” Which I thought meant, I’m just trying to support you. But what I actually said was, I’m just trying to put up with you. So surprisingly, despite my charm, I did not make her future bridesmaid shortlist. Another day, she said to me, Hermana, you’ve gained a lot of weight, haven’t you?”

To which I absolutely took offense. And then she said, “And, you take offense very easily.” To which I absolutely took more offense. So, needless to say, it was a difficult three months for both of us. So, you have to admit that taking things personally secretly feels really good. It feels really vindicating, but in the long run, it makes you insecure, isolated, and pretty miserable.

So it just turns out that being angry and fragile at the same time does not lend itself to successful friendships. But to be honest, I am making progress in this area. Taking offense or taking things personally is a super complex relational strategy. It’s something you’re doing and you keep doing because it serves a function for you.

You get something out of it. It often happens so fast, you just feel like it’s natural that it happens to you. And that’s in part because it’s a defense mechanism. These are primitive survival reactions that fire super fast in our brain. You’ve heard of the fight, flight, freeze response. Taking offense is a modern, complex way that the fight defense shows up. Here’s an example between two characters named Kim and Mitchell on a TV show I loved called Modern Family. “Hey, I think I’m gonna take this spin class tomorrow morning.” “Oh, sure.” “Oh, I get it. Message received.” So this happens super fast, so we’ve got to slow it down.

Step One: You Assume Someone Is Out To Get You

Step one, you assume someone is out to get you. You interpret what they say as an attack. They’re threatening your self worth, your inherent goodness, your character, or your abilities. So in this situation, Cam must be thinking, you must think I’m fat. You must think that I’m lazy or that I’m a glutton. You’re saying that I’m not attractive. That is so rude of you. How dare you? “Oh, I get it. Message received.” Taking things personally happens when you mind read what the other person is thinking and you assume that they are attacking you, you feel threatened. So in an attempt to create safety, you pull out a lesser evolved defense mechanism.

You try to protect yourself by taking offense. Okay.

Step 2: You Label The Other Person

Okay. Step two. You try to protect yourself by labeling the other person as jerk and labeling yourself as the innocent victim. You’re trying to protect your vulnerable ego by simultaneously trying to control them while also blaming them, but without addressing it directly, because that might make you look like you’re not quite so innocent.

So you add passive aggression on top of that, and that’s how you create this lovely, vindicating feeling of self righteousness in the short term. “I Didn’t say anything.”

So, examples of this are the silent treatment, moping, being moody, punishing someone by cleaning loudly, calling your sister to complain. Like this can feel really vindicating. Look at me. I’m the victim here. I’m the righteous one. And then you continue to defend your fragile sense of self.

Step 3: Quietly Continue Your Sense Of Insecurity And Isolation

But this always leads to step three, which is where you quietly continue your sense of insecurity and isolation and you feel drama, like a constant sense of drama. You continue to overthink the problem. You wonder if you’re a bad person and you know that the way you’re responding is not making things better. And so taking things personally is an immature defense mechanism.

It’s an attempt to create safety when you feel threatened, but it backfires. You’re avoiding being assertive, you’re avoiding asking for what you need or listening to the other person. It’s poor boundaries, because you’re attempting to control what you can’t control, which is what other people think and how they act. And this keeps other people walking on eggshells around you.

Plus it makes it impossible for you to receive constructive criticism, which can help you learn and grow. So you’re trying to protect yourself, but instead you’re putting up this like fragile shell that isolates you from others. So, take a minute right now and think about the last time you took offense and you could comment below.

Why did you take offense? Where did you learn to do this and what did it do for you? What were the secondary gains of taking things personally?

Three Steps To Stop Taking Thing Personally

Okay, so now let’s learn a healthier way to create an internal sense of safety. So, there are three steps to stop taking things personally. Clarity, boundaries, and a solid foundation of self-worth.

But before we continue, I want to mention that taking things personally can also cause issues within a relationship. But luckily, there’s a tool that can help you and your partner understand and communicate more effectively. That tool is Hey Ritual, and they are this video’s sponsor. So, relationships are complicated.

They’re also one of the biggest indicators of happiness, but so many of us struggle to make them work. If we wanted to get better at our job or at playing guitar or get physically fit, we’d hire a coach to help us. Why wouldn’t we do that with the most important part of our lives, which is improving our relationships?

With Hey Ritual, you can get personalized relationship help plus guided lessons to help you be happier and healthier in your relationships. So Ryan and I used it and honestly, I found the coaching really helpful. The coach helped me see things from a different perspective and I helped us solve some problems that we’ve been having.

One of the cool things about Hey Ritual too is that you don’t have to wait until things are awful before you get help. You can just start working on improving your relationship skills in a few minutes every day. So if you’d like to learn more about Hey Ritual, you can take their quiz today. Their list of questions will give you an insight into how they can help you improve your relationship.

So if you’re ready to try it, they’re offering 50 dollars off for the first 100 subscribers. So, use the code TIAN50 with the link in the description. Okay, so back to step number one, clarity. Okay. We are going to check your stories. So with every situation, there are facts. And then there’s the story that we tell ourselves.

The story determines 90 percent of our emotions. So with my hermana in Argentina, the story I told myself was, oh, she is so rude. Why would you insult me by telling me how fat I am? But that story came from my American culture, where being fat is shamed and telling people they’re fat is an insult. After more time in Argentina, I learned that culturally, commenting on people’s changes and appearances isn’t an insult.

It’s a sign of closeness. I had people comment on my weight, my zits, my clothing, my hair, and not in particularly flattering ways. They were just being honest. When my story was, they’re insulting me. I felt offended and when my story was they’re showing me affection. It was no big deal It was just like a way to connect.

We make assumptions about what people think all the time If you’ve been hurt or mistreated in the past, you’re even more likely to take things personally in the present So, let’s say someone honks at you. The story machine kicks into gear. Do they hate me? Am I a bad driver? No, I’m a great driver.

Everyone else is an idiot. What’s their problem? They are such a jerk. When in reality, maybe they just dropped their Skittle and they hit the horn when they bent over to pick it up. Or maybe they’ve got a kid with a broken arm in the back of their van and they just really need to get to the hospital. So, our stories often center around ourselves and our fragile egos.

When in reality, it’s not about you. People attack other people because they feel insecure themselves. People are short-tempered because they had a bad day or they’re traumatized or they’re socially oblivious, and they have no idea. It’s not about you. Stop trying to control everyone else and force them to be nice to you.

That is a waste of time. So, there’s two important things when it comes to getting clarity. Number one, usually you have no evidence that they’re threatening your sense of self. You are mind reading or you’re projecting your own insecurities on them. And then number two, we only feel threatened in areas where we feel insecure.

So, our insecurity is about us. What they do is about them. So if someone yells at you, you’re a banana! You’re not gonna take that personally because you know, it’s not true. You’re very confident that you are not a banana. Like you’re just going to laugh. But if someone hints that maybe you’re not a good friend, and if you’re insecure in that area, you’ll take it personally.

So, here’s what to do about those stories. Okay. Don’t be reactive, slow yourself down, close your mouth, take a breath, don’t believe everything you think. And then just get curious, like other people do not see the world the way you do. So get curious and be like, oh, I wonder what’s going on for them that’s making them say that.

And then get clarity. So instead of your crappy defense mechanism of taking it personally, try communicating assertively. Hmm, can you clarify what you’re saying? Right? And in the long run, get some feedback from a therapist or a wise friend about what your stories are. So if you can gain some self-awareness, if you even know that you are sensitive about your appearance, then you’ll be able to question the stories that say, oh, she’s judging my appearance.

Those are the steps to like really creating clarity around how we think about what other people say. Okay. Step two, it’s boundaries. And when I say boundaries, I mean, knowing where the other person ends and you begin. So, boundaries are like a fence. You know, what is on your side of it and you know, what’s on the other side of it. I think the biggest mental [inaudible] bundle that we all get wrapped up in is, am I a bad person?

Or is he the jerk? And then we either reactively take offense to prove that he is the jerk or we spend hours in our own head going in circles trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. So, let’s make this simple. You have two choices. It’s not about me or it is about me. Now, Brigham Young said, “He who takes offense when offense was not intended is a fool. Yet he who takes offense when offense is intended is an even greater fool.” So, number one, it’s not about me. Sometimes other people are awful. If someone really is attacking you, it’s probably not about you. People get cranky because they’re sleep deprived or stressed out. People yell at their kids because they’re overwhelmed, not because their kids are bad kids.

Some people just don’t know how to communicate better or they’re unaware of your needs. So when people act mean, irrational, or insensitive, it’s usually about them, not you. So, the strategy here is let it go. Trying to change the other person is poor boundaries because it’s not your job. It’s like getting all upset about how your neighbor mows their lawn.

So instead of trying to manipulate the world, instead of trying needing others to like you, or treat you in a certain way; remind yourself that not everyone will like you or agree with you or act correctly. And that’s okay. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

But here comes the next part. What if it is about me? Like, what if I do need to improve? What if I’m not doing a good job? What if I’m not a good friend? People who struggle with low self-esteem are more likely to interpret comments or actions as personal attacks and you may try to create safety by defending yourself or seeking validation from others.

And this is like a shell of feeling offended. Covering up a cream filling of fear of rejection, of fear of abandonment, fear of never being good enough. Your core beliefs about yourself show up in your assumptions. So, what’s going on here is we’re trying to protect ourselves by creating external changes, changing the other person by taking things personally and being passive aggressive.

So, let’s replace that external attempt at self-esteem with a much more reliable sense of self. So, this is where Brené Brown comes in clutch. Can you be vulnerable? Can you be humble? Can you ask, is there something I can improve? Taking offense is an attempt to defend yourself instead of inspect yourself.

You’re trying to protect yourself image, but like carrying all that armor around doesn’t actually make you truly self. People who don’t take things personally do one of two things. They either shake it off or they take the feedback. You’re a fat idiot. Yeah, I lost some weight. Hey man, you’re fat. Moron. [inaudible]. Oh yeah, I guess I could lose a few pounds. And I can be kind of thick sometimes. Now, usually these situations are nuanced. So instead of one person being the jerk and the other person being the innocent one, usually both people have a part, but we’re only responsible for our part. So, stop trying to passively manipulate the world to stop hurting your feelings and instead get really clear on what you can and can’t control.

Exercise: What You Can And Can’t Control

So my favorite exercise for this is using a piece of paper, find one dividing it into two parts, and on the one side, you’re gonna write, What I can control. And then on the other side, what I can’t control. And on this side, what I can’t control, you write down all the punky things that the other person is doing that you don’t like.

And you write down on this side, what you can control. Here’s all the things that I am responsible for. I can work on being a better friend. I can, you know, choose to eat a carrot instead of a Twinkie, whatever that is, okay? And it’s easy to start being like, well, I wouldn’t have yelled if he hadn’t yelled, and I wouldn’t have done this if they hadn’t done this, and I would, and so here’s the next really important part.

If you start getting your undies in a bundle wondering, am I the bad one or is he the bad one? Am I the [censored] or is he the bad [censored]? Right? You’re gonna take this piece of paper. You’re gonna tear it right down the middle. You’re gonna take what you can’t control. You’re gonna crumple it up. You’re gonna throw it in the garbage.

I missed. And you’re just gonna focus on your half of the paper. Okay? That’s the locus of control activity. Secure people are open to feedback. They seek every opportunity to learn and grow. So instead of focusing on like, ugh, here’s what’s wrong about you. You can just ask, what can I learn from this feedback?

And that takes us to building a solid foundation of self-worth. So, you take things personally because you’re insecure. You’re defending yourself because you’re not sure if you’re an okay human or not. So instead of putting energy toward that weak defense mechanism of taking offense, let’s put that energy toward building a solid foundation of self-worth.

Now, obviously this is a topic for like 20 videos, but I’m going to give you the short version in this one. So, here’s how. Stop trying to control other people by making everyone else like me or making everyone else be nice to me. We’re going to switch that to an internal sense of self. What kind of person do I want to be?

What kind of character do I value if I feel threatened about my role as a wife, I should ask myself, what kind of partner do I want to be? I want to be supportive open confident tidy. Whatever it is, whatever your values are, you clarify them and then you put your energy toward being that person instead of trying to change other people and how they treat you. As soon as you pivot away from, he needs to stop offending me toward, hmm, do I actually need to change anything? The drama, like, melts away. These are clear boundaries. You accept the people that you can’t change and you change the one that you can. When we build our sense of self on what other people think of us, we are always on shaky ground. But when we choose the kind of person that we [00:18:00] want to be, and we work toward that, we feel more secure.

It doesn’t mean that we have to already be that person, like perfectionism will never make you feel secure. It’s just that you want to get curious, and you want to be growth oriented, and you want to know what you’re working for. So if I’m working toward being more consistent, I’ll feel okay when I’m on that journey.

If you’re moving toward your valued direction, that’s your sign that you’re okay. That you’re doing a good job as a human being. Okay, so now we’ve talked about all of the psychology behind why you take things personally and how to replace that crappy defense mechanism with a more healthy form of security.

What To Do On A Practical Level

Here’s what to do on a practical level. So, let’s say someone says something and you’re about to take it personally. In the short term, close your mouth. Don’t say anything rash. Take a breath. Buy yourself some time. You could say something like, oh, thank you for that feedback or that’s interesting or can you say that again or hmm, I’ll think about that.

Then, in the medium term, you’re going to use assertive communication. You can ask for clarification if you’re not sure about someone’s intentions or their meanings. And, you can express your own thoughts and feelings without drama. So, this is also the part where you take the time to clarify. Should I do something about this or should I let it go?

And that’s where writing things down helps you get clarity. In the long term, an internal sense of security comes from integrity, from being the person who you want to be. You’re so certain of who you are that you don’t need others approvals. You care about other people’s feedback, but only within your secure foundation because you’ve clarified your values, and you’ve put your energy toward living them.

So, by doing these three steps, you can learn to drop your crappy defense mechanism of taking things personally, and you can replace it with a truly solid sense of self.

Thank you so much to our patrons who have helped make this channel possible. Whitney Johnson, Wesley Raphael Jr., Abby Fletcher, Laurel Newman, Tammy Laughlin, Kimberly Mansing, Tony Melria, Sarah Bourgeois, and Bernardo Garza. 

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