Do you have a habit of taking things personally?
We were on an impromptu family chat meeting on Friday night. The six of us were chatting about random things and having a great evening. Inevitably, the conversation turned to Covid.
Out of the blue, my daughter-in-law, Kelly, announced that they were done chatting, and she and Christopher had to leave. Virtually no goodbyes, just a disconnect.
The four remaining all looked at each other and asked, “What did we do? What did we say that annoyed the two of them so much they had to leave the conversation so abruptly?”
All four thought we had said or done something individually that caused Christopher and Kelly to leave the conversation.
We ALL took it personally.
I called my son and daughter-in-law in the morning and talked about what happened. Christopher was just tired of Covid conversations and didn’t want to have any discussion about it. So, he walked out of the room (which we didn’t know as we couldn’t see that). Kelly was concerned and ended the conversation with us to make sure Christopher was okay.
They weren’t mad at anyone. They both were fed up with Covid conversation and needed to end it quickly, so any anxiety didn’t take over. They didn’t intend for it to feel rude; they didn’t intend to make us feel bad. They just wanted out.
It wasn’t their fault that the rest of us took it personally. Yes, they could have explained why they were leaving, and yes, they could have just asked us all to change the conversation. In hindsight, we all agreed that since we all took it personally, we would handle it differently the next time.
But what if you can’t have those conversations with others, and we end up taking things personally that we shouldn’t?
Here are three tips to help you the next time you are taking things personally:
1. Realize that situations are RARELY about “you” and usually about the other person.
Christopher was feeling anxious and needed to get out of the conversation. That had nothing to do with me.
When someone yells at you in traffic, they likely felt threatened or annoyed at the moment. Their reaction was about how they felt and their desire to control the situation.
When a co-worker comments on people showing up late in meetings, they are likely thinking about themselves as the example and not being passive-aggressive towards you (and anyone else who has ever been late to a meeting).
People don’t think about us nearly as often as we think they do. It is usually almost always about them and their needs.
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2. Have more confidence.
If you have low confidence (and let’s be honest, most of us do!), we take comments personally because we are afraid that what they said might be true. We doubt ourselves.
For example, if someone makes an offhanded comment in a meeting such as “Well, what would expect from someone uneducated?” you may think they are talking about the fact that 30 years ago, you went right into the workforce instead of going to college or university. You were assuming that your co-worker was judging you about your lack of degree (when in fact, they may not even know you didn’t get one 30 years ago).
If you had the confidence to know that you were indeed smart enough and that a 30-year-old degree doesn’t have any impact on your intelligence, you wouldn’t have taken that personally at all. Not only are they probably not talking about you (as per the first tip), if you are confident, it wouldn’t even occur to you that they were.
3. Know where your triggers are.
Look back at the past month and ask yourself what situations have you taken personally? Specifically, the situations when you feel that a comment was targeted towards you?
Did a friend comment on “those people who vote X” and you thought she was referring to you because you vote that way? Did a group of friends go to lunch and not invite you? Did someone tell you they disagreed with you, and you felt stupid or judged because of it?
We all have our individual triggers. It could be a feeling of rejection or betrayal. We may not like when someone challenges our beliefs or tells us they disagree. We may not like criticism, loss of control or feeling overwhelmed. Once we understand our triggers, we may stop taking things personally.
Obviously, one of my triggers is the feeling of rejection. When Christopher and Kelly left the conversation, I felt that my comments and perceptions were being rejected.
In hindsight, that is an unreasonable emotion for me to feel. My children love and respect me, and I have never felt rejected before from them. But at that moment, that is precisely how I felt, which is why I took it personally.
I’m not sure why the other three people in our conversation took their abrupt depart so personally, but I’m guessing it felt the same to them as well.
In the book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz, the second agreement is “Don’t take anything personally.”
“Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds.”
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Taking things personally is exhausting. I spent Friday night worried I had offended my son and then even more time worried that he didn’t feel comfortable enough to tell me that I had. Clearly, I had been overthinking it.
I’ve had the time to talk with them both about my feelings, identified that while they could have asked us to change the conversation, ultimately, my “taking it personally” was all on me.
I can’t promise I won’t take other things personally. I can promise that I’ve learned why I do and what to do about it the next time.