You were just badly insulted. You’re raging inside. You need to talk to somebody immediately. You call your best friend, explain the crappy thing that happened to you, and their wise words to calm you down are: “Just don’t take it personally”.
Right after that, you can hear solid statements and arguments like: it’s not about you, it’s about them, you can’t control what other people think or say, you need to have thick skin in life, and even that what others think of you is none of your business. That’s all well and good, but it still hurts.
Why is that? Because when you take things personally, you’re emotionally hurt and offended. A wise rational statement may help you a little bit, but it’s far from enough. Taking things personally is about emotions, not logic.
What you have to do is to dig a little bit deeper into your emotions and personality to uncover the source of why you’re really taking that specific situation personally. Only then can you detach yourself from the negative situation.
In this article, you will learn how to really stop taking things personally. So let’s start digging deep into the emotional reasons of why sometimes cheeky words hurt much more than usual. Here they are:
- Deep down, you agree with the critique
- You experience an emotional flashback
- You perceive being treated unfairly in the situation
- You may feel excluded
- You have unrealistic expectations
Deep down, you agree with the critique
The first and most frequent reason why you take something personally is because deep down, you silently agree with the person who is criticizing you. If you have no doubt in yourself and in what you’re doing, and if you know that the hater is only delusional, you have no problem to just move on.
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But if deep inside you, there is just a small sliver of doubt, a single thought that they might be right, it will hurt you and you’ll go straight into a defensive and crying mode.
Losing your temper is always an indicator of a core that isn’t solid enough. Losing your temper shows that there are doubts present.
Actually, there are three scenarios when you can silently agree with a critic:
- What they’re saying is true and there’s nothing you can do about it.
- What they’re saying is true and you know it, because you follow the “fake it until you make it” philosophy or you are work in progress.
- What they’re saying is not true but you just aren’t self-confident enough.
The critic is right and you can't or won't do anything about it
The first situation is the hardest somehow. Let’s say that somebody insults you that you’re fat and it’s true. You only have two options. Change it, which leads us to the second bullet point. Or accept it. If you are bald or short on the other hand you can only accept it.
When you learn to accept reality as it is, you can’t take it personally anymore. So in such cases the only thing you can do to stop taking things personally is to accept reality, move on and focus on the positive.
But it’s easier to say that than to do it. Sometimes the mantra “to forget is the next best thing to forgiveness” might help. And more about accepting reality in one of the following blog posts.
- Solution: It's time to accept the harsh reality; or if there is something you can do about it, start improving.
When you are work in progress
You have to trust in the process of hard and smart work, see how you’re constantly improving, and be aware that you’re a work in progress. You can ease the pain by looking at the list of your past accomplishments, things that you’re grateful for or at life metrics that clearly show your progress. Ease the pain, but don’t engage in a fight. If you engage in a fight with a hater, only more pain waits for you.
Never wrestle with pigs. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it. George B. Shaw
If the critique is justified from a boss or somebody you respect and it hurts, you can ask for a clarification and make an action plan of how you will do better in the future. Having the growth mindset and a desire to improve yourself is the way to go in such a situation. If you have the growth mindset you can’t take things personally, because you know you can easily improve and that effort is the road to mastery.
- Solution: Compare a critique to your improvements and have a vision stronger than any problem.
When you only lack self-confidence
In the last case, if what they’re saying is entirely false but you have doubts, there is an easy exercise you can do that will wash away the pain immediately.
Make a list why you don’t agree with their statement. It will help you see the objective truth, trust more in yourself and distance yourself from the comment. Such a list will also help you build up your self-confidence.
- Solution: Make a list why you don’t agree with the statement that you’ve taken personally.
You experience an emotional flashback
The next most frequent reason for taking things personally is that you experience an emotional flashback when somebody criticizes you, doesn’t agree with you or shows you no support.
An emotional flashback is when a current life situation reminds you of past traumatic life experiences, especially from your early childhood. Maybe your parents constantly criticized you or they abandoned you, and now in the adult age a single small critique reminds you of all the past emotional pain.
All the past pain combined together can erupt like a volcano in such situations. Then you may ask yourself how could such a small thing upset you so much.
Emotional flashbacks aren’t an easy thing to deal with. The first thing you have to do is to become aware of them. You can do that with the following exercise:
- Ask yourself: is your emotional response proportional to the critique? I guess if somebody pokes you a little bit, it doesn’t make sense to completely lose your temper and destroy an otherwise nice day.
- Ask yourself: of whom or of what thing from your youth does the situation remind you? Don’t censor your thoughts, note the first thing that comes to your mind. It should be something like “My mother always criticized me, and now this.”
Becoming aware of emotional flashbacks will somewhat disarm the tendency to take things personally. But to completely wipe out such emotional flashbacks, it’s necessary for you to do hard work on your mindset.
You can do many different mind upgrades on your own, but sometimes professional therapy is the way to go. Analyzing emotional flashbacks will also help you understand what easily pushes your buttons.
You perceive being treated unfairly in the situation
There is one thing we hate the most. We hate it in our bones, every internal organ and in every situation possible. We hate being treated unfairly. We hate unfairness.
If you weren’t treated properly as a child and in your youth, the judgment towards unfairness is even stronger – because it’s combined with an emotional flashback.
If somebody criticizes you, you can very quickly see it as unfair. You fight for something, you put in all the hard work, long hours and all the effort, and then some unimportant hater dares to throw mud at you and diminish your efforts. That is so unfair. Injustice – what we hate the most.
Well, in reality it’s not. You must become aware that you aren’t being treated unfairly. Haters are a fact of life. They’re a byproduct of success. They always existed and they always will. You have to start dealing with them the moment you go above the average. No exceptions. Everybody has to and there are many reasons for that:
- There may be a clash of interests
- People have different values
- People have many personal issues or act based on stereotypes
- Many people might envy you
- Bad communication is a frequent reason for haters
- Some people are just assholes
Just go to a few blogs, YouTube or Facebook pages of public figures and you’ll immediately see a ton of hateful comments. No matter the industry, no matter how good the cause it is, there are always haters present. You aren’t alone in this game, so don’t see it as unfairness towards you.
There is a saying haters gonna hate. There are many reasons why somebody might not agree with you or wants to engage in a fight with you. Everyone has their own opinions based on their belief system and there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s impossible for everybody to have a belief system where they like you and adore you.
If you encounter people who are against you, that doesn’t mean that life is treating you unfairly. That only means you stood up for something important and that people with different belief systems who have poor communication skills exist and can’t express their opinion in any other way than insulting you. Nothing else. So don’t take it personally.
You’re probably doing the same to other people, just in a subtler and more civilized way. If you’re trying to change other people, that means you don’t really like them as they are.
Your belief system is different from theirs, and you have different values and preferences. That’s why you’re trying to change them. Luckily, there is a level above not agreeing with people in a respectful manner and trying to change them – accepting people as they are. I practice that a lot.
You may feel excluded
We are social beings. As such we need to belong. We can’t survive alone. We can’t succeed alone. So if somebody tries to exclude you from a social group, there is no other way but to take it personally. Again, it can be mixed with an emotional flashback, if you didn’t feel accepted at home. A few decades ago that might have been a big problem, but today it’s not.
All you need is the abundance mindset. You have to see that there are so many different social groups, clubs, associations, meet-ups, hobby gatherings etc., that you should have no problem finding a few social groups where you completely fit in.
Usually the only obstacle preventing you from finding the right fit for yourself in different social groups is laziness, fear and a desire to stay in the comfort zone. Don’t hope for others to change. Don’t hope that the world will change to be more to your liking just because of your ego. Find people where mutual respect is present and where you can shine.
Your environment matters a lot. And being who you are matters a lot. Don’t take it personally if you don’t fit somewhere, instead find a group of people who will accept you with wide open hands and hearts. Don’t be a nerd trying hard to fit in with the cheerleaders. And don’t be Penny trying to become a nerd.
Much like it goes for social groups, so it goes for individual relationships. You’re the one choosing your key relationships in life. So choose them wisely. Don’t spend time with people who don’t support you, believe you and encourage you to become the best version of yourself.
You have unrealistic expectations
One more source of taking things personally are unrealistic expectations, especially regarding relationships. In life, you must never go against markets or human nature.
There is a saying that relationships are like glass, but the glass is already broken. There is no perfect individual and there is no perfect relationship. People lie, people cheat, they try to control you and manipulate you. Usually they hurt you because they themselves are hurt or afraid.
But it doesn’t matter, these are all the things that happen in a relationship. They aren’t an exception; they’re more of a rule. And strangers aren’t the ones doing them. People you like, people you love and work with will do that to you.
Many times, you act the same way towards others. That’s the reality of life that you have to accept if you don’t want to take things personally. Like you have to accept your flaws and learn to love yourself the way you are, where you have no power to change things or to improve.
Simple exercises to stop taking things personally
There will come a time when people won’t agree with you, they will play against you or even throw shit at you. To happily and calmly continue with your day and not drown in misery, you have to learn how to not take things personally.
We already mentioned a few core weapons that will help you with that:
- Make a list of arguments for why you don’t agree with the statement.
- If a critique is justified and it hurts you, ask for clarification and make a battle plan for how you will improve yourself. Keep the growth mindset no matter how harsh the critique is. You can and will improve.
- Ask yourself about the proportion of your response to the critique and what the critique reminds you of. Analyze whether there may be an emotional flashback involved.
- Analyze how many critiques other public figures receive and realize that there is no unfairness happening to you, it’s just life. Not all people can agree with you and love you
- Find a group where you really fit in and where you can blossom. Don’t try to fit in and work with people who simply don’t resonate with you.
- Have realistic expectations towards people. We may be civilized animals, but deep down we are still nothing but animals. Sooner or later, the people you love will hurt you and you will hurt others.
In addition to that, there are several other things you can do that will help you not take things personally:
- Make sure you don’t give people any solid reason to trash talk about you. Then you always have the greatest power in your hands – transparent evidence that they’re wrong. Make sure you are always transparent and that you always act out of good intentions.
- In most cases, completely ignore the evil people. Don’t think about the evil people, don’t talk to them or write to them. Never gossip about them or God forbid that you try to give them advice. Maybe from time to time, you can turn their critique into a joke or defend yourself in a professional way with arguments and transparency when your reputation or ego is at stake.
- Make sure you aren’t a hater. Respect other people. Only give constructive criticism and share your positive ideas with others. State facts with solid proof and don’t only share your vague opinions or insults. Practice empathy and put yourself in other people’s shoes. Treat other people like you want to be treated.
If you 100 % don’t agree with the statement, if you don’t experience an emotional flashback, if you always keep realistic expectations and if you know that it has nothing do with unfairness, you have nothing to take personally no matter how tough the words that are pointed towards you.
When you learn to not take things personally on the emotional level, your life will be much calmer and you’ll be able to go more smoothly towards your goals even through the days when somebody is throwing shit at you. Now you know how to not take things personally. Use it, apply it, enjoy it.