How Not to Take Things Personally

How Not to Take Things Personally

The holidays are upon us and for many that means being around people that can rub us the wrong way. This year, don’t take what they say and do personally. There’s no reason why they should negatively affect your enjoyment of the holiday season! Here’s some ideas to help you with that.

Self Reflection Helps Put Criticism in Perspective

I don’t know about you but I’ve had to learn not to take things personally in my life.  Some people say “grow a thick skin,” but I’m not sure it’s so much about becoming desensitized as it is putting things in perspective.

One of the things that helped me to begin the process of putting things people say into perspective is some self reflection. What did it say about me that I took these things to heart?

I realized there were two main things going on with me.

First, I was raised pretty much as an only child (my sister was 16 years older than I) and my parents were great parents. My Dad was a mental health professional, and I got treated with respect and dignity as their child.  I wasn’t used to being unfairly criticized or accused or having people say sarcastic things in my presence.  So in a way, my “it’s their problem” muscle didn’t get exercised in those formative years.

Second, upon self reflection I realized that I took criticism to heart because I really WANTED to do a good job. In whatever arena of life that was or is.  Sometimes I can still be too hard on myself and I have to stop and realize that the intention behind that is a good intention – I want to do my best.

Ask Yourself: Is There Anything of Value in the Criticism?

If there is something in another person’s criticism that has value, then I have to be emotionally mature enough to acknowledge that and ask myself “how can” questions.  How can I use this to grow? How can I do this better? How can this become something positive in my life?

Putting it in perspective allows me to have a different reaction.  “Is there anything here that can help me grow?” is the question I ask of criticism either internally or from others.  If not, then I remind myself of one of the presuppositions of NLP — “there is no such thing as failure, only feedback.”  If the feedback isn’t helping me to change and grow in a way that’s in keeping with MY best and highest good, then it is just some of the communication flotsam and jetsam of the universe.  Let it wash over and through and beyond, down the stream and away!

Asking that question – is there anything here that can help me grow — and stepping into a mindset that is curious and analytical, also drains the emotion out of the situation. You may have to train yourself to do this, but it is well worth it. Remember a time when you were genuinely curious and analytical about something. Step into that mindset and notice how that feels, how your brain works with that kind of focus.  And apply that mindset to the criticism. Be analytical about it.  Is there any truth? Any value? If so, drain the emotion out of your response and (perhaps inwardly) thank the person for helping you grow.

Or thank them out loud. Depending on your relationship with the person, that can be very disarming and help put the dynamic of the situation in your favor.  Many people who criticize you aren’t looking to help you grow, and if you respond in this way, they may just decide it’s no fun to criticize you anymore.

“Don’t Take Anything Personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” –  Don Miguel Ruiz

Other People’s Communication Is a Reflection of THEM, Not You

how to not take things personallyThe other thing to always remember is that everything people do in life is a reflection of their own beliefs, experiences, insecurities, fears, doubts and so on.

Our tendency to take things personally is one of our greatest causes of suffering because we think the things people do and say to us is because of us, when in fact, it has nothing to do with us. This includes instances where the words and actions appear to directly address us personally, such as a direct criticism. This even includes instances where we are the ones committing an act that warrants a negative reaction–however the person chooses to respond is still all about him or her.

“You can never take anything personally. Just a story. It’s not their fault they want to kick you and it’s certainly not yours. It’s just the way things are. Sometimes you need to hear the worst, so you have no fear in what you do and learn to work around the what-have-you.” ― Initially NO, Percipience: Outside the Range of Understood Sense

Let’s use a scenario that illustrates my last example mentioned above. Let’s say you have a co-worker that has some annoying habit, like chewing her gum like a cow. She does this everyday. If you are in a good mood, it might not bother you that much. If you are in a bad mood, everything that annoys you gets magnified 100 times and all of a sudden, every chew is like nails against a chalkboard and it is taking every ounce of willpower not to personally rip the gum out of her mouth. She is doing the exact same thing on both days yet you have two completely different responses. The reaction has nothing to do with her, it is based on how you are feeling that day.

“When you let it get personal, the cost becomes personal too. You’re opening your own heart here. You sure you want to do that?” ― Michael Marshall Smith, Stories: All-New Tales

If this idea was the only idea we grasped for the rest of our lives, it would still make a dramatic improvement in our day to day living because we get numerous opportunities daily to apply this concept to our lives and reduce a lot of negativity that stems from the failure to understand it. Think about how many times a day you experience negative emotions and try to link up the causes – most of the time, it is probably stemming from something another person said or did. But as I said before, everything they said or did was all about them, not you.

The next time you go to a restaurant and get a server with an attitude, do not let it ruin your night out. Maybe she had a vicious fight with her boyfriend right before her shift started, maybe she just hates her job, maybe she just found out she or someone she is close to has a deadly disease or maybe she is just an overall miserable person. This waitress does not know you, it has nothing to do with you. She did not scope you out beforehand and make a determination to ruin your night in particular.

Protect Yourself – Take Action When It’s Warranted

This next one might be tough but same concept still applies. Next time someone does or says something to hurt you, really try to remember that even in instances like these, the words and actions are still all about the other person. Do not take it personally.

If someone in your world really is trying to hurt you with their criticism or is targeting you unfairly, remember this phrase:  “Hurt people hurt people.”  Somehow they are hurting, and turning that pain outward. If this is happening to you in an environment where it may damage you, of course you need to do something about it.  Talk to the person, talk to influencers in that person’s life, if it’s at work, share your observations and experiences with higher ups, and/or Human Resources. And as we always say in the HR field – “document, document, document.”  Keep a log, save emails, etc. Don’t let someone else’s pain derail you.

“People tend to be generous when sharing their nonsense, fear, and ignorance. And while they seem quite eager to feed you their negativity, please remember that sometimes the diet we need to be on is a spiritual and emotional one. Be cautious with what you feed your mind and soul. Fuel yourself with positivity and let that fuel propel you into positive action.” – Steve Maraboli

Taking these ideas to heart can also help us live our lives as we truly want free from the negative influence of others (and still open to the positive influence). One of our biggest barriers to doing this is our fear of how others will perceive us and more importantly, the fear of direct criticism. But, yet again, when we realize the gossip, criticisms and opinions bandied about really come from everybody else’s stuff, it does not matter. They might criticize because they are jealous or simply because they grew up in a different time and think things should be a certain way. Regardless, it is ALL about them.

One last thought.  The more you “show up” in any arena in life, the more criticism you will get. Get a raise, a promotion, get accepted to a great college, lose weight and get in shape, find a serious & great relationship, your business starts doing well, etc. etc. Unfortunately it’s within our human nature to be envious, and to see the success of others as a threat to our own self image.  Everyone will not like you. Everyone will not agree with you.  But many will. You and your message will be well received and appreciated by the right people.

Focus your energy and attention on the people who “get” you and appreciate you, and let the rest be like that flotsam and jetsam washing around you and floating downstream.



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