Ever wonder why you take things personally? Has someone made a comment about you that bothered you for hours or days or weeks? Or did someone do something to you that made you question yourself or your situation? Or has there been a life event that felt personal or unfair to you and bothered you for months?
Taking things personally can cause many problems in our lives. For example, we can become defensive and angry, which leads to relationship conflicts that can snowball into larger issues if left unresolved. Being sensitive to feedback and criticism can cause issues at our workplaces such as affecting our performance or career goals.
So why do we care about what others think about us? There are a couple of reasons why we do this…
A lot of us have been conditioned since birth, maybe brainwashed–into thinking that you have to belong and be accepted by others. We’ve been told to assimilate, to be like everyone to be liked by everyone else.
We are social creatures. As a species, we interact, have relationships, and work together. Caring about what others think is part of the package.
But there are root cause reasons that we take things personally, and this is individualistic. This is where I dive deep into my clients in discovering the real reason, the root cause of why they care so much of what others think about them….for example, a lot of us have low self-esteem, or low self-worth, or lack of self-love or confidence, or all of the above. And this goes back to our childhood.
Takings things personally make our world small. It’s needing others' approval of us in order for us to feel better about ourselves. Years ago I heard a quote from Tim Cook that really struck a chord in me…he said ”I found my life got bigger when I stopped caring about what people thought of me.” I thought...I want my life to get bigger too, and realize how small I was keeping my life by caring what others thought about me and taking things way too personal. Due to my childhood, I had low self-worth and a lack of self-love which was evident throughout my teens and twenties in taking so many things personally. It wasn’t until my thirties and hearing that quote from Tim Cook that I realize my life had revolved around what others thought of me and I thought how ridiculous that was. It was a wake-up call.
As I mentioned, we are social creatures. We socialize for reasons. Interactions and relationships exist in our lives to expand us, to help us to grow....they are like mirrors reflecting back to our areas within us that we have not yet resolved, unhealed traumas in our lives. And interactions and relationships push our buttons about the things we have not loved about ourselves.
Maybe the interactions are triggering unworthiness, or your low self-esteem or lack of self-love, or your addiction to perfectionism or people-pleasing, or does it trigger unresolved anger deep inside of you, maybe the comment you heard made you feel unseen, unheard. These are examples of unhealed areas in our lives that we need to work through and overcome. And these are the root cause reasons why we take things personally. Just as these interactions and comments trigger unhealed areas in our lives, we trigger unhealed areas in other people’s lives which often causes them to say certain comments that bother us or do things that hurt us. Like I mentioned, all interactions and relationships are mirrors...we reflect back and trigger unhealed areas in each of our lives.
You may hear the statements “grow a thicker skin” or “It’s not about you”...and these statements are true...we need to all grow thicker skin and believe that these interactions, comments, and life events that we take personally are truly not about us at all. Because they are about what we trigger or reflect back in the other person.
Let me share an example, I remember this vividly as it was a crazy event that I could have easily taken personally but at the time I had been working on healing from my childhood traumas so I was in a much better place in life. So many years ago I went to a home improvement store with my small dog in one arm and the item I was returning in my other hand. I walked into the store and straight to the customer service desk. No one was in line, and the customer service manager greeted me and started to process my return. Seconds later, out of nowhere, a young girl in her 20s and her father started yelling at me that I had jumped them in line and to move out of the way. I had no idea what they were talking about.
I told them I walked into the store and no one was there and went straight to the return desk. I turned my back to them to face the employee processing my return. I made a face at her and she looked at me, made a face then at the girl and the father, and continued with my return. The girl started to yell at me, calling me names and her father chimed in too. I was shocked. I turned back to face them and told them I did not cut them in line and to chill. And it was unnecessary to call me names. But they continued with the name-calling.
I had my dog in my arm and was trying to comfort him as he was getting riled up. The girl and her father then started to threaten me. I was getting angry and hoping the return process would be done quickly so I could just leave. Thankfully just as I had that thought, the employee handed me my receipt and I walked away but had to walk past them. I told them to have a nice day and smiled...but underneath I was boiling mad. They were so rude and immature and threaten to beat me up.
I walked out of the store and they continued to yell at me, cussing at me and name-calling. I was in the parking lot and could still hear them. I walked to my car and turned around again and smiled at them and said “Have a nice day” and got in my car and drove off. When I got in my car, I was shaking. My dog was shaking too...I took several deep breaths then started the car to drive home. I immediately called my husband and told him what had happened.
With that example, I could have easily taken it personally. They called me horrible names in an attempt to put me down to their level. But I knew this was nothing to do with me, this incident was all about them and how they felt about themselves and their lives. I did not jump them in line, there were security cameras that could prove this if need be. But the idea of someone jumping ahead of them triggered something deep within them. And for me to stay calm and ignore them while they were insulting me also triggered some unhealed wounded with both of them. my guess is the issue of not being seen or heard. If this event happened years before that time, I would have yelled back at them and probably called them names. But the person I became was stronger because I knew that had nothing to do with me.
When you realize these interactions and comments have nothing to do with you, you have developed a thick skin and love yourself from within. That’s what this comes down to. When you realize the reasons why you care and are triggered so much, you need to examine it, take a good look at what is going on...and sit with it, accept this is an unhealed area in your life that you need to work through and overcome. Once you overcome this and you feel will worthy and love yourself, you will gain confidence. And for some people, you will let go of your addiction to perfectionism or people-pleasing, and naturally careless. So, the next time someone says or does something to you that is not ideal, you will not take it personally.
Ultimately you want to be so grounded and centered and content within your own skin that nothing on the outside triggers or bothers us. Once you reach this stage in life, you will not take anything personally again. You will have unconditional love for yourself. You will not react anymore emotionally and mentally.
In one of my favorite books, The Four Agreements: by Don Miguel Ruiz, the second agreement is “Don’t take anything personally.” Here’s a quote from the book: “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”
And he is right. I want to help you to take the power back, to make your world bigger. We should care about others but to the extent of allowing their opinions, comments, and interactions to control how we feel about ourselves is the lack of self-love. You are essentially telling yourself that your belief about yourself matters less. Or worse, if you are dependent on caring what others think of you, you are telling yourself that you do not matter. Let that sink in.
I want to empower you to use the source of love from within. A healthy sense of pride and self-love serves as a powerful defense against criticism or negative interactions. A tip I share with clients is to listen to the story they tell themselves. Really listen...when an interaction happens that triggers you, listen to what you are telling yourself…” he thinks I'm stupid” “she never listens to me” “I have to be xxx in order for him to like me” “She expects me to do Xyz”...etc.
Catch yourself with these stories you tell yourself, and listen for the cues on where your unhealed areas are within yourself. Question why you are reacting this way. Maybe you have low self-worth. Maybe you are addicted to people-pleasing or perfectionism. Maybe you lack self-confidence.
The key is to focus on these root cause areas and work on healing so you can be grounded and centered. Once you reach this stage in life, you will not take anything personally again. And you will be amazed.