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Taking Things Personally – 4 Ways To Stop!

I work with family — husband, offspring, in-laws and their partners. A while back, I was going through some difficulties. My mother’s terminal cancer, my own health problems, and the start of a new business venture are three that spring to mind.

It was a stressful period and looking back, I can see that I was in a bad mood a lot of the time. Sometimes I was snappy with my co-workers. My husband and sons didn’t take it personally.

My sister-in-law, on the other hand, did. I know this, not because she confronted me, but because she’d grumbled about me to another relative who took it upon himself to admonish me.

Although I hadn’t meant any harm, and the other relative had only heard one side of the story, I took his reproach to heart, albeit grudgingly. It forced me to see that I had been so caught up in my troubles, I hadn’t noticed that my sister-in-law had taken my disposition personally.

As you can probably gather, I tend to have an overly sensitive nature too: I can tell self-righteous tales about how I’m the thoughtful one and people are snarky and critical of me; I can be bothered by mean-spirited remarks; I can be irritated by jokes made at my expense.

How do you behave when someone, deliberately or not, belittles, humiliates or rejects you?

Do you become resentful? Do you issue a counterattack? Do you curl into the foetal position?

Or do you shrug it off as “their problem”?

If it’s the latter, then you’ll be in on this secret: Life is far more pleasant if you don’t take things personally.

But if you find yourself becoming prickly, then before declaring war or licking your wounds, try to break the habit with the following four strategies.

#1. First, move on. Refocus your attention as soon as you possibly can. Negative thoughts and feelings feed negative thoughts and feelings. You picture the offending scene when you’re doing the dishes, you go over the distressing dialogue in the shower, you focus on the misdeed, the blame, the outrage—

STOP! Concentrate on another task or project: sing, draw, write, work! Do whatever stops you dwelling. Focusing on something productive will shift your attention from what they said or did. It will replace agitation with tranquility.

Remember, move on or you’ll amplify the negative feelings.

#2. Control your emotions. If you tend to take things to heart, you might believe that someone is targeting you when they might just be having a bad day. I know it’s hard, but try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Think before reacting and don’t be too quick to draw conclusions.

Remember, the world doesn’t revolve around you.

#3. Be brave and speak up. If their bad attitude or behavior is getting to you, let them know. They might not realize how uncomfortable you feel. If they don’t appreciate your honesty, stand up for yourself and don’t accept demeaning treatment.

Remember, be assertive and tackle the situation with integrity.

#4. Talk to the hand. Even if for some reason they do target you, you don’t have to bear the brunt of their latest eruption. If speaking up doesn’t help, don’t be too embarrassed or afraid to end it by simply walking away.

Remember, you can’t control the behavior of others, but you can control yours.

Carmen Gowans is a freelance writer. Her blog, Among Gum Trees, is named for the trees surrounding her beautiful home where she loves to play with words ─ the words sort themselves into stories at regular intervals.

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24 Responses to Taking Things Personally – 4 Ways To Stop!

  1. Tenali says:

    Dear Carmen ! Thanks for sharing this article. Currenly I am going through similar situation at work. I take work seriously but do not get required support and at end my boss tell me that – I do not have any increment.
    Initally it hurt me and i was thinking again and again same thing but as you have mention in the article , I decided to move on and decided this is not the only job in world & I need to prepare myself for other interview.
    When something happen like this , we often do not talk properly with our family member ( that teach us that do not carry work at home ).
    Now I am more focus on improvement and keeping cool at work till I found something better

  2. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for this article, Carmen. I agree, it’s not good to take these situations personal.

    What I’d like to add is that you can utilize the philosophy behind aikido in these situations as well. When you realize that the motivation behind hurting someone is because that person is hurting himself and just doesn’t know where to direct his anger you can just take that anger – realizing that it’s nothing personal – and instead of becoming ‘violent’ (as in speaking up or even becoming angry) yourself you can just ask the honest question: ‘What bothers you?’ And then listen of course, if the person is willing to talk about it.

    This simple question can work wonders because it’s just not what you would normally expect. You are being mean towards someone and then that? Also, while listening to his story you will probably find out that in fact it wasn’t your fault that he felt that way. And even if it is in fact your fault you can take this as an opportunity to revisit your own behaviour.

  3. Thanks Tenali! And I think your advice is spot on – focus on improvement, and keep your cool.

    Best wishes!

  4. I agree, Jonathan. That’s just what I asked as soon as I knew and it worked wonders indeed! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hi Carmen,
    Being sensitive and taking things personally go hand and hand. It is best I agree, to realize that it is the other persons problem and not our own.

    Sometimes it is worthwhile to speak up when the timing is right.

    If I know that someone is experiencing “personal problems” than I will become very understanding of their behavior and do not take it personally.

  6. Doug says:

    I like it. I am currently doing a lot of thinking on social approval and the ultimate move is to care about people but not to take their opinions personally. It’s more about them than you, anyway. We are capable of looking beyond the behaviour to the person behind – it’s hard but it bears much better fruit.

  7. Agatha says:

    To sum this up, one must stay professional in any way we can. We also have to keep in mind on being open to everything no matter how preoccupied we are.

  8. I believe it is very important to sometimes, walk away. Since we deal with people of so many backgrounds and personalities, we will never be certain how people will react. So, walking away is a great way to let the steam cool and reconnect with yourself and therefor let go of the situation that upset you. Good tips.

  9. Carmen says:

    Wise words, Justin, thank you.

  10. Carmen says:

    Thanks Doug. Self awareness is the start, isn’t it?

  11. Carmen says:

    Thanks for sharing, Agatha.

  12. Carmen says:

    That’s right Ariana. And even if know the person, it doesn’t require us to be their figurative punching bag. Thnx.

  13. Connie Lee says:


    I’ve found it helps to think in terms of ‘intent vs. impact’. Take a deep breath and ask yourself, ‘What was the person’s intent behind their words vs. the impact those words delivered?’, before you react or respond.

    Most often their intention wasn’t to hurt or anger, it was a miscommunication or because of assumptions made on the listeners part.

    Clarify with the other person, by asking questions. It enriches communication.

    I find it also helps in future dialogue, because the ‘sender’ and ‘receiver’ are more apt to ask for clarification, rather than relying on assumptions.

    If the other person was snarky, having a bad day and taking it out on you, the simple fact that you pointed this out to them in a diplomatic, non-blaming way would probably give them the opportunity to apologize and re-shape their attitude.

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  15. Sherry says:

    I find this article really timely of what is happening to me right now. Everything you mentioned is very true and I’m really having a hard time dealing with this issue right now. I think I became overly conscious about everything and everyone. I find it hard to deal with it but I hope I’ll learn to manage it.

  16. Laura says:

    Hi Carmen,
    Thanks for the article. It was both insightful and helpful. I have been happily married for the past 25 years to a wonderful man who comes from grumpy parents! Seriously, my in-laws are difficult people to get along with. They are perfectionists who seem to enjoy dishing out criticism and it took me many years ( and a lot of hurt feelings & tears) to learn not to take their negativity personally.
    I think all of the strategies you listed are effective and I’d like to add one more that also helped me: humor! I learned. after a while, that although I’m too polite to hurl retorts back at my in-laws, I can share stories with a couple of my closest friends and together we giggle like school girls at some of the retorts I could shoot back if I had a bigger mouth and a smaller conscience. I like to call it ” releasing my inner Don Rickles”. It might sound mean and/or childish, but there’s a time and place for everything and I do take care not to use this tactic in front of other family member who would be offended. A little laughter goes a long way to alleviate stress !

  17. Robert Slick says:

    I think this is one of those cases where it’s always good to put your self in the other person’s shoes and try to see the world through their lens. When I see someone who is depressed, in a bad mood, maybe shy or what have you, I try to stop myself from coming to conclusions to quickly.

    I always think to myself, that person is that way for a reason, they didn’t CHOOSE to be rude or shy or whatever, something happened to make them that way. When you try to understand that why you can take situations like this in particular and really turn them around into something positive for both people.

  18. Allan says:

    Interesting article.

    I must say personally. If you’ve experienced a lot in life and have gained a sort of centeredness which can only be gained from years of experiences through good and bad. You’ll automatically care less of others and don’t let silly things affect you.

    As a Man I believe it’s crucial to be certain. In an uncertain world. Especially if you have a family who are dependent of you.

  19. Clint Cora says:

    Thanks for putting this up as this is such an important personal skill to develop. It’s actually part of the overall topic of emotional intelligence and companies spent a lot of money putting their people through training – I don’t know about now due to the recession – but when I was in corporate life, I took a full two day seminar on this and it really helped me. It is estimated that the vast majority of society, 85%, can actually do better in controlling their actions due to emotions. A very interesting topic indeed.

  20. Carmen,

    I appreciated this article. I had an experience recently where a hurtful comment was made to me in a setting where I expected to feel safe. I did take it personally, and I did react emotionally (I was so stunned and hurt that I left the setting in tears).
    After leaving, I was able to reframe the situation, to diminish the power that person had taken, and to center myself. But in the moment, I was too floored to respond in any way other than leaving, so I couldn’t quite make it to #3.
    But, an amazing person who witnessed the entire exchange handled #3 for me. When the time was right, she introduced herself, and pointed out that the comment was presented in a way that caused hurt. What I took away from the entire affair was that sometimes we need to act in community. If one of us isn’t able to be assertive in the moment, someone else can pick up that ball. This doesn’t have to occur in a vacuum.

  21. Atul Khachane says:

    my friend suggested to go through it…. lets see how it goes

  22. Pingback: Don’t Take Anything Personally! | Essential Knowledge

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  24. Merica Jones says:

    I’ve been there and done that, on both sides of the fence. I suffer bouts of intense back pain and sometimes say and do stuff while in pain that I regret doing later. The intent isn’t to hurt others, I’m just in so much pain, I can’t really think straight.

    I tend to dwell way too much on what other people say to me. A harsh word or two often results in me spending hours playing the situation out in my head and wondering whether I could have handled it better. I’m going to try the techniques laid out above to see if they help.

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