— Researched and edited by Dr. Sandip Roy.
Don’t always burden your shoulders with other people’s words or actions. What they say is an opinion—not a judgment.
No matter what, there will always be people who will trash you. Every one of us experiences some form of humiliation off and on. When we take those insults personally, it can severely erode our self-esteem.
A harsh criticism, especially in a group setting, can be demoralizing. But when we take it back home, we may overthink it, giving it a negative power over our worthiness. After that, even minor insults are more likely to make us angry and react strongly.
There may be moments when the criticism is justified and the other person is not trying to hurt you. In either case, you need a good coping strategy.
Taking things personally and undervaluing yourself will only slow you down. It might even harm your relationships irreparably.
How To Stop Taking Things Personally
If you don’t stop taking every slight personally, you might end up staying offended for the rest of your life.
Not letting the barbs stick is a sensible way to handle them.
If you’re prone to taking things personally, you must have some ready strategies to avoid getting hurt by the words hurled at you.
Here are some tips to keep your sense and peace intact by not taking things personally:
1. Stop worrying about what others believe about you.
Almost always, your actual worth is not what others give you to believe. For all you care, whatever definitions others have fixed for you are vastly dissimilar to, and often the polar opposite of, what you really are.
Your life is unique, like everyone else’s. Stop worrying about what others think about you. Realize you have nothing to do with other people’s behavior, thoughts, or opinions.
Set aside your self-limiting beliefs and declare your worth to yourself. You are always greater than what others believe you are, whether good or evil. They will never know who you truly are.
With so much cultural intermingling these days, it’s no surprise that even within tight-knit communities, we don’t know how vastly diverse our ways of thinking are about the same things. You don’t even know what your neighbor’s cultural beliefs are about Royal Caviar or Kopi Luwak.
Why are you so anchored to the default belief that when people say only positive things about you, or say nothing at all, is the only way they fix your worthiness?
When you remove that bias, you realize a person is making an innocent remark to you with no malice towards you. That remark could be a product of their own taste, or worse, their obnoxious nature. Either way, you can’t allow it to cloud your assessment of yourself.
Nobody can say anything about you. Whatever people say is about themselves. But you become very shaky because you are still clinging to a false center. That false center depends on others, so you are always looking at what people are saying about you. — Osho
Once you learn to perceive the world without the prism of passed-down beliefs, you understand there is no need to take things personally.
2. Show them you don’t care what they think of you.
This strategy differs from the first one, which was about proving to yourself that your beliefs matter more than the opinions of your critics. This one is about proving to them that you don’t care what they say about you.
Stop caring about what judgments people have about you while they mistreat you. To prove it, give them the royal ignore.
Of course, don’t fake it if you don’t care. This responsibility exists in many of our cultures today for people to be ostensibly compassionate and caring for others. Though it is a task we may not agree with personally, we play along anyway.
We can disagree with the notion, but that brings in another burden: we must keep our divergent views strictly personal.
What that does is stop us from making a correct assessment of whether we really care about an individual, or we’re faking it for the sake of keeping up the show.
So when people say hurtful things, stop for a moment and think. Ask yourself if you see them as valuable people you place at the upper levels of your social pyramid.
Almost everyone who debases you is dispensable.
You don’t want to care about them. It doesn’t matter where you’re placed in life, you always need a certain amount of thick skin to avoid taking things personally and getting yourself upset in the process. Showing them you don’t care is having that thick skin.
You are what you are, and your worth is what you think it is. As long as you know that, it simply doesn’t matter what anybody says or thinks about you.
3. Step away from the battle scene, at least, for a while.
The worst thing you could do is snap back at them with toxicity and negativity. That’s not a path to go down. By doing that, you might be indulging a troll, and that is the absolute worst way to handle any troll.
Your inner being might be fiercely baying for their blood when you take personal offense at things they say to you. After all, your mind is already in threat perception mode, and it’s giving you signals to react for your survival.
It could even be a message, an email, a meme, an emoji—some characters on a screen—that could set you off. It’s just a digital display that’s enough to rub you the wrong way.
It’s not a real person standing right in front of you saying those things—only a digital ghost.
Once your stress response lets loose, you’re a ticking time bomb seconds away from exploding violently. And once you start reacting, you get outside the control of your thinking brain. You say things and act like you don’t ever do in your normal senses.
Whether it’s out of anger, envy, greed, hate, or something else, your impulsive reactions on the spot are never your best responses. Frankly, if someone were to film you during those moments, you might be nearly shocked to watch yourself erupting with that ferocity.
Once again, the simple rule to follow for such times: Don’t react then and there.
Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychotherapist who developed the psychological approach known as logotherapy, famously said:
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. — Viktor Frankl
Create a space between their provocative behavior and your knee-jerk response.
Just one minute might be enough to make sure you don’t start spewing out venom in a speedy reaction. Take a deep breath and take a step back. It’s like you literally take a step back, or even leave the scene and go for a walk outside.
What this does are two things. First, you physically distance yourself from the person your mind perceives as a threat. Second, your mind starts the process of rational thinking once it believes you’re safe.
Once your rational brain takes over, you’re back in control. You can now respond with careful deliberation. Now you can even choose not to respond at all.
As those skillful with words would say,
I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.
Look at it this way:
- The words thrown at you are in your hands as long as you don’t speak in response.
- Once you have spoken, and the words have left your mouth, you lose that personal power over it.
4. Learn to be more mindfully accepting of situations.
One way to gain control of your rational mind while you have removed yourself from the scene is to practice mindfulness. In mindfulness, you let thoughts come and go as you observe them without any judgment.
Here’s what the late spiritual leader Osho said about how mindfulness is to be experienced:
Become an observer of the currents of thought that flow through your consciousness. Just like someone sitting by the side of a river watching the river flow by, sit by the side of your mind and watch.
Or just as someone sits in the forest and watches a line of birds flying by, just sit and watch.
Or the way someone watches the rainy sky and the moving clouds, you just watch the clouds of thoughts moving in the sky of your mind.
The flying birds of thoughts, the flowing river of thoughts in the same way, silently standing on the bank, you simply sit and watch. It is the same as if you are sitting on the bank, watching the thoughts flowing by.
Don’t do anything, don’t interfere, don’t stop them in any way. Don’t repress in any way. If there is a thought coming don’t stop it, if it is not coming don’t try to force it to come.
You are simply to be an observer.
Mindfulness helps you recognize and understand your emotions. Once you do that, you also realize that feelings are temporary. If you do not hang on to them, they are going to vanish after a while.
If the negative emotions attached to the insult resurface, immerse yourself in a session of mindfulness or do some belly breathing to stimulate your vagus nerve and calm down your agitation.
5. Stop leaping to conclusions or making snap judgments.
People often say things without first weighing out what final effect those words could have on you. It could well be not their intention to hurt you, so why should you jump to assume they said those things just to bring you down?
We come across situations where people’s words and emotions are not entirely clear to us.
This research suggests that older adults are much less likely than younger adults to detect anger in “angry–happy” faces.
When such a thing happens, before you jump to conclusions, ask them what they actually meant. Ask them, since you felt hurt by their comment, was their original intent to make you feel that way.
People often do things that seem, plain and simple, un-doable. Everyone is trying to do their best at the given moment to fulfill their own needs.
Why did that car cut in front of you in rush-hour traffic? But before you brand the driver as a bad-tempered thug, just give them a chance they might be in an emergency, and trying to reach a hospital fast.
Researchers refer to this tendency to jump to conclusions as a Response to Threat Anticipation. It is said to cause physical and emotional stress.
When you assume you’ve been wronged, you see the situation as something that’s threatening you with physical, social, or mental harm.
- First, don’t make snap judgments of others’ words or behavior. This especially holds strong importance in personal relationships. Give them a fair chance to explain and do that before you start to pass a verdict on them.
- Second, be flexible. Be open to what explanations they offer, and accept those at face value. Do not hold those opinions as judgments.
Remember, relationships should be navigated on solid evidence, not shapeless assumptions. When in doubt, ask them point-blank what they mean.
Learn to listen before judging. Allow yourself the willingness and time to suspend instant judgments. This will help foster more fulfilling relationships.
Quick Tips To Stop Taking Things Personally
- Don’t let your toxic pride get in the way of doing what you need to do. Don’t let others casually sway your opinion about yourself or your life, even if they are sensible and caring. First, do a self-evaluation.
- Don’t hold a grudge. Use your anger to work more intensely on your project.
- Surround yourself with kind and understanding people. But set healthy relationship boundaries.
- Don’t care about past failures except for the lesson. Don’t focus on your mistakes. Learn to let go of your regrets.
- Be honest with yourself. Forgive yourself. Assure yourself that you do not owe an emotional debt to anyone who’s hurting you.
- Let go of people who don’t have your best interest at heart. They are malevolent people who always want to see you down.
- Know yourself. Don’t let a person or a situation define who you are. Don’t allow your emotions to stop you from doing what needs to be done, even if it means breaking up with someone you’ve known for years.
- Don’t put yourself through unnecessary strain trying to change others. You simply cannot control what other people do, even after they swear to you that they will. Stop expecting people to change for you.
The Stoics, ancient Greco-Roman philosophers, understood that trying to control other people’s thoughts and actions could only lead to misery. The first pillar of their philosophy was practicing the Dichotomy of Control to make good decisions, fast.
Effects of Taking Things Personally
Taking immediate offense is something this Instagram and Snapchat generation seems to have mastered. Despite all the good the millennials and Gen Z have done on issues like gender equality and climate change, they seem to take offense easily.
Of course, given their age, they aren’t quite equipped to handle the roughness of the world, and they can be forgiven for that. Still, for all their potential to make a big impact on the future, they get upset quickly by what others say, which has at least the following 3 damaging effects:
- Taking things personally can drain your mental and emotional stamina.
- It can drive you to unnecessarily evaluate and re-evaluate your self-esteem.
- It may even push you towards depression once you start overthinking them.
When we take things personally, we are giving certain individuals more power over us than they deserve or should ever be allowed to have. In effect, you are allowing someone to question what you feel and believe. — Abigail Brenner
Every person you interact with won’t care about you or your feelings, however much you might care about them. So, you need to change your vulnerability to others’ opinions.
Remember what Mahatma Gandhi said:
Nobody can hurt me without my permission.
Eleanor Roosevelt famously got it right when she said:
Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
In dealing with how not to take things personally, the most important thing is to focus on the last word: personally.
Finally, you can let insults roll off your back if you think about them as:
- They are speaking meaningless words that don’t apply to me.
- They are hurt people trying to hurt meback in revenge.
- They have an undercover malicious intent.
• • •
Author Bio: Ashley Halsey, a professional lifestyle writer, wrote a shorter early version of this post. Expanded and rewritten by Sandip Roy.
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√ Also Read: How to handle criticism like a pro?
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