How to Stop Taking Things Personally

When I was younger, I was in a relationship with a man who had some behaviors that weren't too loving at times. He was a good person, but some of his actions were kind of neglectful, and I took it personally. Some thoughts that went through my mind were, "What is wrong with me?" or "Why does he feel that way about me?" The important part here is that I thought his actions were about ME.

Then one day, I was telling one of my guy friends about what he was doing. And my friend looked at me and said, "Carol, he would probably be acting that way with ANYONE he was dating. Trust me, it's NOT you!"

That was a pivotal moment of my life. I thought, "Oh my gosh! He's right!" It wasn't about me at all. I can't tell you how freeing this realization was for me. And so I adopted a new attitude about life:

Not everything is about me.

Since that moment, that certainty has been put to the test several times in my life. One of the times that was particularly challenging for me was with a friend of mine. She's very sensitive, overreacts, holds grudges and doesn't take personal responsibility in her relationships. Sounds like a great friend, right? You're probably even wondering why I was friends with her! The truth is, she hides that part of herself quite well. So it took me a while before I saw this part of her. She got angry with me for something quite small (I even perception-checked with many people to make sure I didn't do anything wrong.) I apologized profusely (many times), even though I didn't think it was big deal. It didn't matter, however. She held a grudge and didn't talk to me for months. But then I later realized that she treats everyone that way -- her husband, her kids and probably her other friends too. So it really wasn't about me. That's just who she is.

These two people in my life are very representative of pretty much everyone. The fact is, most people act the way they do no matter who they are with. If someone is a jerk, then they will be a jerk whether they are talking to a homeless person or the president of the United States. If someone is a good person, then they will be a kind to everyone -- even if they don't like a person. If someone is selfish, they'll be selfish with everyone. If someone is a people-pleaser, they'll be a people pleaser with anyone.

I think you get the point.

So here are some of my tips that will help you stop taking things too personally:

1. Don't dwell on it too much.

Maybe one of your friends borrowed a lot of money from you and hasn't paid you back. That's happened to me before. In fact, I still haven't gotten paid back after almost 6 years! It's difficult not to think things like, "She doesn't care that I need that money!" or "How can she do this to me?" or "If she really cared about me, she'd pay me back!" But the more you dwell on it, the more you make yourself crazy. And guess what -- that's just who she is: a very unreliable person who does not stick to her word. Her not paying me back was not about me -- it is about her.

2. Remember: You can't control what other people think -- or what they do.

You can't control anything about another person. The only thing person you can control is yourself. Let's say that you interviewed for your dream job. You knew that you are qualified, and you thought you made a good impression, but you didn't get the job. Is it you? Probably not! Maybe they already knew who they wanted to hire from within the company, but they were required to look outside because of policies. Or there could be countless other reasons you didn't get the job! But most of them are probably not about you.

3. Have empathy for the other person.

You don't always know what another person is going through. For example, I know a lot of people who are caregivers to their parents with Alzheimer's disease. Some of the symptoms of this disease is aggression and yelling. It's easy to get frustrated and take their behavior personally. But think about how difficult it is for them. Remember that their words and behavior is part of their disease, not representative of how they really feel about you. But whether it's a disease or just some rough life experiences, you can never know someone else's experience, so it's important to have empathy for them.

4. Work on your own self-confidence.

Maybe your romantic partner cheated on you. It's difficult not take that personally, right? I mean, how can you not have thoughts like, "I'm not pretty enough" or "I'm not good enough for him." But chances are, a person probably cheats for reasons other than you. He/she might have low self-esteem, be someone who is never satisfied with anything or is a reckless/risk-taking type of person. Whatever the reason, the chances are that it's not because you are inadequate as a person.

These are just a few common scenarios where it's easy to take things personally. It's not easy to stop feeling that way, but when you do, your life will change. I know it for a fact -- because it happened to me! Don't you think it's time to give it a try?