Is it ever useful to take other people’s words and behaviour personally?
Clearly there is value in observing and acting upon the words and actions of others. That’s how you keep negativity out of your life, not to mention stay safe.
However, taking something personally usually means getting angry, upset or righteous, and the situation is escalated if you act on your feelings. When you decide to take things personally – and it is a decision – you cause yourself unnecessary anguish.
If you find it challenging not to take things personally, then you’re not unusual. We are all to varying degrees seeking approval (or at the very least respect) from others, and so we’re bound to notice when those things are not given.
However, no matter how ingrained the emotional habit, everyone can teach themselves not to take things personally.
Here are (probably) the 3 most important things to tell yourself the next time you notice that you are taking something to heart.
1. Often, how we behave is a reflection of how we are feeling about ourselves and life. It’s nothing to do with anyone else
In his book The Four Agreements, a Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Miguel Ruiz said “Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”
This is true. If someone is kind to you, they are probably kind generally. Same if someone was rude or unpleasant to you (according to your subjective reality).
The reality is, you never know what’s going on for other people to make them behave the way they do
You know what they say: everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about – health conditions, stressful situations, you name it. That’s why it’s mad to take other people’s behaviour personally. You cannot possibly know what is going on for them.
Have you ever taken your tired or bad mood out on others? That’s how you know that if you’re on the receiving end, it’s likely to be nothing to do with you.
I’m not saying it’s fair for us to behave this unconsciously with eachother – fairness doesn’t come into it. As with forgiveness, it’s you that you do it for, not the other person.
2. They might not understand why or how they offended you, because they wouldn’t be offended
I’m a big believer in everyone learning about their personality type using the Enneagram and Myers Briggs. And I think that we should seek to learn about all the types, not just our own. When we do so, we begin to appreciate that we are all wired so fundamentally differently, that judging other people is ludicrous. Your empathy and compassion improve once you understand why others could be behaving the way they are.
Learning about personality typology prevents you from judging other people so harshly
Unless you want to surround yourself with people exactly like you (boring), then you will deal with the friction occasionally that comes along with being with those who are wired to prioritize different things to you. Therefore if you want to stay sane, you learn not to take things personally.
You will naturally take things more personally if you have one of the empathetic personality types, are a highly sensitive person, or absorb other people’s emotions easily. Knowing that about yourself should help you to maintain your independence from the moods, reactions, and behaviors of others.
3. You might have offended them without your comprehension
Have you ever upset someone without realizing it? I have, and I consider myself to be quite a sensitive and careful person when it comes to other people’s feelings.
Your self-awareness probably isn’t as good as you think it is, as it’s quite impossible to know yourself very well.
If people behave badly towards you and it is either out of character for them, or you care about them, then maybe the situation needs inquiry instead of you going on the defensive.
Taking things personally stops you from learning about yourself, and understanding others better
As with being over-sensitive, taking things personally will affect your ability to learn from and improve your own actions and behaviour, as well as better understand others.
Know that change begins with self-observation. If you have observed yourself taking things personally too often, then you have made the biggest step in changing that.
When you’ve been mindful enough to notice yourself taking things personally in the moment, that’s when you can begin reframing the situation and freeing yourself up emotionally.
When you are really angry or upset by something someone has done, definitely give yourself extra time and space to get a perspective on it.
After a while, it can become second nature not to take things personally.