“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.” Don Miguel Ruiz
The other day I was working with a client and he commented that the people around town are so rude. He went on to tell me a list of examples why, such as, people don’t smile at him or even say ‘hi’ when he walks by. He concluded that everyone was ignorant and judging him. I explored with him the story he was telling himself about the other people and then asked him why he cared so much about what these people thought about him. After a while, he discussed other times in his life when he felt like he didn’t belong. As mammals, we are social creatures. We have an innate desire to belong and to be accepted. When we feel like we are being outcast it is extremely painful.
All of us have our own filter, through which we interpret the world. Our brains are amazing tools. They take in information and store it. These memories can serve us well, but they also color the way we see the world. There have been studies which show that when we have a history of trauma, even neutral events can become charged with emotion. Our brains become sensitized to pick up on the slightest cue that there is danger. Other people may say that we are overreacting to a situation, but to our brain, which is remembering the past event and working overtime to protect us, it isn’t an overreaction at all.
If you find yourself taking comments personally, here are five tips:
- Take a step back from the situation. In the moment, when we feel we are being personally attacked, our brains flood with fight or flight chemicals and the rational thinking part of our brain shuts down. There is no way to have a rational conversation when someone is triggered, so take a break and allow the thinking part to re-engage. Go for a walk, take some calming breaths or listen to music.
- Once the brain has calmed down, become curious. What was the story that I was just telling myself about that situation. Write it down, so that you can objectively read back what you just wrote or say it out loud. It always amazes me how things sound so right in my head, but as soon as I speak the words out loud I can hear the absurdity of them.
- Ask yourself if the story that you just wrote or said aloud is true. Often our personal interpretation gets added in, when there may be no real evidence of what we are telling ourselves. What are the facts in the situation and what is a personal opinion that is being shared? When someone says something to us that feels like an attack, separate out the evidence from the beliefs. We all have our own preferences. Some people will like what I do, others won’t. We can’t please everyone and that is okay!
- Remember that you have bad days, too. Give the other person some grace. We don’t know what the other person is going through. When I get cut off in traffic, I make up a story about the other person. Maybe they are rushing to get to the hospital. When I picture what they may be going through, I can shift from anger to compassion for them.
- Have the courage to speak up. Often our thoughts about someone’s words or actions are not what their intention was. Is a friend really ignoring us when they don’t answer our message or are they just busy? I know that I will often read a text and while I intend to return it later, I forget. But, if someone doesn’t return my message, I tell the story that they are disrespectful for not giving me an answer. Ask clarifying questions if someone says something or does something that felt personal. It is not easy to clear the air, but it is healthy.
When we take something personally it is the story we are telling ourselves about the situation that gets to us. Other people have their own stories they are telling. When we take responsibility and own our stories, we are able to shift the way we see things and they become much less personal. As Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” What have you taken personally that may need to be re-examined?