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How to stop taking things so personally

Rula provides tips on how to take things less personally without losing your ability to show care and concern for others.

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A man is sitting on a bench overlooking the city during sunset.

Jaromir Chalabala // Shutterstock

Key takeaways

  • Everyone takes things personally once in a while. But if you have a strong emotional response to feedback and tend to take responsibility for problems you didn't cause, it might be time to work on taking things less personally.
  • Learning to take things less personally doesn't mean you'll no longer care about how others think or feel. You can be a kind, empathetic person without taking on unnecessary blame.
  • Increasing your self-awareness and setting healthy boundaries can help you take things less personally. Pay attention to the source of the feedback, consider the many reasons a person might be having a certain reaction, and focus on what you're truly responsible for. 

Sensitive people have many strengths. For example, your increased sensitivity might help you show empathy for other people. But being a sensitive person can also lead to some challenges, like taking things too personally. Comments or experiences that don't have a significant impact on others might leave you feeling anxious or ashamed. You also might blame yourself for things that aren't your fault and have a hard time letting things go. 

If you tend to take things personally and it's negatively impacting your well-being or your relationships, know that you can overcome this challenge with the right support. In this article from Rula, you can learn to harness the power of your sensitivity without letting it overwhelm you. 

What does it mean to take something personally?

Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. And when your actions negatively affect other people, it's important to take responsibility and apologize. But people who take things personally often misinterpret others' comments or actions. They may think another person's actions are related to them even when they're not. This can make them feel criticized and singled out when that wasn't the other person's intention. 

For example, let's say you're driving to work and a speeding driver swerves past you and cuts you off. As they pull around you, you can hear them shouting obscenities at you, clearly in a fit of road rage. 

Of course, no one likes dealing with angry drivers. It can be unsettling to be shouted or honked at while you're behind the wheel. Some people in this situation would be able to shrug it off and go about their business. They could see that the incident was caused by a person who was clearly having a bad day and know that it probably had nothing to do with them. 

But someone who tends to take things personally might ruminate about the interaction for a long time and internalize the problem. Despite knowing that they were driving safely and not breaking any traffic laws, they may feel responsible for what happened and continue to fixate on that angry driver and how that person feels about them.

Eight effective tips for how to not take things personally

The following tips can help you learn to take things less personally without losing your ability to show care and concern for others.  

  1. Don't make assumptions. Often, people who take things personally feel that others target them on purpose. For example, maybe your boss was uncharacteristically short with you this morning. Instead of assuming that they're mad at you, consider what else could have caused this response. 
  2. Practice self-awareness. You can use concepts from mindfulness or other awareness-raising techniques to help you separate feelings from facts. Remember, your feelings are valid. But there's a difference between feeling targeted and being targeted. Learning to discern between the two experiences can help you take things less personally.
  3. Try positive self-talk. Think about your strengths and talents, and take stock of all the contributions you make to the world around you. Improving your confidence and how you think about and talk to yourself can help you set healthy boundaries around personal responsibility and self-blame.
  4. Seek clarification. Understanding the intention behind someone's words or actions can shift your perspective. It's okay to ask for additional information if you're not sure how to interpret what someone does or says.
  5. Focus on personal growth. Sometimes, it can be difficult to receive negative feedback. But constructive criticism, when given with positive intent, is a powerful tool for personal growth. After all, how can we improve our shortcomings if we don't know they exist? 
  6. Consider the source. If you feel blamed or insulted, think about your relationship with the person delivering the critique. Is this person qualified to judge you? Do you value the relationship with this person? Is this person often critical of others? 
  7. Hold tight to your personal power. You know yourself better than anyone else. So don't let others decide what's true about you. If you're feeling criticized, consider whether this is due to a "you" problem or a "them" problem. 
  8. Look to the past, but focus on the present. Often, your past experiences shape the way you view the present. So if you're having a strong emotional reaction and taking things too personally, check in with yourself. Is your response grounded in something from your past? This reflection can help you respond to what's true in the moment.

Signs and reasons you might take things too personally

There's no quiz or test that can tell you if you're taking things too personally. But there are some common signs and symptoms to be aware of, including:

  • Constant rumination and overthinking
  • Feeling irrationally responsible for things that aren't your fault
  • Experiencing significant emotional turmoil after receiving feedback
  • Strained relationships due to perceived insults
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejections of all kinds

We don't know all the reasons that lead some people to take things more personally than other people do. This experience may stem from a combination of factors, including low self-esteem, past experiences, a tendency toward perfectionism, and emotional sensitivity. 

However, researchers have discovered a link between being sensitive and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). So having this condition might make you more likely to take things personally.

Getting out of the cycle

Everyone takes things personally sometimes. But if you feel stuck in a cycle of self-blame and sensitivity, know that help is available. With the right support, you can learn to have empathy for others while maintaining healthy boundaries.

This story was produced by Rula and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.