How to avoid taking things personally?
August 19, 2006 9:23 PM   Subscribe

How to avoid taking things personally?

I think my greatest obstacle to happiness is that I take almost everything very personally. I am unusually sensitive. Although this may seem like a positive trait, it causes me undue pain and stress.

There are many times when a friend or colleague is irritable and I assume that they are mad at me...often it turns out that it had nothing to do with me at all.
And God forbid that someone actually gets mad at me!-- I always blame myself (even though the person's anger might be unreasonable or misdirected). Dating is incredibly tough on me as I always feel hurt and rejected when things don't work out as I wish they would (even though I've been told that it is perfectly normal to take a while to find your soul mate).

Before you ask, yes I'm in therapy and yes I'm working on this issue. But I'd love to hear any advice you have to offer...and also, do you think there's hope for me to overcome this difficult and painful tendency?
posted by mintchip to Human Relations (9 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
what's the worst that has ever happened to you?
were you able to handle it? did you eventually make it out of that situation? are you alright again now?

next time something affects you this much, think of that old incident. think of how tough *that* was and how this can't compare at all to what you have already overcome.

you will notice you are a lot stronger than you think.
how bad something is depends a lot on how bad you allow it to be. if you decide that it's not that much of a big deal, then it by default cannot be. you are the one in charge in your head.

try it.
posted by krautland at 9:29 PM on August 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

As my mother has always said, 99% of the things you worry about never come to pass. This has held to be true.

She's also said, "No matter how bad your day seems, the sun will still come up tomorrow." This has also held true.

You seem awful hard on yourself - perhaps you should take a new look at every day and quit compounding them one after the other?
posted by matty at 9:33 PM on August 19, 2006

I do this too. I would try to not react immediately. Sit on it a while, really ponder if it's you before saying anything.
posted by xammerboy at 9:57 PM on August 19, 2006

The important thing is to realize how self-centered this is. By assuming everyone's mood and reaction is about you (mad at me! something i did! insulting me!) you assume that the whole world is focused on you, and revolving around you.

When you feel this way next time, remember that these people in your life have families, jobs, responsibilities, and motivations that do not involve you in any way whatsoever... you could be fired or die or fall into a hole and their lives would go on in a mostly normal way. To assume that their every action or interaction has a personal connection to you is really assuming you have a position of importance that you don't.

It may sound harsh, and I suppose it is. But it's not harsh to realize that people have lives that are completely separate from yours and don't depend on you. That's comforting.

Also remember that it takes effort to craft a personally insulting comment, and not everyone's going to spend their day thinking about how to make every sentence as personally insulting to you as possible.

Or, at least, that's what I think when I start to get this way, and it always helps.
posted by fake at 12:07 AM on August 20, 2006 [6 favorites]

Oddly, I think fake's harsh response is pretty helpful, probably because it comes out of personal experience. I really think one of the most important things that make us adults is realizing that (contrary to childhood assumptions) we really aren't that important in the scheme of things; the world doesn't revolve around us, and it will go merrily on without us. Of course, a lot of people never do grow up (in that sense); if you can, you'll be a lot happier. Good luck!
posted by languagehat at 7:05 AM on August 20, 2006

I think these kinds of feelings are born in people who have been consistently manipulated by someone (like a parent, sibling or lover).

If this is true for you, then you have learned to tune into the passive aggressive communications of that manipulative person (or people) because they really were intending them for you (and negatively so).

This is a very frustrating place to be. Taking things personally -- when people are simply expressing a healthy dose of anger or frustration or boredom -- can be devastating to a relationship.

You feel genuinely hurt and they feel walloped upside the head with this accusation coming from out of left field.

I think it's best for both people in a situation like this to understand where the other is coming from. If you have a relatively close relationship with someone you can trust not to be manipulative and/or passive aggressive, talk to them the next time you feel hurt by something they did. Ask them about their head space when they said/moved/sighed/whatever and try to understand how a brain that is not trying to hurt you/manipulate you works.

I think the more you understand healthy expressions of negative emotions, the easier it'll be to identify it as something that's clearly not about you.

For the rest of the people out there that do intend hurt and manipulation with their actions... I say %^&* 'em! You gain a lot by merely knowing who those folks are. And you can take in their actions with the knowledge that there very well may be an unhealthy or negative component to them.
posted by 10ch at 7:17 AM on August 20, 2006 [5 favorites]

One thing that helps me is understanding that the other person's opinion of me is not more valid than my own. They may be wrong, they may be right, but it's still just their view, and they aren't the final word on it.

And I am pretty sensitive myself.
posted by konolia at 11:56 AM on August 20, 2006

Best answer: Original poster here. Without getting into it, i will mention that I had a difficult childhood and suffered some emotional abuse. There are good reasons I developed the way that I did...but I'm more focused on working on the present. The tips that have to do with trying not to be self-centered don't speak to me as much as some of the others, as I don't feel always feeling "to blame" is so much self-centeredness as it is a corollary of post traumatic stress disorder from a traumatic upbringing.
posted by mintchip at 7:31 PM on August 20, 2006

What your describing is called "rejection sensitivity" and is a common attribute of Atypical Depression.

Some people find that this diminishes considerably when on SSRI antidepressents. Peter Kramer's Listening to Prozac has a detailed and interesting discussion on the topic. If SSRIs don't help, MAO Inhibitors (another class of antidepressant) probably will.

Don't mind some the sniping above--it appears that rejection sensitivity is mostly constitutional, and exacerbated by depression. It does not mean that you are necessarily self-centered or narcissistic.
posted by peabody at 7:54 PM on January 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

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