If you find yourself taking everything personally and are easily offended, you’ll know how difficult it can be to make it through the day unscathed.
It constantly feels like you’re under attack, even from your loved ones. You know they don’t always mean to hurt your feelings, but their words and behaviors still have a huge impact on your life.
Here’s some advice to help you not take things so personally all the time.
Think About It
What has someone said to you that’s triggered your response – is it actually as bad as you’ve interpreted it to be? If you’re a sensitive individual who this happens to a lot, it’s worth thinking about why.
The words that people use may not actually be that offensive at all; you’re just geared up to take things personally and will thus manage to twist anything into an insult because you’re so used to doing it.
If you have a hang-up about the way you look or your work ethic or things you’ve done in the past, you may subconsciously listen out for words that relate to it and then take the whole sentence personally.
The sentence might be about something totally innocent and harmless, but you’ve accidentally programmed yourself to interpret certain words or expressions as offensive.
You may also need to think about what upsets you – it might be that you find some small, unusual things offensive that other people simply don’t see as negative!
We all have personal definitions of ‘polite,’ and perhaps yours is just very different to other people’s. By thinking about what’s actually being said, in isolation, you’ll start to find it easier to distinguish normal conversation from pointed, intentionally-rude remarks.
Projection Of Your Feelings
This links in to low self-esteem, which we’ll explore in a moment, and is something that so many of us do.
If you already see yourself in a certain way, you’re likely to project those feelings onto what people say and how they behave around you.
The way that you interpret everything will be centered around your own feelings and often has nothing to do with what the person is saying or doing.
Consider how you feel about yourself and how often other people say or do anything that actually rings true to your own emotions.
It’s unlikely that there’s many of these situations, which implies that you’re forcing your own feelings, subconsciously or not, onto the other person’s behavior. While this is relatively normal, it’s not particularly healthy and quickly becomes destructive.
By acknowledging that you project your feelings, and therefore interpret things differently, you’re taking a huge step in the right direction. We’ll talk more about rationalizing situations and learning to take control later.
Projection Of Their Feelings
Sometimes, the things we do and say have very little to do with the person we’re interacting with. Instead, our behavior toward other people is actually a reflection of us and our feelings about ourselves.
When someone says or does something that is hurtful, it’s worth reminding yourself that they may well be projecting their thoughts and feelings onto you.
In other words, what they are saying or doing is not a reflection on you, so you should not take it personally.
You may find that there is someone at work who is always criticizing you (which anyone would take personally!), but it’s likely that they’re jealous of you and insecure about their own work performance.
The woman who makes jibes about your weight is probably only thinking about your body because she’s constantly consumed with thoughts about her own body.
We often take things personally when we feel as though they’re targeting our insecurities – intentionally or not.
Things that other people think are harmless can actually be hitting us in our weakest spots.
Someone may have said or done something that upsets you without saying or doing it toupset you; it’s just your interpretation that makes it offensive and upsetting.
Remember that not everyone sees you the way that you do, so people may not even realize that something they’ve said or done feels relevant to you.
For example, someone at work may be complaining about a colleague who they feel is useless at their job – if you already feel like you’re not doing well at work, you’re likely to assume they’re talking about you and get upset.
In reality, they’re talking about somebody else and, because they think you’re good at your job, they’d never think to censor that kind of conversation around you.
In the same way, would people really be rude to you about someone’s really bad breath if you yourself had bad breath? No! But, because you don’t have bad breath, they would never dream that you’d take it personally and become even more paranoid.
Reverse the situation and imagine that a friend is having the same issues that you are. You’d do your best to comfort them and explain that people aren’t trying to hurt their feelings, and that it’s just their low self-confidence that’s making them feel this way.
Self-esteem is something that so many of us struggle with, and it takes time and effort to build up.
One thing you can do while working on your self-esteem is to acknowledge it! By accepting that you do take things personally and that you often struggle to feel good about yourself, you’re accepting that your behavior may not always be a rational response.
Many of us get so settled into our mindsets that we don’t allow them to change and grow as we do. You may still see yourself the same way you did years ago, despite a lot having changed.
Those who lose a large amount of weight, for example, will often still see themselves as their overweight former-self and allow that vision to dominate how they live and think now.
It can be hard to change how you see yourself, but, by letting your mind shift to a more positive place, you’ll get so much more out of life.
We often get so wrapped up in how we come across and how we present ourselves in the world, particularly through social media. We put too much focus on getting people to ‘like’ us and validate us as individuals, which makes sense, but is so unhealthy.
Learn to let go of other people’s opinions, as this is one of the biggest causes of taking everything personally. If you’re constantly trying to be someone you’re not just to impress other people, of course you’re going to be more open to feeling insecure and insulted.
That said, it’s not easy to move on from this mindset, but it’s important to try.
Remember: the opinions that really matter are yours and those of your loved ones. Those close to you are unlikely to say things to upset you, so there’s no need to over-analyze everything they say or do.
If they do make some criticism, you can rest assured that it will be as constructive as possible and offered in your best interest.
And, as for everyone else, if they are trying to insult you or make you feel bad about yourself, why would you want to listen to them?
Start by making a list of things that you like about yourself and your life – this could be anything from your eyes to your work ethic to the fact that you go swimming once a week!
Finding ways to be positive about your life will really help you – if you’re unsure or unhappy in your life, of course you’ll think other people are trying to insult it.
By realizing that your life is actually pretty wonderful (or that you need to make some changes to make it better, which is also a positive thing), you’re less likely to take everything as an insult.
After all, the more you love your life, the less likely you are to believe that anyone else would try to find fault with it. The more confident you are in yourself and your capabilities, the less you’ll take things personally.
Easier said than done, of course, but it’s important to take these steps and try to shift your mindset…
Reflect And Rationalize
Consider how you’d expect someone else to react if you said the same thing to them that triggers an emotional response from you – it’s unlikely that you’d expect them to be upset.
It’s often worth making a note of things that people say or do that you find offensive. Later, when you’re on your own in a quiet, safe space, look at what you’ve written down.
It may be that you still see the comment or action as upsetting, or rude, but you’ll often find that it’s really not as bad as you thought it was in the moment.
Your immediate reaction to many things will be to take them personally, which is a hard habit to break. By giving yourself some breathing room and space/time to reflect, you’ll realize that not everything is offensive or pointed or rude.
The more you can do this, the weaker the connections between a word or action and your upset response will be. Essentially, you’re training your mind to take a different path, which will take some time and effort.
Your brain forms neural pathways over time in response to patterns of behavior, so you’ve already wired yourself to respond a certain way simply by repeatedly doing it over a prolonged period of time.
By taking a step back and letting yourself rationalize things, you’re teaching your brain new responses that will ultimately become automatic, habitual behaviors. Happy days.
The Next Step: Take Control
Self-awareness is key in this practice, and, by reading this article, you’ve already acknowledged that you take things personally and want to change that.
A lot of what we think we feel is all in our heads, and is often quite unrelated to what’s really going on in front of us.
A way of taking control is by simply accepting how you feel and realizing that it is valid, but also realizing that it does not serve you.
It’s boring and miserable and exhausting being trapped in a cycle of feeling attacked and isolated, but you can take steps to break it!
It will take some time, so be gentle and patient with yourself at first – it will get easier and you will learn to shift your mindset and thought-cycle to something healthier and more positive.
Lucy is a travel and wellness writer currently based in Gili Air, a tiny Indonesian island. After over a year of traveling, she’s settled in paradise and spends her days wandering around barefoot, practicing yoga and exploring new ways to work on her wellbeing.