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How to stop taking things personally.
Part 3 of It's Not About You series.
The chances are that if you take things personally, you may not be aware of it. Instead, what you are aware of is how friends, co-workers, strangers, and the world in general, are against you in some way. You find yourself feeling rejected, neglected, disrespected, and ignored pretty frequently. It leads to frustration, anger, and the need to defend yourself, your choices, actions, and knowledge.
We all feel this way occasionally. We all have sensitivities others can trigger purposefully or not. But those who habitually take things personally have a lot less fun in life having to defend, explain, and protect themselves all the time. This takes a lot of energy.
If you recognize yourself in this picture, please read on. You can learn not to take things personally and enjoy life with greater ease!
Imagine the following situation. While walking your dog in the morning, you see a neighbor and say hello. The neighbor does not respond. You feel offended and ignored. You wonder what you may have done to deserve this. By the time you get home, your mind has spun multiple stories. You may end up angry and in a bad mood all day. You think how much you now dislike your neighbor. You may even make up stories in your head of how you will confront them and ask them why they ignored you, but you are unsure whether you should. At least the rest of your morning is ruined. It could be the whole day. If you received treatment like this from someone closer than just the neighbor, a co-worker in the elevator, or a friend you saw in the supermarket, it would hurt even more.
The first thing you need to know when you feel the frustration and indignity arise is that you don’t react to the way things are. You react to the way you think things are! What you see may not be what is. You only see what’s on the surface. Perhaps your neighbor did not hear you because he had his earphones on and was listening to music. Maybe, your friend walked by you without acknowledging you because they were on autopilot, in a hurry, and not paying any attention to who is around them.
Second, consider questioning what you see and your beliefs about the situation. Past conditioning, born of your previous experiences, dig out shortcuts in your mind to interpret and react to events and people deemed similar to past events and situations. However, just because something may be outwardly similar, it does not mean it is. If someone purposefully ignored you in the past, it does not automatically follow that the person in front of you is doing the same.
Question your assumptions. Force yourself to think of different explanations. See what happens to your reactions as you erode the hold of past experiences and make new ones. In the process, you learn and recondition yourself to think that not everything is about you. That’s progress.
To stop and reconsider your assumptions takes a little bit of effort. It also takes diligence. As you do this deliberately more and more, you will get better and faster at ending frustration as soon as it arises. But there’s more you can do to prevent a personal reaction completely. It does require a little more effort, though.
Third, work on your insecurities and perceived deficiencies. You know what they are. You’re too short. Too old. Too young. Too stupid. Too shy. To unaccomplished. Too disorganized. In general, you are something not good enough. Working on yourself pays off no matter what. You gain confidence. You learn skills. You find yourself less affected by random events. Even when someone deliberately tries to push your buttons, they find fewer buttons to push. You become resilient. Unshakable. You see no need to prove yourself right or worthy. You roll with the punches. You stay chill. You laugh at jokes instead of thinking people are making fun of you.
Perhaps, you think others expect you to be perfect. This adds tons of pressure on you. Most people mainly want you to be functional, keep your word, show up when needed, and mind your responsibilities. If you got these bases covered and you know in your heart that you did the best you could under the circumstances, you will feel good. Perfection is just extra effort for not that much more reward. There are better ways to spend your time and energy.
If you complain, throw tantrums, and feel sorry for yourself all the time, you won’t have many friends. If you feel the need to be right, know everything, and be on top, you probably won’t have many friends either. You are likely to put people down. No one likes a condescending know-it-all. How about a mind shift and an attitude adjustment instead? You can learn mindfulness skills through meditation and monitor your inner world for unnecessary disturbances. You can ask others for clarification if you hear something you think has to do with you. Take a few deep breaths before you blur a demand for respect or acknowledgment. When you feel the need to tell others what to do and how, consider that your way is just one way. Others have their ways. It all works out in the end. As long as no one gets hurt or dies, and everyone is happy, it’s all good. Relax.
If you can learn to brush things off and go about your business, you’ll get invited to more parties. You’ll sleep better, too, as you no longer need to regurgitate self-pity and self-doubt stories all night long.
Fourth, worry less about what others think of you and pay more attention to what you think of yourself. The conflicts in your head are precisely and only there – in your head. No one knows exactly how self-critical you are. No one knows about your abandonment issues, your past dysfunctional relationships. No one knows if you think you are good with money or the last time you got laid. That’s why whatever you think was meant for you in a conversation or interaction is likely a coincidence. You may be overreacting. But if you notice that buttons are getting pushed, take some time to process the reason for having said buttons and work to get rid of them.
Keep practicing. Practice makes better. If it’s taken you decades to form an opinion of yourself and adopt the mentality you have, it will take you more than a New York second to erode the old and rebuild anew. Be patient. Lean on your friends. Instead of righteously defending your actions and attitude in sensitive situations, ask them what they think about how you handled it. Ask them how they would have reacted. Join online communities, support groups, blogs, and forums where people openly discuss things that could help you too. Read books. Learn to meditate and communicate.
Self-education, or help from a professional, do what it takes to gain the skills, change your mindset, and adopt a new way of looking at things. It’s more fun than you think. The benefits greatly outweigh the effort.
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