How many times have we heard the expression that somebody “takes things personally”? Is it always a mistake to feel that way?
It can be a basic error to assume that everything is always about you, when in fact it’s not. From your own point-of-view, your life is, and should be, your central concern, but the same is also true for others. So when you interpret something someone else does (or doesn’t do) as an attack on you, chances are pretty good that you’re mistaken. The FEELING that another has you in mind when they do something you dislike has to be based on evidence, and often that evidence isn’t there.
It’s liberating and psychologically healthy to remember that what others think of you really isn’t your problem. You have no control over what others think. So why clutter your mind with stuff you cannot change? Just worry about your reputation with yourself, rather than your reputation with others. If you respect yourself, then the right people will come to you. That’s the basic fact that chronically insecure people fail to see.
It all boils down to interpretation. Using our moment-to-moment perceptions as input, our emotions make quick, lightning-like interpretations for us. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but the down side is when you fail to stand back to examine some of those interpretations. Some might be correct – but many can be wrong. You might call it fact-checking. Though rampant dishonesty in government and media has given that term a cynical veneer, it’s actually the most effective technique for weighing our feelings against the cold facts of reality. We would all do well to make honest fact-checking a part of our daily lives to check and balance against random, often inaccurate feelings. In fact, we’re MORE vulnerable to anti-factual people in the media and elsewhere if we’re NOT in the habit of fact checking ourselves and our immediate feelings.
When tempted to automatically believe another person or to take something personally, ask yourself, “What’s the factual evidence that he or she had me in mind when he or she did – or failed to do – such-and-such? Based on the known facts, what other explanations are available?” Really think about it, and be honest. Try to see from the other person’s point-of-view what might have lead them to act a certain way, even in a way you didn’t like. Ask yourself if you’ve ever done the same thing. If so, did you intend to harm others, or was there some other motivation?
At first glance, it might seem cumbersome to do this. But if you strive to make it a habit, this sort of moment-to-moment fact-checking is absolutely necessary to make sure you’re not letting your emotions run away with you and lead you to assume things are personal when they’re probably not.
When people tell me, “I don’t want to fact-check and/or keep a journal because it’s too time consuming,” it’s like telling your dentist, “I don’t want to brush and floss because it’s just too time consuming.” Seriously? Maintenance and examination of your emotions is just as important for your sanity as the maintenance and examination of your teeth is for your health.
Of course, none of this means you’re still not going to be annoyed, disappointed or even angry if someone does — or fails to do — something that hurts you or that you disagree with. In those cases, it’s time for a discussion with yourself: “What am I legitimately entitled to, and what am I not entitled to?” And remember that even when someone is negligent or disappointing in some way, it doesn’t automatically follow that it’s an attack on you. Whenever someone else does something questionable or wrong, it’s almost always because of their own issues and problems, not yours. You don’t have to tolerate it, but you do have the freedom to choose how to respond to it. Life is too short to simply hand over your mental health and serenity to what some other person might think or do.
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