Ever have the experience of taking things personally? To answer that question, think about how you might respond in the following situations:
You are walking behind a stranger as they enter a building. They open the door, pass through it, and then let it slam in your face.
Your physician steps into the exam room, asks you a couple of quick questions while she enters your answers into the computer, and then moves onto the next patient.
Your partner gets home from work, mumbles a quick hello, and then heads into the living room and turns on the television.
If your reaction in these situations included thoughts like: “People always treat me disrespectfully,” “I must have done something wrong,” or “Why try to ruin my day?” these are signs that you are taking things personally.
It’s only human nature to assume that the actions of other people are directed toward us. The problem with making this assumption is that it opens the door to a lot of negative thinking that leads to spinning simple actions into really powerful actions. And then suffering the consequences.
It has been my experience that individuals who are living with a chronic condition may be even more likely to take the actions of other people personally. Why is that?
Well, for one, I think that living with a chronic condition can cause you to be inward-focused. After all, you have to do a lot of self-monitoring, how you feel physically and emotionally, how compliant you are with your medications, and how you’re going to follow your self-care routine. As a result, your mind is more likely to also evaluate what happens around you in terms of how it affects you personally.
Because you’re living with a chronic condition, you may need more from other people, e.g. additional help around the house or emotional support. When you have these needs, you’re also going to be more sensitive to whether others are stepping up to the plate and giving you a hand, or not.
Additionally, the daily responsibilities, the good days and the bad days, can leave you on edge. And when you are feeling sensitive, you are that much more at risk for being impacted by how other people behave.
And the consequences? If you are someone who takes things personally, you’re all too familiar with the answer to this question. Feeling disappointed, angry, sad, hurt… and disempowered. Taking things personally can also have a negative impact on your relationships.
So what I am saying is that taking things personally kind of goes with the territory of living with a chronic condition. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you often find yourself reacting this way. However, you don’t have to be stuck there.
Here are some ideas to help to recognize when you are taking things personally and turn your thinking in a more positive direction:
Ask yourself: Is there another way to look at this situation? You always have a choice in terms of how you view a situation. Maybe even a lot of choices. For example, when someone ignores you or responds in what sounds like an angry tone, you may feel slighted or hurt by what seems like intentionally insensitive behavior. But is it also possible they are preoccupied and aren’t even paying attention to you? Or have had a bad day themselves and aren’t handling their frustration very well? Considering the alternatives can take the sting away.
Be aware of what’s making you feel vulnerable. Ever notice how certain behaviors, like when someone makes a grouchy comment, can really set you off but others don’t bother you at all? Most likely, it’s because your own button got pushed. We all have certain sensitivities that can cause us to feel personally hurt or attacked. One way to help avoid these reactions is to be aware of your buttons. This way, when a button gets pushed, you can regain your perspective before your feelings spin into that “look what you did to me” mindset.
Is there something you need to do for yourself? You might also look at your reaction as a signal that something in your own life needs attention. Making it personal when someone seems to ignore you? Maybe this is a sign that you need to spend more time with supportive people.
Let other people be human. Everybody’s dealing with something. And it doesn’t always bring out their best. So can you try some compassion? If you can let people be who they are, and remember that the curveballs of daily life don’t always bring out the best behavior, then you’ll be less likely to assume that bad behavior was intentionally directed toward you. Wouldn’t that be a relief?
Have a sense of humor. One of the best antidotes for taking things personally is humor. Smile at how preoccupied and rushed people can be. Why are they in such a hurry? Smile at Mr. Grouchy over there. Maybe even have a little chuckle at how easy it is to jump to the conclusion that you’re somehow the intended victim when, in reality, you just happen to be in the right place at the wrong time.
Consider asking for clarification. When possible, you might consider letting the other person know how you’re feeling and talk about what might be going on. You can’t necessarily stop that stranger who just let the door slam in the face what their intentions were. But you might be able to say something like this to a household member: “It seems to me that you walked past me without saying anything, unless I missed something. Is everything okay?” Be careful about sounding accusatory. Instead, be clear about your own perceptions. Offer to listen. And to help if necessary.
Eyes forward. One of the best ways to avoid the urge to take things personally is to do what you can to keep yourself centered. After all, if you’re happy in your own life, then you are that much less likely to be bothered by the behavior of others. Every day, do a review of what’s going right in your life. Find something to be grateful for. Make sure you’re doing things you enjoy with people you enjoy doing them with.
Look at it this way: Not everything that happens around is directed toward you. In fact, you’re not the center of the universe. Whew! Isn’t that a relief?