When I think about what tends to get me frustrated from day to day one thing that stands out is annoying interactions with other people. Whether it’s being cut off while driving, someone responding rudely to me, or feeling disregarded, much of my frustration stems from me feeling personally offended by the behavior of someone else. Our responses to these types of behaviors often makes us miserable, while the person who frustrated us goes on their merry way. One way to let go of these frequent frustrations is by learning to not take things personally.
Not taking things personally is about not letting other people’s behavior control our moods and daily experience. Choosing not to take things personally empowers us to take responsibility for our lives and experiences instead of giving that power away to the people around us. Choosing not to take things personally does not mean that you never address ongoing, problematic behavior. However, when we don’t take things personally, we are in a better position to address upsetting behavior from a calm and measured place, which will ultimately lead to a more constructive solution.
One of the things that I’ve learned through my clinical psychology training and practice is that most of us do things because of our own motivations, thoughts, and emotions and not because of other people. Think about it: the last time you said something rude to someone, was it because you were irritable that day? Or you were just focused on something else? If your negative behavior was in response to someone else’s behavior, see if you can identify the thoughts that came before your behavior. Were you upset with their behavior because you felt disrespected, or diminished? Did you feel like you had to assert your power or worth? If you didn’t take the other person’s behavior personally, would you have felt compelled to respond in the way that you did?
The following are my suggestions on how we can all stop taking things so personally.
Remember that your worth is not in question
Your worth is based on the fact that you are a human being. It is not based on how people treat you. One of the reasons many of us get so upset at the behavior of other people is because we feel like their behavior is disrespecting us or calling our worth into question. If we are solidly grounded in the fact that we are worthy and no one can change that (not even us) it will be easier to take other people’s behavior less personally.
Remember that their behavior is about them
Most people’s behavior is about them and not about us. When people insult us, its probably because they feel negatively about themselves. When people hate on our ideas and our efforts that is about their insecurity. When people are rude to us, that is about their own lack of manners and negative views of the world. When people are treating you in ways that you don’t like, remember that their behavior is much more a reflection of them than of you.
Remember to pause and take a breath before responding
If you feel like you’re about to go off on someone after they’ve done something you don’t like, slow yourself down and take a deep breath before you respond. Expressing anger in a way that’s not constructive is likely to make the situation worse and unlikely to get someone to behave in the way that you would like them to. Slowing yourself down and consulting with a trusted (and reasonable) friend can be helpful and remind you that the other person’s behavior is not about you anyway.