Imagine how different life would be if it wasn’t possible to take things personally. Your mother-in-law’s comments about your house wouldn’t affect you, your co-workers not mentioning they were going out for drinks wouldn’t be an issue and your child’s teacher sending home a note encouraging parents to send healthier snacks into school wouldn’t be a personal attack.
It would be great if you could take a sip of some magic potion and not react to people’s words and actions in a self-deprecating way. You could go through life knowing that other people’s opinions are interesting but cannot affect you.
This magic potion would prevent you from spending so much time trying to control other people’s opinion of you or becoming someone you’re not in order to please others. It wouldn’t mean you would become uncaring but instead more loving and understanding.
This week I’m going to discuss other people’s opinions, being a juicy peach (you’ll understand in a minute) and how to stop taking things personally.
Other people’s opinions
Picture a big blue chair in the middle of a room with 10 people in the room standing around the chair. The question is – How many chairs are there in the room? This is not a trick question. The answer is – there are at least 10 chairs because everyone in the room has their own thoughts about the chair. Their thoughts may depend on the angle they are standing at, what the chair is made of, what they think about the color blue, etc.
You have approximately 60,000 thoughts a day and those thoughts become preferences over time. When something matches a preference and pleases you enough for you to say something, you may pay someone a compliment. When something doesn’t match a preference you may express a criticism.
People’s opinions are formed by the many thoughts and preferences they’ve accumulated and stored in their minds. These stored opinions make it easier for them to pick out likes and dislikes.
The most important thing to know is that a person’s opinion is completely neutral until you make it mean something. They have thoughts and preferences just like you. However, when you take something personally it’s because you’ve made someone’s preference mean something about you, negatively or positively.
Times when you feel the most vulnerable is often when you easily take things personally. For example, the times when I took the most things personally were when I wasn’t so sure of myself – when I was a new accountant and didn’t pass the CPA exam right away, anyone’s question about the exam became a personal attack of my intelligence; when I became a mother for the first time, a comment from my mother about what I was feeding my daughter became a belief that she must not think I’m doing a good job.
When you are unsure about yourself then what other people say seems so relevant. You tend to measure your opinion of yourself based on other people’s opinions which can then become a pattern in your mind.
Since your brain is like a pattern seeking machine, it looks for whatever you want it to look for. It continuously interprets situations and gives you more evidence of what you pay attention to whether it’s positive or negative.
Therefore if you have repetitively taken things personally and often have feelings of hurt, rejection or disapproval you have trained your brain to interpret situations as rejection. Your brain will then look for evidence of rejection and use that filter whenever it senses the opportunity.
To start not taking things personally you need to know who you really are and liking her. Obviously there are times when feedback is important and helpful for your growth personally and professionally but when people’s opinions are interpreted as hurtful, it may be time to manage your mind.
Being a Juicy Peach
You can get into trouble when you make other people’s opinions mean something about you because you cannot control what other people think. You may pretend or lie in order to control what other people think of you but you pay the price of not being true to who you really are. You become a chameleon changing colors to win someone over.
The great news is that other people’s opinions are none of your business. Everyone has thoughts that have created preferences and none of those preferences have anything to do with you. Based on your life experiences you have opinions and preferences as well. None of them diminishes the value of the person, place or thing you like or dislike.
As the quote by Dita Von Teese says “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be someone who hates peaches”. You don’t need to stop being a peach so someone will like you.
I had a client who was overly concerned with what other people thought of her life, her children, her choices, etc. She wasn’t having people over her house because she was concerned with how her grown children who still lived at home would behave. She was acting from a feeling of fear of judgment of herself and her children.
I offered her the following scenario – I have a group of women over my house and we are all sitting in the living room. My daughter comes home, passes quietly by the living room and goes downstairs to her bedroom without saying anything to the group. One woman might think “Wow I can’t believe how grownup she’s gotten”. Another woman might think “What a bitch! She didn’t even say hi”. Another might think “I love her color hair”. I might think “I wonder how her day was?”
In the Manage Your Mind Model, my daughter would be a neutral circumstance. Each woman who had an opinion about my daughter, including me, was having thoughts about her based on their beliefs and preferences. My daughter was just the object that they were having thoughts about. While everyone’s opinions may be interesting, none of them were personal towards me or my daughter.
What matters more than anything is your own opinion of you. The best investment you can make in your time and your money is in your thoughts about yourself. Learning to accept and love yourself removes the desire to take what other people say and do personally.
After working on her own limiting beliefs and her own judgments of others my client was able to care less about what she perceived others were thinking and more about what she was thinking. She had a group of women over her house, her grown children were there and she had a wonderful time managing her own mind.
How to stop
If taking things personally has been an issue for you I suggest being gentle with yourself. Changing the patterning in your brain takes a little work but it is so worth it!
When you find yourself taking something personally I suggest the following:
- Identify what happened but describe it in neutral language (ie, He didn’t call me on Monday at 7 pm)
- What are you making it mean? What thoughts do you have about the circumstance? (ie, He is taking me for granted)
- How does that thought make you feel? (ie, Annoyed)
- How is that thought serving you? (ie, It’s not serving me because I can see that the result will be an issue in our relationship and I care about him)
- Consider at least 2 other reasons that someone acted the way they did that has nothing to do with you (ie, He probably got super busy at work or We didn’t reconfirm the call so he may have forgotten)
- Notice how you feel when you think about these alternative thoughts (ie, compassionate, understanding)
When you take things personally you give your power away because you are choosing thoughts that make a neutral circumstance mean something about you. You create your negative emotions from these thoughts and perpetuate the pattern of being the victim of criticism and rejection.
Taking things personally and making someone’s words or actions mean something about you is how you reject yourself. By managing the thoughts you have about yourself and liking yourself more than anything, you can give people permission to not like you and to have their own opinions and preferences.
On the flipside, compliments are nice to receive but it’s important to realize that they also have everything to do with the giver’s thoughts and preferences. Of course it’s easier for you to have thoughts that create positive feelings when someone has said something nice about you but your feelings still have everything to do with what you are making the person’s words mean.
Whether it’s a compliment, criticism or constructive feedback, you don’t need to be everyone’s cup of tea when you learn how to stop taking things personally when it doesn’t serve you. You only need to like what’s in your cup and serve yourself more self-love. The people that like what you are serving are just waiting for you to open shop and be your authentic self.
- People’s opinions are formed by the many thoughts and preferences they’ve accumulated and stored in their minds
- When you are unsure about yourself then what other people say seems so relevant
- You don’t need to stop being a peach so someone will like you.
- The best investment you can make in your time and your money is in your thoughts about yourself
- By managing the thoughts you have about yourself and liking yourself more than anything, you can give people permission to not like you and to have their own opinions and preferences.
If you’d like some help to stop taking things personally, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.