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To Take or Not Take Things Personally


We’ve all experienced the ouch of “taking things personally,” but what does the term mean? I saw a movie decades ago where someone told someone else, “Well, don’t take it personally” and she responded, “I’m a person, so how can I not take it personally?” The fact is that we can avoid doing so and will benefit from ditching this reaction.

Taking things personally means being offended or upset by what someone says or does. However, we have a choice to not be offended or upset. We can avoid it by thickening our skin and giving a different meaning to what others say or do. As I’ve said a million times, just because someone says something to or about us—even if our name is attached—it’s about the speaker, the message sender, not us, the receiver.

If someone tells me I’m a bad person because I drink alcohol and will burn in hell for it, I’m not offended because I don’t believe in heaven and hell and think the person scolding me is ignorant and has questionable critical thinking skills. If a person puts me down for being old, Jewish or female, I feel similarly: that there’s something very wrong with them. Part of that something is that they’re highly judgmental, an unhealthy trait.

We can shift from being offended or upset to being detached by doing the following:

  • Consider the speaker. If I deem someone knowledgeable and mentally healthy, I give what they say more credence than someone I think poorly of. If the person is ignorant (willfully or not) or has emotional problems, I’m skeptical of caring what they say about or think about me. 
  • Weigh what’s said. If I value someone’s opinion, I’ll take in whatever they say and determine if it has merit. If my best friend told me I was doing a lousy job of taking care of myself, I’d listen right up. If a stranger said  it, especially if they seemed to have poor self-care, I’d let their comment go in one ear and out the other.
  • Discern if someone is projecting their own judgments onto me. If someone tells me I’m bad for eating ice cream because they feel bad about themselves when they do, I know their comment really isn’t about me, but about their irrational beliefs. Identifying projections is a great way of reducing feeling hurt.
  • Have compassion for judgy people because they’re judgy with themselves. When someone makes a judgment about me or others, it’s likely that they’re hard on themselves. I know what that feels like and how unproductive it is and feel bad for them. Plus, just because they’re judgy doesn’t mean they’re right.

Practice these strategies for not taking things personally and you’ll feel better about you.