In most cases you can’t calm the storm. What you can do is calm yourself, and the storm will gradually pass. So breathe when stress or negativity surrounds you today. Let calmness be your superpower. The ability to not overreact or take things personally always gives you the upper hand.
Remind yourself that people are hard to be around when they believe everything happening around them is a direct assault on them, or is in some way all about them. Don’t fall into this trap. What people say and do to you is much more about them, than you. People’s reactions to you are about their perspectives, wounds, and experiences. Whether people think you’re amazing or believe you’re the worst, again, is more about the storms they are going through and how they view the world.
Now, I’m not suggesting we should be self-indulged narcissists and ignore all the opinions and commentary we receive from others. I’m simply saying that incredible amounts of hurt, disappointment, and sadness in our lives come directly from our tendency to take things too personally. In most cases it’s far more productive and healthy to let go of other people’s good or bad opinions of you, and to operate with your own intuition and wisdom as your guide.
The underlying key is to…
Watch Your Response
When something stressful happens in a social situation, what’s your response?
Some people jump right into action, but oftentimes this immediate action can be harmful. Others get angry or sad. Still others start to feel sorry for themselves — perhaps victimized — and left thinking: “Why can’t people behave better?” Although enforcing your boundaries is important, again, on an average day rash responses like these are rarely healthy or helpful.
The bottom line is you’re not alone if you struggle with taking things too personally. We all make this mistake sometimes. If someone does something we disagree with, we tend to interpret it as a personal attack…
- Our children don’t clean their rooms? They are purposely defying us!
- Our significant other doesn’t show affection? They must not care about us!
- Our boss acts inconsiderately? They must hate us!
- Someone hurts us? Everyone must be out to get us!
Some people even think life itself is personally against them. But the truth is, almost nothing in life is personal — things happen, or they don’t, and it’s rarely all about anyone specifically.
People have emotional issues they’re dealing with, and it makes them defiant, rude, and thoughtless sometimes. They are doing the best they can, or they’re not even aware of their issues. In any case, you can learn not to interpret their behaviors as personal attacks, and instead see them as non-personal encounters (like a dog barking in the distance, or a bumblebee buzzing by) that you can either respond to with a calm mindset, or not respond to at all.
Here’s what you need to remember…
Calming Quotes for NOT Taking Things Personally
Like you, I’m only human, and I sometimes still take things personally when I’m in the heat of the moment. So I’ve implemented a simple strategy to support the practice of watching my response. In a nutshell, I proactively remind myself NOT to take things personally. Anytime I catch myself doing so, I pause and read a few of the following quotes — my little notes to self — to myself. Then I take some fresh deep breaths…
- You may not be able to control all the things people say and do to you, but you can decide not to be continuously distracted by them today.
- You can’t take things too personally, even if it seems personal. Rarely do people do things because of you; they do things because of them.
- Remember, calmness is a superpower. The ability to not overreact or take things too personally keeps your mind clear and your heart at peace, which ultimately gives you the upper hand.
- There truly is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you detach from other people’s beliefs and behaviors. The way people treat you is their problem, how you react is yours. (Marc and I discuss this further in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Being kind to someone you dislike doesn’t mean you’re fake. It means you’re mature enough to control your emotions. So be kind, and remind yourself that people are generally kinder when they are happier, which says a whole lot about the people you meet who aren’t so kind to you.
- All the hardest and coldest people you meet were once as soft as a baby, and that’s the tragedy of living. So when people are rude, be mindful, be your best. Give those around you the “break” that you hope the world will give you on your own “bad day.”
- In the end, life is too short to constantly argue and fight. Count your blessings, value those who matter, and move on from the drama with your head held high. The strongest sign of your growth is knowing you’re no longer stressed by the trivial things that once used to drain you.
Afterthoughts on Dealing with Offensive People
Some of the quotes above potentially require a willingness to cordially deal with people who yell at us, interrupt us, cut us off in traffic, talk about terribly distasteful things, etc. These people violate the way we think people should behave. And sometimes their behavior deeply offends us.
But if we let these people get to us, again and again, we will be upset and offended far too often.
So what else can we do beyond reading calming quotes and reminders to ourselves?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but here are three general strategies Marc and I often recommend to our coaching clients and course students:
- Be bigger, think bigger. — Imagine a two-year-old who doesn’t get what she wants at the moment. She throws a temper tantrum! This small momentary problem is enormous in her little mind because she lacks perspective on the situation. But as adults, we know better. We realize that there are dozens of other things this 2-year-old could do to be happier. Sure, that’s easy for us to say — we have a bigger perspective, right? But when someone offends us, we suddenly have a little perspective again — this small momentary offense seems enormous, and it makes us want to scream! We throw the equivalent of a two-year-old’s temper tantrum. However, if we think bigger we can see that this small thing matters very little in the grand scheme of things. It’s not worth our energy. So always remind yourself to be bigger, think bigger, and broaden your perspective.
- Mentally hug them and wish them better days. — This little trick can positively change the way we see people who offend us. Let’s say someone has just said something unpleasant to us. How dare they! Who do they think they are? They have no consideration for our feelings! But of course, with a heated reaction like this, we’re not having any consideration for their feelings either — they may be suffering inside in unimaginable ways. By remembering this, we can try to show them empathy, and realize that their behavior is likely driven by some kind of inner pain. They are being unpleasant as a coping mechanism for their pain. And so, mentally, we can give them a hug. We can have compassion for this broken person, because we all have been broken and in pain at some point too. We’re the same in many ways. Sometimes we need a hug, some extra compassion, and a little unexpected love.
- Proactively establish healthy and reasonable boundaries. — Practice becoming aware of your feelings and needs. Note the times and circumstances when you’re resentful of fulfilling someone else’s needs. Gradually build boundaries by saying no to gratuitous requests that cause resentfulness in you. Of course, this will be hard at first because it may feel a bit selfish. But if you’ve ever flown on a plane, you know that flight attendants instruct passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before tending to others, even their own children. Why? Because you cannot help others if you’re incapacitated. In the long run, proactively establishing and enforcing healthy and reasonable boundaries with difficult people will be one of the most charitable things you can do for yourself and those you care about. These boundaries will foster and preserve the best of you, so you can share the best of yourself with the people who matter most, not just the difficult ones who try to keep you tied up.
Try one of these strategies next time you begin to notice that someone is getting under your skin. And re-read a few of the quotes above too. Then smile in serenity, armed with the comforting knowledge that there’s no reason to let someone else’s behavior turn you into someone you aren’t.
How has “taking things personally” affected your life and relationships? Do you have any additional thoughts or insights to share? Marc and I would love to hear from YOU. Please leave a reply below.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Photo by: Bless Her Heart
Nanette Miranda says
From all the emails and articles you’ve writen over the years, Marc and Angel, you really make a difference in this world. Thank You I too will be careful of not taking things personally. I will try not to react as that usually makes things worse……especially in my large family with most having dominant characters with strong opinions.
Thank You both for your emails and good advice.
All the Best,
Kelly Whitcomb says
There’s no doubt about it — taking things personally has made me miserable in the past, and stifled my growth. I’ve learned the hard way that we all need to let go of negativity around us AND the negativity directed at us. Terribly tough to do sometimes, but unbelievably liberating! When we are continuously running on a treadmill of stubbornness about how we “expect” to be treated or how others “should” behave, we are prisoners to the beliefs and behaviors of others. Your happiness course and emails have been helping me let go of my ideals and refocus on improving my attitude and responses. It has been a gradual process, but I’m seeing the benefits very clearly. Thank you for all the personal guidance.
Again, one of your emails arrives in my inbox at the moment I needed to read it. Thank you.
With all the disheartening gun violence and political turmoil occurring in the US and around the world right now, this post really struck a chord with me, because it often comes down to people taking things personally and reacting violently on impulse.
Also, you reminded me of a related quote from your book that I copied into the notes on my iPhone recently, to remind myself not to take things personally and to not judge others, even when they are being unruly:
“Do your best not to judge others, for you do not know their pain or sorrows. If you can’t speak a kind word, say nothing at all. And if they can’t speak a kind word, say nothing at all.”
Tracy B. says
A recent friend told me I needed to ‘listen’ more. I thought long and hard about what she said, realised I can sometimes be a bit of a chatterbox and was quite honestly mortified. I thought maybe others felt the same but hadn’t wanted to say anything. When this friend and I are together, I listen to her financial woes, relationship problems and concerns about her family’s health issues. I walk in silence while she makes phone call after phone call to friends, work associates and potential clients.. On Monday morning, I told her I’d heard that a dear and lifelong friend had died suddenly in a tragic accident and how shocked and saddened I was. She didn’t hear, she didn’t ‘listen’. She just carried on talking about her own issues. Later that day, she phoned me so I mentioned his death again (really I just wanted to test if she’d even heard my bad news the first time around). Again, she acted like I hadn’t spoken the words and carried on talking about her own life. Your article has made me realise that her instruction to me to ‘listen more’ was more about her than me.
I have learned not to react and that it is better to respond when I am dealing with argumentative and defensive people. I have someone in my life that likes to push buttons and make snide remarks and when I don’t react and keep calm, I hear “I’m only playing with you”. So, then I ask “how is it working for you?” and then they tell me to “lighten up”. Now that I have learned not to engage in this behavior, I do feel happier. I try to focus on their good qualities, and I do not engage with them when they are trying to get a rise out of me. I just want to be happy and so when appropriate I laugh and when I feel like I’m being played with, I have learned to smile and remember that I want to be happy. We are all raised differently, and I was raised in a home where if you didn’t have anything nice to say you didn’t say anything, and they were raised in a family that is argumentative and defensive, so I ask for grace and patience when I need it.
I get panic attacks around people that seem to want to jump in my space, so I avoid crowds and too many people. Sometimes Facebook sends me spinning, too many stories and demands from people I generally know/consider friends. My daughter taught me to say “not my pony, not my rodeo to push their input and any negative internal thoughts. It helps thanks for all you create and share. It is right on target,
Your emails always comes at the right time. Thank you so much, since I found your blog and subscribed to your emails I’m noticing difference in how I handle my emotions, face life, deal with people and circumstances.
I’m able to catch myself when reacting instead of responding, I’m learning to set boundaries as well and try not to take things personally
Thanks guys, keep up the good work
Melanie Schadewald says
Thank you for this article. Ever since I was a child I’ve been told that I was “too sensitive.”, and I someone felt a sense of shame hearing that. As an adult, I think I unconsciously re-enacted this belief by taking things personally. I realize how this has damaged my sense of self-esteem, and caused me unnecessary pain in my life. Your article brings to light something so vital for people to understand: that to NOT take things personal is a way to take full responsibility for YOUR thoughts, actions; and consequences. A good friend recently said to me , “What others think about me is none of my business.”. I loved it! Your tip on having compassion for where people may be if they act inappropriately at times reminded me that in order to do that, I need to have compassion and forgiveness for myself first. This all takes consciousness, presence, and intention- but for me, so worth the effort!
Randolph Joseph says
Thanks for your great article. I learned so much. I automatically react when someone say unpleasant things to me.l always get into heated arguments. But now that I learned that they are just expressing the way that they feel about themselves, I have a different perspective. Very helpful. Thanks again.