In most cases you can’t calm the storm. What you can do is calm yourself, and the storm will gradually pass. So do your best to breathe when negativity surrounds you and you’re feeling flustered. Let calmness be your 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.
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 taking 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:
Wake-Up Calls for Those Tough Days
Like you, I’m only human and so I sometimes take things too personally when I’m in the heat of the moment. To combat this 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 too personally. Anytime I catch myself doing so, I pause and read a few of the following reminders — my little self-initiated wake-up calls. Then I take a few 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.
- Calmness is indeed a superpower. The ability to not overreact or take things too personally keeps your mind clear and at peace, which gives you the upper hand by putting you back in control of your response.
- 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. (Note: 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.
Strategies for Dealing with Really Difficult People
Some of the points 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 calming ourselves with the little reminders and wake-up calls above?
- 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 more 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 the little wake-up calls above too. Then breathe 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.
Before you go, please leave Marc and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Which one of the points above resonated the most today?
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Photo by: Bless Her Heart