How to stop taking things so personally
The other day, I was watching Iyanla Vanzant’s ‘Fix My Life’.
In this episode, she was helping a 19-year-old girl who had recently learned that the woman who raised her was not in fact her mother and had abducted her when she was just a few hours old.
She was torn between loving the only mother she had ever known, but having to accept that their entire relationship and her whole life had been based on a lie, and learning to love her biological mother, who she felt abandoned her and had never shown up for her.
For almost the duration of the show, she was mild-mannered, reserved, and unwilling to open up. But after being told that she’d be spending the night in a room alone with her thoughts with no telephone access to the family members she came with, her boyfriend and her biological father, she exploded with rage, cursing Vanzant, calling her horrible names.
But Vanzant took each name as it came, letting it roll off of her, even saying at one point “The names don’t bother me.”
This, along with a week full of incidents and interactions that deeply affected me or pushed me to overthink got me thinking, “Why do I take things so personally?”
The week before, my eldest sister, best known for calling it like it is, was listening to me tell a story. At the end, she saw me awaiting her reaction and bluntly said “That’s great, but I don’t really care.” Then she said something that really resonated with me, “It’s not about you. I care about you, I just don’t care about what you’re talking about.” While she had a point, I grappled with whether people who care about me should care about what I’m talking about. Maybe? But certainly not all the time. Right? Wrong?
The amount of questions I had indicated that I had a clear issue with taking things too personally. So I put together a few steps to help me navigate my way out of being offended for the next time something like this came up.
Put things into context
Who are you talking to? What is the nature of your relationship with them?
Asking these two questions can help you get situated and can even help guide a conversation. You’ll know whether talking about something is appropriate or not and you might be able to predict the type of response you’ll get. If I had asked these two questions, I might have been able to predict that my sister wouldn’t really care about what I was talking about, and could have saved myself both my breath and the embarrassment of being dismissed.
Separate your emotions
This is where I have the most difficulty. Being an emotional person, my feelings are involved in everything I do. I once heard a quote that read, “It is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so deeply.”
But separating your emotions benefits you because you’re a) not acting or speaking based off of how you feel, which may lead to regret and b) you have a clearer mind when your emotions aren’t involved.
No one’s asking you not to feel things, but the suggestion is that your feelings aren’t informing every single thing you say and do.
Be mindful of your time
The other day, I thought someone was avoiding me. So I spent 20 minutes checking social media to see if they had been active because they hadn’t replied to a text. I figured if I could find out that they were active on social media, I could prove that they were avoiding me.
What was the point of all that? Why spend valuable time trying to prove someone didn’t care to reply to a message? Why not just brush it off and move on?
These are the things that I (and all of the other overthinkers and people who take things too personally) need to wipe our hands of, the same way Iyanla Vanzant did with the attack in her show.
Don’t take social media too seriously
The fact that I even have to reiterate this is humiliating, but sometimes, I really do need the reminder. Anything from pictures of an event I wasn’t invited to, to a meme I might feel is directed at me can catch me at the wrong time and push me into a spiral of overthinking and sensitivity.
But “scrolling lightly” (a term I just coined as I was writing this) can help by allowing me to just take things at face value and refuse to accept the culture of submeanings (read: subposts and subtweets…if those are still a thing).
Pay attention to the people who do love and care about you
Growing up, I was always mistakenly chasing the love and affection of the relatives and friends who seemed to favour me the least, ignoring the relatives and friends who loved me for who I was.
This is a bad habit that, despite diminishing over time, still lingers to this day. But as I get older and somewhat wiser, I realize that the relationships that deserve more of my time and attention are the ones that I neglected growing up.
So take note of the people that call, text and visit to check up on you. The people who don't expect anything in return. The people who take interest and initiative.
Ultimately, none of us are immune to not taking things too personally. But it’s a hard skill to learn, and requires constant practice. So if you find that you, like me, are highly emotional and act out of sensitivity sometimes, take a step back, look at the big picture and see if any of these four things can help you!