1: You’re a social perfectionist
If you struggle with taking things personally, you’ve probably heard the standard advice:
- Just don’t let him get to you so much!
- Stop being so hard on yourself.
- I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it.
Or my personal favorite…
- You just need to learn to let things go.
And while I have no doubt that the people giving advice like this are well-intentioned, it misses the bigger point:
There are often powerful psychological reasons why we take things personally.
In my work as a psychologist, I help my clients to understand the core mechanisms behind their tendency to take things personally.
Because it’s only when you understand the tendency to take things personally that you can move past it for good.
- You’re a social perfectionist
Social perfectionism is when you can’t stand the thought of other people seeing your flaws or mistakes.
When you believe you have to be perfect in other people’s eyes, it drives you to constantly worry about what other people think of you. And when you’re in the habit of always worrying about what others think about you, taking things personally is almost inevitable.
But here’s the deal:
It’s okay to make mistakes. And more importantly, it’s okay to worry about what other people think of you.
We’re social creatures, after all. Our biggest advantage as a species is the fact that we can coordinate and work together with each other. And that ability depends on our capacity to imagine what other people are thinking and feeling, including about us. So it’s not surprising that we tend to care a lot about what others think of us!
The self-help industry has convinced us that we shouldn’t care at all what other people think… This is nonsense!
We’re fundamentally social creatures. Caring about what others think is part of the package.
The real problem social perfectionists get into is that they are too hard on themselves for worrying about what other people think.
If you want to care a little less about what others think and stop taking things so personally the trick is to be validating of your worries instead of judgmental.
When you find yourself wondering what other people think of you, simply remind yourself that it’s normal and okay to worry about this a little.
2. You use negative self-talk as motivation
Most of us grow up learning that the only way to be successful in life is to be tough on ourselves. And inevitably, this leads to a subtle but powerful habit of negative self-talk.
Like the drill sergeant hurling insults at his new recruits in order to “make men out of them,” many of us adopt a similar attitude toward ourselves…
Being harsh and judgmental with yourself actually decreases performance.
But worse than that, it can lead to a life-long habit of negative self-talk and all the side-effects that go with it — from anxiety and low self-esteem to… yup, you guessed it: taking things too personally.
When someone criticizes you or gives you difficult feedback, a strong habit of negative self-talk can easily hijack your thinking. Instead of considering the mistake as an isolated incident, you end up making very extreme or black and white interpretations to yourself:
- Instead of I need to work harder at this aspect of my work we tell ourselves I’m a loser.
- Instead of He’s disappointed in my work we slip into He’s disappointed in me.
If you want to stop taking things personally don’t generalize a mistake in behavior to a flaw in character.
True freedom from taking things personally comes from removing the habit of negative self-talk altogether — from learning that you don’t actually need to be hard on yourself in order to stay motivated and succeed.
Techniques like cognitive restructuring and self-compassion can help you end the habit of negative self-talk, and as a result, stop taking things personally.
3. You’re afraid to be proud of yourself
Ah, pride… Everyone’s favorite sin!
In part, because of Western culture’s Christian heritage, many people grow up believing that pride is bad, or sinful even. After all, that’s why Lucifer got thrown out of heaven and why Adam and Eve got expelled from Paradise, right? Thinking too much of themselves?
Actually I’m not so sure… Now, I’m no theologian (just a humble psychologist) but I think technically the sin of pride comes when you put yourself above other people — thinking that you’re better than someone else.
But simply acknowledging your own strengths, goodness, and virtues… I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing!
And while I can’t speak to the spiritual side of things, psychologically it’s actually very beneficial to have a healthy sense of pride in yourself.
So how does this relate to taking things personally?
Taking things personally often means you value other people’s opinions too much and your own not enough
Suppose your spouse makes a sarcastic or rude comment about you. If you’re in the habit of always telling yourself that other people are smart and capable but you’re dumb and weak, your chances of believing your spouse’s comment and internalizing it go way up.
On the other hand, if you have a healthy sense of pride — if you regularly remind yourself of your strengths and positive qualities — it’s going to be much easier to say to yourself Wait a second, that’s not true at all. I’m actually very conscientious and hard-working and almost never lazy. And as a result, not take what your spouse said too seriously or personally.
A healthy sense of pride is a powerful defense against unjust criticism and taking things personally.
Make a little time to remind yourself of your positive and admirable qualities and you’ll find it a lot easier to confidently resist unfair criticism and critiques.
All You Need to Know
In order to stop taking things personally, you need to understand the real reasons why you do it. Only then can you work to undo the habits keeping you stuck:
You’re a social perfectionist
You use negative self-talk as motivation
You’re afraid to be proud of yourself
Thanks for reading.