Ever have one of those days when everything is going perfectly fine…until someone makes a comment that completely derails you? Maybe it’s something in the tone of voice or a funny look – and you just can’t shake it off. What is that supposed to mean? Did I do something wrong? What’s her problem, anyway?
Before you know it, a quick encounter unfolds into a major incident in your mind. You feel wronged. You’re consumed by a sense of injustice. And you’re taking it very personally.
That level of response might occasionally motivate (Oh yeah? I’ll show them!), but it’s also deflating. It sucks up our energy, and it gets us stuck dwelling on the downsides. We focus on feeling mistreated, and it can sour a relationship. If we obsess over the wrongdoing, our general outlook can become negative, which pushes people away. We also lose the time and attention we’d put toward more constructive efforts – because we’re letting the little things get the best of us.
In those moments, it helps to pause and ask, Is this really about me? What else might be going on? That simple zoom-out in perspective can keep us from taking things too much to heart. It helps us detach emotionally. We notice patterns and anomalies in what’s happening. The smallness of the small stuff becomes clear.
And the payoff is huge: Our zoomed-out perspective lets us walk around a situation and see it from new angles. We empathize better and can better imagine why someone might behave a certain way. We find opportunities in what might seem like failures. We look at upsets in context and do more than just react. We gain more peace of mind.
To show you what we mean, we’ve played out the ups and downs of taking things too personally in everyday situations. If any feel like potential sore spots for you, try our suggestions for zooming out and adjusting your point of view.
IT FEELS LIKE YOU’RE GETTING SHOWN UP
• Taking it personally: Oh, of course she has a better idea for things to see and places to go. I was just trying to make a suggestion for the group dinner. She always has to prove how she knows more than I do.
• Zooming out: Whether it’s a chip on your shoulder or a monkey on your back, we each have our own trigger issues. Identifying what pushes our buttons helps us remember to let some of it slide, because what’s happened in the past isn’t necessarily what’s going on now.
• Readjusting your view: This is such a pet peeve of mine – and it always makes me mad! It’s like how my sister always used to overcorrect me in front of our parents. It’s annoying, but I’m probably overreacting.
IT FEELS LIKE YOU’VE BEEN BETRAYED
• Taking it personally: He said he liked that band, but now he’s making fun of them in front of everyone. He knows I’m supposed to go see them next week. Is he trying to make fun of me?
• Zooming out: It’s normal to feel uneasy when your assumptions are suddenly out of sync with reality. There might be something to it, or there might not – but spinning your wheels to guess at it will definitely get you bent out of shape. Instead, step back and imagine what might have transpired to change things. This kind of empathy can ease the emotional impact.
• Readjusting your view: I don’t get it. Maybe he’s trying to fit in? That band rocks, so I guess it doesn’t really matter what he thinks. Whatever. I can ask him about it some other time.
IT FEELS LIKE YOU’RE BEING SNUBBED
• Taking it personally: She totally ignored me when I said hello in the hallway earlier. And she even sped up as she went by. What’s with the cold shoulder? Did I do something to make her mad?
• Zooming out: People make careless mistakes all the time. Often without realizing it. Often in ways that really don’t register as important to them. We choose what to give meaning to in our lives – so don’t sweat the small stuff, and don’t fall down the rabbit hole over-analyzing it.
• Readjusting your view: That was weird. I don’t know how she couldn’t have seen me, but I guess it’s possible. Maybe she was distracted. Or in a rush. Oh well, it was just in passing. No big deal.
IT FEELS LIKE YOU’RE GETTING A PUT-DOWN
• Taking it personally: That draft took me all week to write, and he barely took an hour to slash through most of it. It seems so harsh. Does he really think I’m such a lost cause?
• Zooming out: Oof, tough feedback. It’s hard not to take a critique of something we’ve done as a critique of who we are. But in most cases, people aren’t going out of their way to make us feel bad. While it takes some mental effort, hear the feedback as an opportunity to learn how to do it better next time rather than a statement about what’s wrong with you. (That said, this is a very common sticking point. If you want extra help, check out our tips on how to take the fear out of feedback.)
• Readjusting your view: Yikes. This isn’t exactly encouraging. I’m not sure where it went wrong. But I know he’s editing this because he wants to make it better. I need to try to think about it that way.
IT FEELS LIKE YOU’RE UNDER ATTACK
• Taking it personally: I don’t understand why my boss has to snap at me all the time. It’s like I can’t do anything right. She takes everything out on me – it’s not fair!
• Zooming out: Sometimes it’s not you – it’s them. And while they may be the ones making it personal, they are out of your control. When you’re trapped with bad behavior, you have two choices. You can choose to engage in some way and brace yourself for some potential ugliness. Or you can choose to focus on what you can do to make your situation better.
• Readjusting your view: This is crazy. There’s got to be something else going on. I hope it passes. Or if this is who she really is, I need to figure out how I can make it work…or hatch a plan to move on.