For the Recorder
Published: 12/2/2022 3:17:53 PM
Your partner or friend is giving you that look again; or they are telling you what’s “wrong” with you. Is it possible to not take it personally? Isn’t it only natural to take it to heart and feel hurt, offended or upset? My answer is both “yes” and “no.”
We are social creatures. We need to connect with other people to grow, enjoy life, experience love, friendship and so much more. It isn’t surprising that we find ourselves caring about what others think of us. As human beings, we thrive on kindness. We are vulnerable to feeling an “ouch” when a negative remark, look or behavior seems directed at us. When we hear disapproval, criticism or judgment, it can hurt. It’s pretty personal when it has to do with ourselves, right?
Words of wisdom
Eleanor Roosevelt’s powerful words shed light on this issue: “No one can take away our self-esteem without our consent.” We can choose not to adopt another person’s negative view of us if they say mean things, roll their eyes, slam the door or yell. We can take control of how much we let that “ouch” affect us.
The emotional cost
When we believe that someone’s words or behavior is about us, and not them, we often let the situation get to us and have a hard time letting it go. We can get caught up in believing the negative messages being told to us, when they are not actually true. This can damage our self-esteem as we experience more self-doubt, depression or anxiety. Truly though, no one can define our self-worth. That’s our own inside job.
Tips for not taking it personally
Step back and pause
When we take something personally, we often react by getting defensive, saying mean things back, or shutting down. These “coping strategies” may help us feel better in the moment, but they do not help; they just make things worse.
Instead, you can pause, take a few breaths and calm yourself to gain some perspective. It’s easy to allow a negative “story” in your head to take over (“I must be too selfish, needy, emotional … ”) as the “truth.” Stepping back enables you to interrupt any automatic reaction that you fall into that does not serve you well.
It’s more about them than about you
The other person may be reacting out of their own past hurts from childhood, or past relationships that have nothing to do with you. Perhaps the communication modeled in their family-of-origin was such that feelings, needs, and distress were only expressed in critical, unhealthy ways. It’s also possible that the other person is stressed, exhausted or in physical pain, and not able to bring their best self forward at that time.
Let go of self-blame
What does your “self-talk” sound like? Are you a “people pleaser” because you need others’ approval to feel okay about yourself? Do you let others control how you feel about yourself, or are you firmly rooted in your own positive self-regard? For example, if you are driving and miss your exit, are you self-critical, telling yourself “I can’t believe how stupid I was for missing the exit?” Or do you think “I don’t like that I drove past my exit just now, but I can accept that we all make mistakes?”
Not everyone is going to like you
When you know and like who you are, you can accept that some people might not like you. If you do worry too much about others’ views of you, it is likely a sign that you need to shore up your self-esteem. If this is true for you, you are certainly not alone.
Accept that we are all imperfect
Being human, you will inevitably make mistakes. You may say or do things you later regret, perhaps after realizing someone has had a negative reaction to you. If you believe that you are never allowed to “mess up,” it is a set-up for harsh self-criticism. By letting go of perfectionism, you can see yourself in a more realistic light and accept all of you – flaws and all.
An example of not taking things personally
Anna is being yelled at by her partner, who is saying that she is a selfish, uncaring person. She knows herself well and so she knows this is not true. She realizes that her partner is probably saying those things out of their own emotional pain and is also not good at expressing needs in a direct and kind way. She can let her partner know that it is not acceptable to yell and label her, and that she is available to address any feelings and needs underlying her partner’s criticism when both are in a calmer state of mind.
But what if it really is about me?
There is a difference between constructive feedback and harsh criticism. Our partner, friend, coworker or relative may react to us negatively, and want to let us know how they were affected by our words or behavior. If they are able to responsibly and kindly let us know, this can be helpful information for us. But if they are spewing blatant criticism at us, that will not help us or the relationship. For example: You are driving over the speed limit, and your passenger is feeling nervous. How would you feel if they told you “I am feeling nervous at how fast you are driving right now” instead of “I can’t believe what a reckless driver you are!” If they choose the first way, you are more likely to respond in a way that will help them feel safer, instead of getting defensive or angry.
It’s about your relationship with yourself
Our relationship with ourselves is the longest and most important one we will ever have. It is worth taking seriously. If you struggle with self-esteem and would like to treat yourself with more self-acceptance and kindness, my next column addresses how. As always, I’m cheering you on!
Next column: A special relationship: The one with yourself
Amy Newshore is a couples therapist/coach who earned her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Antioch New England University and went on to train in the Developmental Model for Couples Therapy along with NonViolent Communication which serve as the foundation of her work as a Relationship Coach. For more information visit her website at www.coachingbyamy.com.