Taking things personally turns your life into a living hell. Your relationships suck. You fail to live up to your potential. You are consumed with constant worry and anxiety.
Not taking things personally, on the other hand, is a superpower. As it is with all other superpowers, it doesn’t come easily and accidentally. You must cultivate it by conscious action supplemented with the right mindset.
Since taking things personally is rather a symptom than a problem, platitudes such as “just let go” or the like won’t work. Eliminating the symptom won’t make the problem go away.
In order to get to the bottom of the problem, we’ll first look at how taking things personally ruins your life, and then we’ll explore the strategies to stop taking things personally.
How Taking Things Personally Ruins Your Relationships
Relationships are where the detriments of taking things personally are the most obvious.
Your sensitivity makes other people walk in eggshells around you in order not to offend you. Since this is an impossible task as you’re offended by unintentional “offenses” as well, other people will start to avoid you.
For example, you take it personally if someone doesn’t greet you back, or doesn’t immediately reply to your text message, or ignores you in general.
You become spiteful. You hate people who “wronged” you. You go around “punishing” people for the “crime” of making you feel bad about yourself. If you keep taking things personally, there soon will be no one left around you who hasn’t wronged you at some point.
Not only will your relationships with your loved ones deteriorate, but you’ll also miss out on potential relationships as well because taking things personally narrows the pool of your potential relationships down to people who agree with you.
Complete strangers will have power over you because you’ll get mad at random people you encounter in your daily life for failing to be nice to you or not treating you with the respect you “deserve”.
You’ll also be vulnerable to the malice of manipulative people who notice your tendency to take things personally and exploit it for their personal gain at your expense.
How Taking Things Personally Sets You Up For Losing In Life
Taking Your Problems Personally Destroys Your Ability To Solve Them
Problems are inevitable parts of life. Everyone has them. How far you make it in life is decided not by whether you have problems or not but by your ability to solve them.
If you take things personally, you take your problems personally as well. You treat your problems as if they are unique — as if you are the only one in the world who has that particular problem. You end up wasting your time feeling sorry for yourself instead of looking for solutions.
If you didn’t take your problem personally, you would probably notice that millions of other people had the exact same problem, some of these people solved it and shared their solution with the world by writing books or by other means of communication.
Taking your problems personally is also a symptom of a fixed mindset where you think your personality, talents, and skills are set in stone. If you can’t solve your problems with your current abilities then you feel out of luck. Again, you end up feeling sorry for yourself or even hating yourself and your problem remains unsolved.
Your Inability To Deal With Failure, Rejection, And Criticism Prevents You From Getting Ahead In Life
If you take failure, rejection, and criticism personally, your primary strategy is to avoid them as much as you can.
You don’t take risks. You go for the low-hanging fruit. You avoid sharing your work with the world for the fear of criticism. You become a defeatist. You either give up easily or you don’t bother trying at all.
However, no matter how hard you try to escape them, failure, rejection, and criticism are parts of life and they’ll inevitably happen to you. Taking them personally leads to either beating yourself up for failing or hating people who reject or criticize you.
In either case, you lose the opportunity to learn from your failures, rejections, and the constructive criticism offered by good people around you.
Successful people face more failures, rejections, and criticism than everyone else. They are not only not fazed by them, but they also grow by the lessons they learn from them.
Taking Things Personally Makes You Worried And Anxious
Your boss has been ignoring you at work and you took it personally. You are now worried that you might get fired soon.
Your significant other is distant nowadays so you are anxious you might soon get dumped.
In reality, your boss could be going through a rough patch in life and your significant other might be busy fretting over their own problems. Taking things personally prevents you from realizing that not everything in life is about you.
Constant worry and anxiety wreak havoc on your well-being and productivity.
Taking Things Personally Stunts Your Intellectual Growth
Unless you’re not a rare genius, you don’t get life figured out at the age of 18. In fact, there’s a good chance you never get life figured out even if you’re a rare genius.
If you tend to take things personally, you’ll also take it personally when someone disagrees with your worldview which in turn leads to an inability to expand your knowledge.
By only listening to people who already agree with you, you’ll lose access to differing opinions which massively stunts your intellectual growth because you don’t learn much from people you agree with. You learn from those you disagree with.
An inability to expand your knowledge is detrimental, especially in this age of information we live in. Since intellectual growth precedes actual growth, you’ll stagnate instead of growing.
Why You Take Things Personally
Basically, everything related to taking things personally boils down to your ego.
Many psychologists, writers, thinkers, philosophers (including religious philosophers) throughout history have been more or less aware that there is a problem related to the ego but the solutions they came up with have often been misguided. Hence, you hear a lot about the benefits of killing your ego.
I don’t know if killing the ego is possible but luckily it’s not necessary. While the ego is the center of the problem, it’s not the problem itself.
Taking things personally stems from a weak ego. The solution is to cultivate a strong ego. If you have weak arms, the solution is not to chop off your arms. It’s to develop strong arms. While the domains are different, the analogy stands. The solution to a weak ego is not to kill it but to strengthen it.
When you were a kid, a weak ego in tandem with your childish solipsism served you well. You felt as if the world revolved around you because that was necessary for your survival. You couldn’t afford to question whether you deserved what you asked of your parents or caretakers. You had an obligation to feel entitled to being taken care of because you would simply die if adults didn’t take care of your needs. You took failure, rejection, and criticism personally because you had no personal power. Your survival depended entirely on other people. Pissing off the people who took care of you could be a matter of life and death because you were unable to fend for yourself.
When you grow up to be an adult, you no longer lack personal power. Technically, you have the power to fend for yourself but that only happens if your mental development is on par with your physical development. On average, everyone more or less completes their physical development at around the age of 18 but the mental development of most modern people remains incomplete. Unless mental strength is attended to and cultivated you’ll remain mentally weak which is the case for most modern people.
Mental weakness leads to a weak ego. A weak ego is a fragile ego. A fragile ego is easily broken. Failures and rejections become unbearable. Criticism becomes your nightmare. You perceive them as personal attacks. You avoid failure and you hate those who reject or criticize you even when none of them are personal.
Failure, rejection, and criticism are parts of life. You can’t avoid them but you can change your attitude towards them. People with a strong ego have a robust sense of self-worth. They are able to assess failure, rejection, and criticism objectively. Failure becomes wisdom and rejection becomes a badge of honor. They set strong boundaries and won’t tolerate manipulative behavior which often comes in the form of praise rather than criticism. They embrace constructive criticism coming from the people they trust.
It’s the mark of an immature person to fail and never get the lesson because immature people take failure personally. They conclude that something must be inherently wrong with them, preventing them from succeeding. They end up never trying again, in an attempt to protect their fragile egos. Rejection and criticism are fatal blows to their ego. They’re to be avoided at all costs.
In order to stop taking things personally, your goal is to develop a strong ego capable of weathering the storms, turmoils, and hardships of a brutal world where there are no longer parents or caretakers to solve your problems or protect you from the evils of the world.
This kind of inner strength doesn’t come naturally so you must cultivate it with the appropriate actions supported by a growth mindset. A thick skin doesn’t magically grow by itself. It’s grown by disciplined action.
How Not To Take Things Personally
1. Take Full Responsibility For Your Life
If taking things personally is related to a weak ego and the accompanying childish solipsism, the only way to cure it is to become an adult.
Unfortunately, not everyone who makes it to legal adult age is an adult. Most modern people are children in an adult’s body.
The defining trait of adulthood is not age but responsibility. You are an adult to the degree to which you take responsibility for your life.
Kids are powerless because they are incapable of taking full responsibility for their lives. They die if adults don’t take care of them. The power of adulthood comes from your ability to take full responsibility for your life and fend for yourself.
When there are no longer adults to insulate you from the evils of the world, you must develop the strength to face them by yourself. Life is not all sunshine and rainbows. It’s hard. Obstacles, mistakes, failures, embarrassments, competition, risks, rejections, and criticism are included in the package. In fact, these are the parts of life that build strength and character.
Ironically, the greatest way to stop taking things personally is to take everything personally, but by taking responsibility not by evading it.
Taking full responsibility for your life involves taking responsibility for all of your problems including the ones that are not your fault. Think of it like this: Would you solve your child’s problem even if it’s not their fault? Of course you would. Problem is a problem regardless. If it’s your problem it’s your responsibility to fix it.
Take intelligent risks and fail. Stop fearing rejection. Put your work out for the world to see and brace yourself against criticism. Each failure, rejection, and criticism you endure adds a layer to your skin. This is how you grow thicker skin.
Not taking things personally is a superpower. Superpowers aren’t developed in your comfort zone. They’re forged through a disciplined effort which also saves you from stress, anxiety, and depression.
2. Embrace Criticism
I’ve been running this website for more than 4 years so I should know a thing or two about facing criticism when you put your work out for the world to evaluate. I’m no stranger to criticism in my private life either. I’m not necessarily encouraging people to criticize me but it happens regardless. As long as you produce, hell, as long as you interact with other people, you’ll face criticism.
A fragile ego crumbles in the face of criticism. A strong ego enables you to objectively evaluate the criticism thrown in your way. You can shrug it off if it’s coming from an envious hater but criticism is worth its weight in gold if it’s coming from someone you trust.
In fact, flattery is more dangerous than criticism because the smartest of malevolent manipulators know not to disqualify themselves quickly by offering criticism. The gut response of most people is to double down in the face of criticism so a smart manipulator manipulates through flattery.
3. Divorce Your Self-Worth From Your Imperfectness
Part of the reason why people take things personally is that they treat failure, rejection, and criticism as their imperfections are exposed.
Perfection is an unrealistic expectation. No matter how much you improve yourself, you’ll always be light-years away from perfection and that’s fine. You are flawed and it’s ok. Everyone is.
In fact, since our genetic makeup is incompatible with modern living, all modern humans are born with serious flaws. You have cognitive biases that cause you to behave irrationally and your physical makeup isn’t compatible with modern living.
How far you make it in life is decided not by whether you’re flawed (which is certain) but to the degree to which you are able to adapt to modern living despite your flaws. Evolution operates by weeding out those who fail to adapt. The better you adapt the further you’ll get ahead.
Fret not but be grateful when your flaws are exposed. If a serious flaw that you didn’t know of is exposed, you can fix it. Otherwise, it will keep hurting you without you knowing where exactly you are making a mistake.
An awareness of your flaws accompanied by a strong ego leads to developing the courage to fail. “I failed because I am a loser” becomes “I failed because I tried. I am proud of myself for trying. Next time I’ll do better making use of the lessons I learned.”
4. Accept Humans As They Are
Humans are governed by self-interest. Everyone has a strategy to get what they want out of life. Whether their strategies work or not is irrelevant. They want to win and they don’t care if their victory comes at your expense. Such is human nature.
The more you recognize humans for what they are, the likelier you’ll stop caring what they think of you. Other people have power over you only to the degree that you allow them. Caring for what they think of you is giving them power over you. Most people don’t deserve that power. Your job is to make yourself powerful, not to make other people powerful.
Some people are rude, some lack social skills, some are toxic, etc. It’s not your responsibility to straighten everybody out. Spotting low-value people and kicking them out of your life is a more efficient strategy. Taking full responsibility for your life pays handsomely in this respect as well because the more responsibility you take for your life, the better people you’ll attract into your life.
5. Develop A Flexible Worldview
Most people develop a worldview at an early age and run with it until they die. They take it personally whenever their worldview is challenged. The funny thing is, their worldview is usually not something they formed on their own. It’s indoctrination.
A fixed worldview hurts you more than it hurts anyone else. Develop a flexible worldview and you’ll not only be able to adjust it according to your needs in the light of new information but you’ll also be open to other opinions and not be offended by them. In fact, listening to alternative opinions is a great way to update your worldview to a better version.
Being open to listening to alternative opinions also makes it possible to evaluate them objectively without getting your emotions involved. When you are rational, irrational opinions lose their power over you.
6. Never Stop Improving Yourself
As we’ve already talked about, you’ll never be perfect and that’s fine. That’s actually great news because it means that there’s always room for improvement so you never need to be stuck in an unpleasant station in life.
Taking things personally is highly correlated to a lack of confidence. The more you improve yourself, the more your confidence will grow. The more confident you are the less you’ll take things personally.
People with a strong ego never stop improving themselves because it’s the only rational course of action.
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