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How To Stop Taking Things Personally

Everyone’s feelings get hurt from time to time.

But are certain people more likely to take things personally? And how do you reset when you do?

First, it’s important to understand sensitivity.

What is sensitivity?

We often say someone is “sensitive” when describing qualities that can be positive or negative depending upon the situation.

  • Positive: A sensitive person is empathetic, thoughtful or compassionate. For example: “You showed your sensitive side today when you were reading to the kids.”
  • Negative: A sensitive person is overly emotional, weak or delicate. For example: “I feel like I can’t tell you the truth because you’re too sensitive.”

While it’s largely society that assigns positive or negative judgments to our actions, there is a scientific aspect to sensitivity, and it starts with “Highly Sensitive People,” or HSPs.

Who are “Highly Sensitive People?”

If you are part of the 20% of people who are considered highly sensitive, your brain is wired so that you may be:

  • More sensitive to pain, caffeine and hunger
  • Easily bothered by noise or bright light
  • Prone to reacting emotionally, easily startled or overwhelmed
  • More aware of subtle changes in your environment such as new odors or someone watching you perform a task

HSPs also tend to:

  • Have rich, complex inner lives
  • Be more empathetic to others
  • Be deeply moved by the arts and music
  • Be more attuned to their bodies

HSPs are often described as shy or introverted, yet 30% are actually extroverts. You can see all the kinds of things a highly sensitive person might experience here.

While HSPs have to be particularly mindful of taking things personally, everyone does it from time to time. And most of us would agree it is exhausting. Taking things personally can leave you feeling out of control, drained, angry or sad.

How do you stop taking things personally?

Whether it’s your kids or your co-workers who have said something to upset you, the first step is to identify what you’re feeling and do the following things to get off the emotional rollercoaster:

Cool down

We all know the gut-punch feeling that comes from a negative email, phone call or interaction. When someone disrespects or hurts you, you may want to respond immediately, but there is one thing that never hurts: time. (Have you ever heard a story of someone regretting not sending that angry email or text?) If there is a real issue, make a plan to address it, but don’t feel like it all has to be done in the moment.

Evaluate and reflect

If someone volunteers an opinion that upsets you, ask yourself if it has merit — and be honest with yourself about whether it does or not.

  • If the comment does have value, reflect on what you could do to change that situation in the future. Reflecting on and learning from a mistake is a productive way to channel your feelings.
  • If the comment does not have value, consider whether the opinion could have more to do with the person giving it out and less to do with you. For example, have you seen this person bully others in the past? Are they going through a stressful time at home or at work? Understanding people doesn’t excuse their behavior, but putting yourself in someone else’s shoes may help you gain perspective.

Studies show that 20% of people are genetically pre-disposed to be empathetic

Don’t jump to conclusions

If you’re sensitive about something, it’s easy to assume that everyone else is aware of (and judgmental about) that thing, but most of the time, our insecurities are all our own. You can avoid jumping to conclusions by doing 2 things:

  1. Don’t assume broad judgment or criticism is directed at you. If you reflect on something and it continues to bother you several days later, follow up with the person one-on-one.
  2. Take stock of the issues you’re sensitive to and what triggers them. If you know what your insecurities are, you’ll be better able to look out for the triggers.

Get busy

Fixating on a slight — perceived or real — doesn’t do you any good. If you find yourself dwelling on something in an unproductive way, jump into a project at work, get some exercise, meditate or call a friend. 

Let it go

When your feelings are hurt, you need to give yourself time to feel those emotions. You also need to process what happened, which sometimes includes asking yourself tough questions:

  • What does this relationship mean to you?
  • Do you really need to please this person? Should you want to?
  • Do they need to stay in your life?
  • If they do, how can you work together to avoid similar situations?

Once you’ve had time to reflect, take what you can learn from the situation, move forward and let the rest go.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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