People, in general, and habitually angry people, in particular, tend to take things personally. There is a reason for this: fundamental attribution error (FAE). Taking things personally is a form of survival-oriented meaning-making. If you see a tiger in the wild at a distance, it makes good adaptive sense to ask yourself: “Is it moving towards me? Is it interested in me? Is it a threat to me?” We are all self-focused and, thus, primed for paranoia. Without paranoid questions like these we would not have made it as a species. But we have. Which is good. But this winning evolutionary strategy of paranoia comes at a cost. While paranoia, in moderation, is adaptive; in excess, paranoia it is maladaptive. When you take everything personally, life becomes miserable for you and those around you. The trick is to learn to distinguish real tigers (real threats) from paper tigers (symbolic threats).
[excerpt from "Anger Management Jumpstart" (a book I am working on, due out in Fall 2013 from PPM)]
Tiger photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 16 Apr 2013