When you take things personally, you feel offended and disrespected. Your reaction is either to defend yourself or submit passively. Either way you take someone’s criticism and view it as a literal, personal and serious threat. You want to correct the perpetrators and prove them wrong. In turn, you make something big out of some behavior that is so little. You want to maintain your innocence and try with all of your might to defend your beliefs, which only serves to heighten the conflict.
You cannot take someone’s opinion personally, because the truth is that all humans are dealing with their own feelings, beliefs and opinions. No one’s judgment is superior, it’s only an opinion. It is not about right or wrong, it’s just an opinion.
Opinions change, sometimes from minute to minute, day to day. You don’t really know what is best and you have no standing on telling others how things ought or should be. Your views on right or wrong speak to your taste and you can’t argue taste. Is red a better color then blue? Is steak better than chicken? These are all preferences. A preference implies a choice and we all have choices in how to respond to differences in taste.
Take driving in traffic. How many of people raise their blood pressure unnecessarily because they are wondering why the ‘other drivers are all idiots’ and their sloppy driving is directed at you, individually? Or at the office, where a disagreement with the person in the next cubicle seems to be an act of disrespect or hostility? Or closer to home: your girlfriend goes off the deep end over a stupid little joke you told some friends over drinks. It’s not like you told an embarrassing story about her mother; this was just a silly gag! But now she’s upset and you are feeling misunderstood, attacked and hurt.
However, we are often fighting about something other than what we think we are fighting about. Maybe your attempt at humor didn’t offend anyone else, but in your partner, it triggered a response going back to times when her father would criticize her after he was drinking too much. In other words…it wasn’t about you, at least not all of it.
Let me give you another example. I had a male client who was deeply in love with a woman who wasn’t emotionally available. She would draw him in and then do something to push him away. It’s commonly called sabotaging the relationship. Well at first he took this personally. And here’s why. He had done some things in the relationship that he felt guilty about. So he was sure her behavior was personal. As we talked and he looked at why he had done certain things, he expressed deep sorrow. We worked on letting go of his guilt for his previous behavior and to forgive himself. He went to her and apologized.
At first she accepted the apology; soon enough, she once again pushed him away. He got to see that she had major issues around emotional intimacy. It wasn’t personal. She had had a pretty tough life and the way she protected herself when she felt unsafe, was to attack or withdraw. And she was highly effective! The people in your life may also be suffering from a fear of intimacy caused by some abuse, insecurity, or vulnerability because of some past events. You may never know the real reason. However, it is rarely personal when someone pulls away or attacks. It speaks to them, it is their problem. It is a mistake to take it personally.