How To Not Take Personal Attacks Personally — What To Do Instead
We’ve all been there. Someone decides to go on a moral mission against us, challenging our beliefs, actions, even character. They may pick out embarrassing details about our lives, our past, even our families. They may even make things up.
Yes, we’ve all been attacked personally. And while the phrase “Don’t take anything personally” is generally good advice, personal attacks feel very, well, personal.
And yet while we remind ourselves that the actions taken against us are a reflection of the attacker’s character, and not ours, we are still angry, and maybe on some level, even feel like attacking back. But we also know two things: attacking back may provide some short term relief, but our attack will probably just incite a war, and we don’t want to be that person.
So just what do we do instead? Here are six steps to help you not take personal attacks personally.
Accept the Anger. When you’ve just been attacked, anger is a normal response. It’s what is supposed to happen. And anger is an indication that things matter to you. If your actions, beliefs, values, and character didn’t matter to you — if how you are perceived didn’t matter to you — you wouldn’t get angry. But of course it does, because you care. So you have to recognize that the anger is ok — in fact healthy — to feel. Anger, when harnessed, is also a very useful emotion. It propels action, which is exactly what you are going to use it for here.
Confront the Shame. On some level, we all feel a sense of shame when attacked. But when the attack is personal — especially if it comes from a place of contempt (also known as moral superiority) — it is meant to cause shame. Probably, details about your life were carefully selected to create the effect. Especially if the attack is public, this can be extraordinarily damaging — just think of how harmful being attacked in the media is to public figures. Yet shame is also something that we all must confront. We all have things that we wished could remain forever hidden. Things we wished no one else knew, or that never happened altogether. And shame, simply put, can make you keep hiding. So, confront it. Ask yourself why you feel bad about what the attacker is saying about you. If it’s true, ask yourself if you can live with the truth about yourself. And if it’s not true, you are going to prove them wrong. Either way, you are going to face the shame head on, and learn that it doesn’t control you.
Detach From The Need. We all would like to be seen as smart, kind, honest, loving, whatever. And so we put energy, time, and dedication into creating that image. Yet at any point, this can be called into question — and often unfairly when we are being attacked. And so, above everything else, you must know who you are. And you must be able to let go of the need to be seen in any way, by anyone — except yourself. And this doesn’t mean you don’t care — of course you do, which is why you put effort into doing things that you believe are right, just and good — but what it does mean is that you recognize what you have control over and detach from what you don’t. And consequently, the more you are driven by a need to be liked, the more you mold your image to other peoples’ perception of who you should be. And the further you move from who you really are. If you are going to play to an audience — make it you own.
Revisit Your Values. When your values, beliefs, actions or character are called into question, the intent is to cause you to question them. The point is to rattle you, cause you shame, pain, and rejection. And ultimately, the intent is to get you to act against your values. And if you do, you not only have been betrayed by others, but you have betrayed your own values. Instead, what having your values called into question really should do is cause you to solidify them. It should cause you to recommit yourself, to become that much stronger in what you believe, and ultimately, that much less likely to be shaken from your values.
Develop Agency. Knowing your values is one thing, but having proof is another. Developing agency is about connecting your values to tangible acts that you can point to as evidence — for yourself when needed, and for everyone else. It’s the difference between saying, “I’m a helpful person,” and actually carrying someone’s groceries, helping a child cross the street, staying with a friend during a difficult time, and yes, not attacking back. What agency gives you is backbone, because beliefs are only as good as the acts they inspire. So when someone attacks you, and calls who you are into question, you can point to all of the things that you have done — and will continue to do — and you won’t need to fight back, because your acts speak for you, and you have nothing to prove.
Repeat. Some attacks sting more than others, especially the ones that either come from close to home — like a close friend, lover, or business partner — or hit close to home — like very personal information that you shared in the deepest of confidence. And sometimes, you need to review the steps above, and yes, sometimes you will need to repeat them. In fact, anytime you feel attacked, you can repeat them.
Not taking things personally is good advice. And it’s something that we can all be reminded of from time to time. But maybe when personally attacked, we need to expand the advice to, Don’t take things personally, and don’t ingest the attack. Instead, use it as fuel. Fuel to inspire you — and probably everyone else around you — to be better, and to prove them wrong.
For more information on using personal attacks and adversity as fuel to inspire growth, visit, www.leverageadversity.net
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2015). How To Not Take Personal Attacks Personally — What To Do Instead. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/leveraging-adversity/2015/01/how-to-not-take-personal-attacks-personally-what-to-do-instead/