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It’s Not You, It’s Me: How Not to Take Things Personally

Have you ever been accused of taking things personally? For some of us, asking us not to take things personally is like asking the sun not to shine. It’s just what we do. There are, in fact, entire Instagram accounts dedicated to memes about taking things personally. This is neither a coincidence nor a mistake. Let’s define what we’re actually talking about here. 

What does it mean to take things personally?

When you’re taking something personally, you’re assigning meaning to someone else’s demeanor or behavior that is based mostly or even entirely on interpretation. Another way of saying “interpretation” is: made up narratives constructed from your own assumptions, fears, worries, biases, or judgments. That’s actually what we’re doing when we’re taking things personally. 

Why do people take things personally?

Some of us tend to have our antenna attuned to taking things personally. We tend to be sensitive to the demeanor and behavior of others. For some, this may have been developed as a coping mechanism. For instance,maybe you had to learn to read the room as kids for purposes of survival or getting through the day. Or maybe you are generally sensitive to others’ energy, and you jump to the interpretation that shifts in energy from someone else must be about us. For others, it’s a habituated behavior rooted in anxious or defensive feelings. When you are coming from anxiousness or defensiveness, you are probably going to respond accordingly. In other words, your response is going to reflect anxiety or anger. 

Anxious responders tend to be on the lookout for what they think other people need or want and then adjust how they are showing up contingent on what they think others need or want. On the other hand, angry responders tend to be vigilant to defend themselves against a perceived threat or slight. 

How to stop taking things personally

Now, while I’m not here to support you in unpacking a lifetime of anxiety or unexpressed anger (that’s a whole therapeutic process!), I am here to support you in developing some alternative interpretations and some alternative strategies to making other people’s stuff about you. Because, when you are taking things personally, you are definitely draining your time and your energy and your focus and that interferes with your ability to show up the way that you really want to show up in the world, to create the results that you really want to create, and to make the kind of impact that you are really capable of. 

So of course, as always, the first step of anything and everything, is noticing that a pattern is happening. So, noticing in that moment and distinguishing, “oh, this is me making that other person’s behavior or demeanor or actions about me,” versus going right into the assumption that it is in fact about you. Once you’ve noticed and distinguished in the moment, what do you do next? 

The 3 C’s of not taking things personally

  1. Context

There may be some context that is unknown to you and has nothing to do with you. Acknowledging the greater context, whether or not you actually know what that context is, provides more dimension than the one-dimensional assumption, it’s about me. For example, just yesterday I was out with a friend and I received a disappointing text while we were together. That led me, in that moment, to be a bit more quiet and withdrawn and distracted from our conversation. That text was completely unrelated to my friend or our conversation, and yet my response to it created an impact that she felt. Rather than taking it personally, making my completely unrelated demeanor about her, she got curious and asked me about it. 

  1. Curiosity

Curiosity is like a multivitamin for our relationships. When you are truly coming from curiosity, assumptions, blame, and righteousness automatically get displaced. When we are truly anchored in curiosity, there’s literally no room for blame, assumptions, righteousness. Curiosity is a state of being, first and foremost, and from that state of being can be expressed through our third C which is…

  1. Communication

If you tend to take things personally, you probably have one of a couple different ways of communicating about it. If you’re the anxious responder, you may over-communicate, which can sound something like, “What’s wrong? Is everything okay? It seems like there’s something wrong.” It’s an anxious form of communication that tends to drive people away. The other way that you may tend to communicate when you think something’s about you is to suffer in silence, ruminating and spiraling and overthinking. Now, when I am off my game, I tend toward the latter: suffer silently. There is, however, a super secret third approach, which is called direct communication. It might sound like, “Hey, I notice each time I bring up this particular project at work, I see you cross your arms and look away. Is there something for us to address?” Another form of communication is choosing to let it go. This one is tricky because sometimes you might say you’re letting it go, but really you’re either going the suffer in silence route or burying or suppressing how you really feel when maybe there is something to use your words and address. Letting it go means really truly without attachment, letting it go. Here is a play-by-play of a real life scenario that perhaps you have experienced and how it might go if you were taking it personally versus how it might go if you were utilizing context, curiosity, and communication. 

Okay, here’s the scene: Your partner comes home at the end of the day, slams the door, doesn’t address you. 

Option A, make assumptions and projections and take things personally and respond accordingly. If you tend toward being an anxious responder, that might sound like, “What’s wrong? What did I do? How can I fix it? How can I make it better?” Either inside of your own head or outside, using your words. If you’re an angry responder, that might sound or look like “They are being an asshole and so I’m going to act like an asshole in response.” And you can imagine how those scenarios might play out from there. It’s not great. 

Now, option B, let’s say you decide to notice that, “Oh, my first instinct is to take things personally and I am instead going to practice curiosity, context, and communication.” So that might sound like, “Hi sweetheart, I’m glad you’re home. Looks like maybe you had a rough day, can I get you something?” And then letting it go, letting go of your attachment to whatever you think they’re thinking and actually letting them be their own person and express what they need if they’re able to and if not, do whatever they need to do to take care of themselves, right? 

So again, in that instance, letting it go is different than suffer in silence. Let me continue to think about it and let me let it keep me up at night. It’s letting go of the attachment and understanding that it’s not about you. Other people’s behavior, actions, demeanor, energy, it’s not about you. 

Here’s another recent example based on a conversation with a coaching client: My client came to me with an issue she’s having with a teammate at work. She says, “This person is trying to undermine me.” Okay. Well, let’s see, let’s investigate this. Because right off the bat, I noticed that we have an interpretation. The narrative she’s trying to undermine me sounds like at least to some degree shaped by some assumptions and interpretations. In digging a little deeper into this with my client, we discovered the opportunity to consider this teammate’s context, which included lots of things, including extensive history with the subject matter and in the organization. And we also elected to get curious. And in this case, my client got curious about other interpretations that this person or than this person is trying to undermine her. Those other interpretations included the possibility that this person may simply have underdeveloped communication skills. And they may actually want the same outcome as my client. And in fact, it is possible that they actually want my client to succeed. And so in practice, my client found that whatever this other person’s actions were about, that her alternate interpretations allowed her to let go of the judgments and resentments about this person and what their actions may or may not mean and what she makes up about them. And instead to get back to leading her team to create the impactful results that they are there to create. See how that works? Nothing about this other person changed. What changed is my client noticing the experience of taking it personally and deciding to create an entirely different experience for herself. And that is freedom. And that is the key to getting yourself back into impact and back into action. 

Dear listener, this is an option for you too. You can also liberate yourself from taking things personally. Because your energy and your mental capacity are precious resources and you cannot afford to be spending those in reaction mode to perceptions of other people. We need you, actually, we need you fully resourced so that you can create the full impact that you are capable of. 

And listen, if you want some support around this for yourself or your team, reach out. I am here for it. 

Thanks so much for listening. If you’d like to connect, send me an email to or find me on Instagram @Carrie.Wren

Finally, make sure to check out my website for all details about private coaching and upcoming group programs. See you next time!

It’s Not You, It’s Me: How to Not Take Things Personally: Listen to the Podcast Here




It’s Not You, It’s Me: How Not to Take Things Personally

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