It’s natural to want to be respected. After all, humans are social animals and we want to be valued by our fellow tribe members. So, it’s only natural that criticism can sting and cause emotional pain.

In fact, scientists in one recent study looked closely at responses to both approving and disapproving videos involving social evaluation. Researchers analyzed the activity of 37 participants while they watched videos in which people expressed positive, negative, and neutral statements that tapped into basic emotions. Results showed that “criticism hurt everybody.”

While some comments or actions are actually offensive, if you find that your feelings are hurt very often or you tend to assume that someone meant to cause you emotional harm, it’s possible that you’re prone to taking things too personally.

Read on to learn why people take things personally, how to know when you’re taking something too personally, and how to identify the instances in which taking things personally can actually benefit you. You’ll also learn how to take things less personally.

What Causes People to Take Things Personally?

It’s normal to care about what others think about us but not to the point where it hinders us. The causes of why we take things personally stem from a variety of factors:

  • Negative self talk. We might constantly tell ourselves we’re not good enough or it’s always our fault. So, in the face of ugly comments, we’ll easily believe negative things said about us.
  • Childhood trauma. Lack of emotional support in childhood and being blamed as a child by parents can contribute to our feelings that we deserve to be mocked or humiliated.
  • Poor self-esteem. People with low self-esteem sometimes worry too much about what others think. They may very well take things too personally.
  • Anxiety disorders. Those who have social anxiety are extremely afraid of being judged and embarrassed.
  • Perfectionism. Perfectionists have a hard time when others talk about their flaws as they have unrealistic standards about what they should be.
  • Stress or fatigue. When you’re not in the best mood, you may be more prone to misinterpreting someone’s comments.
  • Emotional sensitivity. If you’re a highly sensitive person, you may take things more personally.

How to Know When You’re Taking Something Too Personally

We often overlook the compliments we receive like, “Oh, you look nice today.” Sometimes we spend too much energy on the shortcomings people talk about.

For example, you might have gotten upset after your boss said you’re not yet ready to handle a bigger project. With a different perspective, you could’ve reframed what he said as constructive criticism instead.

Signs You May Take Things Too Personally

Here are some signs that others’ opinions are having negative effects on you:

  • You depend on the approval of other people to make you happy.
  • You apologize needlessly and are a people pleaser.
  • You don’t set or maintain boundaries as a rule.
  • You’re afraid to say “no” to requests.
  • You believe all harsh comments about yourself and take them to heart.
  • You view a mistake in behavior as your own character flaw.
  • You get defensive or angry easily.
  • You obsess over recent conversations to the point where it interferes with daily activities.

With rumination, you’re holding onto a perceived critical conversation way too long. For some, replaying what happened enables them to imagine giving a different response. For others, rumination reminds them of their own weakness. Overthinking can become disempowering. Rumination can occur with conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder.

According to one study, rumination can magnify and prolong negative moods and interfere with problem-solving, impact levels of people’s anxiety and depression. It can also interfere with and limit the effectiveness of psychological interventions. Rumination was also shown to worsen people’s stress levels.

Benefits of Taking Things Personally

This might sound surprising, but there are positive aspects to taking things personally. By taking things personally, family and friends or those in meaningful relationships with us, are cued into what hurts us. When equipped with this knowledge, they may modify their behavior so that they don’t offend you.

It’s also humanizing and humbling to get your feelings a little hurt every now and then. You can then learn how to overcome your distress, which only makes you more resilient in the future.

How to Stop Taking Things Personally

After someone offends you, here are a few techniques you might use so you don’t go home feeling upset:

  • Practice emotional resilience.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt because it’s possible that you misunderstood what they were saying.
  • Ask the person to clarify what they’ve said.
  • Stop worrying about what others think about you.
  • Give yourself credit for your strengths.
  • Try mindfulness so that you can stay in the present and relieve stress.
  • Journal your thoughts.
  • Repeat positive affirmations to yourself.
  • Seek mental health treatment with a licensed therapist.

It’s normal to take things personally every now and then. However, if you find that you’re regularly feeling upset or offended by other people’s comments, it’ll begin to impact your own mental health. So, it’s important to learn how to recognize when your reaction is out of proportion to a comment or perceived slight. Of course, if you’re experiencing verbal abuse or notice that someone is actually trying to hurt your feelings, it’s time to re-evaluate your relationship with that person. If you need assistance in discerning between minor criticisms versus emotional abuse, seek help from a therapist.