A client shared a recent experience. She decided to get a snack from a convenience store. As she walked to the door, there was another customer ahead of me. And he opened the door for himself without bothering to look back.
How rude, she thought. Who doesn’t hold the door open for someone behind them! She got her snack, returned to her car and stewed about the incident. “Didn’t he see me? Did he do that on purpose?” The thoughts consumed her as she drove around running errands — and even continued over the next few days.
She knew she was wasting a lot of emotional energy on a seemingly trivial moment. And it got her wondering — why was she taking this incident so personally? And how does she manage her feelings about it?
It’s human to get upset when we feel offended by something that someone did or said, because we may feel their actions or words are a personal affront to our character.
And while it’s one thing to feel annoyed by it, we shouldn’t let these personal comments eat us up inside. Here are ways to slow down and gain clarity when things feel personal.
Pause and take a moment
If you find yourself in a situation that offends you, pause before reacting. Acknowledge your feelings and think about how your response might affect the other person. You don’t want to say anything hurtful.
Then consider what else might be going on in the person’s life to prompt the situation. Take the customer who didn’t hold the door open for me at the gas station. I assumed they must’ve seen me, but maybe they didn’t realize I was there. Or maybe they were in a hurry to use the restroom.
If we don’t pause to consider other possibilities, we may get stuck in “an unproductive negative thought loop” that can affect our ability to find good solutions to the problem and move on.
When she finally took a moment to examine why that customer might have shut the door on her, it allowed her to let go of her original assumption that he did it on purpose. And she found herself getting less and less worked up about the incident.
Look at the problem from another perspective
If you still can’t let the personal comment or action go, you can try distancing yourself from it mentally and psychologically. One way to do that is by reflecting on the incident — in the third person.
It might seem like an unusual approach, but it can help people get out of their heads and promote wise reasoning. In a 2014 study published in the journal Psychological Science, it was found that people displayed more wisdom when trying to figure out their own problems if they thought about it in the third person.
Doing so made them more likely to recognize the limits of their knowledge, search for a compromise, consider other perspectives and recognize the myriad ways the future could unfold.
If my client had to try this tactic for herself with regard to the door incident, she might say something like, “Diana felt a little frustrated when a customer didn’t hold the door open for her, but there is a good chance they didn’t see her and it’s not a big deal.”
This alternate viewpoint can help people think about the incident more clearly without letting emotions get in the way.
Have a heart-to-heart
Don’t rule out talking to the person who impacted you. A heart-to-heart may help clear up any assumptions you may have and offer a new perspective about the incident.
She wasn’t able to do that with that random customer, but there are plenty of circumstances where this approach might make sense. For example, let’s say your partner is always on their phone at dinnertime, and it makes you feel frustrated.
Instead of jumping to conclusions about their actions, you might say to them: “Because you’re always on your phone, I feel like you don’t think I’m worthy of your attention.” “And they might say, ‘Oh, shoot, I didn’t mean to be on my phone. Or, you know, I’ve been kind of frustrated with you and I didn’t know how to bring it up. So I’ve been looking at my phone instead of making eye contact. Let’s talk.”
Build up your confidence
Self-confidence can go a long way in protecting you from taking things too personally.
If we’re grounded in the fact that we’re unconditionally worthy, then we’re less likely to take offense when somebody doesn’t treat us that way.
To strengthen our feelings of self-worth, spend time around people who remind us that we are deserving of care and respect, like close friends and family members who lift you up. Also, giving yourself positive affirmations, like “I see you. I accept you. I affirm you.”
These actions, can help us truly believe it when we tell ourselves: “I don’t know what’s going on with them, but I know I’m worthy of love, care and respect. My worthiness is not dependent on their treatment of me.