June 8, 2022
Q&A 072

👨‍✈️ Personally

Let me try to scratch the surface of a big topic; taking things (too) personally. It seems to be almost part of human nature to first look at yourself to the find the cause for something happening in a certain way. Whilst this is in principle not a bad starting position, a lot of people remain stuck at this point and therefore will tend to blame themselves or assume others to think ill of them. This has potential negative effects on your self-esteem and increases the likelihood to become distressed and dysfunctional.

When I came across an article by Joel Minden, I decided to finally write something about it. The article first lays out what biases lie at the basis of this behaviour. Subsequently, it deals with quite a number of practical steps to get a more balanced view.

There are essentially two biases involved with taking things too personally. Firstly, 'Personalisation', believing that you’re the cause of a negative event, though there is no or little evidence to support this. Then, there is 'Mind reading', where you are assuming that someone is making a critical judgment about you, without having that specific direct feedback.

These seemingly automatic thoughts are a kind of learned behaviours. Therefore, it will come as no surprise that the actions proposed in the article center around identifying and influencing those behaviours. One of the most important things to do, is to distinguish between thoughts and feelings. When you took something personally, how did you feel? Feelings can often be summarised in one word, thoughts take far more words to describe. Take time to write them down and analyse. Why do you feel that way at that moment?

The article describes several ways of doing this. After some practice, you become more selective about the self-critical thoughts. Again, being self-critical is not bad, too much of it, is. The article reminded me of a lot of good advices gathered over the years; practice meditation, journalling, but most of all: take time to reflect on what you feel and why you feel a certain way.

"Remember that feelings are not debatable – you just feel how you feel, even when you wish you didn’t. Your thoughts, on the other hand, can be challenged, revised or replaced with more realistic and useful ones."

I see a lot of things to improve and practices to rejuvenate (journalling!), but perhaps I'm taking things too personally...