I once had a friend who got upset with people really easily, mostly due to his own insecurities. One afternoon, we were driving somewhere, and he was acting cold toward me. Being the people pleaser I tend to be, I was immediately concerned that I did something wrong. I asked if he was in a bad mood because of something I had done. His response was, “No. The world doesn’t revolve around you, you know.”
I remember thinking to myself, “It’s not that I think the world revolves around me. It’s just that I think if people around me are upset, it’s probably my fault.”
Are you someone who also tends to take things personally? You may easily feel that someone’s actions are a result of what you did or didn’t do. Or maybe you often feel that people aim their nasty behavior toward you.
The truth is, taking ownership of someone else’s moods isn’t healthy or what God wants for us. When we do that, we burden ourselves for no good reason since we did nothing wrong. We devalue our peace and well being. We also prevent the other person from taking responsibility for – and learning from – their own behavior. Scripture says we “each will have to bear (our) own load, and be held responsible for it” (Galatians 6:5, Romans 14:12).
The next time you find yourself dwelling over a situation that you’re taking personally, try these steps:
Don’t Just Assume You’re the Cause
While my friend’s comment may have sounded rude, there was some unfortunate truth to it. What I mean is, when we take things personally, we are assuming responsible for all that goes on around us. We are essentially acting as if we’re the center of the world.
We may be so quick to take blame, that we don’t consider the myriad of other possibilities this person is upset. The truth is, there are lots of factors that affect someone’s treatment of you. Let’s be realistic. They’ve got a whole life on their plate – it’s not just about us, and what we did or didn’t do. In fact, it likely has nothing to do with you.
Be Objective About Your Behavior
Whenever I imagine that someone is upset with me, I consider my recent behavior with them. I will ask myself if I “did anything wrong.” I try to be as objective as possible, and If I need a friend’s opinion I will ask for it. I then say to myself, “I don’t believe this person is mad at me because I didn’t do anything wrong.” I might also say, “Even if they are mad at me, it’s not my fault because I know in good conscience that I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Recognize It Comes From Them
This is key. Scripture says, “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). This means, that the source of someone’s mood and actions is their heart. People speak out of their past baggage, they act in line with how they feel about themselves and what they’ve learned of other people years, usually while growing up. These perspectives are the source of how they behave, and we are not responsible for it. I like to say to myself, “This comes from them and it has nothing to do with me.”
Often a rude person will act similarly with others. We can notice that and recognize more clearly that it’s about them and not us.
Imagine Mental Boundaries
When someone is mean or upset, it’s easy to be affected by his or her mood. Here’s one way I handle it: While it may sound strange, sometimes I visualize a bubble surrounding the person. I tell myself, “This negative feeling comes from them, and it stays with them. I won’t let that anger, etc come near me.” When you picture blocking out what’s unhealthy for you, it can help you not receive it as deeply.
Taking things personally has the feel of blurred boundaries, where you and I are not completely our own individuals, but rather meshed together in some way. If you imagine a boundary between you, you remind yourself that you are your own person – responsible for yourself and your actions alone.
Consider Your Own Sensitivities
Sometimes when we are bothered or upset by someone’s treatment, we are actually being reminded of an event from our own past. It’s like that person’s words or behavior hit a nerve, and that’s why it felt especially hurtful.
It’s important to recognize that sometimes we feel attacked not because of what’s happening now, but because of what happened before. If we have a past experience that left us sensitive in one area, we need to be aware of it so that we don’t put unneeded blame on the person in front of us.
When we feel love and compassion for another human being, we rise above anger and hurt. The key to this, is looking beneath their surface behavior – which is often learned coping mechanisms – and considering their heart. People who are negative, difficult and hurtful often carry wounds that we don’t know about. They put this surface hardness over it in order to handle their pain. They need our compassion rather than our “flesh based” reactions.
While it’s not easy to have compassion for unpleasant people, we can ask for God to give us His perspective of them and what’s going on. We can pray for them as well. These actions will help us see more clearly, take things less personally, and feel more empathy, even if it’s a step at a time. It helps us feel strong and free, rather than victimized.
Shift the Focus to Yourself
Taking things personally means we’re focusing on the other person. But sometimes we need to shift the focus to how we are doing.
Consider how you can show yourself respect. That might mean not judging yourself for being imperfect or not blaming yourself for someone else’s behavior. It might mean asking why this situation affects you so deeply and start addressing a past wound that you’ve carried.
It also means starting to like yourself more, if you find that’s lacking. Consider the fact that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and begin focusing on your good traits, rather than the ways you think you fall short. I assure you that God smiles over you in admiration for how He made you and your unique characteristics.
We are all individuals. Therefore, we are not responsible for other people’s actions. Nor do we need to look for evidence that people are attacking us. While there are times when we make mistakes and need to apologize, or moments people do try to hurt us, let’s not be too quick to assume this is the case. Instead, let’s look for the truth of a situation, and avoid needless stress on ourselves and our relationships.