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Everyone tends to defend themselves when they feel criticized. Nobody wants to show weakness to others, particularly if they feel emotionally vulnerable around the other individual. We also tend to see ourselves as responsible for every mean comment someone makes, every poor choice that affects us, and every piece of constructive criticism that is thrown our way. Taking everything personally is a way of expressing our insecurity in our relationships around us. Unfortunately, taking everything personally comes at a cost. It can make us angry, defensive, emotionally weak, vindictive, and insecure. So how do we take things in stride, rather than jump to defensiveness? Here is what the experts say-
1. Consider the Source
Before you react to someone’s words, consider who they are and where he/she come from. Does this person typically lash out at others? Are they having a bad day? Or are they trying to deflect from something they did wrong? Most of the times when someone reacts rudely to you or says an unkind word, they probably have something else going on in their lives.
Sometimes we take things personally from those we don’t even like or respect. If this is the case, you have to ask yourself why you care so much about what that person thinks. Are you trying to cope with your own insecurity by getting someone to like you? Does this person’s interaction with you really matter in the grand scheme of things? Considering the source before reacting can help enormously to put matters into perspective and recognize what’s really going on.
2. Consider the Criticism
Most of the time when people say something cruel, we immediately get angry. We don’t consider the words they say because we are so focused on the way it makes us feel. If you find yourself getting overly defensive, ask yourself why. Is there a possibility that the person’s criticism has any merit whatsoever? Is this something you feel insecure about and don’t want others to pinpoint?
For example, maybe a friend told you that you gossip too much. You get offended by her comment, but when you stop to think about it, you realize that you do gossip too much. Perhaps your friend is worried that you are talking about her behind her back. Maybe this is a piece of constructive criticism that is meant to help you. Consider what the person says and ask yourself whether there’s any merit to it. Humility is difficult, but an essential part of growth.
3. Stop Re-Creating Scenes
If you feel that you’ve done something embarrassing, it’s easy to start analyzing and obsessing about the situation in your head. When someone points it out to your face, it can be even harder to resist the urge. The truth is, when we replay scenes in our minds, we think about the way we wanted to act, rather than the way we did act.
Recognize that you are human and that humans make mistakes. What happened happened, and it’s over. Go back to Point 1 and consider who is pointing out this embarrassing circumstance to you. Is this person trying to make you feel bad and ashamed when he/she knows that you already feel ashamed? If so, then remember that it isn’t about you. It’s about that person trying to make you feel bad because he/she feels bad, inside. Thinking like this can help you to put things in perspective and feel some compassion towards the person doing the taunting.
4. Think Before You React
Unfortunately, our reactions can be the worst part of an already toxic situation. Because we are so quick to get defensive, it’s easy to make a bad situation even worse. Stay quiet for 10 seconds before you react to someone’s criticism. Consider Points 1-3 and think about how you want to handle the situation. Sometimes a very simple, “Oh, I’m sorry you feel that way” is the best response. It may catch them off guard, as they probably expect you to defend yourself. If you truly feel like you are going to blow up, walk away and contact that person when you have calmed down.
If this person continues to bother you, taunt you, and make you feel badly about yourself, then it’s time to set boundaries and/or confront them. Stay calm, make good eye contact, and speak your mind. If this person is not worth having a relationship with, then set boundaries and try to surround yourself with people who lift you up.
Do you take things too personally? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors will be happy to speak with you.