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How to Tell if You’re Taking Things Too Personally (and what to do instead)

You’ve just been told your outfit sucks.

Not in so many words. But the way that woman looked at you. The way she ran her eyes the length of your body. The way she squinted at your scuffed boots. You. Could. Just. Tell.

You know you shouldn’t take these things personally. You should detach. Walk away. Adopt a Zen-like expression and fill your mind with clichés: seek only to control what you can control; your opinion of me matters less than my opinion of myself; what others think of me is none of my business.

Except that it is your business. You go home. You stand in front of the mirror. You recall her face. Her scorn. And suddenly this has nothing to do with her. It’s all about you: your bad hair, your off-trend taste in clothes, the weight you’ve gained, your lumpy body, your insecurity, your self-dislike.

You have taken That Woman’s Look to heart — and it hurts.

The world is a confusing place; so are the people in it. Sometimes people are mean to us. Sometimes they’re not but we tell ourselves they are. Sometimes we’re just too sensitive for our own good.

So here’s a guide for working out the difference — and some advice for dealing with your critics.

Are You Taking Things Too Personally?

First, check your vital signs.

  • You struggle to let things go. You pick conversations over and over, looking for flaws or wondering what was REALLY meant.
  • You are often quick to negatively judge others (it’s a flow on from being too quick to judge yourself).
  • You frequently worry that you have offended someone — even when there is no real evidence for this.
  • You worry excessively about what others think of you or how you were perceived in a particular setting.
  • You are very tough on yourself, often questioning why wondering why other people would want to talk to, or spend time with, you.
  • You react quickly to any form of criticism, getting emotional or defensive before you have gauged if it has any merit.
  • When you reflect you can see you overreact to small slights.
  • It’s hugely important to you to be approved of by other people but, even when you are, you struggle to believe it.
  • You go to lengths to avoid contexts in which you may be criticised.
  • When you are praised or given good feedback you feel awkward and you secretly question it.

5 Ways to Deal with Your Critics

If your Yes answers above dominate the rest it might be time to thicken up your skin a little. Sensitivity is commendable but you also have to allow for living in a world where not everyone will like, or rate, you. Sometimes, too, negative feedback can be helpful — even if it doesn’t feel that way.

So here are some ways to deal with your critics:

1. Don’t talk, don’t cry.

Just do nothing. Nice, well-meaning critics will understand you are struggling with your feelings. Mean people will be disappointed because you’ve given them nothing to attack. If you are upset in a work setting quietly take time out. You can ask for clarity and plan your strategy later.

2. Take yourself out of the middle.

Highly sensitive people tend to place themselves at the centre of their own Universe. It’s sad (but also wonderful) that other people are not all that interested in you. Mostly their criticisms are the product of their own beliefs and experiences which is worth remembering.

3. Psychoanalyse them.

Go on, be sneaky — they won’t know. Take an analytical view of the person giving the negative feedback. Their comments and the way they deliver them tell you really interesting (and often scary) things about them and the way they see the world. You might begin to see they have more troubles — and fewer friends — than you.

4. Ouch. The truth hurts.

Be honest about what’s going on here. Check your relationship with your critic. Is this feedback being delivered with kindness? Or does this person have an agenda and/or critical history. It might be time to do a relationship stock take. But if there’s a grain of truth in the criticism, we need to face it — when we’re ready. Knowing our weaknesses can give us an opportunity to grow and improve.

5. Take the goodies to the bank.

Every time you deal with criticism well, every time you stop yourself from overreacting, ruminating-things-to-death or beating up on yourself, notice it and bank it. Self-investment is the best deposit of all.

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