It’s not about you: Strategies to stop taking things personally

A client of mine needed to break up with a friend who was also a vendor.

The vendor friend had been managing the design of her website, but the website never worked the way it should.

She knew she needed to call it quits with him, but she feared the worst. Will he resent me? Will this damage our friendship?

Another client came to our session with a look of worry. She had just a missed call from a partner and vendor she’d been doing some work for. Something’s wrong, she thought. I must have messed up.

My clients aren’t alone, are they? We tell ourselves these stories all of the time. It’s called personalizing, meaning we’re assuming personal responsibility for outcomes and situations we usually have little control over.

The problem? Quite simply: Personalizing adds undue stress to our lives.

The truth about personalizing is that it can give us a false sense of control or make us feel more important to an end result than we actually are. Because we’re all the center of our own worlds, it’s easy to conflate outside circumstances with personal duty.

But in reality, we often don’t know why people do what they do. Maybe you didn’t get the job because they decided to hire from within instead. Perhaps your friend didn’t call because a family member fell ill.

In any case, it’s often not about you. Let that sink in.

In the examples above, my clients actually didn’t know if the stories they were telling themselves would end up being true because they hadn’t yet acted. So I encouraged them to flip the script.

In the first instance, I asked her to consider an alternative. Maybe the vendor would be relieved because he’s overloaded with work and had been taking the website on as a favor. What if breaking up with him actually saves the friendship rather than destroying it?

For the second, I encouraged her to think about past missed calls. How many of those were actually because of something she’d done wrong? How many were simply to ask a harmless question—or even offer a word of praise?

In both cases, the outcomes were positive. The friendship remained intact for the first client, and for the second, the conversation was straightforward.

Don’t buy into the idea that your connection with every experience needs to be a personal one.

Shift your perspective to one of simple observation, and learn to acknowledge and appreciate that distance.

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