How to Stop Taking Things So Personally

All of us feel sensitive about something. We all have our soft spots and our “no-go” topics, but to the hypersensitive among us, a gentle poke can feel more like a stab in the heart. Instead of being able to shake off certain comments, we focus on them, internalize them and begin to question ourselves.

Learning to “toughen up” by taking things less personally can benefit both ourselves and others. We can protect ourselves from pain, feel less self-doubt and we can stop reacting to hurtful comments with defensiveness and anger, which often leads to relationship conflict making it harder to work or live together. And for those in positions of power, hypersensitivity can cause us to shut people out or to be over controlling stunting our team’s moral, growth and performance.

So how can we toughen up without becoming hard-hearted?

Tip 1: Create space between you and your reactions:

When we feel criticized, our initial response is to react. The result is usually not a good one. Instead of following that knee-jerk reaction, try to pause and take a few deep breaths. This is known as the “mindful pause” and it allows your systems to calm down. In your calmer state, you can then reflect on what was said and choose how you want to respond vs. simply reacting (and then regretting it later).

Tip 2: Consider the source:

Does the critique in question come from someone who knows you well and is a person who you like and respect? Or does it come from someone who doesn’t know you, has zero regard for others and has a tendency to shoot their mouth off regularly?

Considering the source can help you decide whether to take their feedback to heart or with a grain of salt.

Tip 3: Challenge your perfectionism:

There is a straight line between hypersensitivity and perfectionism. Many of us react so strongly to criticism because we’ve worked so hard to be faultless or good enough (precisely so no one will criticize us). When we get negative feedback, it turns all that hard work into dust.

One way to challenge perfectionism is to get better at receiving criticism. Another, even more challenging way, is to accept the cracks and the imperfections. Slowly realizing that you are enough just as you are takes time and work, but simply acknowledging your triggers can be a powerful first step.

Any critique that brings forth old hurts (reminders of being bullied in school or pigeonholed by your parents for example) cuts extra deep, but just being aware that something is a hot button issue for you is the first step to owning it, and eventually healing it.

Tip 4: Give critics another chance, but not unlimited chances:

People are human – we make mistakes, we say dumb things and we can be awkward. But if you’re criticized or insulted by the same person repeatedly, that’s not a mistake, that’s a pattern. It does not mean that you need to end the relationship, which may be especially hard to do if the repeat offender is a relative or a co-worker, but it does mean that it’s time to speak up, set some boundaries and limit contact if necessary.

Tip 5: Know Your Worth:

We are our own biggest critics. The more confidence we have in ourselves, the less likely we are to feel crushed by someone’s criticism. Developing confidence can be a slow and arduous process but it might be helpful to remember that our brains are wired to focus on the negative and often we’re much harder on ourselves than we deserve. To start building confidence, focus on your accomplishments and the things that you do well and try to say one kind thing to yourself everyday. Have conversations with people who like and respect you and let them remind you of how awesome you are. Hold on to those feelings. Understanding your own value is your best defense when someone makes you feel small. 

As always, be kind to yourselves and remember, we are all works in progress!

Changing Feelings of Worthlessness

I was recently asked if it was possible to change feelings of worthlessness, and if so, how. Here is my response.

First, the answer is YES! Our brains are wired in such a way that we can change the way we think and how we feel. I actually think this is super cool. I could go on about neural networks and rewiring but I'll try to stick to the topic at hand.

Often when I talk to my clients about feelings of worthlessness we start with a little bit of self-exploration. We start with noticing. Start to notice when these feelings come up for you. Is there a particular time of day, a specific person who brings it out, a phrase you hear? Just start to notice. Usually it's tied to something or someone but it may take a while to figure out what or who that is.

Next we start to explore. When did these feelings start? Where do you think they come from? Is there something - a statement - perhaps that repeats in your head over and over again? If so, whose voice is it? These are difficult questions so take your time answering them. (We usually do it over a few sessions.) It might even be helpful to write them down somewhere. If you have a journal that would be a great place as research has shown that our brains work differently when we put pen to paper versus typing on a computer.

The next step is to select an ally. Someone who is or has been in your corner, someone who is always rooting for you. If you don't have someone like that, that's ok - a lot of us don't - you can just make someone up. Close your eyes and try to describe that person in great detail from the way they look to the way they act to the way they sound. Now, pick a phrase you would like that person to say to you whenever you start to think that you're worthless. Something that will help you feel better about yourself - a characteristic, a skill, a great joke you tell, a physical attribute. This also takes time and may involve you asking for help from someone who really knows you.

Once you have all of that together - the noticing, answers from where these feelings and statement(s) come from, your ally, your new statement, you can try to put it altogether. When the feelings come up, notice what is bringing them up and then call upon your ally to try to change the statement in your head from the self-defeating one to the more positive, uplifting one.

This is just the start to discovering the best you! Again, I do this with my clients over quite a few weeks if not months and I am there with them the whole time. It is quite an involved process and can bring up a lot of very difficult feeling/memories. Feel free to try this on your own but if at any point you find it too hard to go at alone, call me - 415.857.5647.