Taking Things Personally

Let me start by saying I support, in principle, taking things personally. People who do so are showing that they care, that they are able to advocate for themselves, and, most importantly, that they are willing to feel and express. This takes courage, which I respect.

So why do we so often try to deny it? Why cave when someone says “don’t take it personal?” The reflexive response often involves emotional belligerence and denial: “I’m not taking it personal! It’s just blah blah when you blah blah BLAH!!” Or something to that effect. Maybe add in a few curse words and insults to improve the example’s accuracy.

However, one alternative is owning it without a speck of shame: “Yeah, you’re exactly right, I am taking it personally, and here’s why.” And then proceed to offer an honest and skillful explanation as to why you are taking something to heart. Cool, calm, collected… You got this.

Again, it’s okay. Things matter to us, and that should be validated. After all, how can one live a meaningful life if things don’t matter (and sometimes a whole lot)?

Now this brings me to something that I’m generally not a big fan of– telling someone not to take things personally or to quit being so sensitive. Statements like these almost never help, and usually makes things worse as outlined above.

Some folks may disagree, but it’s difficult to control what you feel and even harder to express it. So why not try to create a conversational environment where one can do their best thinking and work through their emotional experience?

Invalidation is simply a non-starter. That stated, you don’t have to validate bad behavior or disrespectful speech. For example, let’s say someone takes something personally (regardless of intentions) and acts hatefully towards you. That’s not cool, and you have every right to communicate that.

But instead of placing emphasis on emotional invalidation, point out the problem behavior while also expressing curiosity in how the person feels. The likelihood of the situation turning out well still won’t be 100%, but this approach will certainly improve the odds.

Okay, a few more points here, then we’ll call it a day. I think it is important for me to note what I am not saying in this post. A brief proof reading of what I’ve written thus far has led me to believe I should smooth out some possible confusion.

I am not saying it is impossible to take things too personal or to be overly sensitive. This phenomenon totally exists, and there might be occasions where it is appropriate to point that out directly. I still believe, however, that this should be done with tact and in a way that helps the person do their best thinking. This means that asking measured questions and promoting an atmosphere of understanding are vital nutrients to a productive conversation.

Also, I am not saying considering another person’s intentions, letting go, and de-personalizing certain situations should be disowned as coping mechanisms. Of course these strategies can be useful.

Rather, my concern is that we are living in a culture where people are already struggling to figure out what they really care about and how to convey that in a coherent way. And because caring is inherently personal, we risk numbing the human heart and mind if we disparage the most psychologically meaningful aspects of our individual reality.

So panning back out, here are the takeaways. Taking things personally is okay. Don’t deny it. Own it, even when you are being criticized. If you’re on the other side of the interaction, validate personal feelings. And for all parties involved, speak skillfully.

Thanks for reading.

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