Everyone is familiar with the expression “Don’t take it personally!” Good advice in my opinion, but what does it mean and how can we actually achieve it?
When someone tells you “Don’t take it personally,” you may vaguely sense this means that somehow the other person believes you are reacting inappropriately to something. Maybe the person means that you are becoming unnecessarily upset. Maybe the person thinks you are being overly “sensitive.” But what exactly does that mean? And in which ways exactly is it problematic?
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Never fear! REBT has the answer! REBT tells us that all emotional disturbance (That’s right, all) can be reduced to moralistic, absolutist demands that we place on other people, ourselves or life in general, usually expressed–directly or clandestinely–as rigid shoulds, oughts and musts. Dr. Ellis identified three of demands:
- I must do well and win the approval of others or else I am no good.
- Other people must, treat me kindly and do “the right thing” or else they are no good and deserve to be punished.
- Life must be easy, without discomfort or inconvenience.
[Note: red italics indicate a specific cognitive distortion/irrational belief in context]. So, when we take something personally, it means that we have sidestepped dealing directly with the substance of whatever it is the person has said. It doesn’t matter whether or not what the person has said is accurate, worthy or even kind. We avoid all of that and instead focus on demanding that the other person must not say such things.#2. We focus on our belief–usually a very strong belief–that the person has said something he should not have said. Not so much on the content or substance of what he in fact said, but rather that he should not have said it in the first place. We might add other layers of irrational beliefs to this by thinking how terrible and unfair it is that he said what he should not have said, and as he said what he should not have said, he is a bad person. How dare you! and similar “disguised shoulds” are a sure sign that you are stewing in your own juices, in a toxic brew of cognitive distortions.
On the other hand, depending upon your personality and personal style, you may engage in the first must and indulge in some self-rating and decide that you are a shit for causing the other person to say or do what he did. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether your musts and people rating are directed outward or inward, the same principle and dynamic are at play, the same distortions are at play, and the same solutions apply.
So, what’s the solution? As always,
Something counter to your dysfunctional behavior might be rather than having an argument or slinking away and sulking, to engage in a meaningful dialog with the person. Acknowledge that there may be some truth to their criticism or complaints or that there was probably a reason for what they did or said. If you were at fault, take responsibility, apologize and make amends. If it was a misunderstanding or conflict of interest, make some accommodation and move on. If they were at fault, state your case calmly-but-firmly, ask for what you want, and let the chips fall where they may.
If, on the other hand, you are dealing with a person or situation that is not significant, if might be better to simply that some people will behave badly no matter what you do or don’t do, and resolve to let it go, resolve to not take it personally.
How to not take it personally?
Have a little conversation with yourself (best in writing) something to the effect of :
YOUR PARTICIPATION IS THE LIFEBLOOD
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Originally posted 2016-04-29 21:30:29.