Don’t take it personally!

Posted by Rex Alexander on Fri 7 Jun 24 in Emotions, Rational living, Rational Thinking |
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:

  1. I must do well and win the approval of others or else I am no good.
  2.  Other people must, treat me kindly and  do “the right thing” or else they are no good and deserve to be punished.
  3. 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, 

  1. Recognize that you are upset
  2. Identify what you are thinking.
  3. Identify the cognitive distortion or irrational belief (IB)
  4. See (really see) how this thinking is resulting in your inflamed emotional reaction and self-defeating behavior. Appreciate the intimate relationship between thinking, emoting and behaving operating before your very eyes.
  5. Challenge and rigorously dispute the distortions.
  6. Replace with thinking that is “cooler,” more rational and helpful .
  7. Note how you are feeling.
  8. Get busy. Do something practical, something counter to the self-defeating behavior.



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 :

Although I strongly prefer that Sally had not said [or done] those things, it is hardly the end of the world. And even though she said things I don’t like, I can stand it, and by standing it, I get good practice in the necessary skill of dealing rationally and effectively with difficult people. This is important because gawd knows, I will surely meet many difficult people on my journeys through life.”





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Originally posted 2016-04-29 21:30:29.

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1 Comment

  • Tony Burton says:

    The problem is that when one is familiar with REBT -it is with those who are not, can take vert often make an one observation you state as an “outrage”. – especially via, an e-mail; and instead of owning issues, or engaging in an understanding of the misunderstanding, just decide to cut ties with you. I am left with… WTF ???…. (Not saying that I have also done this in reaction -I have to my own cost, and can still do) –  but then have also mostly, but not always. Even after recognizing it, and owning it, explained it – the other cannot engage in a reflective process and think…maybe I contributed to this in some way…I think is called their self-created “ego-defensive anger”. You SHOULD not point out to me my contribution, especially if they do recognize it true, & as it “MAKES” myself feel devalued, (self-devaluation). Knowing nothing about emotional responsibility or USA. Not sure if I have written about this clearly. 

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