How to Not Take Things Personally: 5 Steps to Gain Perspective

Jonathan Muroya for Fatherly

The stress of parenting makes it easy to take things more personally than you normally would. Here’s how to keep things perspective.

By Ashley Abramson 

Say you forget to do the dishes – a totally normal slip-up – and your partner makes a passing comment about the empty silverware drawer. Do you offer up a quick apology, wash the pile in the sink, then move on? Or do you take that passing interaction personally, dwelling on how much you suck and wondering deep down if your spouse can’t stand you?

If you tend toward the second example, you’re not alone. The everyday, ongoing stress of taking care of kids while, you know, attempting to function as an adult, can make even the most emotionally healthy person turn molehills into mountains. But that doesn’t mean taking things personally is a habit you should hold onto. 

Janette Marsac, a therapist in New York City, says taking things personally is essentially attributing a negative outcome directly to yourself rather than to their actions or behavior. For example, if you forget your spouse’s birthday, you might tell yourself “I’m a terrible husband” rather than “I made a mistake.” Or if you enter the house and your child doesn’t greet you with energy, you could think that you’re doing something wrong rather than they’re a child and they also have moods. In both situations, the initial response self-shames; the second emphasizes the action.

Here’s why that’s a problem: When you place the responsibility on yourself, you project the adverse event onto your identity – which causes you to get defensive. Of course, that can cause some conflict in your relationship. But taking things personally will also make you feel stuck, because it ultimately prevents you from learning. 

“When the responsibility is placed on an action, we’re more capable of positive change because we see it as something malleable,” Marsac says. 

It’s natural to take things personally. We’re human, after all. But, especially for young parents where a lot of the stress of life can make you more likely to feel things a bit more intensely, it’s important to do what you can to change your perspective. Want to grow out of your self-destructive habit and form a healthier relationship in the process? Here are some therapist-backed tips for how to not take things so personally all the time.

1. Be Aware of Your Hang-Ups

Self awareness is a crucial skill— and it’s particularly useful in learning your triggers. As Parke Sterling, a Virginia-based therapist, points out, interactions or comments trigger insecurities, which are often blind spots. For example, if you’re freaking out about forgetting to do the dishes, you might have an underlying fear that your spouse doesn’t respect you or that people see you as irresponsible. When that insecurity kicks in, you might feel threatened and defensive.

One antidote, Sterling says, is simply to be aware of your hangups. “They’re really just patterns of thinking and feeling that are a natural result of each person’s genetics and conditioning,” he says. Once you recognize and accept your hang-ups, you can look at them instead of from them. Focus on recognizing when you’re triggered, slowing down to own it, and then determining if you want to act from your hang-up or your desire to grow as a person or connect with your spouse.

2. Watch how you talk to yourself

Once you pinpoint your insecurities in the moment, you’ll also want to keep working on them. Part of that work, Marsac says, entails keeping tabs on your internal dialogue – the self-talk that influences how you see yourself and, ultimately, how you behave in relationships.

For example, if you continually tell yourself stories throughout the week that you suck and your partner’s mad at you, you’ll filter every interaction through that narrative. Instead, work to challenge those thoughts. 

Try simply reframing that negative self-talk with a caveat, such as “I can be forgetful about chores, but I’m working on it” or “I’m not the best listener, but I want to get better.”…


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