Maybe Sometimes You Should Take it Personally

Feb 19, 2023

“Telling someone not to take something personally is like stripping them of their self. It’s like telling them their feelings are invalid.” – The Odyssey Online


Maybe Sometimes You Should Take it Personally

From The Master Shift:
An unhealed person can find offense in pretty much anything someone does. A healed person understands that the actions of others has absolutely nothing to do with them. Each day you get to decide which one you will be.”

I think it is fair to say that at some point in our lives, most of us have given or gotten the advice, “You can’t take it personally.” Consider these experiences:

  • Someone honks at you in the parking lot
  • Someone interrupted you while you were speaking
  • You receive a 3-word response to a 3-paragraph email that you sent
  • The person you sent a text message to does not respond
  • A friend cancels on you again
  • Someone indirectly insults your hard work

When we react with anger, sadness, or indignation to instances like these, it is not uncommon for us to hear the advice, “Don’t take it personally.” Sometimes, remembering that someone’s behavior is more about what is happening with them than it is about you is enough to help us move on from the triggering event. And sometimes, it isn’t. Because sometimes it is personal.

Sometimes, the reason we are having an emotional reaction to a situation is because the other person’s behavior has triggered something inside of us that causes a cascade of negative thoughts and emotions.

In this case, the best course of action may actually be to take things personally. The other person’s behavior may have nothing to do with you, but your reaction to the behavior has everything to do with you. If you follow Connected Realities’ work, you’ll know that we talk a lot about core human needs. When we are in an emotional tangle and trying to talk ourselves into not taking things personally, it is probably because one of our core needs is being threatened, needs like: belonging, social connection, esteem, dignity, fairness, respect from others, feeling useful, feeling safe, feeling significant.

Also, as it turns out, the reaction you are having might not be about the event itself. Your reaction might be about a deeper need that is not being met. To help you identify the needs beneath your reaction, we developed The Needs Machine. It is a multi-step process that can help you better understand your personal reactions to triggering events. Take a look at the process below to identify your own needs.

The Needs Machine process asks a series of questions:

  1. Triggering Event:What was the precipitating event? What else was happening during or just before the event?
  2. Emotions and Sensations:What were you feeling emotionally and in your physical body?
  3. Thoughts, Beliefs, and Stories:What are the thoughts you were having associated with the triggering event? What are the beliefs (about yourself or others) and what are the stories you are telling yourself about the event?
  4. Origins:What else does this situation remind you of? Where do you think this/these stories, thoughts, and beliefs come from?
  5. Realizations:Now that you have looked at the situation from these angles, what are some of the generalized assumptions or negative patterns of thinking you already had that might be coloring your thoughts, stories, and beliefs about this situation?
  6. Needs:What are your unmet needs in this situation? (e.g. belonging, social connection, esteem, dignity, fairness, respect from others, feeling useful, feeling safe, feeling significant)
  7. BONUS QUESTION:In working through this process, you may have been able to identify what is at the core of your reactions to the triggering event. If there were a salve that could be applied to heal the wound, what might that be?

So when you’re having trouble not taking someone else’s behavior personally, try taking it personally instead. You may find exactly what you need to let go of those negative emotions.