You may recall that last month I began a series of newsletters focusing on the personal habits of happy people.
Happy people tend to think and behave in ways that allow them to feel peaceful and content, no matter what’s going on around them.
With a little effort, we can all learn to do this.
The first of these habits, which I wrote about last time, was letting go of grudges.
This month I’m going to focus on happiness habit two: how to not take things too personally.
I think you’ll agree that many people struggle with this one.
Someone says or does something, and before you know it your mood has plummeted and you’re upset or angry.
In order to feel good, we must all learn to grow a thicker skin, so that when we’re subjected to criticism, negativity, perhaps even verbal attacks, they simply wash over us rather than disturb our state of mind.
While this is easier said than done, there are some techniques that you can use to reduce this kind of inner disturbance.
After all, why should someone else have the power to strip you of your inner peace and contentment?
Here are seven things that can help you to not take things too personally.
1. Focus on your breath
The minute you realise someone has riled you, stop whatever you’re doing and immediately focus on your breath. Follow each breath as it comes in and goes out through your nose.
Keep your attention on this for a few moments. Don’t allow your mind to wander. Force yourself to stay with your breath.
This simple exercise will help to calm your mind and body a little. It will also create some space between you and whatever has made you feel uneasy, so that instead of having a knee-jerk reaction to the situation you can respond calmly and deliberately.
This way, you stay in control of yourself and your response.
2. Realise that it’s not about you all the time
Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that the universe revolves around us, and that when people make critical or snide comments, or verbally attack us, it must be about us and something we’ve done.
But that’s often not the case. How do you know the other person isn’t just having a bad day … or week … or year?
Perhaps something has just happened and they’re in a bad mood or feeling agitated.
We can all get wound up by life every now and again, and then inappropriately vent our anger on whomever is in front of us, merely because they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Mentally step back from the situation and assess if this is one of those occasions.
3. Get more information
Mishearing, or even misunderstanding, what someone else has said is easily done; so instead of jumping to conclusions ask questions and seek clarification.
What did they mean by that comment? What are they really trying to say?
If appropriate, inform the other person of how you’re feeling. For the most part, people don’t mean to be nasty. They just have a different outlook on life or a different way of communicating.
Your aim in following up with some questions is to tease out the core issue – the intention behind their words.
Did they intend to hurt you? Or did they speak in a confrontational or mindless way without meaning to?
4. Talk it out
When your feelings are hurt by someone else’s words and/or actions, it’s best to talk out the issue. It will stop your mind from going into overdrive with information that is at best superficial and at worst untrue.
Ideally, you want to summon up the courage and find an opportunity to talk to the person who’s upset you. This has several benefits: it allows you to establish the facts, especially their motives; it allows you to tell them of the hurt they’ve caused; and it allows you to set your boundaries, so they know they can’t treat you in a hurtful way – it’s simply not okay with you.
Sometimes it isn’t possible to talk to the other person directly, in which case it’s best to talk to a neutral friend who will allow you to vent and feel heard. This person may also be able to give you another, more objective, perspective.
Talking can not only help you work through things in your own mind, it can also help you find a way forward. For example, expressing your feelings may be enough to make you drop the issue, or you may decide that you need to do something about it, like keeping away from the person involved or speaking to them to make your boundaries clear.
5. Look for the gift
This one can be tough; but ask yourself, is there something here that could help you?
It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what you’re actually being criticised for.
Could there be a useful message in it for you?
If a number of different people have given you the same message, then maybe there is something here that could help empower you to become a better person and improve yourself in some way.
If nothing else, the fact that you’ve reacted negatively suggests there’s something in you that needs to be looked at, addressed and healed.
If there wasn’t, you wouldn’t have had an emotional reaction. Which takes me onto my next point
6. Work on improving your self-worth
When your sense of self-worth, i.e. the image you have of yourself in your own mind, is strong and your self-esteem is high, it really doesn’t matter what anyone says to you, or about you.
Any negativity that’s projected at you which doesn’t match your truth about yourself will simply wash over you.
You may be momentarily irritated, but it won’t get under your skin and be able to adversely affect your mood.
There are many ways in which you can work on improving your sense of worth. Check out one of my earlier blogs here: How to Cultivate Greater Self Worth.
7. Take back your power
When we let someone else ruin our day, we literally give them the key to our inner world and allow them to ransack our mind and our emotions.
Take a moment to think about the person who’s upset you. Do they have the right to get inside your head and mess up your experience of life? Are you really going to allow them to be that powerful?
It’s worth remembering that, at the end of the day, you’re the one who’s allowed them to do this to you. But, by the same token, you can take back the power you’ve given to them and take charge of your own thoughts and emotions.
If it’s someone who persistently hurts you with their words or actions, though, maybe it’s time to take a stand, or perhaps walk away from the relationship altogether.
As Mahatma Gandhi said: