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Mental Health

How to Stop Taking Things Personally: 6 Expert Tips to Build Resilience

These smart suggestions will help build up your sense of self-worth

We’ve all been there: Whether it’s a boss being harsh about a project we spent a lot of effort perfecting or a family member complaining about our cooking, it can be tricky not taking criticism to heart — especially if the criticism is about something we put a lot of effort into or if it comes from someone close to us. While it’s natural to feel the sting, when we take things too much to heart, we can start to feel shame and retreat within ourselves, which may cause a spiral of bad feelings. Luckily, there are simple ways to learn how to stop taking things personally. Here, experts share their best tips for defusing defensiveness and building resilience.

How to stop taking things personally: Take action

1. Acknowledge feelings

We have a tendency to minimize our emotions, but if we’re going to get through painful feelings, we have to affirm them, encourages Sharon Martin, LCSW, psychotherapist and author of The Better Boundaries Workbook.

Martin urges getting curious about why you feel hurt, rejected or inadequate. “How much is this about what’s going on in the present moment and how much is about what happened in your childhood?” she says. “For example, if your boss says you’re falling behind on your work, it may bring up old wounds when your teacher was critical of you years ago — knowing why something is so painful is the first step to dealing with it.”

Related: How to Stop Worrying About Things You Can’t Control: Experts Share Their 6 Best Tricks

2. Defuse defensiveness

When you find yourself being defensive, ask yourself four questions, advises Lisa Van Gemert, author of Perfectionism: A Practical Guide to Managing “Never Good Enough”. Was the critique valid and said in an appropriate way? Was it valid but not said nicely? Was it not valid in this present moment but might have some truth to it? Was it not at all valid?

“Your answers will help you discover which scenarios you tend to over-respond to or get defensive about,” says Gemert. Once you recognize your patterns, you’ll be able to pause and take a deep breath before reacting, tamping down defensiveness.

Woman sitting in office and taking a deep breath how to stop taking things personally

3. Curb expectations

Are you taking things to heart because you have unrealistic expectations for yourself? Perfectionism is often at the heart of defensiveness, notes Kaytee Gillis, LCSW-BACS, psychotherapist and author of Breaking the Cycle. “Maybe you’re stretched too thin, and when someone makes a comment about your parenting, for example, you reel from the criticism because of a hidden sensitivity.”

Gillis adds that while intellectually we know there’s no such thing as perfectionism, it can be hard to feel that truth emotionally. “Instead of focusing on what you believe you did wrong, make an inventory of what you’re doing well — little things like eating a healthy yogurt or paying a friend a compliment.” This kudos list will help increase your confidence.

Related: How to Get Out of a Rut: 6 Expert Tricks That’ll Help You Feel Less Stuck and More Inspired

How to stop taking things personally: Build resilience

1. Tell yourself a new story

No one is born taking criticism well, and it requires a bit of practice to get comfortable with it, confirms Van Gemert.

“You might tell yourself something like, ‘This critique is probably worth hearing, but I’m not in a position to hear it right now.’ Jot down a reminder or to reflect on this feedback later when you’re ready to digest it. Or, you might tell someone, ‘Thank you for your feedback; can we set up an appointment to talk about it?’” she encourages. Giving yourself space is often the key to depersonalizing critiques.

2. Reaffirm your identity

Sometimes we’re swayed or hurt by others’ opinions because our foundation, our sense of self, isn’t strong enough, notes Martin.

“What do you believe about yourself? What are your values and skills?” This identity piece of the equation is vital because it reminds you that constructive criticism is not about who you are, it’s about behaviors or circumstances, she says. “For example, if you missed a deadline, it’s not because you’re a lazy person. Reaffirming your identity will help you take constructive criticism and learn from it.”

Related: Experts: Saying ‘Sorry’ Too Much Is Holding Women Back — Here’s What to Say Instead

Woman sitting at desk thinking while working from home, how to stop taking things personally
Cavan Images/Getty

3. Tap a growth mindset

Even if a piece of criticism is delivered poorly or insensitively, ask yourself if there’s a kernel of truth to it, encourages Martin. “Sometimes a little piece of information can help us do better,” she says. “Criticism doesn’t have to be all true or not true at all — we can grow from little seeds of information that cause us to reflect on how to move forward stronger.”

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