As a coach for highly sensitive people, I often get asked something along these lines:
I’m a highly sensitive person, and I always take everything so personally — even little things. It’s starting to affect my relationships. How do I stop doing this?
This is a tough one. By definition, HSPs process information deeply and feel emotions intensely. Words really matter to us, both positive ones and negative ones. So when someone criticizes or insults us, of course we will feel wounded.
And it doesn’t even have to be words said out loud. Highly attuned to our environment, we notice small details that others miss. So even the slightest change in someone’s tone of voice or actions can send us into a tailspin of overthinking — especially when it involves people we are close to. We slip into frantic, worried thinking. Are they mad at me? What did I do? Why did they say that? Did they just slam that door on purpose or on accident?
Trust me, as an HSP myself, I’ve been there. It’s painful, it’s frustrating, and it wastes so much time and energy. If we let our overthinking spiral out of control, it can even damage our relationships.
So how do you stop taking little things so personally? It’s not an easy feat, but here’s what’s helped me — and what I tell my HSP clients.
8 Tips to Take Little Things Less Personally
1. Get a copy of my favorite book.
Get your hands on one of my favorite books (it’s a quick read!), The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. It’s really helpful to re-read often. The second agreement is to not take anything personally. On this topic, he writes:
Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world. Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds.
That’s great advice for anyone, but especially for us HSPs!
2. Get to the root of your reaction.
Get out your journal and do a brain dump. Writing about your feelings can help you understand them better, and help you get to the root of your reactions. Journal about this question: Why do I take things so personally? Write whatever comes to your mind. Be fully honest with yourself and write down everything you’re thinking and feeling. No one will see this unless you want them to.
You could also try writing about the last instance that you took something personally. Write down the whole story of what happened. How did it make you feel? How did you react? What would you like to change in the future if a similar situation arose again?
3. Remember that even the kindest people can be selfish sometimes.
When someone says or does something hurtful, it’s helpful to remember that even the kindest person can be selfish sometimes. We all are, to some degree, and we have to be in order to survive. It’s a basic human instinct. That doesn’t mean that what they did was right — or that you deserved it — but forgiveness can be a beautiful thing, especially when it comes to “little” slights.
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A caveat: If you are around someone who is consistently hurting you emotionally, is putting you in danger, or is hurting you physically, you need to stay away from that person.
4. Everyone has their triggers.
This is another important thing to keep in mind when someone hurts you. People tend to react based on past experiences, and sometimes even when something feels directed towards you, it isn’t. As don Miguel Ruiz so beautifully puts it, all people live “in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in.” For example, when your spouse comes home from work and snaps at you, it might not have anything to do with you — it might simply be because he or she just had a stressful day. Of course, as HSPs, it feels directed at us. But the person angry with you might not even realize the true triggers of their own feelings.
5. You can’t change someone else’s reactions.
But you can choose your own. You get to choose how you react to someone or something. You get to choose if you accept or deny negativity that is directed towards you. Try to come from a place of love, not fear. Trust me, you’ll sleep better at night. Basically, you get to choose if you start a screaming match with your spouse in the above example or let it go.
6. Take a step back and reassess.
It’s so easy to judge, to jump to conclusions, and to make up a whole huge drama in your head before anything bad even happens! I know I’ve done this — it’s so easy when your mind is prone to imagining all the possibilities of a given scenario. And, being an HSP, you might sense some energy that isn’t directed towards you. You might also be more sensitive to someone’s comment, even if this person doesn’t mean anything bad by it. Have you ever created an entire soap opera in your mind only to find out the situation isn’t that bad after all? It is human nature, so don’t judge yourself for that — we’ve all been there. Take a minute to breathe and step back from the situation to assess what is really going on. Getting some solitude (away from stimulation) can help, too.
7. If you never ask, the answer is always no.
I love this saying, and I remind myself of it often. If you feel a friend is mad at you, but never ask and just assume, chances are they probably weren’t mad at you at all. Always ask for clarification on a situation if you need it or if a bad feeling persists for a while. It may feel awkward in the moment to bring it up, but it’s worth it if it helps you find peace and closure.
8. Let it go.
When you’ve done all of the above, there is nothing left to do but let it go. Give yourself time because it won’t happen in a day. Self-care and journaling help!
HSP, you’ve got a lot to gain by not taking things so personally. As your relationships become less strained, you will discover a whole new level of peace, calm, and meaning. It’s not easy, but know that I am rooting for you.
You might like:
- 27 Things You Do Because You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
- 7 Self-Care Ideas for the Highly Sensitive Soul
- 6 Lessons I Learned About Surviving Trauma as an HSP
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