Why You Have to Take It Personally Before You Can Get Over It

by Melissa Karnaze

Anytime you feel upset, hurt, or irritated, you’ve already taken it personally.

You can’t go back and pretend that it doesn’t really matter.

Or that you are above taking things personally.

Because you’re not, and and no one is.

Unless… you know how to work with all of your emotions first.

That usually means, working with your negative emotions and juicing something good and nutritious out of their bitter taste.

It’s tempting to “not take it personally” too soon

Here’s the thing.

You’ll know not to take something personally when you have really good reasons not to.

“Because you shouldn’t let it upset you.”

Is not a good enough reason.

It’s circular. And most of the time when people recommend it, they don’t know what they are talking about anyway.

They’re just trying to appear cool-headed, calm-minded, helpful, logical, and above-those-pesky-emotions — which may seem like a “normal” and noble thing to do.

But it’s actually unintelligent and unwise to one’s mental-emotional health.

Not taking things personally for the right reasons

The only way to have really good reasons to not take something personally is when those reasons are not emotionally charged.

If you’re still angry, resentful, irked, jealous, defensive, or sarcastic about the whole thing, you’re still emotionally charged.

Meaning, your reasons will fall flat and you won’t ever be able to get over it.

Let’s take a look at two examples.

Example #1: So he called you by the wrong nickname

You’re having a discussion with this guy. And it’s escalating into an argument even though you’ve already read here how arguing is counter-productive.

Up to this point, you’ve kept your tongue pretty tame. But he’s gone overboard, because he went ahead and called you a (insert your least favorite derogatory term here). And this really crosses the line, because that is the one word that hurts you the deepest.

So let’s pause.

You have two choices:

    1. Don’t take it personally right now
    2. Don’t take it personally later… which means taking it personally right now

In the fist case, you do whatever it takes to brush the derogatory term aside. To get it out of your mind. Or you argue back, essentially changing the topic. The details don’t really matter. What matters is that you don’t let yourself feel the real effects of being called (insert your least favorite derogatory term here).

And the consequences of that? Well, the wound likely goes unaddressed, so you’ll never have a chance to heal. Or to learn from the situation to better protect yourself in the future. All because you had bad reasons to not take it personally. Reasons like, “I need to win this argument, no matter what it takes,” “I can’t show weakness,” “I won’t let him get to me,” “I’m better than this because I can forgive him instead,” and “I shouldn’t reveal how vulnerable I really am.”

In the second case, you do whatever it takes to get in touch with how that derogatory term rubbed you the wrong way. To keep the experience present. No matter how drama-queen or ridiculous you think you look. The details don’t really matter. What matters is that you don’t let yourself lose the feeling that comes with being called (insert your least favorite derogatory term here).

And the consequences of that? Well, the wound’s likely addressed, so you will have a chance to heal. By expressing your hurt feelings and maybe even being validated by him. Or if he’s not willing to hear you out, then disengaging from the argument to work it out on your own. And then learning from the situation to better protect yourself in the future. All because you found out why you were so triggered.

Once you get here, then your reasons for not taking it personally (this time and in the future) are much better. Reasons like, “He’s calling me this because it’s his way of hurting me instead of expressing his true feelings,” “This is his projection that has nothing to do with who I am,” “This argument has escalated off-course; we’re no longer talking about what really matters,” “Instead of taking his jab personally, I’ll ask him to clarify why he called me (insert your least favorite derogatory term here),” and “Instead of getting upset, I’ll tell him how it hurts.”

Example #2: So he thinks I’m full of Shiitake mushrooms

I get this all the time when my articles push people’s ouch buttons.

Readers don’t like what I have to say, then insist I’m full of air, and let me know it through a barrage of passive aggressive (or blatant) attacks on my intelligence.

So let’s pause.

In each case I have two choices:

    1. Don’t take it personally right now
    2. Don’t take it personally later… which means taking it personally right now

I always take it personally right then and there if any emotion feels icky. Because I know myself well enough and how online discussions work to know that I can’t hide my temper. She always comes out later, and would likely sabotage my intentions of keeping the comment discussions of a constructive and exploratory nature.

Plus, I have to walk my talk. If I stuff my emotions, especially when interacting with readers, my articles would end up being nothing more than air.

So behind the scenes, before I respond to mean-spirited comments, I take things as personally as I can. To get to the bottom of my emotional reactions. Because that ensures that I’m more mindful of my subconscious cognitive networks, and thus in a better position to accept my vulnerabilities.

An added benefit which I couldn’t have imagined before starting this blog, is that any time I take a negative comment so personally it makes my knees shake and then work it, magic happens: I remember the reasons why I wrote each article, why I believe in what I say, and I can understand clearly why it threatens the negative commenter’s worldview. Which is positive reinforcement to keep writing, refine my message, and get it out.

Getting over it after you’ve taken it personally

As you can see, there’s a huge difference between not taking it personally now versus not taking it personally later.

When you don’t wait until later, and take it damn personally now, you:

When you don’t wait until later, and take it damn personally now, it’s harder to take thing as personally in the future.

Because you take quality time to nurse your own insecurities.

And better detect when people aren’t playing fair.

Getting over it means finding emotional zen

Emotional zen comes from emotional turbulence.

You have to ride out the storm before finding the serenity.

Try to skip the rainfall, and you’ll miss out on the clear blue skies and newly green meadows that follow.

Emotional zen is not taming or controlling or defusing your emotions, but allowing them to be, mindfully.

And nurturing them so you may learn from them. Find out what you need to change in your thinking, and what you need to change in your behavioral responses.

So that the things that aren’t really personal, aren’t personal.

How is it for you?

Do you find it easy or hard to take things personally first so that you can then find really good reasons to not take it personally second?

Share with us in the comments below.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Heidi March 4, 2010 at 7:17 am

Your posts keep having a “wow” response from me, so much so that I wonder if you know of a resource where I might find a really good therapist in Atlanta with your framework and training.

Melissa Karnaze March 4, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Your kind words are such positive encouragement Heidi. :)

I’m pursuing graduate study to one day become a licensed therapist, and as much as I’ve looked into the therapeutic approaches out there, in some ways I feel like a black sheep, as I’m so gung-ho about emotions. :)

At the moment my framework is an undergraduate degree in cognitive science, and my training is a blend of several modalities, including very New Agey ones, and my unique life experiences. Cognitive science is pivotal in how I see things, because it’s essentially the study of human nature, or how the brain constructs reality. I think you need that solid groundwork to look at the world in a more objective, deconstructed way. Whereby even the act of therapy is deconstructed so that the relationship can be entered by therapist and client in a mindful, open, and consenting way. And then the New Age/Spiritual background is a bit much to get into, but it’s where I draw much of my personal faith and optimism.

As far as current therapeutic approaches go, Mindful Construct is basically an exploration of Personal Construct Psychology with a strong basis in the appraisal theory of emotion. Acceptance & Commitment Therapy seems to be similar to the theme here in a few important ways. But — I’ve not researched ACT to my level of satisfaction yet. And I think one pitfall is anytime emotions are to be defused with mindfulness-based approaches *prematurely*, which I touch on in this article series, and just today, this comment discussion. Then there’s William Glasser’s Choice Theory, which I very much align with, but haven’t yet looked into enough either. Limited time keeps my reading list long. :)

The bottom line is, I’ve noticed that mental health in general is still wary of doing real, actual, intimate, emotional work. Most modalities like to keep the emotional experience segregated from the rational talk therapy or the good-sounding counseling.

And I intend to do graduate work exploring this in depth, to really analyze how and why that’s so characteristic of therapy. I’m sure there are therapists out there who do understand it is far, far more valuable, conscientious, and productive to get *into* the emotions and learn from them, rather than than try get things all figured out without that crucial link to your personal constructs. I just haven’t met any yet. :)

I wish I could be of more assistance. If you ever want to run by a paper about a certain therapeutic approach, some other description, or even a particular therapist’s webpage, feel free to send it my way and I can look for any pitfalls that contrast with the principles here.

Heidi March 4, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Ahhh… I hear you so well… I was coming from a different sort of perspective in grad school too. Please know that what you are doing is very very valuable – and keep on. I was hoping that you weren’t such a one-of-a-kind as you clearly are! I guess I’ll just have to glean what I can from your writings and try to apply them as possible.

From my work and experiences in mental health and psychology, I think you’re exactly right. I was just hopeful that things had moved more into the kind of thing you’re doing here.

I hope you’re intending to publish. Let me know if you ever need any academic support, references or anything like that. I’m truly impressed.

Melissa Karnaze March 5, 2010 at 11:02 am

Heidi, thank you so much for offering academic support. :) Your VirusHead site is down at the moment, but I remember reading about your dissertation in virology in fiction or something insane and complex like that!

I’m glad you can understand my black sheep view of mental health and psychology. And I think that your personal experience breaking away from the Witnesses helps give you the depth to see it so clearly. The problem is that when people live at the surface level of their emotions, it’s harder for them to understand why going deeper is so worth it. I do think things will move with more as researchers ask smarter questions about the brain, emotion, and experience.

Boy, blogging has sort of changed my view of publishing. I have a big writing project that needs to be completed before I can start the next one planned, and in the meantime I’m working on getting a newsletter started. New stuff will be announced here on the blog. :)

Thanks again Heidi and let me know if there’s any way I can provide feedback on choosing a mental health resource in your local area.

Cihan April 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Keep being the black sheep Mel. I’ll buy a hundred copies of any book you publish!

Melissa Karnaze April 1, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Thanks Cihan, black sheep support truly is the most treasured. :)

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