Some people are particularly sensitive to the opinions and behaviors of the people around them. I know I personally tend to let the insignificant things other people do and say impact how I feel and how my day goes. Someone may cut me off as I drive to work and I’ll find myself getting angry, dwelling on that anger, and maybe even feeling guilty about getting so angry later. Or someone at work may be rude to me and I’ll take what is a simple interaction between a cranky customer personally and think it has something specific to do with me. I also sometimes worry that I’m being judged and let it ruin my attitude. But by working on these issues, I’ve been able to reduce how often I let the people around me upset me. And the result is a happier, healthier me.
It’s important for everyone to realize if they’re the kind of person affected by this phenomenon because being at the mercy of other people’s actions and opinion has a hugely negative impact on overall well-being. So if you think this is something you’re struggling with, here are a few ways to live for yourself, stop taking things personally, and not let other people upset you.
1. Be “selectively permeable”
When we talk about permeability, we’re usually talking about cells and their ability to let certain things through the membranes that surround them. The membrane is there for the purpose of keeping the cell separate from the outer environment, but it’s important for nutrients and other helpful material to pass through them. My therapist brought to my attention that the mind works in a similar way. It can be a closed unit, as it is in people who don’t let others bother them. But it can also let too much inside. Selective permeability is the ideal. We should decide what nourishes us and let only that into our minds. You can bet what someone else thinks of you is not nourishing.
2. Picture your skin as a tough exterior
Seriously. Visualize the outermost part of your body as a protective shield against the things other people do that “get under your skin.” If you can picture that sort of hard shell surrounding you, you have a better chance of not taking things personally because they won’t be able to get through to your emotional core. It won’t matter what other people think.
3. Think about who and what matters to you
Let’s face it: everyone has an opinion. More than that, everyone is allowed to have an opinion. But we don’t have to take all of those random opinions to heart. We don’t have to listen to them and think they matter, because chances are they don’t. Think about who matters to you. Write their names down. Maybe the opinions of these people matter more than those of strangers (although that’s still just a general rule that may not apply). Think about what values you have and what fundamental beliefs you hold. Write them down. Consider these when someone gives their opinion, and if the opinion isn’t valuable, simply let it float away.
4. Build confidence and be sure of yourself
This is absolutely easier to say than to do. Building confidence and finding your identity is a lifelong journey that doesn’t end. Working on it day to day can have a huge impact, though. So question your inner critic. Ask if your self-doubt is realistic and challenge your thoughts if it isn’t. Is that person really judging you, or are you just so afraid that they are that you assume it’s true? Be yourself, and be proud of being you. Yes, these ideas are abstract, but figure out what they mean to you and internalize them, incorporate them into who you are and what you do. It might require you to “fake it til you make it,” but that doesn’t matter as long as you try.
5. Know your vulnerabilities
Think about when you’re most susceptible to negativity and use that awareness as a strength, as a powerful tool. If you know which people tend to upset you and what situations tend to cause you distress, you’ll be able to think ahead and be prepared with solutions.
6. Remember that the world doesn’t revolve around you
We can’t change what other people say or do. But we don’t need to let the way they move through their worlds change how we move through ours. We’d all feel much better if we just realized that what people do has everything to do with them and probably nothing to do with us. Was that guy a jerk to you? He was probably in a bad mood himself. Did that woman insult you or judge? She was probably acting on her own insecurities.
7. Take criticism for what it is
This is a tough one for lots of people, especially because when we work hard on something it hurts to feel like we didn’t do well enough. But that’s not what criticism means. When it comes in the form of a constructive suggestion, criticism simply means that another person thinks something you’ve done could be done differently. Different isn’t always better. And just because he or she thinks different would be an improvement, doesn’t mean it’s true. Criticism can also just be a downright cruel comment. Sometimes, perhaps due to jealousy, people aren’t trying to be helpful. So be sure to disregard those opinions.
8. Stand up for yourself when someone crosses a line
Standing up for yourself falls under the category of “knowing your worth,” which is something we all need to learn to do. When we have low self-esteem, we see ourselves in a negative light, and that can allow others to make us feel worse about ourselves. But no one is allowed to do that. So stand tall and love yourself enough to know how you deserve to be treated.
9. Stay busy with good things
Doing more of the things that fill you up with happiness is absolutely crucial. When you’re busy with the good, the fun, the exciting, you don’t have time to worry about other people. You won’t have time to compare yourself or be stressed with anyone’s opinions.
10. Remind yourself of how much power you have
You are stronger than you know. You have the power to summon confidence. You have the internal force to push away the fear and uncertainty and be uniquely and unapologetically you. Sometimes being ourselves is the bravest thing we can do, but you’re fully capable of doing it.
It’s going to take practice to not take things personally. You need to work on it constantly like any learned skill. But stay patient and keep at it, because the resulting peace of mind is well worth it!