You’ve heard it. Maybe you’ve even said it. But is anyone really not taking it personally? I hesitate to ever say those words. To me, if it occurs to you that someone might take something to heart, then they probably will. So save it.

In The Four Agreements, one of my top must-reads of all time, Don’t take anything personally is the agreement that has been a decades-long work in progress for me. It’s a tough one. The book has such validating insights for making this a life-changing focus, namely that it’s really never about you, no matter how personal it sounds. On my journey, I’ve made a few other observations.

It feels personal because it’s likely an insecurity-so maybe get a grip on that first

When something hurts you or even offends you, the first step is to ask yourself why. Odds are, it’s not because of the actual thing that happened, but because of the emotions it conjured up. Maybe feelings of being left out, insignificant, or not valued. Those feelings come from somewhere, so a good first step to becoming better at not taking things personally is figuring out why those inner thoughts are there in the first place. Once you identify and understand them, they won’t be as much of an influence on your feelings when things happen. 

Stop the runaway train

You may just be an overly sensitive person. That’s not good or bad, just a fact. As such, things just seem to hit you a little harder, making it a natural response to go down that road of being personally hurt. Many times we get to this point because we went into the overthinking mode and having runaway thoughts. Distracting ourselves with an activity, exercise, or something on our to-do list is just enough to intercept the snowballing of emotions. It won’t make you less sensitive, but it’s a tool to channel your energy into something positive, which may keep you from even going there. That’s a good thing. Be careful not to confuse avoiding with distracting, though. If you simply avoid without putting your mind on something else, you’re likely to induce more anxiety.

Take a risk and jump into the deep end every now and then

You know you’re sensitive, so it’s likely that you don’t do or try things that you aren’t great at. Probably because you don’t want to deal with the negative feedback or any feedback. One tactic that can make you more emotionally strong is actually doing those things occasionally. Be vulnerable every now and then and take on a task in public, that you might otherwise have done privately to avoid scrutiny. Allow someone to crack a joke, send a little dig your way, anything along those lines. Those aren’t personal attacks, though it seems like it, (again, for reasons you need to figure out). So even though this is a difficult one, it will pay off the quickest. Once you get comfortable with having a few arrows zing by you, it won’t seem so bad when one knicks that fragile ego. That will build the confidence to put yourself out there a little more each day. Ultimately, it will make your life easier, so dive in.

One thing is for sure, you don’t want to take things personally. It makes it difficult for anyone to give you honest feedback or criticism, for fear of your reaction. That is something that will end up being more harmful to you than anyone. It may take a little time to get this under control, but these tactics can be a good start.