"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." -- Eleanor Roosevelt
The holiday season is upon us. Along with the joy it brings, it can also mean stress and family drama, which is why it is especially important to remind ourselves how to not take things so personally. So often we cause ourselves unnecessary distress because of the way we interpret what others have said or done. We may become anxious, sad, angry, resentful, or insecure because of someone else's words or actions, or even their silence and inaction. The problem here, however, is not other people's behaviors, but the fact that we are allowing others to define how we feel about ourselves. Confidence in our own worth lessens the impact of other's behavior on us; we remain self-assured, positive, and true to ourselves even in the face of difficult people or situations. Victor Frankl, noted psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, explained that "between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
Here are some ways that you can you can take back the power this holiday season and stop taking things so personally.
1) Consider the source and be compassionate.
When someone is being critical, cruel, or just generally jerky, it's quite possible that this person is projecting their own unhappiness and internal suffering onto you. Before drowning in self-doubt or getting angry, try having compassion for that person's suffering. Think to yourself, "I'm sorry this person is struggling so much that they need to lash out like this." Being compassionate towards others activates pleasure centers in the brain, slows down heart rates, and helps us feel more socially connected. (Conversely, we tend to feel isolated when we take things personally.) This does not mean that you are condoning bad behavior, but rather you are choosing to feel compassion for another's suffering instead of personalizing the expression of their pain.
2) Focus on what you can control.
You may not be able to control what other people say or do, but as Frankl says, you can control your reaction to it. Focus your energy on the things you do have the power to change. If you find yourself rattled by someone, try one of these quick mood-shifting tips: Take 10 deep breaths, change your posture to hold power poses (open and expansive postures), or hold a smile for 60 seconds. Also, practice noticing your thoughts as an observer without getting entangled in them. This allows you to create some space from the thought and be better equipped to evaluate its validity.
3) Ask yourself: What are the other possibilities?
Nine times out of 10 it's possible that the way someone is behaving has nothing to do with you. Ask yourself what else could possibly explain the other person's words, behaviors, or actions. Is he having a bad day? Is she incredibly busy and can't come up for air? Is there a family problem? Maybe he's just a bad communicator? Doing this mentally opens the door to understanding that the hurtful behavior may have nothing to do with you.
4) Be mindful of the technology bias.
These days we are much more likely to communicate via text, email, or Gchat than on the phone or in person. It is important to remember that tone is incredibly hard to read in these contexts. Have you ever said something sarcastically via text but the person did not realize it because they could not hear the inflection in your voice when you said it? Before jumping to conclusions, ask yourself if some meaning may have been lost in cyberspace.
5) When in doubt, ask!
If you are really worried that someone may be upset with you, check it out with him or her. There is no harm is asking the person what they are feeling. Most people will be quick to reassure you that there is nothing wrong. If they are in fact upset with you, you now have the opportunity to talk about it and resolve it.
6) Speak up.
If someone keeps doing things that hurt your feelings there is a good chance that they don't realize the impact they are having on you. Stand up for yourself. Let the person know that you have been hurt by their actions so that they can make changes in the future. If the person is in fact intentionally doing things to hurt you, it's time to seriously re-evaluate that friendship. You do not need people in your life who find pleasure in making you suffer.
7) Override the brain's negativity bias by taking in the good.
Unfortunately, our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative. But we can counter this bias by purposefully directing our attention towards taking in the good. When you have a positive experience with someone let yourself savor it instead of immediately moving along to the next thing. Keep a list of your personal strengths in your iPhone. Create a special folder in your email inbox to fill with loving and positive emails people send you. When you are feeling hurt by someone else's words or actions, refer back to these things to remind yourself just how wonderful you are. Arming yourself with positive facts makes it harder for your mind to run with a negative hypothesis.
8) Ground yourself each day with meditation.
Before opening yourself up to the firing squad that is your external environment, start your day with a short meditation to get yourself grounded. One of meditation's proven benefits is increased emotional equanimity -- the ability to respond, instead of reacting. Take a compassionate moment to reflect and commit to: 1) believing in yourself and your worth, 2) finding the balance between "stimulus and response," 3) granting the same compassion you give to others to yourself, and 4) having gratitude for all the good in you and your life. This grounding process will help you feel calm and confident as you move through the rest of your day.
Follow Daniela Tempesta, LCSW on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Tempestalcsw