The ABCs of Not Taking Things Personally
Do you find yourself getting defensive at feedback?
Do you keep playing certain conversations over and over in your head?
Are you upset, annoyed or angry with someone and can’t seem to get over it?
Are you uncomfortable around a particular person and beginning to think there’s something wrong with you?
Well, you’re not alone.
In fact, Albert Ellis, an American psychologist considered to be the father of cognitive-behavioral therapy, found that people can get stuck in an irrational belief system that holds us back. Our beliefs aren’t necessarily true. If we don’t examine our beliefs, question them, or are aware of them, they can end up controlling us as if they are the truth. Ellis came up with the Three Basic Musts, which tend to be at the universal root causes for why we over react or take things too personally:
Must #1 (a demand on yourself): “I must do well and get approval, or else I’m worthless.” This ones causes anxiety, depression and lack of assertiveness.
Must #2 (a demand on others): “You must treat me reasonably, considerately and kindly, or else you’re no good.” This leads to resentment, hostility, even violence.
Must #3 (a demand on situations): “Life must be fair, easy and hassle-free, or else it’s awful.” This leads to hopelessness, procrastination, giving up.
Granted, Ellis is over-generalizing, but his point is that everyone and everything is fallible—people and the world at large—and that unless we stop taking things so personally with no consideration for another’s perspective or other possibilities, we’re doomed to being miserable and acting out in ways that we may well later regret.
Easier said than done, right?! Fortunately, Ellis was also all about self-help and coming up with techniques to help people change their beliefs and thought patterns. In other words, just because you think or believe a certain way doesn’t mean it’s correct and that you have to act upon it.
He can up with the ABCDE technique (easy to remember!), which is a tool I practice myself and share with my clients, many of whom have found it to be a game changer.
A = Identify the ACTIVATING event.
Think of it factually, without interpretation. For example, Someone drove into my lane, causing me to brake quickly.
B = What is your BELIEF about what happened?
Now give the unedited version of what you’re really thinking. That guy was a total A$$hole…careless and stupid!
C = What is the CONSEQUENCE of your belief?
How does it make you feel? I’m so angry and can feel myself wanting to scream.
D = Now DISPUTE your belief.
What’s another way of looking at what happened? Maybe that guy was rushing to the hospital because his wife was in labor. Or maybe he just didn’t see me.
E = Notice the EFFECT of disputing your belief.
Huh, I’m no longer angry now. By giving someone else the benefit of the doubt, you give yourself the benefit of calm.
The more you practice this technique, the more empowered you’re going to feel. Trust me, it really works. We may not always know the reason someone did something or why something happened. But that’s not the point. The point is that most likely, it had nothing to do with us! And this realization can be very liberating, calming, hopeful and, like I said, empowering.
I’ll leave you with this recent anecdote that perfectly conveys the point:
A client was complaining to me that her boss was suddenly using a harsh tone with her and being very dismissive. She felt that she wasn’t being respected, and it was wreaking havoc with her work and emotions. So, I threw out a dispute for her feeling/belief—one that had nothing to do with her or her performance. “Before jumping to the wrong conclusion, maybe consider that he’s stressed out about something in his own life and taking it out on you without realizing. Can you take a breath and possibly find out if something else is going on?” Before long, she learned that her boss’ wife was battling breast cancer.
Moral of the story: We don’t always know what’s going on with other people, nor can we control everything. The one thing we can control is how we feel…and ultimately, respond.
I’d love to know if you try practicing this technique and how it works for you. Keep me posted, okay?! But if I don’t hear from you right away, I’ll try not to take it personally. ;~)
p.s. Want some extra support with a situation you’re dealing with now? You know I’m here for you. Just schedule 30 minutes to chat for a complimentary coaching session.