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If every criticism cuts you to the heart, you may have a TTP (Taking Things Personally) problem. If you assume that everyone who fails to answer your messages is laughing at you behind your back, you probably have a TTP problem. If every time you hear a general comment on what’s wrong with people today, your gut reaction is “No one appreciates how hard I try”—you definitely have a TTP problem.
If you have a TTP problem, you are at higher risk for the stress that often leads to addiction or relapse—plus, chronic “taking things personally” can be a sign of mental illness, which itself puts you in a high-risk category for addiction. If you’ve never been tested for depression or anxiety disorder, consider scheduling a psychiatric evaluation.
But whatever the causes, you can reduce TTP tendencies—and the attendant risk of substance abuse—with the following approaches.
1. Believe in Yourself
People who take things personally usually have low self-esteem, so they depend on constant outside affirmation. As with chemical comfort, the relief is never adequate and always temporary. Carry your affirmations in your own heart: regularly review your abilities and good qualities, the things you’ve succeeded at and the compliments you’ve received. If you have difficulty thinking of any, it’s fine to ask a trusted confidant for initial input, but keeping it reinforced is your responsibility.
2. Remember You Aren’t the Center of the Universe
There’s a saying attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt: “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” Since we all live in constant consciousness of ourselves, it’s easy to believe everyone must also notice our mistakes, recognize our struggles and understand our feelings. They don’t. They’re too busy thinking about their personal concerns.
3. Don’t Assume More Responsibility Than You Were Made for
Just as everyone else isn’t out to criticize or pamper you, they aren’t expecting you to solve their problems—or if they are, they probably have Taking Things Personally issues of their own, in which case trying too hard to help will only create more problems for both of you. Let others be responsible for their own internal struggles and external actions. Concentrate on the responsibilities you instinctively know are reasonable for you.
4. Learn to Give the Benefit of the Doubt
Not being responsible for others’ feelings doesn’t, of course, preclude offering a helping hand or kind word—or a kind thought. Instead of getting angry at perceived or genuine snubs, make an effort to see the other’s point of view. Might they be preoccupied with worry? Could they have actually meant well? Isn’t a chronic bad attitude more to be pitied than despised? Be as tolerant of others’ bad days as you are of your own.
5. Watch out for False-Belief Gut Reactions
Beware if any of the following sound like something you say often:
- “These things always happen to me.”
- “She just doesn’t care how I feel.”
- “It’s not fair!”
That sort of thinking adds up to “If anyone really cared about me, I’d never be disappointed or inconvenienced”—unreasonable and dangerous ground to walk on. Learn to counter your “automatic negative thoughts” and look at situations objectively.
6. Find More Important Things to Think About
Much “taking personally” is rooted in the craving for an easy life. Instead, why not learn to experience the joys of a purposeful life? People who are dedicated to making their own unique contributions to the world—for the world’s good no less than their own—rarely take criticism or inconvenience to heart. They’re too busy giving back, following their stars and welcoming challenge as the road to deeper fulfillment.
7. Don’t Invite Trouble
Some annoyances and pushed buttons are inevitable, but some we really do “ask for.” Know your personal triggers and don’t rationalize yourself into situations that are rife with them. If your “best friend” is bitingly critical or can be counted on to offer you drugs, find new friends. If you always bought a six-pack at the gas-station convenience store, get your gas somewhere else (and stay outdoors the whole time). Temptation doesn’t mean the world is rigged against you—it means you’d better look again to your personal responsibility.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about a TTP problem is: never let it give you an excuse for irresponsible personal behavior.