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Taking Things Less Personally
June 17, 2022
The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.
-E. Joseph Cossman, 1918-2002, Inventor of the Ant Farm toy

When dealing with unwanted outcomes, many of us fall into two thinking traps that can lead to unnecessary, unhelpful self-blame or self-criticism:

Personalization, believing you are the cause, can divert you from seeing or seeking other possible explanations. In addition, "your attempts to make sense of [others’] reactions could distort your sense of what’s actually happening… Tendencies to take things too personally restrict your emotional and behavioral options and increase the likelihood that you’ll struggle with distress or dysfunction," writes Joel Minden on the non-profit website psyche.co.

Mind reading, assuming what others think without direct feedback, is another common thinking error. Minden continues, "You can think of these automatic thoughts as learned behaviors, acquired through experience. They might be linked to a history of accepting responsibility for problems to take the pressure off others."

One way to change automatic thinking patterns is to "remember that feelings are not debatable – you just feel how you feel, even when you wish you didn’t. Your thoughts, on the other hand, can be challenged, revised or replaced with more realistic and useful ones." Practice labelling which are feelings and which are thoughts, then look for evidence for and against the thoughts, and alternative explanations.

In the Exchange Reflections on "Self Compassion," Tamar Jacobson writes, "Everyone has feelings whether we like them or not—whether they cause us discomfort or not. I might deny them or pretend I do not feel them, but nevertheless, consciously or unconsciously, I experience them simply because I am human…Lately, I am finding it a relief to experience an emotion cognitively, physically, viscerally and then choosing how, when, or even if to express it."

Exchange Reflections

Exchange Reflections are designed to help a team of people meet in-person or live online to think deeply together about a topic using an article from Exchange magazine as a guide. Included are discussion questions to help guide reflections, as well as a "Making Commitments" idea sheet to help prompt ideas into action. For your convenience, Exchange Reflections are available in PDF format and you can download immediately on your desktop.


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