Monday, September 10, 2012

How to Stop Taking Things So Personally

So there I was, sitting in church, doodling on the back of a bulletin announcement, when the pastor said something specifically directed at me.  I snapped my head up, looked straight at him.  We made eye contact, and he smiled.  My blood pressure rose.

Perhaps someone tipped him off and told him my struggle.  Or maybe he snuck into our home and spied on us for sermon content.  But I was certain, almost certain, what he said was specifically about me, for me, spoken in front of 800 people to put me in my place.  

Hello, my name is Karen and I personalize.  On insecure days, I read into things that simply aren’t true.  She just sucker- punched me—on Twitter!  I’m positive her post on Facebook was about me.  I can’t believe he’d write his whole sermon to shame us.  

We are inherently self-centered, aren’t we?  

Not everything is about us.  In fact, most things have nothing to do with us.  I know this intellectually, but some days I lose sight. 

It’s possible that an interaction, an intriguing conversation or shared experience, might cause a pastor, writer friend, or fellow leader to publicly address a particular subject related to you in greater detail.  But chances are, she is not passive-aggressively writing or speaking with any one person in mind.  What is really going on is that you are personalizing.  You’re reading into things, allowing yourself to be led astray by a perception and not a fact. 

How do you really know the intentions behind anyone outside of yourself?  You can’t, unless of course, you muster up the courage and simply ask.  Would it hurt to clarify: What did you mean by that tweet?  Where did that idea for your article come from?  Or even to take it further, “Your sermon was so spot on, I felt like you wrote it with me in mind.”  Or even more direct: “When you addressed that particular [sin, weakness, issue, verse], were you specifically directing your comment at me?”  What you’ll likely find is that their intentions were pure, and they inadvertently sparked a wound or sensitivity of yours that probably needs more healing.  

Since I’ve started writing more, my ‘condition’ has greatly improved.  Today I personalize far less because I’ve realized what it’s like to be on the other end of the conversation.  I’m confident no communicator intentionally pokes at the very audience she wants to reach.  In fact, I suspect she spends countless hours agonizing over ways not to offend.  

These days when I catch myself personalizing what might not be true, I gather my insecurity and choose to give the benefit of the doubt.  I decide to hear precisely what is being said rather than speculating what might be meant.  And when I can’t let it slide, I take the brave step and investigate the motives.  Then I get back to my doodling.

Karen Yates lives in Orange County, CA and is a partial homeschooling mother of 3 children. With a BA in English from Westmont College, Karen has worked for 12 years in the Christian non-profit sector, is an adoption advocate, non-profit consultant, and member of the Redbud Writers Guild. She blogs at and tweets: @KarenYates11. 


  1. Karen, You know what I do (because I think what you write about is something we've all done) is that I remind myself to give people the benefit of the doubt. I sure want that. And if it actually is something directed at me, if it is unjustified to let it go. It isn't any of my business what other people think of me. It sure takes a lot of drama out of life to live this way.

  2. I'm so glad to know I am not alone, Karen. I do take things personally! With lots of interaction on social media, facebook and the like, people are much more inclined to "poke" than they would face to face. Like you, I have purposed...when I can't let it go...I will be brave enough to investigate the motives. A little investigation takes much less effort than replaying the poke in your mind over and over. Thanks for sharing.