mad little boyLast week, one of my clients told me he wasn’t going to interview for a job he wanted because he was sure he wasn’t going to get it. One of the details of the job description changed suddenly and without explanation and he was certain this had been done because the company had someone else in mind for the job. It turned out that the benign adjustment was for legal reasons and had nothing to do with him.

In another situation, days later, another client reported her parents were up in arms because my clients’ sister hadn’t returned their phone call. Her parents were sure the sister was blowing them off when in fact; she was out of town with no access to voicemail.

In both of these examples, particular actions were taken personally and as a result, precious energy was spent churning on stories that just weren’t true.

Have you had experiences like these? When someone did or said something that you were certain had to do with you? It’s common, to be sure, and the source of many miscommunications, arguments, and even the ending of relationships.

Save yourself and your loved ones time and energy by understanding where the “taking it personally” reaction comes from and what to do about it. In past posts, I’ve talked about the Amygdala, the fight or flight portion of your brain that houses emotional memories. It is the home of your Ego, preoccupied with self-preservation and protection. Self-oriented by design, it is the part of your psyche that focuses on keeping you safe and alive. Your Ego is constantly scanning past emotional memories as a way to detect a threat, so when someone or something reminds it of a painful situation, danger is it immediately assumed and a fight or flight response ensues.

Back to my client. The reason he got triggered was because he recalled a time years earlier when he wanted a job badly, but was surprised not to get it. It was painful and his Ego remembered that experience. It was trying to protect him by saying “See, they changed the job description and you’re not going to get the offer, so let’s move on.” That memory caused his “flight” mode.

And my clients’ parents, upset because her sister hadn’t called them back, didn’t want to experience the discomfort of being disconnected from her. Their history of relational ups and downs (as we all have) is quite emotional. The parents unconsciously “remembered” the last similar experience and the pain that ensued. That memory caused their “fight” mode to kick in.

Experiment:
The next time you notice an emotional trigger from someone else’s behavior and you are sure it has something do with you, try two things: 1) Be curious about what your Ego might be trying to protect you from. Does this situation remind of you something you’ve experienced before? 2) Try to imagine that this situation has nothing to do with you. Then, with someone more objective, brainstorm possible reasons why the other person may be acting as they are. Finding other possibilities can often soothe your Ego’s triggered state and enable you to inquire and respond more objectively.