How Sensitive People Can Stop Taking Things So Personally in Their Relationships
“The truth is that the way other people see us isn’t about us—it’s about them and their own struggles, insecurities, and limitations. You don’t have to allow their judgment to become your truth.” ~Daniell Koepke
As a child growing up with a highly sensitive mom, I often noticed her go quiet at the dinner table after my stepfather would make some little comment. Looking back, I know he was just tired and a bit grouchy from a long day at work, but my mom felt hurt by his words.
Over the years, the comments didn’t lessen, but I noticed my mother being less and less bothered by them. They seemed to slide off of her like water off a duck’s back. As a result, my parents seemed to have a lot more fun, laughter, and ease together—and still, forty some years into their marriage, live happily side by side.
Just like my mom did in the earlier days of her marriage, it’s so common for sensitive people to take things personally–both in our intimate relationships and in general–and for that to make the relationship more painful and less fulfilling.
Up until seven or eight years ago, I, too, found myself getting easily hurt by things my husband did, or most often, the things he did not do.
It stung when my husband didn’t seem to be listening when I was talking, when the scenery seemed to captivate his attention more than my heartfelt words, when he forgot to do the thing I’d asked him to do, or when he interrupted me when I was speaking—all of which happened (and still does) with regularity!
One thing that felt especially hurtful then was when my husband would fall asleep while I was vulnerably sharing deep feelings about our relationship. I felt so hurt by his sleeping, like he didn’t really care about me.
I’ve known many other sensitive people to take it personally and feel hurt when their partner doesn’t give them verbal appreciation when they do something nice or helpful, or when their partner isn’t as affectionate or openly enthusiastic about spending time with them.
It is true that many partners do not always act with kindness or consideration. Yet, when we take it personally, the hurt we feel can show, often in how quiet we suddenly get, or in a slightly defensive reaction, or in outright tears.
As we hold onto that hurt, over time, it takes a toll in our relationship and our emotional well-being.
If you take things personally often in your relationship, it’s likely to build up some deep resentment and disappointment.
It can also lead to defensive interactions with your partner, escalating arguments, and withdrawal or criticism from both sides—which only results in even more disconnection between you.
Eventually, in my own marriage, I realized that taking things so personally was really rough on our relationship. Not only did it simply feel bad to me, but I also didn’t act how I really wanted to in my marriage. When I felt hurt, I would often retaliate with some criticism, like “Talking to you is like talking to a stone wall!”
Needless to say, that led to more distance, discord, and deep unhappiness between my husband and me.
So I looked to my mother and her wisdom. What she told me opened the door for me to the power of not taking things personally—and developing a whole arsenal of tricks to help me become someone who hardly ever takes anything personally anymore.
What a blessing this has been in my marriage, and even in my career, allowing me to feel more confidence and calmness, and to love my hubby—and feel loved by him—more deeply than ever. (Yes, even if he spaces out—or falls asleep!—when I’m talking to him.)
Not taking things so personally is possible for you, too, and it will allow you to have much more connection and loving intimacy in your relationship–which you were born for as a highly sensitive person.
Here are six tips to help you, as sensitive person, become someone who no longer takes things so personally in your intimate relationship.
1. Tend to your stress levels.
As highly sensitive people, our nervous systems tend to get overloaded more quickly than non-HSPs, due to how deeply we process stimuli.
This means you will feel more easily overwhelmed and stressed than non-HSPs if you are not attending to your nervous system regularly.
Interestingly, research shows that when we have higher stress levels, we misinterpret neutral comments from others as criticism, or see their behaviors in a more threatening, negative light.
In other words, unless you are regularly de-stressing, you are likely to see and experience everything your partner does or does not do in a much more negative way, take things more personally, and feel hurt a lot more.
That hug your spouse resisted? If you were stressed, it may have seemed like he was actually snubbing you instead of just distracted by the kids. If you had been calm and centered, it would have been no biggy; maybe you would have even appreciated it that he was attending to the kids and taking some work off your hands.
A huge part of our emotional well-being, and feeling connected instead of feeling hurt, depends on tending to our nervous systems regularly to keep our stress levels moderated.
Some of my favorite ways of doing so include a medium-paced walk in nature, meditation, coherent breathing, yoga nidra, and dancing wildly or gently in my living room. There are many options. Find ones you like and add them—even just for a few minutes here and there—to your daily routine.
2. Know your goodness.
Other people’s words or actions cause a lot of pain when we think it means something about who we are and don’t keep our own good opinion of ourselves at the forefront. Because the hurt we feel from taking things personally actually comes from believing other people’s negative judgments of us.
In other words, if we don’t feel great about ourselves, whenever anyone else isn’t caring or kind, we can more easily take it to indicate something bad about ourselves.
When you can hold the clear knowledge of your own goodness in your awareness, you will have a much easier time separating other people’s confused thoughts from who you really are and letting them roll off you like water off a duck’s back. So make sure your opinion of yourself is a good, healthy one.
For many HSPs this can be especially hard because we have been misunderstood and perhaps treated like something is wrong with us for much of our lives…which can convince us this is true and lower our self-esteem…which makes it even easier to feel hurt when someone says or does something that could indicate disapproval or lack of care about us.
But as an HSP, you have so much to feel good about yourself for!
So it’s well worth your energy to spend time actively seeing what you like and even love about yourself. What do you know about the goodness of who you really are? (Need some hints? This post will help.)
Deeply knowing your goodness will prevent and ease the pain of taking things personally.
3. Think about your thinking—both yours and your partner’s.
Our own thinking is the biggest culprit of taking things personally as HSPs. This is great news because it means we can shift our thinking to minimize the pain of hurt feelings.
As HSPs, we tend to be so conscientious, attentive, and attuned to those we care about, so we unconsciously expect the same from our partner. If it turns out that they aren’t as attuned and caring naturally, we think it means we aren’t as important to them as they are to us, that we aren’t loved, that we aren’t good enough, that we have done something wrong—or are wrong.
I can’t tell you how many HSP women I know have told me that when their hubby says, in a tone, something like, “What, you can’t give me five minutes to get to xyz?!!” They think to themselves, “Oh no, I’ve done something wrong. I suck.”
This is what I call a negative misinterpretation. And our HSP brains naturally do this a lot! This negative interpretation is where the pain of hurt feelings really comes from.
Let’s get a quick understanding of this: For survival reasons, the human brain is wired by default to see and hear things negatively. We unconsciously focus on flaws, on what’s wrong, or missing. This is called the negativity bias of the brain. And HSPs, we have this even more strongly than non-HSPs.
You can use this knowledge to help you observe when your brain tends to put a negative spin on things—and decide to stop drinking that Kool-Aid. Just because your brain thinks what it thinks, it doesn’t mean it’s true!!
Can you see how in the above comment, one could have interpreted it to mean many things other than “I‘ve done something wrong. I suck.”? You could interpret it as “He’s having a hard day,” or “He feels pressured.” Which is way closer to the truth than “I suck.”
Nowadays, when I’m sharing from my heart to my husband and his eyelids start getting heavy with sleep, I no longer interpret it to mean he doesn’t care about me. I see it for what it is: he’s tired after a full day of working to support our family.
So, when you feel that familiar sting of hurt feelings, step back and notice what your negatively biased brain is interpreting the thing your partner said or did to mean. And get curious about what else might be going on that is closer to the truth.
4. See it as their inner disconnection or their confusion about you.
What if your significant other really does say something harsh about who you are—or does something truly mean or negligent?
Remember, they have a flaw-seeking brain, too, that also sees in a negative way by default. And just because they may be having a negative thought about you doesn’t make it true!
What’s really happening is they are having a moment of confusion about you, or they can’t see beyond their flaw-brain at the moment.
The truth is, when someone sees bad in you, or treats you poorly, it is always a symptom of their own inner turmoil and distress. Unloading on you is just an unskillful way of trying to reduce their own inner turmoil. It means nothing about you.
As my mom wisely said when I asked her the trick to not taking those dinner table comments personally, “I remember that it’s just his stuff.”
If you can remember this truth, you may even feel compassion for your partner instead of hurt—and let me tell you how much better that feels! I’ll take compassion over hurt feelings any day. Because it is from there that we are best able to effectively advocate for and create more caring interactions.
5. Be your own zone of safety and love.
As you learn to break the habit of taking things personally, you will want to be able to hold yourself through any hurt feelings that still arise with kindness and love.
This means, instead of trying to avoid the feelings of hurt, learning to be with them in a loving way.
When they come up, gently move your attention from the spinning thoughts in your mind to how the hurt actually feels in your body. Be curious about the sensations. And hold them with your gentle and compassionate attention the way you would hold a baby bird in your own soft hand—spaciously, with warmth and tenderness.
It can help to place your hand over your heart area in a gesture of love and care for yourself, and imagine the sensations in your body are soaking up that kind attention.
As awkward as it may feel at first, by being with your painful feelings in this way, you will move out of them more quickly, and experience much more peacefulness with them as you do. And even experience more love in your life.
As I learned to make this kind of space for any hard feelings that come up, the most amazing thing began to happen: The hard feelings became a doorway to feeling a deep warmth and a loving intimacy with my own self, and a sense of inner safety I never before knew was possible.
Now I no longer fear the harder feelings of life because I trust myself to always lovingly support myself through them. Which has made my relationship with myself so loving and strong—and my relationship with my husband much more peaceful and less reactive.
6. Re-root in love.
In our committed intimate relationships, what always soothes and heals is coming back to love. First and foremost, love for yourself, and of course, love for your significant other.
To do so, simply ask yourself: “What is the most loving way to see this?” Or, “What might love’s wisdom want me to know right now?”
Perhaps the answer will be a reminder of how amazing you are, or to remember your partner is doing the best they can with the skills and experiences they have had, or that the truth is your love for each other is strong enough to weather these less than harmonious moments. Or maybe the answer will be to set strong boundaries for yourself, or even end the relationship.
But if you come back to love, these harsher moments will be like a tiny, whitecap in a big sea of love—and have very little power to rock you or the depth of you and your partner’s love for each other.
Please don’t misunderstand that any of this means you should stay with someone who doesn’t care about you or treats you badly. You want to be able to discern whether you’re tolerating things you shouldn’t be and staying with someone who is not good for you or just taking things personally that you really don’t need to be.
If you’re doing the latter, you can completely transform your relationship by putting these tips into practice. When you do, you not only remove much of what is dragging you down in your relationship, but you also allow yourself to start seeing and feeling more of the love that is already there, which will invite more of it to keep pouring in.