|Atari's Pitfall, circa 1982|
We've all been told "Don't take it personally!" But, c'mon, it can be really hard sometimes to not think that we had a hand in some negative event, or that some subtle negative comment was directed at us. And sometimes we do take things personally because it's appropriate, so that's not what we're getting at when we talk about Personalization as a thinking trap. Rather, it's the tendency to place too much responsibility on ourselves and ignore other information that offers alternative explanations. Take this example with our friend "Shannon":
Shannon goes to see her doctor for a routine follow up visit, someone she's been seeing for years and feels like she has a really good relationship with. Normally she takes time to talk with Shannon, asks how everything is going, and even asks about her family from time to time. At this appointment, the doctor is less chatty and hurries through the visit, keeping a much more formal tone with Shannon. She finishes quickly and is "all business."
Possible "Personalization" thoughts:
- "She must be mad at me." (a little mind-reading, too)
- "What did I do wrong?"
- "Maybe she doesn't like me like I thought she did."
If we step back and look at the situation, there are many other possible explanations as to why she was abrupt that have nothing to do with Shannon. She could be behind schedule; she may have just gotten some bad news about a patient or someone in her personal life; she could be sleep deprived; she could have been reprimanded by the practice administrator 5 minutes before the appointment with Shannon. This list could go on and on. How Shannon feels emotionally will be very different if she falls into the Personalization trap versus thinks of these other possible reasons why her doctor behaved the way she did. She may also behave differently and her relationship with her doctor may deteriorate.
So when you find yourself taking something personally, step back and look at the situation objectively and the evidence you have to support your claim. Did you do something to contribute to the negative situation or are there alternative explanations that hold as much, or more, water?
Next week: Catastrophizing