It’s Not About You! Avoid This Trick Your Brain Plays on You and Feel Better

I’m sitting on my couch, watching NCIS with my family. In a plot twist, the victim turns out to be the perpetrator in this episode! How dare she! I point my finger at the TV, and exclaim “Bad girl!” Katy, my Wowzer (Westie Schnauzer – think Toto), who is just getting ready to snuggle down next to me, looks at me and starts shaking.

Wait a minute! It’s not about you!

I comfort my dog and reassure her she is a good girl. The shaking stops, and she settles down for her nap. Katy (my dog) can let go of hurts pretty quickly!

How often have I overreacted to what someone game-utility said to me? How often have I assumed it was about me, when it absolutely wasn’t? How often have I tied myself in knots over something that doesn’t belong to me? I have to tell you, I am not as quick to let go as Katy is. Luckily, this person can learn new tricks!

There’s a name for this type of overreaction – personalization. This is the trick your brain plays on you when you take responsibility for things you have no real control over. It can be the result of a misunderstanding (poor Katy), an effort to be a people pleaser, or even an attempt to be a little manipulative (does anyone out there have a martyr in mind?). Regardless of the reason, it leaves you feeling cruddy. And it’s unnecessary. If Katy had only asked, I would have told her it wasn’t about her (OK, I did that without her asking).

Personalization increases stress levels by setting you up to think you are responsible for the wrong things. You end up banging your head against a wall with (predictably) no good result. Personalization can lead to anxiety or depression problems. You can release personalization just by pausing to ask yourself, or the other person, if this is actually about you. Then you can learn to concentrate your efforts in areas where you actually have some control. This leads to a greater sense of wellbeing.