The tendency to attribute a great amount of blame to yourself for negative encounters/outcomes rather than considering and acknowledging the role other people may play in them is a type of distorted thinking known as personalizing. While in some cases this type of thinking can cause a person to become angry and act out, in other cases it can cause a person to internalize the situation and potentially impact his/her self-esteem. If you find yourself engaging in such behavior, below are a few suggestions I often recommend to my clients to help reduce this type of thinking:
1) Question the Evidence - a technique I often encourage my clients to try is to ask him/herself, "What evidence do I have to believe this situation is completely my fault?" While this question is usually tailored to an individual's specific situation, the purpose of this question is to judge yourself based on facts versus false beliefs or your own perception. Sometimes our perception of other's actions has more to do with our experiences versus their intentions.
2) Be Cognizant of your Feelings - part of the battle in counteracting this type of distorted thinking is to be aware of when you are doing it and what you are feeling. In other words, if you don't believe you are engaging in such behavior you are not going to realize it is a problem. So, how do you identify if this is occurring? Aside from talking with a knowledgeable professional, you should pay attention to feedback you may be receiving from friends/family. If you are hearing statements like, "You just take things too personally?" or, "Don't you think you may have overreacted?," there could be a chance you are personalizing. It may also be helpful to think about past interactions to ascertain whether anyone in your life repeatedly claimed you misunderstood their intentions.
3) Identify your Triggers - knowing what gets you upset and tracing that to an insecurity, can help you overcome your personalizing behavior. Generally speaking, many individuals have insecurities or "hot buttons" that make them feel either vulnerable or on the defense. Once these insecurities have been "touched", it can cause us to react in ways we are not happy about later on. Becoming aware of what insecurities we have and what kind of interactions expose them, can help us better prepare so our emotions don't get the better of us.
While the aforementioned is a brief and general description of personalization, I hope it is helpful in providing a basic understanding of what you or someone you know may be experiencing. Do you identify with anything mentioned in this post? If so, please share any suggestions/resources that have helped you or someone you know.
Christine M. Valentín
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