Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why Do We Take Things So Personally?

I’ve been looking in to tricks and techniques to help not takes things so personally. As I’ve been doing this I’ve noticed a couple things. One school of thought tells you to focus on the problem being the other person’s problem and to disengage yourself from it. The other school of thought acknowledges that other people’s words may have hit an inner wound and why we have a difficult time seeing past our own perspective in times of vulnerability. So which is correct? It probably depends on the situation.

I am interested in why I take things so personally, though.

An article from Psychology Today states that during infancy and early childhood, we experience the world as revolving around us. The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, a pioneer in developmental psychology, showed that a young child looking at a picture believes that an adult on the other side of the table sees exactly what he sees (even though the adult actually sees the picture reversed). When the picture is turned so that it is right side up for the adult and reversed for him, the youngster continues to believe that they are both seeing the same image. Part of our intellectual and psychological growth includes the gradual understanding that we do not always see the same thing as someone else. In Piaget's experiments, older children had the ability to imagine what the person on the opposite side of the table was seeing.

Current research believes that the capacity to respond to another person's feelings does develop very early. However being able to respond to another person’s feelings and being able to accurately interpret and separate yourself from those feelings are not the same things, or easy for that matter. The ability to distinguish your own feelings + determine how they came about AND figure out the feelings of someone else + how they originate + effect that person + yourself can be much more complicated. “It takes much longer for us to be able to separate our own experience from someone else's; and sometimes, especially in moments of vulnerability, this distinction can get lost.”

It may not even be that you can’t separate another person’s experiences from your own, but that you can’t separate the emotions triggered by those experiences that speaking to others may bring up. Regardless, that’s when we take things personally, even though something is actually about the other person, not us.

Intuitively I feel this has similar complications with the lack of object constancy or object permanence. Part of our early psychological growth is supposed to allow us to understand that when something/one leaves temporarily that they do not actually disappear permanently. Because we cannot see them within our own perspective does not mean that their perspective no longer exists. By extension, because we are in a very emotional and vulnerable place, where our emotions are a self-centered focus that does not mean that the perspective of someone else no longer exists because we cannot see past our own state of mind.  However because we’re in a highly vulnerable place that focuses inward, instead of outward, it’s difficult to remember that things don’t only act upon us; they act upon others, we interact together, and sometimes things don’t involve us at all (even if it feels like they do).

Interestingly, both of these developmental phases should coincide with one another. Object constancy/permanence is supposed to be developed by 2 years of age. This is the same age range we should begin responding to other people’s emotions in a more fully developed manner. I wonder if an insufficient emotional development early on, an emotional regression from trauma/ abuse, or both, enhances this response.  It would make sense.

It’s hard to admit that my emotional responses, even maturity, isn’t always appropriate, but acknowledging it is the first step to fixing it. It’s not enough to say, well see there, that’s the problem, I was born with it or something happened to me, it’s

not my fault. That may be true. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do something to make it better going forward. We can. And we should always try to make things better. My life is in my hands. I can make a difference. 

You can too. 


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