3 Ways to Stop Taking Other People’s Drama Personally

A common trait of extraordinary people is that they’re bulletproof to other people’s drama. Insults, rejection and criticism roll off their backs like waves breaking on the rocks of a cliff. What’s their secret?

If you’ve ever wondered about this, you’re not alone. We all know what happens when we take things too personally. Whether you’re at work, at home or on Social Media, SOMEONE will eventually say something that gets under your skin.

Yet, many times, instead of letting it go, you fire back. Then they fire back. Then YOU fire back. Before you know it, your blood pressure at a boiling point. By the time you’ve cooled off, you feel as bad as you would after a 3,000 calorie chocolate binge. How could you let that person get to you?

Meanwhile, extraordinary people are masters of verbal conflict. They know how to defuse a situation without compromising their values.

They have an uncanny ability to turn conflicts into healthy negotiations. Most importantly, they know when to stand their ground and when to walk away.

Here are three secrets that will help you do the same….

1#: Self-Awareness Drives Out Self-Consciousness

After more than 10,000 hours of one-on-one coaching and counseling experience, I’m convinced that self-awareness is the “Golden Key” to unlocked the magnetic confidence you only see in extraordinary people. I’ve never met a confident person who lacked self-awareness. Likewise, I’ve never a person who was insecure in spite of being self-aware.

Self-awareness is unique to humans. It’s one of the only things that sets us above the higher primates. Unfortunately, self-awareness is often overshadowed by self-consciousness. And self-consciousness is the “tender wound” someone hits when they get under your skin.

The next time someone offends you, ask yourself this question before you fire back at them…

“What need am I trying to fill with what I’m about to say?”

This isn’t a complicated question. Every human being has a few basic emotional needs…

  1. Stability
  2. Stimulation
  3. Respect

Take the need for Stability as our first example. If your spouse says something that makes you doubtful or uncertain, they’ve hit your need for stability. Sometimes this is fine. Other times, it causes you to say something stupid, clingy or even hurtful, just to restore your personal sense of stability in the relationship.

But if you can stop yourself long enough to realize that the need for stability is what’s really behind your response, you can choose a better one.

The same goes for the need for Stimulation. Sometimes, we fire back at someone simply because we’re under-stimulated and looking for an argument or a debate. And no, I’m not kidding about this one.  When I was in my early 20’s, I discovered that I’d developed an “addiction to chaos.” This is common for people who grew up in a home where there was a lot of “verbal sparring.”

The moment you start asking yourself what need is behind YOUR responses, and other people’s responses, you’ll realize that a LOT of fights are started by people who simply thrive on drama. You might do this yourself sometimes. But again, if you can catch yourself responding to someone out of the need for stimulation, you can choose a better response.

Finally, we have the need for respect. This is the most common reason we take things personally. Everyone has a basic need for respect and validation. We don’t want people to say things about us that are belittling or untrue. In some cases this is perfectly normal. In other cases, we mistake something as being disrespectful when the other person didn’t mean it that way.

And yet in other cases, we show our weakness by fighting back at every little offense. This is ESPECIALLY challenging for men.

Men are more likely to treat conversations as competitions. It’s part of how we interact with the world. When someone disrespects us, we want to fire right back and put them in their place.

If someone attacks our character or our reputation with a false accusation, we want to immediately correct the record. Sometimes, this is necessary. But that’s a topic for another blog.

For now, my point is that you should ALWAYS know when you’re firing back at someone because you felt disrespected. If this happens a lot, you’ve either become hypersensitive to criticism, or you’ve made yourself a target for trolls (more on this in a moment).

Self-awareness is the detached awareness of your own desires, fears or prejudices. The clearer you are about these, the more you’ll realize that you and you alone are responsible for how people “make you” feel. In time, you’ll be able to simply observe your internal reactions without being overwhelmed by them.

#2: Know Which “Language Mode” People Are Using

This is HUGE. But it’s also a little complicated, so bear with me. In his book “Philosophical Investigations,” the 20th Century Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein claimed that people use language in two ways…

  1. To describe things as we picture them.
  2. To play a “language game.”

From what I understand, Wittgenstein’s “language game,” is when someone uses language to create an emotional impression rather than to make a factual statement (that would be #1). I’ve simplified this as two basic “modes” of language…

  • MODE #1: Language as a tool of reason.
  • MODE #2: Language as a tool of manipulation.

MODE #1 is pretty easy. This is when we simply describe things as we see them. For example, if I say…

“My name is Seth Czerepak. I’m 6’1 and I have dark curly hair and dark eyes.”

…I’m simply giving a physical description of myself in plain language. Sometimes, because of differences in human perception, MODE #1 is more abstract. But the motive is to use language as a tool of reason by describing things as we believe them to actually be.  However, MODE #2 is more likely to lead to irrational arguments. This is because we respond as if people are using MODE #1.

For example, let’s assume you’re arguing with your spouse. A few minutes in, your spouse says something that REALLY offends you. You tell them you’re done talking and need to go cool off before continuing the discussion. But your spouse insists on settling the disagreement right then and there. Thirty seconds later, they say something else that offends you. So you blurt out…

“You’re such a jerk! Get out of my face.”

A few hours later, you’re apologizing for calling them a jerk. You didn’t really mean it. So why did you say it? Because you were using language as “tool” for getting them out of your face. This is how I understand the “language game,” Wittgenstein talked about.

When someone is “communicating” in MODE #1, they’re making sounds with their mouth. These sounds might resemble coherent words, but they don’t actually MEAN anything to the person saying them.

They’re simply using language as a tool of manipulation. You’ll see chimpanzees use their own “language” like this. They’ll scream or beat their chests to intimidate another chimpanzee. But the screams and the chest-beating don’t actually mean anything.

Dogs do the same thing. They bark or growl when someone invades their space. But again, the dog isn’t actually saying anything coherent. Rather, they’re using “language” as a tool of manipulation. They don’t have the biological capacity to do anything else.

People sometimes do the same thing. We say things that are unreasonable or even untrue. Simply to get a response from another person. The problem is, even when people use language this way, we act as if they’re using it as a tool of reason. They call us an asshole, or a jerk, or say something that’s not true and we say to ourselves…

“Hey! I’m not a jerk! I’m a nice person!”

But when someone is using language as a tool of manipulation instead of a tool of reason, it does no good to respond with rational arguments. That would be like trying to reason with a barking dog or a screaming chimpanzee. I do NOT say this to dehumanize people. We all use language this way sometimes. Myself included.

My point is, we should know when someone is doing this. If we don’t, we’ll end up trying to act rationally in response to someone who isn’t interested in being rational at the moment. This is especially tricky when someone is saying things which SOUND rational and well-articulated. Sometimes the most well-spoken people are the worst abusers of MODE #2.

They make complex noises called “words” and “sentences” come out of their mouth, but their primary motive is to meet an emotional need. Intellectual types often do this to impress people or to earn their respect. That’s why some of them use words that only a few people listening can even understand. This is not a sign of brilliance or sophistication. It’s a sign of insecurity.

Wise and confident people can tell the difference between these “modes” of language and they respond accordingly. Those who can’t tell the difference get tangled up in webs of complicated debate and rhetoric over things that never meant a damn thing in the first place and won’t mean a damn thing six months from now.

If you get this, feel free to skip to point #3. If you’d like one more example, think about when a strange dog sees you walking by “his” house. He barks at you until you’re out of sight. Do you take it personally? Do you argue with him or try to convince him that he’s being irrational? I hope not. After all, the dog isn’t “saying” anything meaningful.

He’s just warning you not to get too close. But imagine how you’d respond if the dog said this instead…

“Hey! You stupid, mental oyster! You filthy crook! Stay out of my yard!”

Would you talk back to him? You should! He’s wrong dammit! You’re not a filthy crook! You’re not stupid! You’re not a mental oyster! You’ve got to set this damn dog straight! Right?

What if the dog doesn’t have a clue what he’s saying?What if he’s like a parrot who’s learned to mimic certain English words and phrases?

Sure, he’s making complicated sounds with his mouth. If you analyze those words rationally, they might mean something.

But once you understand that he’s only making these phonetically sophisticated sounds to tell you the SAME THING he could tell you with a simple bark, why would you “argue” with him?

Likewise, you’re not obligated to try to make sense of someone who is using language as a tool of manipulation instead of a tool of reason. And you CERTAINLY don’t owe them a rational response. The better you get at telling the difference between these two “modes” of language, the easier it will be to stay out of needless squabbles.

#3: You’re Only As Big As The Battles You Choose

A telling sign that you’re still growing as a person is that you’re choosing bigger battles. I feel sorry for people who get worked up over petty things, like the $10 late charge on their phone bill, and spend 30 minutes fighting with an operator because “it’s not the $10, it’s the principle of it.” This is a clear sign that someone needs to choose their principles, and their battles, more wisely.

This does NOT mean you should let people walk on you or the people you love. People who avoid verbal showdowns at costs rarely diffuse anything. More often, they reset the timer on a bomb that’ll make a bigger explosion when the clock reaches zero again. Sometimes, being a “bigger person” means standing up to a bully.

But, you should be wise about how you do this. When I was in college learning to write orchestra music, I learned that a key difference between amateur composers and mature ones is the way they handle dynamics.

When a young composition student first learns to write for percussion instruments (drums, cymbals, bells etc), they use them too much and too often. After a few of these big, loud climaxes, the effect becomes redundant and the music dull and one dimensional.

But a mature composer, like Beethoven, uses these dynamics wisely. They hold off until the biggest and most climatic moment, and the effect is multitudes more powerful.

Likewise, extraordinary people are a force to be reckoned with because they don’t fire off a canon every time someone rubs them the wrong way.

You’ve no doubt known a few people like this. They rarely raise their voice or speak forcefully. But when they do, they command instant respect. They send a clear message that you’ve just crossed over a line you’d better not cross again.

This is what happens when you know how use forceful responses and well-crafted rational arguments wisely. But if you make a habit of arguing with fools or with hateful, angry people, people watching  might not be able to tell the difference between you and the people you fight with.

To become an extraordinary person, you have to be smart about which battles you fight, when you decide to fight them and who you fight them against. This starts with making it a habit to discover the needs behind your responses…

  1. Stability
  2. Stimulation
  3. Respect

Next, learn to recognize when people are using language as a tool of manipulation instead of a tool of reason. This will take some practice. But the more you work at it, the clearer you’ll become about which battles will make you stronger, and which will make you weaker.

In time, you’ll become bulletproof to other people’s drama AND you’ll multiply the value of every word you speak.

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