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Monday, November 5, 2018

Learning Not to Jump to Conclusions and Personalize Other People's Behavior

One of the most challenging lessons to learn in life is to not jump to conclusions and personalize other people's behavior, which is the topic of this article (see my article: How Psychotherapy Helps You to Understand and Change Distorted Thinking).

Learning Not to Jump to Conclusions and Personalize Other People's Behavior

Why Do We Jump to Conclusions and Personalize Other People's Behavior?
When people feel rejected, criticized or neglected in some way, they often feel insecure or anxious and this can trigger other earlier traumatic experiences that made them feel the same way.

Most people won't recognize that their earlier experiences are getting triggered and assume that what they're feeling has to do exclusively with the current situation.

Other people have difficulty distinguishing their feelings from objective facts (see my article: Discovering That Your Feelings Aren't Facts).

How to Keep Yourself From Personalizing Other People's Behavior
It's so easy to jump to conclusions about what's going on with someone else and what it means about you.

But before you personalize someone else's behavior that feels hurtful to you, it's important to stop your thoughts from getting ahead of you so that you don't distort the situation and project your insecurities onto the situation.

It's also important to consider that whatever this person did (or didn't do) might have nothing to do with you.

Fictional Clinical Vignette:  Learning Not to Take Other People's Behavior Personally
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how personalizing someone else's behavior represents distorted thinking and how to handle this type of situation better:

Ann
After being broken up for over a year, Ann decided to contact her former boyfriend, Alex, after she heard from mutual friends that he was having some medical problems.

On the one hand, just the thought of contacting Alex was enough to make Ann feel anxious and insecure with regard to how Alex would respond to her.  But on the other hand, she knew Alex was kind to her and, when she could be objective about it, she thought he probably would respond well, especially since they were on relatively good terms when she broke up with him.

After she left a message on his voicemail, she waited to hear back from him.  But after several days went by, she began to think that Alex might be angry with her after all, and he might not want to talk to her.

When she checked with a mutual friend, Ann found out that Alex had recuperated, he was doing relatively well, and he was back to work again.  This only fueled even more of Ann's insecurity and anxiety.

As each day passed, Ann became even more convinced that she had made a mistake by leaving a message for Alex.  She felt ashamed about reaching out to him. Her thoughts veered to earlier situations when she felt rejected and ashamed, including times when her father pushed her away as a child when she tried to hug him when he came home from work.

After two weeks had passed, Ann confided in her close friend, Rina, that she was feeling ashamed and angry that Alex hadn't returned her call.  Rina, who knew Alex, told Ann that there was probably a good reason why Alex wasn't calling.  She said she doubted that Alex was angry with her, and she advised Ann not to personalize Alex's lack of response.

By the third week, Alex called Ann and apologized profusely for not getting back to her sooner.  He told her that he had lost his phone with all his personal contacts, and he had only recently found it.  He said he really appreciated hearing from her and he was feeling much better.

Conclusion
Jumping to conclusions and personalizing other people's behavior is a common problem for many people, especially people who have an early traumatic history of being neglected or abused.  When people are triggered, it can be difficult to distinguish the current issue from the past.

It helps to develop the ability to stop your thoughts, which might be distorted, and question the conclusions that you've jumped to about the other person and the situation.

Being patient and getting more information is also helpful so that you don't automatically feel anxious or insecure when, in fact, the other person's behavior might have nothing to do with you.

This applies to personal situations as well as work-related situations (e.g., where a supervisor might seem angry with you but, in fact, is angry because of personal problems).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you find that you have a tendency to personalize other people's behavior due to your own early history, you could benefit from seeing a skilled psychotherapist who can help you to make distinctions between the past and the present and also assist you to work through your early traumatic history.

Getting help in therapy for this issue can help you to have a more fulfilling and meaningful life without the distorted thoughts that can cause so much angst.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and Emotionally Focused therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.