Unfortunately, I’m (Danielle) really good at what is called Personalizing. I ran across a good explanation of Personalizing under www.psychologytoday.com:
“Taking something personally that may not be personal. Seeing events as consequences of your actions when there are other possibilities. For example, believing someone’s brusque tone must be because they’re irritated with you.” (Alice Boyes Ph.D. on Jan 17, 2013)
An example for us would be, Russ, my husband, who can walk in after a long day and be unusually quiet. I can easily make his silence be about me instead of it being about a tough day at work. It’s an exhausting personality trait of mine. Nothing triggers my personalizing more deeply than the possibility of being ignored.
I do try ignoring my own personalization stories. Unfortunately, my personalization grows until I call it out. If you personalize, you know how hard it is to admit this faulty type of thinking, right?! It takes courage to be vulnerable and transparent. A vulnerability researcher, Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is what I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. Vulnerability in you is courage and daring. In me, it is weakness.” So I do feel weak in sharing this trait about myself but my hope is if you exhibit this type of thinking, welcome to the club, you’re not alone…let’s conquer this flawed trait together!
UNHEALTHY THINKING PATTERNS
Russ and I took a course, called Intimate Encounters by Dr. David and Teresa Ferguson, for married couples as an engaged couple back in 2000. We were very eager to insure our marriage would work. We hoped to pick up some good habits from the course. Besides learning about the baggage we bring into our marriages, the course helped us “identify unhealthy thinking patterns.”
A personalizer will typically: (source Intimate Encounters by Dr David and Teresa Ferguson)
- Take things personally.
- Gather a sense of others’ approval.
- If someone in the family is upset, I must have been part of the reason.
Personalizing can be a dangerous trait because I can make decisions based on faulty thinking and distance myself from people. Identifying this thought pattern quickly helps me question the circumstances instead of assuming I said or did something wrong. Aren’t we all guilty to a degree of making up stories to explain other people’s behaviors, especially in our families? Why is it so difficult to share an assumption made about an event or reaction? I think the risk of embarrassment is too steep. Do you agree?
Recently I read Brenè Brown’s book, Rising Strong. In it, she provides language to help us navigate sensitive conversations over the personalizing stories we make up in our head.
ONCE UPON A TIME
I have a girlfriend who used to workout at my CrossFit box. When I ran into her at a conference I was thrilled to catch up with her. Afterward, I sent her a text telling her how fun it was to see her and how much I missed her at CrossFit. Her response was more of a ‘thank you’ instead of an ‘I miss you, too!’ My personalization went into overdrive and I started to wonder why I always felt one-sided with our conversations. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. I am more of a feeler and I can’t expect others to be the same in return but surely she missed me just as much?
During our talk, she had mentioned reading Brenè Brown and how much she loved the book. So I decided to take one of Brenè’s suggestions and asked my friend for “clarity about a story I was making up in my head.” It was an incredible conversation. I was nervous to share my vulnerable personalizing story about how I assumed she didn’t feel the same about our friendship but when I did, my girlfriend said my assumptions were wrong. She shared how this was a common response from her friends and how she struggles to share what she feels verbally.
AND WE LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER!
If we didn’t have the conversation I would have told myself to be more guarded around her in the future and distance myself. Shortly after our conversation, I received a private ceremony invitation to attend where she was being initiated as a pastor.
I think part of the reason we don’t expose these stories we make up in our heads is we don’t want to look weak or foolish. My motivation now is not to make up stories about people but instead to get “clarity.”
Do you find any similarities with your thinking? Share your thoughts below.