Biology & Taking Things Personally




This post looks at biological factors that contribute to human survival mechanisms that I call Taking Things Personally. I also provide you with a practical strategy for managing this ongoing interpersonal challenge.

In the middle of the holiday season, I posted Part 1 of this Taking Things Personally mini series. Difficult Relationships & Surviving the Holidays. It introduced an I’m-the-center-of-everything perspective as the origin of the instinctive human tendency to take things personally. I also provided a practical strategy for how you can choose to get unstuck when faced with challenging relationships. Click here to read Difficult Relationships & Surviving the Holidays.

Today, I look at biological factors that contribute to this dynamic, and provide you with another practical strategy.

Birth and Survival

Imagine you are witnessing the birth of a baby horse. Out pops the foal, and within 30 minutes it’s standing. Mother provides nourishment, then the foal walks within 90 minutes.


Most animals are born relatively mature and could potentially survive alone, should the mother die.

Baby humans are born comparatively unprepared for survival, requiring immediate and consistent nurturing, feeding and care — for many years, rather than minutes.

As a baby, I die without love, nourishment, and care. Survival is threatened anytime I am left alone, or if any of my numerous very real needs are not met.

The Center of Everything and Survival

From the perspective of a baby at birth, she is the center of everything. Significantly, she is also the Cause of everything.

Cry and mother picks me up. Cry and mother feeds me. Cry and mother changes my diaper.

What if I cry and mother doesn’t come? There is something wrong! There must be something wrong with me! I did something wrong!

Thus begins I’m-the-center-of-everything, and its natural extension, Taking Things Personally.

If something happens, I am the Cause of it. If there’s something wrong, it’s up to Me to Fix it!

This is an instinctive belief system. It is inextricably and biologically bound up with survival. If something wrong happens, it’s Dangerous and threatening to my Survival. I am the cause of it, and it’s up to me to fix it.

As a baby, the only way I have to handle this imminent danger is to change myself. That is the only thing that I have control over. I cry — or I stop crying. I suppress my natural self expression in some way. I do whatever I can to ensure that mother stays and provides the love and nurturing I need.

Panic! Freak Out!

When faced with this mess, do I calmly talk through the practical steps back to balance, as described below? Uh, no! (With practice, over time, executing the practical steps does get easier.)

When confronted by danger, my body’s fight-or-flight system pumps out stress hormones. Instead of calming down, I get amped up. I prepare to fight or flee — or I freeze. I panic, start hitting, or run away. Or I clam up, shut down, withdraw.

This is absolutely biological!

Taking Things Personally

When something happens in one of your relationships and you’re taking it personally, you probably have no idea all of this is going on! It’s intense.

Can you see the seeds of the survival mechanisms that you employ within your adult relationships?

Can you see the seeds of other people’s behavior? Everybody does it.

It’s Survival. Instinct. Biology.

It’s not logical. Not reasonable. Not mature and adult.

Yet you expect yourself to be reasonable, balanced, calm, and adult when faced with adversity. Please consider that this is an unreasonable expectation that you place upon yourself!

What To Do?

Try this practical survival strategy when faced with adversity. Trust that it will get easier with practice.

Don’t take things personally.

  1. Become aware that I’m reacting and freaked out. Awareness is the key!
  2. Breathe. Pause and consider what to do.
  3. Recognize that I’m taking what someone said personally. Increased awareness.
  4. Recognize that I’m seeing myself as the cause of something that is wrong. Increased awareness.
  5. Recognize that I’m acting out childhood survival mechanisms. Increased awareness.
  6. Consciously choose how to respond. Calm down. I take control of how I feel.
  7. Recognize my tendency to change myself to keep someone happy. Increased awareness.
  8. Do I want to do that? Consciously choose how to respond. I take control of how I feel.
  9. “Whatever is going on with this person is their thing! It’s not about me!”
  10. I choose to be understanding with myself. Loving. I take control of how I feel.
  11. I let go of being upset. I take control of how I feel.
  12. I choose to be as much my self as I am able to be.
  13. Breathe

What do you think? Try it. It certainly can’t make things any worse, right?

Imagine using this strategy in your life, when faced with a challenging relationship situation.

Imagine being there. Practice makes it easier to implement a new strategy in the moment. When that challenging person is in front of you, can you find the presence of mind to respond in a new way?

You’re choosing to change conditioned patterns whose seeds were planted at birth, when you were completely vulnerable. This conditioning has been reinforced for your entire life. Reprogramming is not easy! Practice. Every tiny shift in your experience is progress.

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