Taking Things Personally
Taking Things Personally
Taking Things Personally

The single hardest thing in the world for a person to do is disconnect emotion from experience. It rips the fabric of human nature to do so.

This big world we live in hurts an awful lot because we can’t do this well. Whether it’s criticism from a boss or co-worker, someone giving you the stink eye in traffic or just the fact your spouse rolls over and goes to sleep without saying much, the reason is seldom what we think it might be.

Part of this is ego — the bad kind. We think the world revolves around us and so the cold shoulder is certainly because that person is mad at us. Surely it can’t be because they’re mad at something else. Or tired. Or distracted.

Image by JB London via Flickr

Part of this is ego — the good kind. We all just want to be accepted.

The Internet and its halls of social media amplify the problem. We build these superficial connections, call them relationships or friendships, but seldom actually know those with whom we communicate so frequently. The slightest variance in the norm and suddenly our antennae raise, defenses gather and we convince ourselves that the snarky comment was directed at us. Personally.

The more of these passing connections you gather, the worse it gets. Unless you can detach emotion.

But therein lies the conundrum. Doing that belittles the connections in the first place.

How do you react to criticism from weak ties? Is it as strong as that from strong ones? Should it be? Is the criticism warranted, valid or even about you in the first place?

It’s easy to say you don’t care, but most people do. Social media is an opt in activity. If you don’t want to read a blog, follow on Twitter or connect on Facebook or LinkedIn, you don’t have to. But when someone who is reading or following stops … It hurts a little. You wonder why. You question your value. You take it personally.

Even just a little. And that is part of what makes social media human. Sometimes it hurts.

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About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
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  • Honest post Jason. Detaching from what we do for a living is a difficult thing to do, something we never fully can do, in my opinion.  

    If you have never read the book “The Four Agreements” give it a look if you have an hour or two, it’s extremely short. Premise is we should live our lives based on four agreements.

    1) Be impeccable with your word.
    2) Don’t take anything personally. 
    3) Don’t make assumptions
    4) Always do your best.

    It helped me, especially in times where I was getting way too personal. 

  • Lot of truth to what you write here, JF. It’s good that we strive for acceptance because that means we care and are consistently working hard to do better. But there is not enough time in the day for us or our “connections” to reply or respond to everything. It isn’t all about us, so it’s important to try and see it through others’ POV. But also, make sure you’re doing what you do because you have a passion for it. Blogging is a perfect example. Blog comments are great. But don’t blog to get comments. Blog because you have a story to share and because you enjoy it. Cheers.

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  • This is such a sensitive and honest post Jason, thank you for sharing. I have many conversations on this topic and have come to feel the presiding, negative feeling is compunction. Social media I feel does amplify this, though I will also say it complicates it, especially in the sphere where your blog lies, where many readers manage brands and/or deliberate online identities and consider the duties of social media as both one of social interaction and content creation. It’s this latter part that gets so tricky to me, especially as you talk about the hurt of simply being ignored or unfollowed. I refuse to pay attention to many things that vie for my attention, including people, and this is essentially done out of cognitive necessity. When someone does the same to me, I have to remind myself that it’s probably not personal, but just their need to manage their own lives and the information that shapes them. I agree with @stevesdrop:disqus – if at all possible, it’s great to get constructive feedback, especially if your social media life is largely one of creating and sharing content. That kind of feedback can be taken, I think, in a manner somewhat detached from your own personal feelings, because it’s really feedback about content, what’s important to pay attention to in the world and not your faults as a human being. 

  • I like this post, Jason. I don’t like that it sounds like it came from a genuine struggle, because you’re my friend, and I never like hearing my friends have been in pain, even if it might have been productive, useful pain. But I like that you wrote it, and posted it here instead of one of your more personal channels. 

    Reminds me of Amber’s recent “what I wish you knew about me” post. I worry about my friends in social media who’ve built themselves into media properties or personal brands or whatever you want to call them. 

    Because when you reach a certain level of notoriety or fame or celebrity, (and yes, social media fame is not mainstream fame, but the same principles apply even on a smaller scale) you become a bit abstract at some level.  In other words, it’s easy to take potshots at J.K. Rowling because you figure the billions and the book deals probably sooth her hurt feelings and besides, what are the odds she’d even ever notice some random comment you made, or that one person unfollowed her on Twitter? People become insensitive when they think you’re too big to notice or care. 

    I think we’ve taken two different paths, my friend. And I admit that my own sensitivity to real or perceived criticism has been a reason I have maintained a relatively low profile. 

    Or it could just be that I’m not that talented. ;-) At any rate, I think you need to listen to some Joe Walsh.  “It’s hard to handle this fortune & fame; everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed.” Because I think you’d agree that life HAS been good to you. So far.

  • Vince Robisch

    “We build these superficial connections, call them relationships or
    friendships, but seldom actually know those with whom we communicate so

    That is my favorite sentence in the post. When I am spending less time on social media because I am busy connecting with people face-to-face, I consider it a win.  That doesn’t mean I don’t love social media. It just means that I really value building closer personal connections.

    The more connected relationships give you more strength to withstand unfounded criticism and more humility (to echo others) to respond properly. Sometimes it’s hard to get honest feedback so maybe we should value the criticism we get as an opportunity to grow.

  • Ironically, the best defense against criticism is humility, not ego.

    More specifically:

    1. Understand that you’re not going to please everyone.

    2. To echo Kristi. Try to talk to your detractors. You have a unique opportunity to learn about that person and about yourself. Use the opportunity to build your awareness.

    3. “Surely it can’t be because they’re mad at something else. Or tired. Or distracted.” Detachment is not the alternative to vulnerability. The answer is to build even more attachment – to increase your level of empathy. Reach out to them or if you can’t – give them the benefit of the doubt. Stop yourself from taking it too hard and try to put it in perspective. If you’re hurt someone unfollowed you, think of all the people you unfollowed. Did you really harbor ill will towards them?

    Think about the alternative – Would we be more fulfilled if we all had 1m+ followers and constantly retweeted each other?

    So I’m not a hypocrite, feel free to heckle this comment :)

  •  Its very hard to come out of our emotions and we have to fight back and be normal and get connected with people to resolve the problems we face.

  • Oh, it definitely can hurt! As much as we like to pretend we all grew out of the cliques and High School judgement, social media brings it all back and in full force. That’s why twitter lists are both great and awful, and why the new “circles” on Google + can be just as brutal. It is never pleasant to be on the outside, especially when you think you are actually on the inside and are proven wrong. But, I think that is also what forces us to always try and do better, and be nicer and work harder….we want to be accepted!

  • I think you sometimes just have to talk to people.  It’s easy to have a negative reaction to something you take as an offense against you.  I’ve seen people tweet things at me that were somewhat harsh, but instead of blowing up at it, I just ask them what’s up.  Usually things are resolved about 5 – 10 tweets later, but more often than not it’s a simple misunderstanding on one or both parts.  Just confronting it can be helpful so you don’t sit around with a misguided grudge against someone you think hates you when they really don’t.

  • I think you sometimes just have to talk to people.  It’s easy to have a negative reaction to something you take as an offense against you.  I’ve seen people tweet things at me that were somewhat harsh, but instead of blowing up at it, I just ask them what’s up.  Usually things are resolved about 5 – 10 tweets later, but more often than not it’s a simple misunderstanding on one or both parts.  Just confronting it can be helpful so you don’t sit around with a misguided grudge against someone you think hates you when they really don’t.

  • Anonymous

    Jason, you make
    an excellent point about a social media conundrum that we are in.  To avoid having feelings hurt, do we detach our emotions from social channels?  However, in doing so we damage those
    established, online connections that make those relationships ‘social’ in the first place. To your question do our reactions to criticism from ‘weaker’ ties differ from ‘stronger’ ones? Probably not. Criticism hurts from any source. We are all human, with human emotions and live in a world with fascinating technology that lets us flex our natural, social behavior.  It’s important to remind ourselves not to take criticisms in social channels too harshly and always respect the people on the other side of the screen when participating in online conversations.

  • Its important to understand the pitfalls when using social media monitoring tools – http://www.fuseware.net/social-media-monitoring-pitfalls/

  • I can relate to this one. There have been a few times when I’ve gotten not-so-subtle messages from online friends when I wasn’t able to contribute as much online or to some effort as they would have liked. And I know I’ve given my own-so-subtle messages when i felt people weren’t being good SM citizens, such as reciprocating. I try to be upfront both ways. One issue, for sure, is that we don’t know that much about each other’s daily lives. In my case, even though people know that I’m a small business owner with four children still living at home, I don’t think they have any idea how crazy my life is!! I think the best we can do is communicate openly, honestly, and politely and hope to find common understanding and ground.

    Thanks, Jason!

  • Really insightful! Being a musician using social media for self promotion, I can definitely relate.  There have been times where I put all I’ve got into writing a song, spend hours trying to record the perfect take, post it on YouTube, and watch some of the commenters tare it to pieces.  Thankfully, the majority of the comments are compliments, but the harsh ones do suck to read. You have to have thick skin and be confident in your work.  After all, if you have any audience at all who enjoys your work, they are what counts.

  • If it doesn’t hurt then you are effectively stating “I’m a cold calculating person who only views you as a resource, a means to end, something to be leveraged”.  It is only when we give of ourselves, and expose those soft fleshy parts that are so easily damaged, that we expose ourselves to the risk of pain.  It’s also the only time when we can let others fulfill us and give us joy.  The alternative is unthinkable to me and the tradeoff more than worth it.

    Cheers, and really well written post.


  • Things do hurt at times but it takes the tough skin people to fight through the road blocks and keep full steam ahead.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • Anonymous

    Great post, Jason. There’s a funny thing about social media. Everybody has a different motive for being there. Some people, like myself, are genuinely invested, in it. For the good and bad. I’m genuinely and wholeheartedly invested in making meaningful connections as well as friendships. But, I know for some people, the motives are purely monetary driven. They could care less about building authentic relationships. I think the conflicts lie in the diverse motives we all have. That’s what leads to hurt feelings and pain. But just like any real, true friendship, you have to be willing to accept both the good and the ugly side of social media. Taking a comment personally is just a sign that you are human.

  • Anonymous

    “You question your value. You take it personally.” This. 

    This is very timely for me. I put my heart and soul into Consuming Louisville and a reader completely misinterpreted something I wrote and basically called me a bully today. Now I own up to the fact that the true fault is mine for writing something that could be so misinterpreted but does this criticism sting? Hell yes. This happens several times a year and I want to make like a turtle and completely retreat into my shell each time. Because what’s the point in trying, you know? 

  • It’s funny – I was engaged in a conversation about this over the weekend (and have from time-to-time over the last few years).  I can tell you that I absolutely take such things personally … and I think it’s because I have chosen to invest a lot in my friends online.  I’m not crazy about it or anything, but when someone I consider a friend, or someone whose opinion I really respect, chooses to “unfollow” or “unfriend,” I definitely feel it.
    However, I have also decided that that’s a part of *engagement* – nobody ever said that it wouldn’t hurt.  So I’ve decided that I’m going to continue to invest in my friends and colleagues, knowing that the nature of relationships will be a cause of pain from time to time.  In a nutshell: I feel you, dude.


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