Personalization: Cognitive Distortion 6
Personalization is a distortion where a person believes that everything others do or say is some kind of direct, personal reaction to the person. We also compare ourselves to others trying to determine who is smarter, better looking, etc.
A person engaging in personalization may also see themselves as the cause of some unhealthy external event that they were not responsible for. For example, “We were late to the dinner party and caused the hostess to overcook the meal. If I had only pushed my husband to leave on time, this wouldn’t have happened.”
What does personalization look like in real life?
Constantly reading a room to figure out people’s moods. Is anybody upset? Who is mad? What was that look for?
Everyone must think I’m dumb. Everything is my fault! Classic personalization.
Here’s a story to illustrate Personalization.
Judith is the family barometer. She sets the tone for daily life in how she’s feeling. One particular day, she notices the neighbor out mowing the lawn. It’s not their normal day for mowing, but here they are mowing away. She instantly thinks the neighbors must think she’s lazy. Even though their normal mowing day isn’t for another two days, she just knows that their neighbors are judging them. As soon as her husband gets home from work, she demands he go out and mow.
Later in the week, at school, Judith notices some of the other parents getting ready for a fundraiser. Even though Judith has volunteered her fair share, she immediately feels guilty for not signing up for today. Never mind that she’s working every other day that week, everyone sees that she isn’t working today. Judith concludes they think she’s lazy, so she changes her plans and stays to work.
Later on, that evening, Judith notices her husband in a foul mood and instantly blames herself. Dinner wasn’t his favorite, but it was easy and she needed something fast. She starts slowly picking at him to figure out what is wrong. Things blow up into a huge fight and she storms off. Later, her husband comes to apologize and say it wasn’t her at all, rather something huge at work had been going wrong. Judith feels guilty for picking a fight and tells herself she’ll be more considerate in the future. It’s not her fault that things are going wrong at work, but if she created a better home life for her husband, he might have an easier time at work. It’s exhausting being Judith.
Personalization is a huge weakness for me.
I always assume that other people assume the worst of me. Deep down, these assumptions are coming from a lack of confidence. Perfectionism in a way. If people look really closely, they’ll realize I’m not perfect, so I’ll do them a favor and judge myself for them.
My best strategy for breaking personalization thought patterns was saying, “so what?”
So what if I’m not perfect? I’m giving my best.
So what if I’m not interesting enough? No one can or should be the center of attention all the time.
Which leads me to the best realization, everyone else is focused on their own baggage and coming at you from their own perspective. You can’t tell what someone is thinking, nor should you. Their thoughts are their own, as are yours.
People need to be given the freedom to develop their own conclusions.
To think for themselves. If you’re constantly thinking for them, you’re not allowing them space to be an individual. Give yourself permission to own that freedom too. Be the best version of yourself you can be and let other’s opinions of you be their own.
The image for this post is two flowers standing on their own. Being themselves and loving life.