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  • Rob Orman

43. How to Not Take Things Personally

Updated: Mar 23

Our ego is always on patrol and, when it’s insulted, watch out! That is the core of what it means to take things personally. In this episode, we break down: how to not take things personally, sustainable happiness, using body language to transform our internal state, why some insults hurt and others do not, and specific scenarios where you might feel insulted (but don’t need to be).


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Guest Bio: Frederik Imbo is the founder and head of Imboorling, a company dedicated to improving communication on both the micro and macro levels. Frederik is a formally trained actor with a masters in dramatic arts from the Royal Conservancy in Ghent and was a prolific actor on numerous television series. During his acting career, he began taking roles working in training videos for interpersonal communication. The insights from those role-plays resonated with him and set him on a path of many years of study and training in neurolinguistic programming and nonviolent communication. Over time, fostering communication has become his life focus and led to the founding of Imboorling. Frederik’s TED talk on how to not take things personally has been viewed 6 million times.


This episode is in support of World Bicycle Relief -- delivering specially designed, locally assembled, rugged bicycles for people in need. They’ve developed an efficient, innovative, and scalable model to empower students, health workers, and entrepreneurs in rural developing regions with life-changing mobility. Donate here. We will match donations up to $1,000.


Essentials of Emergency Medicine, the conference I host each year, is happening May 25-27, 2021. Early bird discount ends April 3. For an additional $100 off registration, use the code 'orman' at the bottom of the checkout page.


We discuss:


The barrier to sustainable happiness and the technique to overcome that [04:15];

  • Every form of stress and unhappiness is caused by not accepting our reality.

  • We either want things that we can’t have (ie. a better salary, a different president), or we don’t want what we’re given (ie. criticism, someone’s blaming).

  • When we resist and refuse to accept the reality as it is in the moment, we can become unhappy.

  • This can be overcome by 1) accepting what we cannot change, 2) changing what we can change (such as our way of thinking), and 3) using our mind to distinguish between what we can and cannot change.


Frederik’s strategies for preparing to speak publicly [06:40];

  • Be over-prepared. Know your content so well that 0% of your energy is going into what you have to say and 100% towards how your message will land in the audience’s ear.

  • Frederik starts each talk by genuinely asking, “Hello everyone! How are you?” He then pauses to wait for someone to respond. This helps him connect with the audience and sets the stage for an interactive conversation.


How becoming a soccer referee helped him strengthen his muscle of not taking things personally [12:04];

  • Frederik gave a TED talk in Sept. 2020 titled: Do you take things personally? (And who doesn’t?) Here’s how to stop.

  • When you take something personally, it’s because you think that the other person must fulfill your needs. Instead, you must fulfill your own needs. You can train yourself to see, “It’s not about me. It’s about what the other person is doing.”

  • As a referee, you almost never get positive feedback. Spectators shout “You’re a loser. You’re a zero.” They are satisfying their unfulfilled need of wanting to be right and having a decision that is in their favor.

  • You can train yourself to not take things personally, but it doesn’t always work.


What it means if you feel hurt after receiving criticism [15:44];

  • 90% of the time it’s because your ego is involved and you’re worried the other person is right. The way to overcome this is acceptance. Accept that it hurts. Give yourself empathy and the time to mourn this unpleasant moment. Tell yourself, “It’s OK. I do not have to be 100% perfect.” You can choose whether you want to listen to negative self-talk and how you want to respond.

  • In 10% of cases, it’s about the values that aren’t being respected by the other person.

  • Many times, when people are hurt by criticism, it is related to something that happened in their past or childhood (ie. they were teased by peers or parents about similar issues).


The fact that thinking negatively is natural [22:46];

  • Our ancestors were programmed to think: Who wants to hunt us today? Who wants to steal our possessions? They had to be on guard with negativity.

  • Society has evolved, but we are still negative-oriented. Of the 50,000 thoughts we have per day, 80% are negative.


What you can do if you’re being dragged down by negative thoughts [24:10];

  • The moment you’re aware that negative thoughts are bringing you down, you can choose to have a positive mindset and this will have an immediate impact on your emotions.

  • Rather than telling yourself that something is difficult (a negative proclamation), rephrase to say, “I really want to challenge myself and learn this.”


Body language and how that can affect your mood and self-confidence [26:30];


  • Frederik does an experiment demonstrating that it’s impossible to feel happy if you’re frowning with clenched fists and crossed arms.



  • Similarly, it’s impossible to feel insecure if you have a super exaggerated happy posture.



  • If someone is struggling with changing their thoughts, another strategy is to fake it. Just assuming a confident posture and looking people directly in the eye (even if you’re terrified on the inside) will have a profound impact on the way people perceive you, as well as on your self-perception.



“When you behave in a self-confident way, your mind cannot recognize the difference between what is fantasy and what is real. If your body is confident, the mind thinks, ‘OK, apparently we feel self-confident’.”

The difference between being called an orange and being told you’re selfish [28:36];

  • If someone says, “You’re an orange”, most of the time you’d feel nothing because no part of you believes you are an orange. But if someone says you’re selfish, it might sting a bit because there’s probably some truth to it (at least in your mind).

  • If it hurts, it means that somehow it resonates with something in yourself. It does not necessarily mean that you’re selfish, however. It can also mean that at that moment, maybe you’re not at peace with the fact that someone is criticizing you.

  • Note that if someone was teased as a child about something related to orange, such as red hair, being called an orange might be hurtful. “In every tiny little remark, there can always be somewhere something hitting a raw nerve.”

How Frederik reframes when he feels himself taking something personally [30:20];

  • Instead of placing blame or feeling reproach for the person who may have (unwittingly) criticized him, he reminds himself that they may not be aware that he has a sensitivity about what was said.

  • Frederik teaches that it can be maladaptive if people are always empathetic to our sensitivities, because then it doesn’t force us to develop the tools we need to remain confident.

  • “If we don’t learn how to help ourselves, it will always be a wound. We need to restore ourselves instead of wanting the other person to alway take ourselves into account.”


“Learning how not to take things personally is a gift to yourself and a gift to society because you are no longer dependent on how people treat you.”

A choice -- Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy? [36:05];

  • People who always want to be right do so because of their ego. The ego doesn’t want to be criticized. The ego wants to be right. And even if the ego is wrong, then the ego does not want others to know it, because the ego is afraid.

  • The ego needs external recognition. It wants to be seen, heard, and taken into account. This drains our energy.

  • If your self-image is no longer dependent on wanting to be right, and you can accept that you might be wrong, the result is a choice to be happy,


Using empathy to manage conflict with a consultant in the emergency department [39:45];

  • If you’re criticized for your treatment plan, it is most likely because the consultant is in his/her ego. Oftentimes, all they want is to be understood.

  • Respond with empathy. For example: “I hear that it’s really important to you that I do [x]. Could you tell me why it’s so important?” Show that you understand them by repeating their feelings and their needs. Acknowledge their expertise.

  • If you give empathy, chances are that their ego will melt down and you will be able to have a healthy discussion (rather than a heated debate).

Strategies for not taking it personally when you receive a poor patient satisfaction score or Yelp review [44:00];

  • More often than not, a negative review is written by an unhappy person projecting their unhappiness on your service.

  • It is natural to see it as a personal attack, but try to appreciate that the other person is just projecting their anger on you. Be confident in your skills and expertise.

  • Sometimes you need to just accept that people do not see the truth. “You may need to accept that sometimes there is no justice.”

Handling a scenario where your best friend forgets your birthday [48:45];

  • Genuinely talk about your expectations and how you feel, not about what the other person did wrong. Let them know that you took it personally. This will increase and restore your connection with that person.

  • Why do we take it personally? Because we think the other one is responsible for meeting our needs. But they’re not. You can take responsibility for your needs yourself.

“If you speak openly and vulnerably about what is inside of you, chances are good that the other one will understand and want to to make it good again.”

Why when giving gifts, be more like of the sun -- not expecting anything in return [52:25];

  • Sometimes when you give a gift, the recipient does not appear enthusiastic upon opening it. Many take this personally.

  • Consciously choose to let the journey of gift-giving end the moment the gift is given. If what happens afterward is not part of it at all, your expectations will always be met.

  • Give simply for the joy of giving and not out of the expectation to get something in return. If your desire is to get something in return, question yourself whether you are willing to take the risk of not getting this expectation met.


“The sun comes up because she wants to give warmth and light to the rest of the world. She doesn't want anything back. If the sun were to say, ‘What's in it for me?’, it would be always dark.”

If Frederik were to design a bumper sticker [55:30];

  • “I love myself, and I really hope that you love yourself as well.”


And more.



Shownotes by Melissa Orman, MD


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