In today’s video, I want to cover a very common cognitive distortion: personalization.
Read or watch below to learn more about personalization.
Zachary Stockill: In today’s video, I want to cover a very common cognitive distortion, which is personalization.
So what is personalization?
The simplistic answer is continually taking things way, way, way too personally. Ascribing blame for complicated events, placing undue blame on yourself or other people, and taking a rather simplistic view of events. And taking way too much of the blame, or maybe ascribing too much blame on others.
So maybe you have a habit of looking at a situation and taking a rather short-sighted, rather simplistic view when you’re trying to decide who’s to blame for the events involved.
A classic example of this is in relationships. We’re all guilty of this from time to time when we’re involved in some conflict with our partner. It could be about anything. Emotions are kind of getting riled up, we’re getting heated, and all of a sudden, we’re placing all of the blame on our partner.
You know, “I have nothing to atone for over here, I’m perfect over here. 100% of the blame falls on you…” We’re all guilty of this from time to time.
And when emotions get charged, and we are in the midst of a conflict, it’s very easy for personalization to take over.
However, we need to realize that in any two-person interaction, there’s always somewhat of the blame that could fall on both sides. Even if it’s like 95% of the blame on one person. 5% of the blame is probably on the other person. But more often than not, especially in conflicts in relationships, the blame is closer to 50/50. Of course, this isn’t always true, but it’s often true.
Life is complicated. Human beings are enormously complicated. As I talk about endlessly, relationships are enormously complicated.
Most conflicts and relationships are relatively complicated. And thus it’s unrealistic for us to place all the blame on someone else.
Or equally unrealistic to take all the blame ourselves.
This can be an interesting exercise to try the next time you’re in a conflict with your partner about anything. You know, once you’re feeling calm, once you have some distance from that situation, once you’re alone, try to think of the percentage of blame that is your responsibility. Maybe it’s something you said that maybe was a little mean or untoward, or something you did, perhaps, that wasn’t entirely fair.
Once you calm down, once you can see the situation rationally, think “how much of the situation was probably my fault.” And be hard on yourself here if you have a habit of ascribing all the blame for the problems in the relationship on the other person. Pause, take some deep breaths, go to someplace where you can be alone, and try to think about what the percentage is that is your fault.
On the other hand, if you’re one of these people who takes all the blame onto themselves… Once you get some distance from that situation, once you’ve calmed down, take a few deep breaths and realize “Maybe this isn’t entirely my fault. Maybe the other person is to blame 20% or 25%, or maybe even 60 or 70%, as the case may be.”
Coming back to retroactive jealousy:
It’s common for retroactive jealousy sufferers in the early stages of healing to place all of the blame for their retroactive jealousy on their partner.
They often think that if their partner’s past was different, they wouldn’t have any of these problems at all. “This is entirely on my partner to solve for me. It’s entirely their fault…”
This perspective does you a disservice. And obviously, it does your partner a disservice as well. As soon as you say that a problem in your life is someone else’s fault, someone else’s responsibility to solve, it’s disempowering.
Because what can you do in that situation? If that’s your perspective, what can you do?
Whereas if you have a problem in your life, and you take 100% ownership of it, all of a sudden the world opens up to you. Endless solutions open up to you, you have real power in that situation. You have agency when you take on that perspective.
This is not to say maybe your partner isn’t entirely to blame. Sometimes when you start asking your partner about their past, maybe later it comes out that they told you a little lie here or there. I’m not excusing that behavior at all.
What I’m saying here is if you want to work through a problem, like retroactive jealousy, it serves you much better to accept responsibility for solving that problem. Don’t put it on your partner because number one, it doesn’t work. And number two, it’s going to create all kinds of problems in the relationship now and in the future.
A mentor of mine takes personalization to an extreme extent. He says “everything in your life is your fault.”
Now, maybe that isn’t technically true. Certainly, there are other dynamics involved in every area of life.
However, I prefer that perspective because as soon as you start taking ownership of all the problems in your life it brings you a lot closer to finding, and eventually implementing solutions.