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Don’t Take It Personally

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

A nurse and doctor, both with long hair, standing next to one another

We often hear that we shouldn’t take certain things personally. Sometimes we may hear this from someone in management at our jobs. Sometimes a friend may say it. In many cases, it is said when a situation hasn’t gone as well as you would have liked. But it can be difficult to heed this advice. What should you do if a situation occurs or a comment is made, and it comes off as hurtful or out-of-place? Situations may be especially difficult if a patient or patient’s family member says something that feels personal. In the moment, certain comments and situations may not feel right.

On a basic level, it is good advice to realize that these comments and verbal attacks are not personal at all. In many cases, the people making these comments don’t even know you. They have no authority with you on a personal level. You haven’t given them the permission to delve into your life to the point of knowing you at an intimate level. In reality, it isn’t personal, but how do you redirect your focus?

I used to work night shifts only. When I switched to mostly days, I was excited to treat the patients on my new shift. Also, more people worked during the day shifts, and I had an opportunity interact with more of my colleagues. One morning I woke up on what I considered was the right side of the bed. I put on my shirt and tie, and I was enthusiastic about starting my first day shift.

Right away that morning, I was involved in—or, should I say, exposed to—a situation that left me thinking. I looked at my patient list, and I got ready to round on my patients. I heard that one of my patients was ready to be discharged, and I approached that room. I saw two family members standing in front of the door. They didn’t seem to want to let me in. I introduced myself, and one of them snarled, “What would you do if this were your mother?” I was taken aback, to say the least. I felt as if I couldn’t even get out my greeting before these very strong emotions came out.

My mother had died years earlier. This family didn’t know that, and it seemed unfair and inappropriate for one of them to mention my mother. From that family member’s perspective, my mother was mentioned to create a point of reference for me. In my view, there was no point in making this reference. It was hard to not take this comment on a personal level. Initially, with the tension at the doorway, I wasn’t allowed in the room. I let them know that I had to examine the patient: She was a mother, an aunt, a wife. I needed to see the patient before I could complete the discharge instructions. I also let them know that my mother was no longer living.

I was allowed to enter the room, and I saw a woman, my patient, surrounded by friends and family. There was a sense of tension and sadness that was palpable. This woman had experienced a heart attack as well as a stroke. She had been so devastated that there wasn’t much hope for a quality of life she would find meaningful. There seemed to be less tension directed towards me, and I sensed the frustration that the family was experiencing. I was able to see that patient and respond in a caring and professional manner.

That day, it was difficult to think about this experience without realizing how frustrating I found the situation. I found myself telling others about what happened. I didn’t do this to make negative commentary about the family; I needed to vent.

I knew that it wasn’t personal, and I wasn’t devastated by the experience, but I found it helpful to talk to others about the situation. I didn’t have to talk with pastoral care or the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). (Realize that many hospitals and medical facilities have resources available for medical staff and other employees to discuss difficult situations.)

We all need a release or a catharsis at times. If we experience a situation that is difficult to handle, it’s important to know that, in most cases, it isn’t personal. You may be able to bounce back quickly by realizing this, but also know that we all need to vent and release those frustrations. If you have lingering feelings about a difficult situation, or if questions persist, seek out the supportive resources available at your workplace.

You will be renewed and experience less burnout when you have the opportunity to express your feelings and get assistance that you need in coping with difficult situations.

When you are faced with a difficult situation at work and you need to discuss the issue with someone, whom do you turn to?

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