"Personalising" is where you assume responsibility for a negative even when there is no basis for doing so.
You abritrarily conclude that what happened was your fault or reflects your inadequacy.
For example, when a mother receives her child's school report, plus a note from the form tutor indicating her child is not working well, she immediately concludes, "I must be a bad mother. This shows how I've failed".
Personalisation causes one to feel crippling guilt. You suffer from a paralysing and burdensome sense of responsibility that forces you to carry the whole world on your shoulders.
We play many roles which confer on us a degree of responsibility: teacher, counsellor, parent, nurse, salesperson, executive, etc., within which we certainly influence the people we interact with. But no one could reasonable expect us to control them. What the other person does is ultimately his or her responsibility, not ours.
Techniques for 'un-distortion'
Robert Leahy has suggested a number of techniques to challenge personalising:
- Rate the degree of your belief and identify and rate your emotions.
- Identify exactly what your statement or thought is — for example, "This is entirely my fault."
- Conduct a cost-benefit analysis:
a. Do you think that taking it personally motivates you to try harder, or does it protect you in some way?
b. Do you think that personalising this event/situation is "realistic"?
c. What thoughts, feelings and behaviour change if you personalised your experience less?
- Examine evidence for and against your personalising statement.
- What is the quality of the evidence that supports your belief?
- What cognitive distortions are you using to support your belief? Are you overgeneralising, mind reading, discounting positives, using negative filters, labelling, catastrophising or using "should" statements?
- How could you prove that your thought is wrong? Is it testable?
- Using a 'pie-chart', distribute the possible causes for this event. To what degree was the outcome due to causes other than yourself or the other person?
- What variations do you see in this behaviour? Are you (or they) always this way? What would you conclude if there is variation?
- What were your intentions? The other person's intentions? Are you certain your belief about their intentions is correct? How could you know?
- Distinguish between self-criticism and self-correction. What behaviour could you improve? What could you learn? What could you do differently in the future?
- Rather than personalising and blaming, what if you were to ask what problems needed to be solved? For example, if you are going through a breakup in a relationship, rather than blame yourself or the other person, why not ask yourself what practical problems you need to solve right now? What would be the consequences of this new way of thinking?