Once upon a time, I dated someone who could just not seem to cope with the fact that I was a writer. Which was curious actually since she was also a professional writer herself, one much more successful than I was, by just about every objective metric possible.
And especially curious because the reason we dated in the first place, the reason we met at all, was because she was a reader of my blog. She came to a class I taught at a conference, befriended my husband, and eventually I met her through him.
I liked her instantly. She was very funny and pretty. But I figured I didn’t have a shot. In true me fashion, I was pretty much oblivious to the fact that she liked me until she was pouncing on me.
And for a while, things were going so well… well, except… she kept thinking everything I was writing was about her. Or at least, she kept thinking that I was writing hidden messages into my articles that passive-aggressively hinted at secret directives she should be taking.
Which was wild. For starters, at the time, she was one of three partners I had. So even if I were prone to using my blog as a manipulative, passive-aggressive indirect communication tool with romantic partners, there would still be a question as to which one of them my target would be.
And the bigger issue here is that I don’t do that. That seems like a stupid way to communicate.
For the most part, I don’t assume that anyone in I know in real life reads my work, even my partners. At the time I’m writing this, one of my partners reads basically everything I write (or at least skims it). The other rarely does.
And it doesn’t really matter to me. Because I don’t write in public expecting them to read it. That’s what talking in private is for.
But for some reason, this former girlfriend just kept expecting me to.
This post is one of the very few times I’ve written about her.
But she seemed to think I wrote about her constantly. And kept reading waaaaaaay into every piece and taking things into truly bizarre places. This tendency of hers persisted long after I explained to her how my writing process works. That I will often write things privately in the moment something happens and then publish them way later, that I make a point not to be vulnerable in public in a way that would be psychologically unhealthy.
But my explanations were to no avail. She continued to think everything was about her, directly or indirectly. No matter how many leaps of logic it took for her to get there.
We actually ended up breaking up for other reasons. But this phenomenon wasn’t exactly fun while the relationship lasted.
Personalization is a very common cognitive distortion whereby a person will believe that everything others say or do is some kind of direct, personal reaction to them.
In lay terms, when someone personalizes, they take everything really personally, even when it has little or nothing to do with them.
And in doing so, people who have a tendency to personalize too much will set up situations where they believe that they are to blame for things that aren’t their fault or that people are upset with them when they aren’t.
It also works in the opposite direction, too, with folks who are prone to personalize also being more likely to accept praise for positive achievements that they had little to do with.
Like all cognitive distortions, some degree of personalization can be relatively normal and part of the personality of a healthy high-functioning individual. Can it be annoying or frustrating (for the person and those around them)? Yeah. But that doesn’t make it pathological.
However, when it does become sufficiently disruptive to seek out treatment, personalizing is typically addressed by working with a therapist skilled in guiding a client through cognitive reframing techniques (e.g., CBT, REBT, DBT, etc.). Typically, it’s not something that a client will recognize or target as an issue (they usually don’t realize they’re doing it) but instead something that’s addressed by treatment that’s sought out for another issue.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.
My new book is out!
Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).