Let’s start off with a simple question:
Why do we always take things so personally?
There are admittedly quite a few viable and valid answers to consider. But, the one Angel and I have found to be most common through a decade of one-on-one coaching with our course students and live event attendees is the tendency we all have of putting ourselves at the center, and seeing everything—every event, conversation, circumstance, etc.—from the viewpoint of how it relates to us on a personal level. And this can have all kinds of adverse effects, from feeling hurt when other people are rude, to feeling sorry for ourselves when things don’t go exactly as planned, to doubting ourselves when we aren’t perfect.
Of course, we are not really at the center of everything. That’s not how the universe works. It just sometimes seems that way to us. Let’s consider a few everyday examples…
Someone storms into the room in a really bad mood, huffing and puffing, and addresses us in a rude way. Immediately we think to ourselves, “What’s going on here? I don’t deserve to be treated like this! They should know better!” And we are left agitated, offended and angry. But the truth is the other person’s behavior has very little to do with us. They got mad at something outside the room, and now they’re reactively venting their frustrations in front of us. We just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This reality doesn’t justify their behavior, but it needs to be consciously acknowledged so we don’t waste too much of our mental energy positioning ourselves at the center of the situation and taking everything personally.
Now, let’s assume for a moment that a person’s actions actually do seem to relate to us directly—we inadvertently did something that annoyed them, and now they’re reacting very rudely to us. A situation like this might seem personal, but is it really? Is the magnitude of this person’s rude reaction all about us and the one thing we did to trigger them? No, probably not. It’s mostly just a statement about this person’s reactions, snap-judgments, long-term anger issues, and expectations of the universe. Again, we’re just a smaller piece of a much larger story.
And likewise, when someone else rejects us, ignores us, doesn’t call us when they said they would, doesn’t show they care, or flat out disrespects us… these reactions have much less to do with us than they have to do with the other person’s history of personal issues. We can learn to silently respect them and their pain without taking their words to heart.
But, again, because we see everything through a lens of how it personally relates to us and ONLY us—a lens that does a poor job of seeing the bigger picture—we tend to react to everyone else’s actions and words as if they are a personal judgment or attack. Thus, other people’s anger makes us angry. Other people’s lack of respect makes us feel unworthy. Other people’s unhappiness makes us unhappy. And so it goes.
If you’re nodding your head to any of this, it’s time to start gracefully deflecting the senseless negativity around you. When you sense negativity coming at you, give it a small push back with a thought like, “That remark (or gesture, or whatever) is not really about me, it’s about you (or the world at large).” Remember that all people have emotional issues they’re dealing with (just like you), and it makes them rude, rambunctious, and downright thoughtless sometimes. They are doing the best they can, or they’re not even aware of their issues. In any case, you can learn not to interpret their behaviors as personal attacks, and instead see them as non-personal encounters (like a dog barking in the distance, or a bumblebee buzzing by) that you can either respond to gracefully, or not respond to at all.
But, of course, this doesn’t come naturally—NOT taking things personally is an ongoing daily practice…
“Notes to Self” for NOT Taking Things Personally
Like you, and the rest of the human race, I’m only human, and I still take things way too personally sometimes when I’m in the heat of the moment. So, I’ve implemented a simple strategy to support the practice of watching my response. In a nutshell, I proactively remind myself NOT to take things personally. Anytime I catch myself doing so, I pause and read the “notes to self” displayed below to myself. Then, I take some fresh deep breaths…
If you’d like to practice along with me, I recommend stealing my notes (all of which are now excerpts from our NEW BOOK), tweaking them as you see fit, storing them in an easily accessible location, and then reading and re-reading them whenever you catch yourself taking things personally. (Note: For the sake of not being tediously redundant, I only wrote “Note to Self” as a precursor on the first note below.)
Afterthoughts… on Forgiving Yourself
When someone insists on foisting their hostility and drama on you, just keep practicing—reading your “notes to self” and being an example of a pure existence. Do your best to respect their pain and focus on compassion. Communicate and express yourself from a place of peace, from a place of wholeness, with the best intentions.
But, also, don’t come down too hard on yourself when you slip up, which is inevitable. Even with decades of practice behind me, I sometimes catch myself being rude to people who are rude to me—I behave badly because they behaved badly. And even when the situation is absolutely their fault, my behavior only escalates the situation. So, I just do my best to take a deep breath, forgive myself, and reset my approach. Doing so always helps me make progress, even if it’s not instantaneous.
When you slip up, please do your best to do the same…
Just keep forgiving yourself for the bad decisions you made, for the times you took things personally and lacked understanding, for the choices that escalated the situation and hurt others and yourself. Yes, just keep forgiving yourself, for being young in the mind and reckless sometimes. These are all vital lessons. And what matters most right now is your willingness to grow from them.
If you’re feeling up to it, we would love to hear from YOU.
Which reminder—or “note to self”—mentioned above resonates with you the most today, and why?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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