Do You Take Things Personally? Learn How Not To
By Carol Chanel
Who doesn't want to know how not to take things personally?
Every time I say I help people learn how not to take things personally they always respond - oh, I need help with that.
So how do you learn not to take things personally? I remember people used to tell me that all the time and I really wanted to stop, I just didn't know how.
Let me give you an example. I remember the first man I really loved left me - 'rejected' me - for another woman. I really loved this man and thought he loved me. How could I not take that personally? It felt personal and a lot like rejection.
How did people do it - not take things personally? Did they have some secret system? Did they have a code, some kind of DNA that I didn't have?
Well I don't know about everyone else and here's what I learned. The reason we don't need to take things personally is because it's not personal.
How can that be? Isn't the person who is standing there screaming and being mean to me, saying something about ME? Isn't the boyfriend who just went four days without calling me, saying something about ME. Or how about the girl friend who just broke up with you for another guy, isn't that personal, isn't that about ME.
Maybe your boss was really cool and aloof today, 'isn't that about ME?' you ask. How about your mother who spent your entire life not being affectionate and warm, 'Isn't that about ME?'
Do you understand where I'm going with these questions? The operative word in those scenarios is ME. And here's the key. Drum roll please! When someone is doing or saying something to you, it is about THEM not you or ME. It's about THEM.
So the boyfriend who I mentioned broke my heart and 'rejected' me turned out to be a coward, a drug addict and basically a sad human being. He went off with a woman who could take care of him, financially. When I saw him years later I realized I had been spared a life of misery.
If you hear yourself say 'I can't believe they did or said that to ME', then you need to stop, take a deep breathe, and realize you used the ME word about someone else's behavior.
We make ourselves the important part of the interaction, when the truth is the other person is making themselves the important part of the interaction and that's why it's about them.
That's why it isn't personal. It isn't personal. It isn't about you.
Let's look at the aloof boss. I had a client whose boss was the most abrupt man in the world. And she thought it said something about her. He was just condescending, abrupt, contemptuous, overworked and that was just his professional life. He was also cranky. Guess what? She ultimately realized it wasn't personal, and that it didn't work for her to be intimidated by him. That's empowering when you can say, 'This doesn't work for me.' But as long as you take it personally, then you feel badly about yourself and you won't change your situation.
By the way, that particular client gave it right back to him one day and the whole dynamic shifting. He wasn't a bad guy, he was just a bully - as long as he could get away with it. And he didn't have a large enough support staff to help him, so he was irritated and cranky. They have a good working relationship now.
I remember one time about 20 years ago I had gotten a job I really coveted. I was so happy and loved my work. At some point they restructured the company and I started reporting to a new boss. Now I didn't know it at the time, but this guy was really mean and had some deep personal problems.
I started having real problems working with this man and I was crushed. I remember sitting one afternoon crying in another director's office and he told me, 'don't take it personally, the guy is mean.' Well at the time I couldn't understand that.
Eventually I got married, moved and left that job. I found out later that the guy had done some unbelievably underhanded things to the president of the company when he didn't get his way. Guess what, the director was right. It wasn't PERSONAL. That man was mean, imbalanced and manipulative.
Who hasn't had a challenging relationship with a boss, a teacher, a date, a friend or a parent?
And when you encounter those people, why isn't what they do to you personal? Because it's about them.
You often don't have the luxury of knowing about the person's personal life. What made them the way they are. In fact, I'll share this with you. After working with people in various self-improvement capacities for the last 20 some years I can tell you many people have had unbelievably dysfunctional, painful lives. It's amazing they are even functioning.
Let me give you another example. I had a male client who was deeply in love with a woman who wasn't available. She would draw him in and then do something to push him away. It's commonly called sabotaging the relationship. Well at first he took this personally. And here's why. He had done some things in the relationship out of his fear that he felt guilty about.
So he was sure her behavior was personal. As we coached and he looked at why he had done certain things, he was deeply sorry. We worked to not have him judge himself for his previous behavior and to forgive himself. He went to her to apologize.
At first she accepted the apology and then she pushed him away again. He got to see that she had major issues around emotional intimacy. It wasn't personal. She had had a pretty tough life and the way she protected herself when she felt unsafe was to lash out. And she was highly effective! Who could blame her?
Or maybe you've been with someone who is affectionate and seemingly interested in having a committed relationship and then all of a sudden they pull away when the intimacy gets too real. That person may be suffering from shame caused by some abuse, or problem from their upbringing. We often will never know the real reason.
It's rarely personal when they pull away. They are afraid of being exposed. The more I coach the more I see how shame plays an enormous role in messing up peoples' lives and especially their relationships.
Shame plays such a significant role in so many lives that I taught a workshop on helping people to transcend shame. It's one of the secrets that blocks intimacy. But that's a separate article.
Do you see now that people's behavior and actions are about them? If you go up and hit someone and they hit you back, well that's a different story. I'm talking about the uncaused action or behavior - the yelling, the pulling or pushing away, the aloof treatment, the manipulations, or the overreaction.
Here's a big secret about how to not take things personally. Work on yourself to heal your wounds. As we heal, then we can see that other people have wounds that cause them to act or react in all sorts of ways. Often we can't SEE the other person if our wounds are too tender. They inadvertently hit a raw spot and we react from the pain.
Let me give you an example - the reason I was so sensitive to the "crazy" boss was because of my upbringing from both my father and stepmother. They both had extremely difficult and borderline abusive parents and really didn't know how to parent. At times they were mean, aloof, critical and physically and emotionally abusive. They passed their fears and wounds on to me. Once I healed my wounds I realized that their treatment of me was a sad reflection of how they felt about themselves and how they were treated.
As we heal there are less and less raw spots for others to hit and hurt. There are less opportunities and reasons for us to react.
So the two ways to not take things personally are:
- Remember it's not about you - it's about them.
- Heal your wounds. Then the things people say and do won't hurt you.
While you are healing and growing, please remember when you hear yourself say: 'Why did she/ he do or say that to ME?' to take the ME out of the sentence. Change it to 'Why did they do or say that to THEMSELVES?' And realize you might not know the answer to that question.
My stepmother recently died. As I mentioned, she and I had had an extremely difficult, painful relationship when I was growing up. And fortunately I had worked to heal the pain and hurt and had repaired our relationship. After she died, I found out something that was shocking and upsetting about her upbringing. I remember I doubled over and sobbed and sobbed. Then her behavior and treatment of me made perfect sense. If only I had known. If only she could have told us, her life and all our lives would have been so different. And yet I'm thankful for the gift of our difficult relationship. I learned first hand that it wasn't personal. None of the things she did or said were personal, they were reactions from that wounded place inside her.
You are not a victim of anyone's behavior or words. If you feel like you are please find a coach, therapist or healer and work through those issues that leave you feeling victimized. If we feel like victims, then everything will feel personal. And sometimes people are invested in being victims - it's a pattern of behavior that is familiar even if it isn't pleasant. To change the victim thought process takes time, a major shift in perspective and not judging yourself when you are working through it.
And if you have been a victim of a crime or abuse then a licensed psychotherapist is often the best way to work through those painful feelings.
And for the rest of us, who have had experiences that led us to feel like victims on some level, just trust that you can change your perspective from:
"A Victim of your Experiences to Victorious in your Learning!!"
Which will you choose? And please remember, IT IS A CHOICE. Will you choose victim or victorious.
Next time you catch yourself taking something personally, try choosing victorious and see what happens. Ask yourself: "What can I learn here?" Tell yourself: I CHOOSE TO BE VICTORIOUS! PEOPLE LOVE ME! I'M A WONDERFUL PERSON!
It is my intention to share with everyone I can how to not take things personally. Please call or email me if you have any questions or thoughts you'd like to share with me.
Here's to a Victorious Life, free of taking things personally!