Why taking things personally doesn’t get us very far
For a long time, if someone said or did something, I’d take it really personally; I’d think it was all about me. Does that sound familiar to you?
My mum drank a lot when I was younger and I used to think that if I were a better daughter, she’d stop.
Or when I was bullied (at work actually, not school), I questioned whether they were right and started to believe the things they said about me.
Or when a car driver was really rude to me on my bike, I felt that I had done something wrong (I hadn’t, I was cycling safely).
But the truth is that we are all like the planets, stars, space stations, meteorites, bits of space debris all floating around in our own little bits of space and sometimes we bump into each other. We behave and react the way we do because of whatever’s going on in our heads in any given moment. It’s actually nothing to do with the person we lash out at, or bump into.
When we’re feeling angry/frustrated/jealous/anxious/afraid, we can see these feelings as a signpost pointing back to our noisy head - full of busy thinking around not being good enough, or confusion, or maybe we’ve just assumed something that isn’t true.
Often, we innocently just make stuff up to complete the picture we are creating in our head.
So, when my mum drank way too much – it was never about me. It was about the (often poor) decisions she had made and the panic she was feeling at that specific time which led her to drink. It wasn’t about me – it was her view of her life with her ‘avoiding the situation’ goggles on.
When those colleagues at work were rude, unkind and made up things about me – it was never actually about me. It was probably the assumptions they had made up about me; their feelings of keeping their ‘work territory’ as it was without me stepping in; it was probably about not liking some of the management decisions I made. But it wasn’t about me – it was their view of the situation with their ‘angry/territorial/avoiding change’ goggles on.
The person who shouted at me from his car – that was never about me. He was probably already cross or spooked because he hadn’t seen me. I suspect he had a lot going on and, in that moment, his reaction was to start shouting. It wasn’t about me - he was probably viewing the situation with his ‘angry, short temper’ goggles on.
It’s so easy for us to take the blame for whatever happens, but where does that get us? We end up criticising ourselves, judging ourselves and, ultimately, giving our power to someone else who, in truth, is feeling grumpy/tired/frustrated/worried about the things in their life. Like the meteors, the debris, the rocks up in space, sometimes we accidently bump into each other.
Taking things personally, keeping the story about ‘me’, keeps us feeling limited, keeps us trying to contain our potential. But here’s the thing, potential is infinite so how can we possibly contain it?
Only by recognising that other people behave the way they do is only ever down to whatever is going on for them moment to moment and, actually, nothing to do with us, we can walk away knowing that their moment will pass and we don’t need to buy into their story at all.
We might even experience a sense of compassion that they seem to be having a difficult time. The truth is that we are never part of their story: my mum loved me deeply – her drinking was her problem, not mine. I suspect those ‘bullies’ at my old workplace rarely considered things from my point of view and the guy in car? I suspect he had forgotten about me the moment I was out of sight.
When I stop taking things personally, I stay on my path and don’t end up going down someone else’s story, where I don’t need to go. Because it is their story, not mine.