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It’s not all about you!

Publishing Date : 08 October, 2018

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White

One of the things I have been conscious of in the past few years is trying not to take things so personally. Trust me, I’m not there yet and it feels more like a work in progress than a place that I have got to.

I know that I am not alone here as often when I am coaching people they will tell me the exact same thing – that they take things too much to heart and they wish they could do something about it.   It’s an area many people need help with. The conversations which I have often run on these lines:

 “How can I not take it personally when my boss is angry, and he/she screams at me? How is that when my friend stops talking to me I don’t take it personally because that is very much about me?  Or how about my wife who cheated on me – that is definitely about me – it’s personal.”

They are half right.  Yes, it is personal but when someone is having a cadenza and doing or saying something to you, the issue is about THEM not you.  The book The four Agreements says: “Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in.

When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world. Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds…Taking things personally makes you easy prey for these predators, the black magicians. They can hook you easily with one little opinion and feed you whatever poison they want, and because you take it personally, you eat it up….”

I think it is important to realise that when you take something personally it’s a reflection of your own insecurities and perceived shortcomings.  Deep inside, it may reinforce what you think about yourself and you automatically interpret something as a personal attack.   Somehow you feel you have been exposed and your defences spring up to fend off the attack. 

This is a huge problem if you are basing your worth on the approval of others but the big thing to grasp is that their disapproval or disappointment is personal to them.  It’s all about THEM but you are a convenient verbal punch ball.  We make ourselves the important part of the interaction, when the truth is it’s the other way round and that’s why it’s about them – their situation and their issues. That’s why it isn’t your ‘personal’ – it’s theirs.

This is a lot easier said that done and that’s why I say it’s a work in progress. I can get so caught up in feeling abused, insulted and whatever else and then that thought (I am being treated like sh**) will fester in my mind tormenting me, making me lose sleep and focus.  Fortunately, I found some sound advice recently and that was to ask yourself the simple question - Will you care this time next year?

One of the reasons that we all take things personally is because we lose perspective. While personal attacks hurt, most of them simply don’t have the same raw feeling weeks and months later. When you ask “Will I still care about this a year from now?” and if the answer is yes, it’s likely worth your concern. But, If not, and this is likely to be the more common scenario, it helps you get beyond the emotion of the moment.

When I chat to people about this, it appears more prevalent at work, as if we are somehow more vulnerable in our relationships there. In his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie, one of the central messages from the author is this: “You likely spend more waking hours at work each week than anywhere else. When somebody hits you at work with something that feels personal, of course you’ll be affected by it.

But you’ll be a lot more affected if you don’t have anywhere else to turn. If you have a strong sense of identity outside of the workplace and other activities going such as volunteer work, sports, faith community, and hobbies, it’s harder for one person or situation to bring you down. The people who care about you in these places can also help ground you when you need perspective.”

Dr Margaret Paul says, “Others’ unloving behaviour hurts our heart, but when we learn to lovingly manage our loneliness, heartbreak, grief and helplessness and insecurity we stop taking others’ behaviour personally.” Build on this good advice by building up your positive reserve.  When we take something personally we negatively internalise another person’s judgement and make it about us and this in turn makes us feel slighted. 

   And one of the reasons you may take things personally is because that something negative is suddenly focused on you and (right or wrong) it’s challenging not to fixate on it. Rarely is there someone else there in the moment to balance it out with a positive message – it has to come from you.  But don’t take that personally! 



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