Taking Things Personally

Posted on Jun 12, 2016 in Self-Help

taking-things-personally

Imagine that you are taking a walk in the city and are approached by a man. he looks worn out, overrun by life. You can sense by his tattered clothing and forever furrowed brow that he’s faced significant hardship in his time. Spying the makeshift cardboard bed and the mess of empty bottles on the nearby stoop, you suspect that the street has become his home and drinking & drugs, his occupation. your nose is distracted by whiffs of urine.

The man begins to approach you. His eyes twitchy and his breath sodden with alcohol, he gets right up in your face. Enraged, he begins to spew gibberish. It’s meaning is incomprehensible, it’s content predominately profanity. Among the slurs, “You’re a f**king unworthy piece of s**t!”

…You continue walking.

For you this interaction might have been a little off putting, it might have been unpleasant, sure – but would you have taken this interaction personally? Would you have let this man’s words damage your self-worth?

Likely not. The typical reaction would involve some form of, “Awe he’s just drunk. He’s just high on chemicals, he’s in pain and he’s blabbering. There is clearly a lot going on in his world. (Though his words were aimed in my direction, they have nothing to do with me.)” The typical response would be to brush it off. This other person would have no power over the opinion you have of yourself.

This is a situation where it is easy to recognize that someone else’s words have nothing to do with you. The mind immediately jumps to explanations and the heart to compassion. “He’s clearly having a tough time. maybe he’s also hungry, tired, cold, lonely, desperate… There is a lot of pain and toxicity present for this human being.” – Speculations that aren’t about condoning or condemning this other person’s behavior, but rather, look to understand it.

In this situation we respond with first, Step 0: NOT taking another’s words personally. Then, Step 1: finding possible reasons for their behavior. And finally, Step 2: tapping into empathy for their condition.

So why do we respond this way in one scenario, but not in another?

For instance, would that be your default response to an unpleasant interaction you had with a friend? Likely not. With those who we see on a more regular basis, like our family members, colleagues, roommates etc., it is easy to loose perspective – we can forget that they have their own versions of this man’s alcohol & drugs that get in the way of their authentic communication. Like the man on the street, they too carry their share of influences that determine how they interact with the world. They carry…

• Physical toxins (from their stress, their environment or their addiction to substances like processed food, cigarettes, pharmaceuticals, alcohol etc.) all which affect them on a chemical level
• Mental suffering, the result of many distracting thoughts, enforced through years of social conditioning
• Emotional pain from unhealed past traumas
• Physical distress (like fatigue, constipation, hunger, disease etc.)

These factors filter both how they perceive their inner and outer world and how their self gets expressed.

The only difference between the stranger on the sidewalk and those whose names you know, is the visibility of their struggles.

WHY YOU DON’T WANT TO BE TAKING THINGS PERSONALLY:

It is a no-win situation.
1. You give your power away to another person and in turn make yourself a victim
2. You distance yourself from others through resentment
3. and then burden others with the responsibility of the impossible job of making you feel a certain way
4. You are then so distracted by your own insecurities that you aren’t available for authentic connection with others, to facilitate your own growth, or to help anyone else with their affairs.

The secret here is that you don’t need to wait for someone to reveal the details of their suffering. You can make the assumption that it is always what is at the root of their unsavoriness. With this approach, you free yourself.

So, next time you catch yourself reacting to the actions and opinions of another, think about the man on the street. Although you might be the subject of their outburst, don’t get caught in the trap of taking it personally. Recognize it as a manifestation of their own issues and go from there.

 

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