Has anyone ever told you to Quit Taking It Personally?
You may have heard it from a parent, a friend or colleague. I have heard some version of it from all three. Unfortunately, I have taken other people’s bad behavior personally more often than I’d like to admit and I’ve worried far too much about what other people think about me.
We all take it personally at some point. Sometimes we get wrapped up in the trivial like when that jerk cuts you off mid-sentence or that family member takes the last piece of bread in the basket. Clearly the other person knew you were still talking and that those dinner rolls are your favorite. Obviously they were trying to slight you and piss you off!
Or were they? Did they even realize you had more to say in their excitement to partake in the conversation? Did they remember those rolls were your favorite when they grabbed another to stave off their own hunger? Probably not! Most likely, their perceived slight has little to nothing to do with you and everything to do with them and the world they are wrapped up in. Of course, this doesn’t make them right. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be more considerate. That would be helpful. However, I know the negative energy I get wrapped up in falsely believing their actions were a personal affront does not help me.
Sometimes the situation feels even more personal with higher stakes. When a colleague strongly criticizes your project during a well attended meeting, it can feel like not only that person, but all the attendees are judging you. When your sweetheart breaks it off saying its not working out, it can feel like they are passing judgment that you weren’t good enough. However, if you take a step back and depersonalize it, it is easier to see that the colleague is commenting on the project, not you. Your ex-sweetheart is making a conclusion about the relationship and what’s right for him or her. I am not saying you shouldn’t reflect on your role in the project or relationship to determine if there is anything you can do better. That would be wise. On the other hand, what those meeting attendees and your ex think about you personally is none of your business! Those thoughts are about them; their values and baggage.
It’s about you. How you handle these situations is about you. Do you react with hurt, anger and frustration at the perceived perpetrator and possible innocent bystanders? Or do you respond with curiosity about how to not take it personally and focus on making the project better or finding happiness in another relationship? I’ve spent my lifetime working on responding rather than reacting. It’s not easy. It’s not even natural when you consider our primal fight or flight response to perceived threats. Perhaps then, we all need to be a little less defensive. After all we aren’t fighting for survival on the Savannah anymore. Often, the only difference between reacting and responding is the breath you take between moments; between thought and action.
It’s about you. What you believe about yourself, your worth and capabilities determines your experience of these situations. When you are well grounded, like an old growth tree, in the knowledge of your own inherent worth, your values and your abilities, the small breeze of someone else’s thoughtless behavior cannot sway you. Unfortunately, far too many of use haven’t spent enough time driving our roots down into the earth; solidifying our self knowing, self possession and self confidence. We spend far too much time looking to others to validate our experience and tell us what’s real for us.
Until now, external validation has been a driving force and motivator in my life. I have always felt like I have something to prove. While I have had enough self awareness to suspect I have done something well, I have looked to parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, friends and colleagues to validate this suspicion. More precisely, I’ve looked to others to tell me my effort or accomplishment is good enough and therefore I am good enough. You can see from the list of types of people from whom I seek validation that, until now, I have cast my net wide.
Well, you know what? I am tired of seeking this validation; it is the stuff of madness that puts us on and keeps us on the hamster wheel. I am tired of depending on other people to tell me my experiences are real. It’s exhausting needing other people to tell me I am good enough. I am worn out from casting such a far reaching net. Now, my health challenges are teaching me to let go of my dependency on external validation. Born of necessity from my increase in fatigue and decrease in mental bandwidth, I have become more selective about how I spend my energy. I don’t want to waste anymore time giving both my energy and myself away.
Over the past ten months, some of my symptoms that clearly indicate to others I am having trouble, have thankfully been eased by medicine. So now when I see friends and acquaintances for the first time, they make comments denying my reality.
“Oh, you’re fine!”
“There’s nothing wrong with you!”
“Geez, I don’t know why you had us so worried!”
I have struggled with these experiences. I have found them embarrassing, frustrating and draining. Initially, I felt like I had to defend myself and prove to them my experiences are real. But I don’t. I never did.
The reality is I am incredibly blessed to retain or have recovered so much functionality.
The reality is I still struggle.
The reality is so many of us are walking around with invisible struggles.
The truth is what anyone else says about any of our struggles, does not make them any less real.
The truth is comments like the ones above are more about the speaker than you.
As I find ways to work around my health challenges and within my energetic constraints, I am changing dramatically. As I change, I am turning inward to deepen my roots and strengthen my self possession. I am working to take things less personally, respond rather than react and not seek validation from most other people in my life. I am learning that this is not selfish, as I sometimes feel, but rather a gift. It’s a gift to myself giving me back energy and mental bandwidth. It’s a gift to others, relieving them of unfounded perceptions and misplaced burden. While I am working to no longer seek validation, it’s deeply human to want to be acknowledged and seen by those near and dear. And it’s about quality over quantity. Therefore, I am drawing in my net; pulling in my circle.
Health challenges have pushed me to make these long overdue and profound changes. It’s not easy, it will take time AND it’s totally worth it. Although I am not one for regrets, I do wish I had the clarity, strength and determination to make these changes sooner. So, I wonder:
Are you taking other people’s actions too personally?
How much do you rely on external validation?
Is that working for you?
If not, what will it take for you to make a shift?