Don’t Take it Personally
By Deborah Blackwell
Sometimes hard to be a human. We fight amongst ourselves, poke and prod at each other, and worse, make judgements and assumptions about the people around us. When we’re on the receiving end of that nasty “stuff,” it’s easy to take it personally.
Animals on the other hand, have figured out how to detach. They don’t take anything personally, even though they live and interact together in the animal world. They play and fight, snuggle and bite, then simply move on with their lives.
This sounds like a pretty good idea. No dwelling, no deprecating, no plotting or projecting. Just being.
Humans have learned to take things personally since the beginning of time.
When we’re emotionally triggered, it’s usually because someone say something to us that hits our weak spot—that thing we don’t like about ourselves, or our life. They play on our insecurities, our fears, and our doubts.
I learned how to take things personally at a very young age from my mother. She wasn’t the nicest when it came to her daughter. When I was bullied about being fat even though I was just a little plump, she would say, “Well, you could stand to lose a few pounds.”
In fifth grade, people made fun of me for having a few wisps of dark hair on my upper lip. My mother was almost angry about those wisps, promptly took me to the salon to have it bleached, and insisted I stay on top of it.
As I got older and the issues got bigger—especially in my teenage years—my mother didn’t let up. And I paid for it.
I took everything personally. Whenever someone was mad, even if it wasn’t about me, I assumed it was. When someone judged me, I was an emotional mess and beat myself up. If someone blamed me for something, even if it wasn’t true, I embodied that it was.
That’s easy to do by the way, because first, humans love to blame other humans for their own misery. Second, we can absorb it like a sponge and it hits our psyche hard.
Eventually—after a lot of inner reflection and paying attention to my self-esteem—I realized my mother was projecting her own insecurities onto me. She took personally what she encouraged me to take personally, as if I was a reflection of her. I wasn’t, but it took a lot of years to figure that out…and a lot of pain.
Whether personalizing everyone else’s issues when they aren’t ours, or taking responsibility for them, weakens our essence, the very core of our being. It threatens our dignity and our joy. Over time, it even threatens our health.
To stop the vicious cycle takes courage, and practice. I tried a lot of things before I found what worked for me. Talk-therapy, journaling, noticing triggers and trying to neutralize my thoughts at every turn, all helped.
But it can be as simple as taking a deep breath (or several,) and “stepping back” in your mind. I learned to put space between myself and whatever is hovering in my mental orbit. Kind of like watching TV.
I “see” myself separate from that thing over there that is causing me to feel upset. I’m over here, it’s over there. And I don’t have to do anything with it.
I can take my attention off of it—because I’m in charge of my life, my thoughts, and my feelings—and that offers powerful relief.
Over time, it gets easier and easier…and surprisingly, even fun. Because the only thing we need to take personally, is how we treat ourselves.