14 Jan “Don’t take it personally…”
If I had a penny for every time I have heard this sentence…It is only now, coming up to my mid forties, that I think that I am actually starting to get what it means.
It used to either drive me nuts or make me feel depressed, it was like a “double wound”, not only do I feel hurt, upset, angry or sad but now someone is telling me that I SHOULDN’T be feeling this, that I am “weak”, flawed, and in the wrong? It was like adding insult to injury. I also found that people would often use this sentence to end the conservation, close the matter and move on as if it had solved everything.
I would say that I am a “sensitive” person. The French have a lovely expression (although I do not think that I have ever heard it used in a positive context!): “sensibilité à fleur de peau”, which would translate as “thin-skinned” or “hypersensitive”, but also evokes a very visual image of the surface of the skin easily getting goose bumps. I have worked out that I “take things personally” on average about 5 times a day, with my partner, my child, my fellow company Director (who also happens to be my father!) and the occasional stranger that I come across in a shop or on the street (we have less of these interactions nowadays but I find that they can sometimes be intense amidst this stressful phase of our lives). It can be things as “simple” as my partner making a comment about my cooking, my son refusing to sleep for the 10th time that night, my co-Director asking me if I have already finished that huge project, or a stranger rolling their eyes because my 3 year old accidentally bumped into them.
How I am starting to see it now is that there are always at least two people involved in an interaction (sometimes more of course), this means that two people are coming together with all their background, history, emotions, fears, past hurt and trauma, patterns, beliefs and triggers. It is often a clash or an explosion, sometimes for one of the two people, and sometimes for both. When someone says something to me (verbally or nonverbally) that hits a nerve, or triggers me, I feel hurt and often under attack. Suddenly my whole being, my own identity and validity feel threatened and I tend to retreat or lash out like a wild animal backed into the corner of a cage. The “other person” quickly becomes the “enemy”, it is an emotional, visceral reaction and one that is not easy to control. I absolutely love how Non-Violent Communication and the Holistic Psychologist explain this and give us compassionate tools to try and disentangle these interactions.
So yes I can now see that it is true that the other person’s intentional or unintentional hurtful comments are much more about their own story and issues than they are about us. However this does not mean that my reactions and emotions are not valid, they tell me about my current story and my needs, and therefore are very important. I now try to take the time to feel whatever I am feeling, give my feelings space and time, try and process them, and then understand where they are coming from. I try not to “blame” the other person (or myself) and I see it as my responsibility as part of my personal growth to do this introspection.
Another important step is also sometimes choosing to try and express how I feel in a nonviolent way to the other person, to accept responsibility for my feelings as well as standing up for myself and my needs and sharing them. I find this very challenging as it leaves one very vulnerable and takes a lot of courage. I am not short of opportunities to practice though! Of course sometimes, I also react in spur of the moment and “defend” myself the best I can, I am not saying that there is a right or wrong way. In all cases, I find that self-forgiveness, and if possible eventually forgiving (at least internally) the other person, are key to help me get over the incident.
I would like to end with some food for thought with a beautiful quote by the Dalai Lama: “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.”
What are your experiences with this? How do you cope with taking things personally?