“Don’t take it personally…”

“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?

Photo by Pedro Candeias on Unsplash

6 Comments
  • Yasmin
    Posted at 20:59h, 14 January Reply

    Amazing Article Melanie.
    Thought provoking, sincere and honest.
    I love your quote at the end. Concludes beautifully everything you have written.
    From personal experience, I would agree and hold great love in my heart to some that behaved less than honourably and without integrity towards me. They are and were my greatest teachers. I am sure there are more to follow.

    • admin
      Posted at 21:07h, 14 January Reply

      Thank you so much for your feedback! That is beautiful too.

  • Danièle LE GALL
    Posted at 16:03h, 17 January Reply

    Very nicely put Melanie!
    Addressed mainly to very sensitive people: is there a way of de-sensitizing oneself? Such as consciously donning an armour of love, joy, tolerance and patience before leaving one’s house every morning? And doing the same before re-entering it? As a practical tool?

    Also I found over (many) years that we tend to take ourselves far too seriously and that our “hurt” or” humiliated” ego does not resist to a wave of self-love that washes away all hurts. But it seems self-love, though Jesus advocated it a long time ago, is difficult to achieve: education? Social conditionning? To me it is THE challenge we all have to face,if we want to see the new world we all aspire to.

    • admin
      Posted at 21:11h, 23 January Reply

      Thank you! I agree that self-love is the most important and not easy to get to. Perhaps it is also the key for sensitive people too, if we completely and unconditionally love ourselves and others, how can we be as affected by what other people say or think?

  • Karma Palette | Us Vs. Them
    Posted at 23:08h, 26 January Reply

    […] We are all finding our way and we are all so interesting once we actually stop and listen to each other, while trying not to feel “attacked” (my previous blog was actually about taking things personally…). […]

  • Karma Palette | We are all getting older…
    Posted at 19:50h, 03 April Reply

    […] for different beliefs (see my previous blog “Don’t take it personally…” which I actually need to re-read on a daily […]

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