“Whatever happens around you, don't take it personally... Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.” – Don Miguel Ruiz
When we’re not completely in love with ourselves, we make a habit of blaming ourselves for everything. When something goes wrong or we face criticism, we’re quick to take it personally and feeling guilty becomes our natural state of being.
Of course it’s important to take responsibility for our thoughts and actions, but that’s all we can be responsible for.
I’m willing to bet that you’re a good person and are just doing your best to get by and have a good life. So why are you so quick to assume that someone’s bad mood or unkind words are a reflection of your inadequacy? Why do you take it personally?
I’m believe that it’s because, on some level, we believe we are inadequate.
The reasons we internalize this belief are as diverse as we are. It may have been subconsciously passed down to us from our parents. Or instilled in us by our peers when we are young. Or due to the fact that we live in societies largely built around blame and guilt.
Regardless of where we learned it, when we hear someone expressing displeasure, whether they are intending to direct it at us or not, we take it personally and react by becoming defensive or by feeling guilty. Not because we are guilty but because they’ve touched on our own fears and limiting beliefs. My favourite text on the importance of not taking things personally is The Four Agreements. In it, Miguel Ruiz writes, “It is not what I am saying that is hurting you; it is that you have wounds that I touch by what I have said. You are hurting yourself. There is no way I can take this personally.”
The fact is: at the most basic level, nothing anyone says or does has anything to do with us. It’s all about them. Their beliefs. Their patterns. Their feelings about themselves. Their choices.
If we are at fault, of course we should apologize and make amends as quickly and sincerely as possible. But even in these situations, how someone reacts to us is up to them. And that means that, ultimately, taking things personally is a choice that we make.
“The ultimate goal is to become strong enough internally …[to] remember with utter clarity and poise that the person is speaking about themselves, they are telling us the extent of their pain, not a statement about ourselves. This is, simply, the only language and form available to most of us to express pain.” - Miki Kashtan, Ph.D.
But knowing that we shouldn’t take things personally, and that we have a choice not to, doesn’t make it easy to choose otherwise.
These are patterns that we have been creating and reinforcing over the course of our entire lives, and it takes persistence and consistency to change them.
However, the knowledge that other people’s words and actions have nothing to do with you is empowering in and of itself.
When you feel yourself feeling attacked, offended, or hurt, pause and take a breath. Say to yourself, “This isn’t really about me.” Remind yourself that your reaction has everything to do with your beliefs and needs but the other person’s words have everything to do with their beliefs and needs. They have nothing to do with you.
Remembering this creates distance between their words and you. It gives you space to put yourself in their shoes and remember that they have fears and insecurities that are shaping their perceptions of the world, just like yours are for you.
Sometimes this becomes a mantra that I repeat silently to myself: “This has nothing to do with me. This has nothing to do with me. This has nothing to do with me”
We all want to do well by the people in our lives and so we're quick to become enmeshed in their fears and crises. Reminding myself that “This has nothing to do with me” saves me from a lot of needless suffering.
It also helps to take some time to ask yourself why your are feeling attacked, hurt, or offended. What assumptions are you making about the other person’s intentions? What meaning are you assigning to their words? What fears or insecurities does it touch on?
Going through this process will allow you to notice how much you are projecting onto the situation that goes way beyond what was said and the intention behind it.
We're all so wrapped up in our own fears, our own insecurities, our own lives. But so is everyone else. We're quick to take things personally, because we're quick to assume that it's all about us. But instead of taking it personally and being hurt or getting defensive, remember: This has nothing to do with you. Consistently reminding ourselves of this fact is the key to learning not to take things personally.
Recommended Reading: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
Photography by Phil Poynter for Vogue Italia.