How not to take things personally?
So often we find ourselves in conversations with others and suddenly - almost out of nowhere - we feel irritated, attacked, hurt, annoyed, intimidated, frustrated, angry or some other colourful feeling. The person in front of us may not even have been aware of it, but he or she said or did something that triggered various unpleasant feelings in us. In such situations, we tend to blame the other person for our internal emotional reaction to their action. It sounds strange, but that is what we do most of the time.
Let me give you an example: imagine you are frustrated with your partner because he has once again left every single kitchen cupboard open - even the ones you didn't even know were cupboards - after his seemingly straight-forward peanut butter sandwich break. You may feel frustrated, not taken seriously, not respected, maybe even used and taken for granted. Do we own such emotional reactions in such moments? No! Instead, we go straight to him and say something like, "Are you actually ready to be in a relationship? Do you actually really love me?”
Pretty brutal, isn't it? And yet it's so obvious to us that he and his behaviour are the problem and that he and his behaviour are making us feel all these conflicting emotions. I hate to tell you this, but what you are feeling has nothing to do with him.
Let's think about this situation for a moment. Do you really think it was his intention to make you feel frustrated, not taken seriously, not respected and maybe even used and taken for granted? Or is a tiny part of you open to the idea that he really was just hungry and made himself a peanut butter sandwich, just because?
So often we take things personally.
"Again, they parked outside my gate." (So, we feel disrespected).
"He didn't look at me when he greeted the group." (So, we feel unworthy)
"She didn't respond to my call last night." (So, we don't feel good enough)
"He didn't buy the things I told him to buy." (So, we don't feel taken seriously).
"She was on the phone for the whole date." (So, we feel inadequate and boring).
What if the actions and behaviour of others neither validate nor legitimise our reaction to them? What if the our feelings are not the other person's territory, but ours?
Imagine the following: Imagine a plastic bag filled with water in front of you - one of those handy little household bags that you can easily fill and knot. I remember how much I loved filling these bags with water as a child and imagining they were rabbits. Yes, they were some of the first pets I ever had. However, imagine it lying there in front of you. Now poke it with your finger. What do you see? It's starting to wiggle! The water in the bag starts to move.
This water-filled plastic bag is you.
Just as we poked the plastic bag with our finger, we are poked by the behaviour, actions and spoken words of our outer world. As a result, our inner emotional world is set in motion. Our own states, our past experiences, our own thought concepts and self-doubts, discomfort, expectations, hopes and fears are nudged and begin to move wildly within us. And even if I poke the "water bag rabbit" just once, it continues to wiggle for quite a while.
This example visualizes, in a slidely odd way, that everything you ever feel, is inside of you. It’s not inside you partner, nor your friend or family member. It is within you. Consequently, you are responsible for what is wobbling inside you. So, the next time you take something person and project your experiences onto your external environment, imagine that you are a water-filled bag that has just been nudged. This means, that you try to not take the crumbs on the countertop personally, because chances are they're just the remnants of the peanut butter sandwich making scene. What you make of it inside is your narrative - it takes place in inside of you - and therefore may very well be disconnected from the other person's actions and behaviour.
After all, it's not just you who is a human plastic bag filled with water, but everyone around you as well. We are water-filled sacks that keep bouncing into each other, poking each other, roll over each other, bounce off each other and lean onto each other and as a consequence of that the water inside starts to wobble.
...AND WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE?
Have you too, 'mastered' your ability to take things personally? So, would it help you to turn your social environment into 'plastic bags filled with water' to understand that you are separate from their experiences and that this is not about you.