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How To Stop Taking Things Personally

If you struggle with being easily offended, often disappointed in others, too dependent upon other’s approval and acceptance, this blog will help. The second agreement of The Four Agreements is “don’t take anything personally.” Don Miguel Ruiz says we should not take anything bad someone says or does personally because how people respond to you is never about you and always about them. But he also says not to take anything good personally because it is still all about the other person.

The first time I read this book, I actually thought it was wrong. I wholeheartedly disagreed that we shouldn’t take anything good personally. My therapist tried to encourage me to open my mind with an example I’ll never forget.

She said, “If I tell you I love your necklace, it’s not about you and how you look, it’s about me and how I think I would look if I was wearing that necklace.” That made sense to me but I still thought, “Yeah, but aren’t there times it is okay to use compliments to feel good about ourselves?” As a person who highly values words of affirmation, it took me a long while to accept this aspect of the second principle about not taking anything good personally.

What the author is really saying is, don’t need approval/acceptance from anyone else, give it to yourself. Someone else can change how they feel about you based on how they are feeling about themselves.

Where I have been guilty of seeking approval in the past was at work. My manager, unfortunately, wasn’t someone who was strong in the words of affirmation department. And since I really appreciated positive feedback, it used to bother me. However, when I started making myself the judge of my own work, it turned everything around. Every presentation I created, I always truly did my best (which is another agreement I’ll discuss next week).

After a meeting presenting my work, I would say to myself, “I worked hard on that, there was a bunch of good conversation and it was clear I put a lot of extra time in.” Why would I give that opportunity away to someone else to give me, when it is something I can so easily and perfectly give to myself? If I didn’t go through that process of telling myself what I wanted to hear, I would be waiting on my manager. Even if he did say something positive like, “Good job, thanks, that went well.” I probably would think it wasn’t enough. I would wish he had also added the extra time that went into the presentation. But since I already acknowledged this for myself, when I did receive a compliment, it’s just a slight validation of what I already know to be true. This might seem subtle but believe me, it makes all the difference.

Last week, I posted my first blog. I’ve never written anything to be consumed by a large group of people so it was kind of a big deal. I was really happy with how it turned out and felt proud of myself for having the courage to not only write something but post it as well. Because I felt I had done my best, when I received feedback, it was all icing on the cake. I didn’t need anything specific for anyone to say, so I didn’t feel disappointed if it wasn’t said.

Think about this the next time you are posting pictures on Facebook or putting yourself out there in some other way. Are you feeling good about what you are putting out? Or are you waiting to see how others will respond, to determine how you will feel?

When we get offended by something someone says, it is because we believe it to be true about ourselves. If someone told me they didn’t think I was very funny, I would be amused and realize they were only saying that because they don’t really know me. I am very confident in my sense of humor. If someone told me I was selfish, however, it would upset me because somewhere deep down I believe that to be true.

Further, how we interpret how others respond to us is totally dependent upon our story: our childhood, our past and recent history. We see the world through our own lens, we don’t see what is really happening. No one does.

I was recently working with a client who told me a story that really brings this concept home. She was getting ready to speak on a conference call with a video chat. Before it was her turn to talk, she realized she was feeling self-conscious about the way she comes across when she talks in front of groups. At the end of the call there was time for feedback. One of the people on the call commented on how animated she was. When she heard this, she was totally embarrassed and began to shut down, sitting on her own hands to stop any further display of animation. I asked how the feedback was meant to be received. She said it was positive and the woman commented on her wonderful energy. Because my client went into the call self-conscious about her video presence, she immediately heard the feedback as a negative. Her thoughts, “I don’t like how I look when I speak in front of groups,” created a filter which altered how she perceived the feedback.

The other person on the call was giving a compliment and my client heard it as a negative because that was the lens of her filter. How we interpret events that happen outside of us are entirely dependent upon what is going on the inside. And what goes on inside of each of us is dependent upon our own story plus our energy level on any given day.

What we judge, what pushes our buttons, what makes us furious, is all about who we are, it has nothing to do with anyone else. What we perceive as positive and attractive is also based on our own personal likes and dislikes. Knowing this makes it easier to understand why any compliment is about what that person likes and values. I value consideration and understanding very highly; when it isn’t shown to me is when my buttons get pushed. The person we judge or are frustrated with is the object of our projection of our values. That person is just doing their own thing, being their own person with their own set of values, different than ours, and we are perceiving them through our very personal lens. When we look at it like this, it becomes easier to see how it makes no sense at all to take anything personally, ever. Good or bad. What anyone thinks of us has nothing to do with us and everything to do with how they interpret us, based on who they are.

Even after you are able to recognize that someone’s response to you is all about them, you will still have lingering thoughts of judgment and frustration based on your own values that you feel strongly about. We are spiritual beings living in human bodies with human emotions and when something or someone goes against what we feel strongly about, it is going to feel badly. The best thing we can do when that happens is offer empathy to yourself and to the other person. It is usually clear what someone else values. Acknowledging it’s not easy for them when their values aren’t being met helps shift our perspective entirely.

“As you make a habit of not taking anything personally, you won’t need to place your trust in what others say or do. You only need to trust yourself to make responsible choices.” Don Miguel Ruiz

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