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Life is not personal, until it is.
Spoiler alert: my parents were not perfect and did not meet all of my needs in childhood.
A dedicated military man, my father marched in World War II (helping to liberate Dachau Concentration Camp in the process), the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
He had no patience for children, and by the time he returned home from that last war, he had a full-blown case of undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.
My mother was a military wife who struggled to raise five children and get her own needs met with a husband who was absent even when he was physically present.
My parents acknowledged my existence and provided food, clothing, and shelter, but with five children, there was high demand among me and my siblings for any amount of attention, sympathy, and emotional support.
I was second to the youngest and generally lost out to the baby of the family.
That my mother was isolated in her military life, away from her own family, with a husband who was shell-shocked (literally—he had been an artillery soldier), meant that she could barely hold herself together and she had to focus on the child who was the most dependent. None of this wisdom about my parent’s situation came to me until well into my adulthood. My perspective from age 0 to 20 pretty much consisted of “poor me.”
I took it personally.
Both of my parents have gone to the great beyond, so I can speak freely without worrying that they will read this and come to impart consequences. If they cross that spiritual boundary and pay me a visit, then I welcome them because then I really will have something worth publishing.
I would let them know that I know their behavior had nothing to do with me—that I woke up to discover that my job in life is to take responsibility for getting my own needs met.
Three journeys were instrumental in my awakening:
First, when I turned 18 and no longer needed my parent’s permission for anything, I put myself into therapy; second, I read don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements and adopted “Don’t Take Anything Personally” as my way of being in the world; third, I honor and appreciate every childhood version of myself for being brave enough to wake up and get me here alive.
Counseling saved me. It unraveled the mystery of the unconscious belief systems we all build about ourselves. The most significant belief I had was that I must abandon who I am (i.e., my value and worth are dependent upon others) or something terrible will happen to me (like, I will die).
As an adult with choice and responsibility for my survival, I don’t have to buy into that belief any longer. I learned how to separate my self (not myself, but my “self”) from others, yet realize I can have a connection that is not dependent. This helps keep me from making anyone with authority over me my “parent” and acting out as if that person was my mother or father.
I found the voice within that can identify my preferences, seek the life I want, and find healthy ways to get my needs met. I loved counseling so much that I eventually became a counselor.
Don Miguel Ruiz had a harder sell. How do I not take what happens to me personally? It’s happening to me! But don Miguel does not care. He puts the words out there and what I do with them is none of his business.
In other words, don Miguel is projecting his reality into the world and I should not take it personally. If anything he says hurts me or makes me feel good, it is because I have an issue within me that those words have touched.
The basis of taking anything personally is believing that it’s all about me. What others say, do, believe, think, and feel becomes about me. Even a bird passing overhead and pooping on me can become an issue about me based on my beliefs about myself (that bird hates me).
But, if I stop and listen to the thoughts my brain generates, I can identify the lies and realize a new truth: that bird made me stop and realize the present moment; that bird made me pause a few seconds so maybe I am avoiding an accident in the future; that bird anointed me with a seed from the heavens (birds in the shamanic world are closer to God and are seen as messengers); or any other story I want to make up.
I can do the same with another person, my parents, or even myself. Beliefs, actions, and words of everyone originate in their world. When I know that the beliefs, actions, and words of everyone are about them, it helps me realize what I and others believe about ourselves. This realizations helps me take better care of myself in the world.
Every child I have ever been is still within me. Some versions have healed and integrated. Others still wait for me to acknowledge them as I work through all my faults, fears, and sorrows.
There are many methods for working with the inner child, the wounded child, the stuck child, or any other label you might give them. When I have done the work I need to do and the child within trusts me, she is there and we sort it out. And the first thing I do is thank that child for being brave enough to wake up, to do what was necessary to survive, and to get us here alive. I reassure her that we are fine, safe, and secure, and she did great. The rest is too personal to share here, and it is always different.
These are all continuous journeys.
My relationship with my parents is still ongoing because my memories don’t stop. I see them differently now even though the events remain the same. Life is still personal but it is not all about me all the time. And each child I have ever been brings an abundance of new admiration as I appreciate how much I have always wanted to be fully alive.