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Stop taking things personally. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Just four words. And then it happens.
The one I love walked into the kitchen one morning with the comment that he was still tired. We are renovating a school bus to live in and rather than traveling to art festivals to exhibit his work, he is staying home and doing the majority of the work on our future home.
The remodeling process is new for both of us and occasionally requires things to be done, redone, and redone again. This causes him to be frustrated, and understandably so, but now the irritation is climbing…for him, and he shuts down. And then, I’m criticized for asking too many questions and told repeatedly “this isn’t a good time” to do whatever we were going to work on. The issue is his, not mine, yet I let it affect me by taking it personally.
So this leads me to question, “how did I get here?” which now has me thinking about the Talking Heads and “letting the days go by” and everything being the “same as it ever was.”
I am also tired of this same as it ever was reaction from myself.
How can I heal myself and not allow such things to affect me? To let them wash off me like waves caressing a shoreline during an outgoing tide?
The second of The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz comes to mind: You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you.
I’ve read The Four Agreements more times than I can count, and this one still remains the hardest for me. Even Oprah thinks this one is the hardest, yet also the most important. “Personal importance or taking things personally is the maximum expression of selfishness because you make the assumption that everything is about me,” and “When you refuse to take things personally, you avoid many upsets in your life. Your feelings of anger, jealousy—and even your sadness—will simply disappear if you don’t take things personally,” as quoted from The Four Agreements.
Still sounds pretty easy, right? But selfishness? Me? I think one of my best qualities is my giving nature. How can I be selfish? Yet, I must be in this sense, thinking that I am responsible for what someone is irritated with.
My first thought is always “what did I do wrong?” I must have done something to cause this, again trying to take responsibility for someone else’s actions and mood.
Why is this the first thought that always goes through my head? Then the stories start, the disparaging voices inside my head whispering insistently “you’re not good enough, you didn’t do that right, you’re not worthy of love,” words from long ago that still bring tears to my eyes. Why aren’t I good enough? Why aren’t I worth teaching how to do it right? Why am I not worthy?
So back to how did I get here, back to my childhood. My father was a controlling man and learned this behavior well from his father. I don’t blame him, I’ve forgiven him, but his words still occasionally visit, snuggled in fear and anxiety.
Most things around my childhood home were seen as my mom’s fault. We were late in leaving for an event. We forgot to bring the fresh plums, that are still sitting on the counter in a bag, with us for a day trip to the mountains. We can’t take a long weekend trip to Phoenix because my mom wasn’t feeling well. Everything was always someone else’s fault, either me or my mom’s.
My mom taught me many things and this was one of them; take responsibility and blame even if it’s not your fault. It will make things go smoother and soon all will be forgotten. This led to me believing everything unpleasant is my fault and I have to be the one to fix it all.
According to Ken Lauher, “Nothing people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one you live in.” My father’s blame of others, and ultimately teaching me to take things personally, was in his own mind and not in my world. The sooner I can learn and live this, the better.
Fay Agathangelou attributes taking things personally to low self-esteem, also a huge struggle for me and many others. She also states taking things personally is a reflection of your own insecurity and it reinforces negative thoughts about yourself. She suggests letting go of perfectionism and realizing it’s okay to make mistakes and to have flaws. The negative words spoken by my father and others later in my life are the words that were reinforced. Perfectionism is something my mom taught me, and I was also her good student. The bus renovation process is helping both the one I love and me with this, as we’re learning that flaws can be beautiful, even on people.
The title of Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s story collection, Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory, is a not only brilliant phrase but something we all, deep inside, would love to have. This story is based on an encounter with an inebriated woman who whispers, “You deserve someone who will love you in all your damaged glory” into the ear of the narrator. We are all worthy of loving ourselves in all our damaged glory, and hope to find the one who will love us, and whom we can love in all their damaged glory.
Dr. Margaret Paul gives these three things that need to change in order to stop taking things personally:
You need to fully accept that you can’t control others. You need to accept that others may be mean, rejecting, and controlling, no matter how wonderful or perfect you are.
You need to learn to lovingly accept and manage the core painful feeling of helplessness over others. You need to learn to move toward the feeling rather than away from it. You need to bring the love, compassion, and comfort of spirit to this very difficult feeling, staying present with it until it is ready to move through you.
You need to learn to define your own worth through your connection with your spiritual guidance so that when others are hurtful, you no longer believe that their behavior has anything to do with you, no matter how much they may blame you for it.
So I aspire to work on this journey from selfishness to defining my own self-worth. Not allowing others to be given power, by me, and to make me believe that I have control over anything, but me. My actions and reactions are my own.
Let the water wash the selfishness from me and may I love myself during this transitory process.