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October 12, 2019

How to Stop taking things so Damn Personally

There’s a shop I had started to avoid.

The senior staff member was a grumpy woman who didn’t engage. Not that I demand engagement when I’m buying something. But  it’s nice in a shopping situation to see a friendly face, right? It makes it easier to hand over your hard-earned somehow.

So I stopped going. There were other shops selling the same stuff, perhaps less convenient, but worth it. It was no hardship. Then coincidentally, and entirely unrelated to the whole shopping thing, I had an experience with the shop owner, whom I knew to be living with this woman. He was at first dismissive, moved quickly onto sexist and ended with aggressive. A predictable and unpleasant trajectory executed with well practiced ease. He didn’t, of course, do anything “arrestable” or illegal. Nope, he’s  way too clever for that. And I knew that had I been a man then things would have gone down very differently. But I am not.

And neither is she. The grumpy woman.

I thought of her, and what her life might be like. Not a fantasy I enjoyed… Her demeanor and what I had perceived as rudeness took on a new context. I berated myself for being so judgey about it way back when. She was and is simply doing her best, like  me and everyone else.

So I decided it was time to go back to the shop and see if I felt differently, armed with that experience. To see if my bias against her and my perceived need to protect myself from her abrasiveness had shifted. I picked out a trinket and approached the counter. I reminded myself of my own motto – most people are lovely. They are. I believe that – maybe it’s easier for me to believe that in my position as therapist. If so then lucky me! But there you have it – and I do my best to activate that thought when I see road rage, hear a passive aggressive sigh in a queue, or feel an impatient knock against me on a busy street.

Few things are personal. Don’t take it personally. Someone’s mood isn’t always about you – it rarely if ever is in fact. I know this, but I still need reminding.

She’s on duty today and I’m relieved – maybe a little anxious too. “It’s a stunner of a day” I say. Because it is. Always tell the truth. People can sniff out insincerity at a thousand paces. Years ago, I was “stuck” in a session with a teenager – I was newly qualified and couldn’t figure out where to go next. Instead of listening to my gut I ploughed on with a technique. “Jesus… What f*&^ing book did you get that from?!” he said to me, rolling his eyes, shaking his head with disappointment and despair – both disguised as disgust and anger in that special way that only teens can pull off.

What did I do? I showed him the damn book, long since discarded. We had a giggle about it. I apologised, and still think of him often as one of my best teachers.

So she mumbles the bill total to me, ignores the ‘lovely day’ comment and I reach for my money. I’m holding it out to her and she’s still ignoring me. She’s staring behind me and her eyes wander down the shop. I’m thinking ‘OK…rude…’. And I’m annoyed again. And I know that means I’m hurt really, because no-one likes being ignored. I’m smiling to myself, telling myself to stop navel gazing when I become aware of her reconnecting with me.

“I’m sorry” she says – “I was distracted watching the butterfly did you see it? It’s SO beautiful!!” She knows its name, probably knows all of them. We turn to admire this creature who flew in, then flew back out. Nothing for the butterfly in here other than to teach a lesson I guess.

And lesson learned. Again. Her face has changed, she’s beaming. This butterfly has made her day. ‘There you are’, I thought. ‘I can see you now and you’re lovely.’ She’s suddenly in the space with me and I’m with her and we are loving this butterfly. In fairness, aren’t they beautiful? We smile at each other. It’s like a moment in a really bad movie. But one you can’t help feel mushy about. This time she thanks me as she gives me the change. Smiles again. It’s a first. Might be the last. But now I know where some of her joy lives. And it’s nice to know that it’s there.


This time, before I leave, I say “nice to meet you”. Because this time I did.

And it was.





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