Humans are narcissistic by nature. We live our lives as if everything is all about us, unaware that most of the rest of the planet’s population thinks the world revolves around them too. When we are stuck in the ego state of believing that others’ actions are caused by us, we cause our own suffering by taking responsibility for others’ actions. When we take things personally, we are ingesting a negative Outer World experience and incorporating it into our Inner World experience. We do not have to let hurtful actions or opinions of others be the poison that harms our Spirit. Sometimes, I think we take things personally and take responsibility for being the cause of others’ actions because, on some level, it gives us a false sense of control. If it’s my fault, then I am no longer the victim – If it’s my fault, then I have some kind of choice. This is a well-know symptom of traumas such as child-abuse and rape, but I think it happens on a more subtle level with the micro-traumas of unkindness.
Often interactions with others are rooted in projection. A projection is a defense mechanism in which a person rejects their own unacceptable attributes and ascribes them to others – a classic example is a person who is homophobic because they have not acknowledged their own homosexuality. But, it works at other levels too. So if I had a father who cheated on my mother and that was a traumatic experience for me, I might always assume my husband is cheating. Now if I’m the husband, and I take that personally, I might get annoyed and offended that my wife doesn’t trust me. I might react, get defensive, or get sucked into an argument. On the other hand, if I don’t take it personally, I don’t have to defend against an accusation and I can understand that the projection is really just my wife’s wound that hasn’t quite healed.
Most of the time though, we don’t know others’ history and psychology well-enough to understand what the projection is. But, we still don’t have to take other people’s actions and opinions personally. We can develop a clear boundary that states “this is your stuff.” If the clerk at the checkout counter is rude, do I need to get all huffy (how dare you treat me this way)? He might be miserable with his life and you just happen to be there for him to share his misery with. He might have a headache. You might remind him of his mother with whom he has a conflictual relationship. None of that has anything to do with you.
Now, I’m not saying that we take no responsibility for our actions. If I am bitchy towards people, I am going to cultivate bitchiness, aggression and defensiveness in others. I’m responsible for that. The person I’m being bitchy to though, has a choice in how they respond to my bitchiness. She could get mean back, she could simply not engage and walk away, or she could lovingly confront me on my behavior. Her action is hers to take responsibility for.
A simple way to not take things so personally is simply by repeatedly checking in with yourself and asking yourself “am I taking this personally?” If you are then you check inside yourself and see:
- What role did I play in this interaction? (What chain of events did I help to set off?)
- Do I need to modify my behavior in the future (You may not. If me stating a boundary sets someone else off, I’m certainly not going to stop setting boundaries to avoid conflict).
- If so, then you can think to yourself what you need to take responsibility for and what is the other person’s responsibility. When we detach from taking things personally, we don’t have to suffer the emotional turmoil that other people’s behavior causes.
If you just can’t let go of it, there is another practice you can use that comes from Shamanistic traditions. Find a quiet space, imagine that you and the conflictual person are meeting in neutral territory with your best selves – the place in you that is beyond personality and wounding. Visualize the hooks they have into you, unhook them, and say something like “I give these back to you. They are not mine. May you transform them into goodness.” Then visualize the hooks that you have into them and say “I take these back. They are not yours. May I transform them into goodness.”
May you learn to not take things personally. May you surrender to grace with yourself and with others. May you know peace.
Sabrina Santa Clara ~ Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula CA