The greatest lesson of all?
“Don’t take it personally.”
Seriously, it’s that simple. But a simple lesson it is not. We naturally take things personally, the closer something is to our heart, to what matters to us, who matters to us, the more personal something feels. The more meaning, value and potential impact it has for us. The good and the bad, the acceptance and the rejection.
This may well not be the greatest lesson we ever learn, understanding why we think and do anything we do is a pretty big one too, but ‘not taking it personally’ certainly ranks up there with the best of ‘em.
It sounds so simple when you think about it. But we all know it isn’t. Because our feelings, our thoughts, our relationships and experiences with others are often extremely personal and close to home. It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn many times over, with many different people, in different scenarios and at different stages of me and my life.
‘Not taking things personally’ isn’t a cop out. It isn’t about blame, denial, avoidance or shunning responsibility and accountability. It’s the opposite. It’s about self-awareness, understanding where responsibility and accountability belongs – embracing our own, and letting go of others.
It’s both enlightening and freeing. You wholeheartedly embrace yourself. You define, shape and live your values. What matters. And you do what matters. You live your life in your own idea of what being a good human is. You grow confidence, trust and faith in yourself. You are not only aware of yourself, but you know yourself better than anyone else ever could, because the only thing you take personally is you.
You own your flaws and imperfections. You’ve battled and made friends with your demons, you’ve softened and learned to have casual chats with the insidious voices. You still have fallouts once in a while but that’s okay. It doesn’t last long. You’ve acknowledged your mistakes, paid your dues and forgiven yourself. You’ve accepted yourself as much as anyone possibly can and know there’s always room for improvement, for growth, you embrace the fact that you don’t have all the answers and that life always involves learning. That what you see, hear and feel has many layers. Of which, you’re unafraid to explore.
There is nothing the negative thoughts and opinions of others can do to harm you. Because those things aren’t about you. You take responsibility for what’s yours and leave out all the rest. You play you imperfect part and do the best you can. Making right what’s yours to make right and forgiving what you can’t because you’re human. You learn from it and do better next time. Which is all we can ever do.
Do better next time. Each and every day.
Who of us has the capacity to carry other peoples choices?
By not taking things personally we unshackle the burden of what we carry that isn’t ours to carry. Our load is so much lighter.
In doing so we realise our own load, which becomes much easier to manage than we thought when we’re less affected by others. We have time to understand and get to know ourselves better.
It doesn’t mean we’re not present, that we’re not there for others, not supportive or loving. If anything we are more so, because we’re more aware of ourselves and others emotions. We’re better able and equipped to help, support, love and care for others – because we took and take the time to care for ourselves, manage and heal our shit so others don’t have to feel it and carry our burden.
That’s why we take ourselves personally and do so with a soft voice, a kind voice, because if we don’t take care of ourselves we can’t do the same for others. It requires patience and commitment, making time to find yourself, your peace.
Get to know and make friends with you. Learn to love you. Get personal. Take yourself personally.
When you find yourself being accountable for you, the words and actions of others don’t phase or sting quite so much. You find calm in the face of overwhelm, see it for what it is, separating it from the human beneath. This isn’t diminishing self, it isn’t fear or hiding away. It’s you exercising your calm, badass, self.
Most of the negatives we face externally are designed to get a reaction; anger, sadness, fear. Something others expect or want, whether consciously or (mostly) unconsciously. Others trauma can trigger our own and ours can trigger theirs. By getting to know ours we can self-regulate better in challenging times, find an unflappable way of being in the moment, allowing us to respond with calmness, humility, respect and love instead – disabling trauma.
Maintaining self. Protecting self. Whilst simultaneously doing the same for someone else.
By not taking things to heart, we allow ourselves to operate and communicate from a place of calm and love, with best intentions, unfazed and undeterred in our authenticity.
Digging a little deeper
When examining the idea of ‘Don’t take it personally’ you get to thinking about what this lesson really gives us – it’s essentially freedom and power. Power over self. Our truth, our character, how we choose to interact with the world around us, what we give it, what we receive from it. What we let go of, what we keep and what we hold in reserve.
Power as we all know has the ability to create all kinds of shit. It can corrupt us all. It’s a wonder that as a species we haven’t descended into an utterly narcissistic, chaotic, shit-fest of a free-for-all...oh wait, hang on...
But fear not, the world ain’t over yet…at least until 2048 (apparently) when there’s no life left in the oceans thanks to industrial fishing…I digress, where was I? Oh yeah ‘it ain’t over yet’…
What tethers us and prevents us being sucked into the pre-mentioned shit-fest is our conscience. Our values and moral compass. ‘Not taking things personally’ doesn’t mean a free-for-all, it doesn’t mean abandoning respect and value for others and just doing what we damn well please and fuck anyone who doesn’t like it because boo-who-the-fuck-do-we-think-we-are – ‘we’re just being ourselves’….If being yourself means being a dick it’s not cool.
‘Not taking it personally’ simply means we understand we have no control of others and don’t take what others say and do, how they treat and react to us negatively as a personal reflection of us. We do however very much take ourselves, what we say and do, how we treat and react to others personally (that’s the not being a dick part).
It’s about responsibility – what is and isn’t in our realm of responsibility. When it boils down to it, we’re only accountable for ourselves. No matter what we experience in life. It’s all about us and what we externalise and internalise. Who we choose to be and how we choose to self-care. People are gonna be dicks to us, they’re going to dislike, hate, discriminate, bully, treat us like crap…Fuck em’ (in the nicest possible way).
(And fuck us too if and when we behave that way with others – because we all can whether we mean to or not.)
Being treated like someone you’re not or being rejected for who you really are, are good examples of challenging experiences we take to heart.
In either case, as much as it feels like it is, it has very little to do with us and everything to do with the person opposite. Their view of the world and themselves, their own experiences, judgments, beliefs, perspectives and internal struggles. All being projected outwards. The only thing personal to us in those scenarios is us so all we can take personally is how we behave – how we receive, the impact it has on us and how we ourselves respond.
That’s where we get to decide what kind of human we want to be and live with. Taking care of our end – listening, showing love, respect and understanding for self and others, can help us find the calmness to respond to situations we feel hurt by in healthier ways.
The dangers of taking it personally
The danger of taking things personally is we can trigger ourselves, our own trauma. In doing so it doesn’t mean we’re bad people, and often we don’t mean to, or are even aware that we do. It just means we have wounds to heal, just like everyone else.
When we feel hurt and become detached from who we are we can start projecting our own shit. So it pays to know yourself and know yourself well. Some things aren’t easy to experience, being misunderstood and rejected are arguably two of the most isolating and challenging emotions we can feel as humans. They push us to our very limits and can lead us to feeling worthless, unvalued, not good enough, even unloved. These aren’t emotions we should be feeling people – highlighting the importance of recognising this valuable life lesson before we do.
We all experience some form of rejection in our lives, as kids it’s impossible to not take it personally from a parent, a sibling, our friends…anyone in fact. We don’t have the ability to understand how we’re treated has nothing to do with us. So if we pick up on the fact we’re not feeling loved or valued, or if that is what we’re told and deliberately made to feel like, it can really fuck us up. Prolonged exposure to this stuff and the feelings it creates inside us is emotional abuse. This subconscious learning is where a lot of our trauma resides, something that impacts each and every one of us from one degree to another throughout our lives.
That’s the sucky part – our early subconscious learning stays with us until we stare down the throat of it and go about the arduous task of understanding it and letting go. There’s actually no avoiding it. Our experiences as adults can impact us too, adding further weight to what we already feel inside. Feeling misunderstood or rejected as adults can easily trigger those wounded kids in us. Even when we understand this, it’s easily forgotten when we take things personally.
When we find ourselves feeling this way we go through stages of unpicking it all. We understand what as a kid we didn’t have the chance to. We recognise it wasn’t personal to us, it was a parent who hadn’t healed their own wounds, those bullies who tormented us, the friends who betrayed us…whoever it was, we realise it wasn’t us, wasn’t our fault. We forgive ourselves. Stop blaming ourselves for not being loved properly, we realise we can’t do that anymore and switch focus to us, to self-care, reparenting – giving ourselves what we didn’t receive growing up.
We know that we can’t let that trauma inside us become who we are – the same as the person who handed it to us as a kid or at any moment in our life since. We understand that the ‘how’ we got to feeling that way isn’t personal, but that it is personal now – in how we choose to own it and not pay it forward.
Choosing love instead.
The key to not taking things personally is self-awareness
As we trip our way through life we grow, we learn to not take everything personally. We choose what’s ours to be responsible for and what’s not. Both what we were given as kids and what people try and give us later.
To prevent chaos and carnage we must own our own shit and find healthier ways to respond to moments that trigger us.
Rejection (a big trigger for us all) is one of the most difficult emotions to manage and experiences not to take personally. It comes in many forms - both emotional and physical.
It’s a hard thing to feel like we don’t matter, as much as it feels extremely personal to us when we do, it isn’t a reflection of us. Remembering that isn’t easy sometimes, how we respond to it is crucial. Remaining grounded in who we are and ‘not take it personally’ can keep us safe. Help us keep our sanity and sense of self, better enabling us to understand and handle what’s going on externally and internally.
Whilst this lesson is a great one, it never ends. All we actually do is turn the page to a whole new chapter in our lives each time we relive it, a new level of other lessons emerge; greater depths of understanding, self-awareness, patience, empathy, accountability, calmness, acceptance, respect, self-regulation, honesty, authenticity and of course love.
It’s really fucking hard to not take things personally. Life is a trip and not simples. No matter how aware of self or secure in that self we are, we’re all human. Rejection of any kind in-particular can sting like a mother-fucker. To lessen that sting is a challenge.
The Monster Theory in doing so is all about getting up close and personal with ourselves. Understanding everything that makes us us. Who we are and what we’re capable of, from the sublime to the damn right toxic.
Taking ourselves and our shit personally, living as who we want to be, in order to be as good a human as possible and spread love throughout the land.
In other words: “Be kind to yourself, and each other.”