How To Stop Taking Things Personally
I used to be super self-conscious and sensitive. I just thought that was the way the universe made me, but it turns out I was wrong. I was taking things personally that weren’t really personal!
It used to be so easy to hurt my feelings but now it’s very difficult to do.
My first insight about this came when I read a little book called, “The Slug Manual.” The basic idea is that when someone says something hurtful to you it’s like offering you a slug. You can either take the slug and own their hurtful comment or refuse the slug and let them keep it for themselves. This is a very simplified version of something I read over thirty years ago, but it stuck with me.
I live in Oregon where we have banana slugs. Those suckers can get monstrous. I’ve seen them in all sizes from a couple of inches long to almost a foot. They are slimy. If you mistakenly touch one, the slime sticks to your hand and you practically need kryptonite to get it off.
My daughter was eight when she warned her uncle not to touch one as he excitedly reached for it. He, of course, ignored her and was thrilled to capture a creature in nature and pet it. Hours later he was still wiping his hands on his pants, on the grass, on tree bark and rubbing them with sand. The slime endured.
So back to my topic. The slug analogy really stuck with me and helped me understand that I can choose not to take something personally.
My next lesson came a few years later during a talk by Jerry Jampolsky and his wife Diane Cirincione. Jerry wrote several books which were really helpful to my personal healing process. During this talk, Diane suggested a way to deal with difficult people. She said, “When someone is angry and screaming at you, imagine they are reaching out their arms and asking for help. No one acts that way unless they are in some sort of emotional pain.”
Wow. That is so true. Do you know any happy people who scream at others in anger? Do happy people insult other individuals?
To put it simply when someone is rude, insulting, mocking or abusive, it’s about them not about you.
My examples below are all based on factual incidents with a bit of change to protect the innocent.
My girlfriend and I walked into a room full of people at a dance event. We greeted a couple of women and they sneered and then snubbed us as they turned and walked away. My friend commented that they had embarrassed her and hurt her feelings. I told her they didn’t have that power over me and that they are the ones who should feel embarrassed after acting that way in public.
I sponsor an event called Belly Dancer USA which is a well-attended dance competition. Various vendors rent table space to sell their international wares, and some of them also judge the competition and/or do guest performances. Thirty years ago, a vendor started screaming at me in front of a group of people. “You gave me the worst space! I’m not going to judge for you! And, I’m NOT going to perform!”
I knew that I’d done nothing wrong and as I looked at her I remembered what Diane Cirincione had said and I could see this woman was wounded in some way. I gently told her that I was so sorry she was upset and to please let me know what I could do to make things better for her. Her eyes got really wide and she began to sputter. “I, I don’t know!” Then she turned and walked away. She vended, judged, performed and had a wonderful weekend.
People who had witnessed our interaction stood with their chins dropped and mouths open. One of them told me that the vendor caused trouble wherever she went and they’d never seen anything like my response and how she immediately calmed down.
Instead of feeling attacked or hurt by this incident, I felt empowered.
I used to work as the office manager and physical therapist for a chiropractor. One day a woman came in and when I asked her for her paperwork, she flew into a fury and started screaming at me. She accused me of humiliating her and various other sins. I responded with kindness and concern and then briefed the doctor. I told him something was very wrong with the woman and to be careful with her.
Later he told me that after listening to the woman’s litany of accusations against me, she told him that her husband had died the week before, her brother the week before that and her mother just before that. So she had lost three very closed loved ones in less than a month.
When she came to her next appointment, she brought me homemade fudge and apologized for how she had treated me. The woman was a beautiful soul who acted badly because she was in emotional agony and had back pain.
In conclusion, you can choose not to take things personally. Usually when someone lashes out in anger, it’s about them, not you. If someone insults you, it’s not about you, it’s about their lack of kindness. If you imagine people in pain when they are acting badly, it helps to put this into perspective.
And remember, whatever you do, don’t take a slug!