Don’t take it personally

Dachia- writer, speaker, StorytellerDon’t take it personally. Recognize that people’s issues are mostly about them.

When I was younger, I think I was fairly typical in my ability to be offended, or my inability to separate fact from opinion. I could hear something or see something and I could be instantaneously annoyed and personally affronted. It was some years later before I realized that I was not personally involved with most things that were happening or being said.

I had, from time to time, created a drama and then fully expected people around me to join in. I had seen it done all my life. See if you can recollect a similar moment in your life.

You are upset about something, doesn’t matter what it is. You sit with slumped shoulders and sigh heavily.
Well meaning person sees you and asks, “What’s wrong.”
And rather than simply saying whatever it is that has upset you, you sigh even more heavily and say, “nothing.”

And let the games begin. They will play their part and continue to gently prod for an answer and you will continue to sigh and slump and pretend that you really want them to go away when clearly you don’t.

Been there. Done that. And usually we do it to the person closest to us. Our significant other. Our lover. Our spouse. It is a game we all learn how to play. Typically the girl plays the sighing part and the guy plays the gentle prodding part. And as long as we keep playing our roles, everything rolls along. But what happens when somebody goes off script.

If the sigher stops playing the role, it is quite possible that the relationship would continue without a hitch as that role sets the stage. The gentle prodder may not even notice that the relationship has matured a level. However, if the gentle prodder is the first to forget a cue or miss a mark, look out. The sigher can easily bump the roll up a notch to louder sighing, and even add crying. If the prodder still doesn’t pick up his lines the sigher can resort to wailing and yelling.

This is all in the margin notes of the script that nobody has but everybody can remember.

As you can imagine, this entire dialog is not mentally or emotionally healthy.

In my case, the prodder didn’t pick up his lines and while I tried to drop heavier cues as to what his part would be, he shrugged and said this had nothing to do with him. And he left. Really, he left. He walked out the door and said he would be back later and that I should deal with this.

It was some months or even a year later that I found myself in the prodder role. I knew this person was upset and thought it was probably with me and so I asked what was wrong. They immediately fell into their sigher role and with the rolling of eyes and shaking the head and shrugging of the shoulders, it was clear they were practiced and skilled in their role. There were mumblings about how I should know, they were not going to waste their time, why bother… and I suddenly saw the light. I suddenly saw it just as it was. A useless, meaningless play. It occurred to me that if this person were upset about something, and they wanted to not be upset… then they should do something about it. However, in the situation as it stood, it really had nothing to do with me. It was as if they only wanted to feel better and not be upset if somebody else wanted it badly too.

At that moment, I suddenly felt a peace with myself, because I was free of this script. I sat there a few moments wondering if I could make an exit that was less abrasive as the one previously described and I tried a few things in my head but all the words were more of the script. So, I eventually just climbed down off the fence without a word and went home.

I went back over the scene a few times and as this new direction was new to me, I questioned the motivation of my character. I wondered if I should speak to a writer. I made different decisions in my head and each time I realized that I was right. This, of course, also meant that the guy in my previous scene was right. That tasted like vinegar. I shrugged it off and embraced the new peace I felt being script-free.

Many years later, I would find myself in a similar situation where I was placed in the part of the gentle prodder. It was my job to make overtures with someone I didn’t know was upset. Our friendship had grown strained and I told myself she was busy. I invited her to see me, but she declined politely. After some time, she did agree and I was happy that our friendship looked to be salvageable. When she arrived, she produced a letter detailing everything she was upset about. Some of the events had happened months earlier. I read the note and wondered several things- why didn’t she say anything at the time? Why had she held on to all this negative energy for so long? What was I supposed to do with this? What were my lines? What was the cue? Where was the mark?

I quickly went through many optional script re-writes in my head. I could apologize- something I didn’t really feel. I could ask her why she hung onto this event for so long- something that would have invited argument. I could have told her all the things that I had been upset about during that event- something that would have invited bigger argument. Or I could just accept and try to move on. I folded the letter back up and set it down beside me. I hoped that since she had expressed it, finally, that it was somehow purged and she could move on.

I don’t know that she ever did. I do know that I did. I thought back to the event and while I had been upset, I let it go at the event. I didn’t expect her to make it all better. I knew at the time she was doing the best she could. I knew I was too. Which is why I didn’t feel apologetic.

I realized again, while thinking back, that it really had nothing to do with me. It would appear she felt it did, considering she wrote a letter to that effect. But that didn’t make it true for me. It still isn’t.

I have started to live my life in what I consider to be a higher state than previously. A state of more personal responsibility. In that state, I no longer take responsibility for others. If I am upset, it is my responsibility to do something about it. I cannot expect someone else to change my feeling. It is mine. If someone did something that hurt my feelings and I told them, it is done. It does not matter if they apologize, although that is always wonderful. It helps trust rebuild when you know the other person didn’t mean what you interpreted. But if they say nothing or something to confirm your feeling, it is still done at the moment you express it. Everything after that is new.

If they meant to hurt you, you have some decisions to make. One decision is whether you now have enough personal feeling for this person to allow their actions to hurt you. You can only be personally hurt by someone you have some sort of personal respect for. If they intentionally hurt you, you can intentionally withdraw that respect and not feel the pain. The next question is whether you want to continue any sort of relationship with a person who would intentionally hurt you.

I am now at a point in my life where I can quickly answer both those questions with no. Once you start asking yourself questions like these, you find other questions that suit your personality and who you want to be and you are able to peacefully disentangle yourself from people who don’t fit you or the you you want to be.