Perhaps you have encountered The Four Agreements—a book and guide for achieving personal freedom. One of the agreements is “do not take anything personally” by which Don Miguel Ruiz means that nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. I’ve always seen this as a fabulous way to approach life, and not get caught up in the pain and suffering that comes with deeply internalizing the beliefs and behaviors of others. However it isn’t always the easiest thing to practice! It is hard for me when others think badly of me, or as is more often the case, I project that other people think badly of me based on my interpretations of their words or actions.
For instance, as a trainer and facilitator, I have fallen into the trap of misreading a participant’s face. This week someone in my training kept closing his eyes and a woman was frowning from the back row. I witnessed my own tendency to take things personally. I thought “he must be tired because he’s bored” and “she must be angry because she doesn’t like how I train”. My attention began to go towards insecurity and defensiveness, instead of towards the rest of the people in the room who appeared happy and engaged to me. But then I stopped myself and remembered that it was 1pm, prime nap time. And the office had been served post-superbowl huge rich cupcakes during lunch. I consciously chose to brush off the worried voices in my head and keep offering my presentation to the best of my ability. I later received an email from the “angry person in the back row” thanking me so much for helping her understand things better.
How much time and energy do we waste reacting to other people’s realities, or our perceptions of their realities? Even if that person frowning in the back row had been pissed off at me, why should I let that derail my joy and service to the world?
I am open to feedback, and seek to grow and improve by listening to people around me. But when I hear that feedback, I have to check in with my integrity and my highest understanding, to decide if that is true for me or not. When someone brings an issue or conflict to me, it is inherently colored by their own background, personality, and emotions. Rightly so. I can receive all of that, and practice active listening. And decide to change how I have been doing things, or not. Offer an apology if that’s the right thing to do. But not take any of it personally.
In my experience, when I have successfully not taken things personally (“when I had every reason to!” my ego would like to interject) it is because I was very clear in my own self-care and self-love, and could practice actively accepting and forgiving everyone in the situation. If I love me, with all my great stuff and all my shameful stuff and all my in-process stuff, there is no need to take things personally and feel defensive and reactive. I invite you to use these mantras, add your own flair, and integrate them into your meditations, prayers or talks in the mirror:
I love and care for myself, and believe that at my core I am a worthy, loveable, and whole person.
I have compassion for the parts of me that are evolving, the parts that feel hurt, and what I perceive as my weaknesses.
I practice radical forgiveness of myself and others—consistently, and especially during times when we act out in destructive ways out of fear and pain.
If you find yourself having a hard time accepting any or all of these, that is a great sign that you have some emotional breakthrough wanting to happen in that area. Shadow Work can provide a wonderful container for that work.
Some people find self-care flows more naturally than others. Some people don’t easily take care of their needs, but they have a lot of compassion for the weak or pained parts of other people. Some people may blow up really loudly, but forgive quickly. Others hold on to resentment for a long time. We all have different challenges to keeping an agreement to not take anything personally. Understanding these personality differences has been a huge help to me in loving and forgiving myself and the people in my world. I will examine how the Enneagram Personality System helps us in not taking anything personally in my next post!
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- I am a coach and facilitator, passionate about living in the world in integrity. I share my victories and struggles candidly through my blog and lead processes for personal transformation through my Shadow Work coaching practice.