Why We Should Not Take Things Personally

It is quite natural for an individual to think of themselves in isolated terms, as being separate from the other individual bodies they perceive around them. It it thus common that a perception arises in many individuals that places them squarely in the center of their perceived reality. When interacting with others, they view the responses around them in terms of how they factor into it. In other words, they gauge someone's reaction, words, or attitudes as a reflection of something the perceiver did or said instead of a reflection of the issuing party.

For example, if an interaction occurs between Bob and Betty in which Betty seems to be irritated or rather more curt than previously experienced, then it is quite common for Bob to interpret Betty's behavior as being wholly about Bob. It is common for Bob to imagine that Betty's behavior is a reaction to him. He may imagine reasons for Betty's behavior by connecting it to something he said or did, or by interpreting it to represent how she must feel about him. Bob might then take this assumptive perception, dwell on it, and allow it to fester in his mind until it culminates into a solidified conclusion. Bob may be certain his inference is correct and accept it as fact, as it makes sense in his mind, and thus mistakes it for the only possible interpretation. Bob has taken Betty's attitude personally, and it has poisoned his mind. This poisoning of the mind spills into reality and it taints his subsequent interactions with Betty - because he is reacting to her based on this presumptive assumption instead of interacting with her based on reality. Bob has created an alternative narrative of Betty's behavior, and has ignored any cues to the contrary that reality may have offered in the interim. For it is quite impossible to view reality objectively when we have allowed our self-made version to supersede it.

When we take things personally, we are taking responsibility for the actions of another individual. We are saying that their actions/behavior are solely our fault and are wholly about us. We ignore the person in the process. We overlook the fact that they might be a complicated human being with complex thinking patterns and emotions, similar to our own. When we take things personally, we also set ourselves firmly in the center of all creation and assert the self-made belief that everything is about us. How arrogant it is to think that someone's behavior must be about us!

Instead, a person's negative behavior is a call to compassion. Whether it is angry words, an irritated tone, the silent treatment, or other untoward behavior - this is a reflection of the issuing party, not the perceiver. Negative behavior stems from fear, and all individuals intermittently experience this emotion. All humans experiencing fear project it outward in negative ways - worry, anxiety, anger, frustration, irritation, chaos, hatred, hostility, dejection, depression, rejection, etc. etc. etc. Instead of noticing this behavior in others and internalizing it (aka taking it personally), individuals should recognize this as a call for compassion - a call to extend love. Love is the opposite of fear, and it is the source of all positive emotions and behaviors. If we could observe fear in one another and not take on this fear (i.e. not become offended, upset, etc.), but rather use it as an opportunity to extend compassion and love, then we could rebuild connections and pave the way for a synergic co-existence.

Bob could have responded two separate ways to Betty's behavior which would have been healthier for all involved. He could have A.) remained silent, keeping in mind that Betty must be going through something within herself, and looked upon her with a compassionate and loving perception, or B.) Bob could have said "Hey, Betty. I noticed you seem to be irritated. Is everything okay? Is there something you would like to talk about?" The best option to take depends on how emotionally/mentally healthy Betty is. If Betty is likely to fly off the handle and unconsciously project her fear onto Bob in the form of blame for something totally unrelated to the cause of her fear (mainly because she herself is not aware enough to know why she feels this way, so she must find someone else to blame), then it may be best for Bob to take option A. If Bob knows Betty well enough and knows that she has a tendency of being aware of her issues and responsible for them, then he might be better off with option B. Either way, Bob resists the urge to take Betty's behavior personally and avoids the mental anguish that comes with it.

As with all things, it is easier to see these words and understand them now than it is to apply them when in the heat of the moment. It is common for that false part of our mind, often referred to as the ego, to whisper fear inducing thoughts. When passing a group of people who automatically begin laughing after we walk by, it is common for the ego to whisper things like, "They are laughing at you. Maybe you have a stain on your shirt. Or a booger hanging out of your nose." Yet, why would we automatically believe the ego? Why would their behavior be about us? Wouldn't it be even more likely that they were in the process of saying something funny right as we passed by? Even if their response was about us, why would it matter? Does someone's reaction or opinion of us change who we are?

The root of the problem goes beyond taking things personally. The root is fear - because many of us do not know who we are. We mistakenly make identities based on external things. We are a parent. We are our jobs. We are our sexual orientation. We are our hobbies. We are a particular characteristic we think we embody. The problem with identifying with external projections is that they are temporary. They are not secure; they change and morph. Our relationships with our children and family change; our kids grow up and move on, and our parents pass away. Our career does not pan out or our job is taken away. When something in our exterior changes, we scramble to 'find ourselves' again. We seek to reestablish our identity in connection to something else external - a new job, a new kid, a new partner, etc. Yet, we are strangely never satisfied. This whole game of "I'll be happy if I can just <insert material possession here>" or "I'll be fulfilled if I can just <insert next accomplishment here>" is a fruitless pursuit. It becomes our ever shifting identity based on external things that are not secure. It leaves us floundering and misguided. It is where our fear is based - on not knowing who we are - and it leaves us seeking but never finding something we cannot even define. Our security cannot be found in this transitory world; thus our identity should not be based in it.

We should not take things personally because it is delusional to believe we know the intentions of others or the reasons for their actions, words, or behaviors. We experience life from the confines of our mind, and our perception is rarely aligned with objective reality. If we sometimes have difficulty knowing the reason behind our own actions, why would be think to know the reason behind another's?


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