I’m asked periodically, what’s the fastest way to radically upgrade one’s psychic life? And I’m pretty sure I’ve found a half-way decent answer to the inquiry: Stop taking it personally.
That’s right–stop taking things so personally.
There’s a good reason to do this—very few things, actually, are personal. That’s to say, the vast majority of what we take, and suffer for taking, personally…really isn’t personal. This isn’t to say that what we take personally doesn’t feel hurtful, disrespectful, rude, nasty and the like. Surely, often it does. I’m just saying that mostly, usually, it’s not personal.
And I’m suggesting that when we take things personally, we suffer greatly. What’s more, we suffer often inordinately, and, especially given the preponderance of incursions to our peace of mind that aren’t personal, we suffer unnecessarily.
Why do we tend to take things so personally? (Appreciating the complexity of the question, forgive my attempts at providing a cursory, tentative consideration of it.)
My view is that the very act of taking anything personally implies our bid to feel significant in the face of a terrifying experience of our insignificance.
In taking things personally, I suspect we’re conveying that we’re important enough to feel outraged by hurtful unkindness. Taking things personally becomes a means through which to affirm our significance. When I say, “How dare you say something so insensitive to me. I may not forgive that nasty liberty you just took at my expense,” I’m also saying, sub-textually, “And I’m reacting with such personal outrage because I have importance and significance!”
(I intend to elaborate this observation, in more depth, in a forthcoming post.)
We’re also sensitive and prideful creatures. Crucially, we’re deeply vulnerable creatures who, uniquely, experience our vulnerability painfully, with exquisite awareness. This makes us easily hurt creatures, and we know it. If this weren’t enough, our minds trap us in self-referential psychic worlds, leaving us thinking and feeling that most everything directed at us is necessarily about us when, in truth, so much of what we interpret as about us, just isn’t.
Yet it’s awfully hard, living captively in our subjective, self-referential minds to remember and believe, “It’s not always about me.”
And, to repeat, usually it isn’t. Far more often than we’re built to interpret, the vast majority of our experiences of others’ rudeness, inattention, and insensitivity are not about us, despite our deep-seated, stubborn inclination to think and feel otherwise. Far more often, what feels so viscerally personal is about them—that is, about others’ mismanaged stresses, misery, anger, distraction, preoccupations, inconsideration, weak and insensitive communication.
Yet in a somewhat strategic irony, in personalizing things, I suspect that, subconsciously, we’re expressing outrage, a form of protest, to have felt unrecognized or devalued. Never far from the dread, the horror of our feared and felt insignificance, our personalization of things becomes a generally ineffective, compensatory bid to scream our significance in the experiential dismissal of it.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that nothing’s ever personal. Sometimes we’re correctly interpreting attitudes and behaviors that are meant personally. But far more often than not, as I’ve been emphasizing, the everyday indignities we experience feel personal, but most often aren’t.
Now what happens when we dedicate ourselves to the challenging practice of taking fewer and fewer unwelcome shots to our egos personally? That is, what happens when we commit to a practice of taking pretty much everything less personally, or better yet, not personally?
The answer is…our lives change. We relax more. We feel and react less defensively, no longer burdened with the honor of our egos to have to fight for and defend. The result is a tremendous psychic liberation that enables us to brush off regularly experienced, unwanted instances of interpersonal rudeness with grace, equanimity, and our greatest weapon of all—our sense of humor.