Imagine that you are walking outside and you notice dark clouds forming above you. Unfortunately, you have no umbrella. This is a shame because you’re wearing a brand new outfit and you’d hate to get it wet.
You try to run for shelter but it’s too late—a downpour has made you soaking wet. Now you’ll be drenched all day until you can get home and change your clothes. How unlucky you are! You were just minding your own business and suddenly you got caught in the rain. If only you had the protection of your umbrella!
As we live our daily lives, it may seem like we have no control over how we feel. Indeed, we are just as vulnerable to the words and actions of others as we are to a rainstorm. Even if we are in a great mood, all it takes is one comment about our weight or a careless driver cutting us off and suddenly, we are soaking wet.
But what if we had our umbrella? What can protect us from the discourteous, thoughtless remarks and actions of others? According to bestselling author Don Miguel Ruiz, the answer is simple: don’t take anything personally.
In "The Four Agreements," Ruiz1 offers simple, yet profound words of wisdom. The actions of other people do not need to have any negative effect on you.
If you take things personally, you make yourself a victim of anything that others say or do. This is like riding bumper cars and feeling outraged that others are colliding into you! Some may hit you because they are being careless or they have no control over their car. Others may crash into you deliberately. It would be quite silly to feel upset about this because we know that when we ride bumper cars, we are going to get hit.
Likewise, in our lives, we will inevitably be struck by the criticisms and oversights of others. Will you be disturbed and flustered by what other people do? Realize that it makes no sense to give people such power over you.
If you decide to no longer take things personally, you will avoid a tremendous amount of suffering. Even if someone directly antagonizes you, there is no need to be bothered because that person is certainly struggling with his or her own problems. Moreover, these problems have nothing to do with you. You can choose to become involved with the trouble of someone else or you can rise above it, confidently and peacefully walking away.
Why is it so easy to take offense to the behavior of others? Do we actually believe that everything is always about us? In fact, research does suggest that we overestimate how much we may be singled out and judged by others2.
Frankly, it’s irrational and self-absorbed to live this way. Moreover, it causes so much needless suffering. An inconsiderate date or the spiteful remarks of your co-worker reflect a fault in him or her, not in you. This fault does not need to suddenly become your problem, too.
It takes practice and patience to stop taking things personally. After all, it’s natural to feel upset if a family member belittles your career choice or if a stranger bumps into you without an apology. Indeed, we’ve spent a lifetime reacting to the actions of others, and old habits die hard. However, if we make the courageous decision to no longer emotionally react to the whims of others, our lives will be completely transformed.
To start, focus on one person that normally flusters you. Try to see the world from her or his perspective. Does this perspective focus mostly on you? In truth, it doesn’t. Human beings are primarily concerned with themselves, not with other people. Ideally, people would be more considerate of your feelings, but this will not always happen. Therefore, when this person says or does something that normally upsets you, remember that they are living through their own point of view, just like you are.
If this point of view results in a hurtful comment, it’s nothing personal, because this person wasn’t thinking about you in the first place!
There is tremendous emotional freedom when you don’t take things personally. You’ll find that there is hardly anything that can make you really upset. You can still maintain high standards for how people treat you and how you treat others, but how you feel will be under your control. Indeed, when the rain falls, you don’t have to get drenched—your umbrella will be ready whenever you need it.
1Ruiz, Don M. (1997). The Four Agreements. San Rafael, CA: Amber-Allen Publishing. 2 Gilovich, T., Medvec, V. H., & Savitsky, K. (2000). The spotlight effect in social judgment: An egocentric bias in estimates of the salience of one’s own actions and appearance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 211-222.
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