We place a lot of value on what other people think or say about us.
And when we feel hurt by their thoughts or behaviours towards us, we deny the hurt by saying to ourselves, “I don’t care about what they think.”
Oh, but we do care. And this caring is never going to stop.
Every individual that we come in contact with is a mirror reflecting to us, either a past, present or future version of ourselves. And to deny these mirror reflections is to deny our presence in this lifetime.
Understanding why we take things personally, how it affects us and what we can do to better manage our reactions is the key to relational success.
Why do we take things personally?
Receiving unsolicited advice
As adults we suffer from historical trauma of consistently being given unsolicited advice on our capabilities and our self expression, especially if our self expression is unique as it threatens the survival of the community we belong to.
Personal versus collective
When we are in conversation, we often switch between speaking from our personal experience and collective observation. Sharing based on a personal experience is intimate, it connects us with to each other in a way that is vulnerable. Sharing based on a collective observation is more distant, it takes a big picture stance and detaches from the personal relating. When the switch is not clearly communicated, it makes it hard to stay intimately connected in a conversation, thereby increasing our tendency to take what is said as a personal reflection.
You versus me
The purity of the english language no longer exists. That being said, the english language is also complex. I have observed that we often use ‘you’ in conversations when we refer to ourselves or the collective. This is a challenge as it creates confusion about when ‘you’ refers to the other person and when ‘you’ refers to the person speaking about themselves.
Sharing our hearts with another is one of the greatest challenges of our human life. And when we do find the courage to do so, we fear judgement. Due to the tendency to feel judged, our nervous system is often on high alert for any form of criticism that maybe reflected back to us during a conversation.
Making it personal
Lastly, when someone shares an emotionally painful situation, our entire being relates to their share through all memories of our own experiences stored in our body. This makes it difficult to maintain a detached, yet empathetic stance without needing to make their experience about us.
How does taking things personally affect us?
- It disconnects us from staying fully present to the individual we are relating with
- We create distance and disharmony in our relationships when we are unable to find a integrated balance between empathy and detachment
- We withdraw ourselves from being vulnerable, fearing that we will always be judged, thereby creating separation and disconnection
- We lose insight that every individual has a unique perspective on life and how each of us deal with life’s ups and downs
How to better manage our relationships?
Listen before responding
One of the key ingredients of good communication skills is listening. Listening without needing to fill in awkward silences, without needing to justify, argue, challenge or even agree. This kind of listening is presence. But this does not mean, leaving your body. It means staying fully connected to the sensations in your body as you listen. And responding while staying connected with your body, not the mind invites for a deeper exploration of what is being shared.
We are quick to assume and even misunderstand what is being said. And we take that assumption and create a cascade of emotional reactions that can be very draining for our body. If in the moment or even upon reflection, we can seek clarification for what was being said, many of the unhealthy relationship dynamics that we find ourselves in, may never exist.
It is ok to ask for further clarification. It is ok to ask someone to repeat what they said. It is ok to ask to return to discuss a topic of conversation after taking some time to self reflect.
Respond with presence
These days, we face a lot of unwelcome psychic pressure to respond quickly to every conversation, whether that is through text, phone call, email or face to face conversations. We have not been to taught to take time to feel into what is being asked of us and respond from a place of being connected with our body. We live in world where thinking takes precedence over feeling.
It is ok to take time to respond. Make sure you provide a clear timeframe for when you will get back, so that the other person isn’t felt feeling unacknowledged. And it is also ok, to ask for more time.