(Not) Taking Things Personally

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How many times have you had to tell yourself not to take something personally today? Here’s my answer – I don’t bother keeping score anymore. You could be having the perfect morning, hair freshly blowdried and behaving, breakfast cooked to perfection, birds singing and tying your shoelaces etc. There’s always going to be that one thing that will get you at some point during the day. In my case, it’s usually train delays or that one bitch I can’t stand – but hey, I’m sure you have your fair share of misfortunes on the daily.

It’s so easy, isn’t it? “Oh, don’t take it personally.” Rolls right off the tongue like butter.

Sometimes, I’m not sure I even know what it means. Well, maybe that’s because my temper and blood pressure are already through the roof before I have the time to figure out what it means. To me, that phrase implies this – avoiding the very natural conclusion that an unfortunate event was meant as a vengeful act to hurt you, and specifically you. When your neighbour reverses a little too enthusiastically and leaves your car with a dent, it’s very difficult to convince yourself that he didn’t mean it. Be honest now, put yourself in that situation. What thoughts immediately enter your mind?

“He’s an awful driver. How did he pass his test? I bet he bribed the instructor. I always thought he was a weird one. I mean, he always has his curtains shut all day and he’s never spoken to me other than a cursory “hi”.  He never makes eye contact with me, ever. What kind of vendetta does he have against me? Maybe I should get the cat to start pooping in his garden.”

Okay, I exaggerated. But you get my point. It’s almost instinctive to start questioning ourselves and the person’s motives. Now imagine this – instead of the weird neighbour reversing into you, the dent in your precious car came from a bin being blown into your car by the hurricane-esque winds last night.

Feel any different? Okay, a part of me is still thinking of ways to teach the asshole who left their bin in that specific location a lesson, but I’m feeling considerably less affected. I don’t know about you, but suddenly I’m a lot less inclined to let it ruin my day and just get the dent sorted without kicking up a fuss.

In some ways, taking things personally is a defence mechanism. Your brain instantly jumps to the worst-case scenario, and the emotionally-driven response of “taking things personally” leads to heightened senses, hence making you very aware of all the possible scenarios and how you can protect yourself in every one of them. Like possibly having a terrorist who can’t drive for a neighbour.

Sounds like the beginning to a great film.

Here’s the thing – we all know that life would be so much less stressful if we could just shrug things off. We know this for a fact. But it’s not easy to simply shrug things off when they’re affecting you more than you’d like to admit. (Funny how things seem to go great when we don’t care, and suddenly go pear-shaped when we start caring.) Thing is, we only ever get told NOT to take things personally. In my experience, being told not to do something simply makes me more likely to do it, whether it’s a conscious decision or not. What if we turned that instruction into something positive? Like something we could actively implement instead of trying so hard NOT to do something? I’m also all about that positivity thing, you know, yada yada.

Take a step back.

Reacting instinctively to a situation that ruffles your feathers doesn’t usually end well. That’s because that first reaction is based on emotion rather than rational thought and logic. We all know that emotions can be more temperamental than my cooking – sizzling away one minute and burnt to a crisp the next. They cloud your mind and any chance of being reasonable goes straight out the window. Take your time to calm down before reacting.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Maybe that neighbour was late for work that morning and didn’t look where he was going. Maybe he hasn’t driven in a while because he hit rough times and had to sell his old car. Wade through that anger and resentment and try to understand the situation from the other person’s perspective. Maybe there was a genuine reason behind the accident, or there may have been a misunderstanding simply due to lack of (sometimes fear of) communication.

Focus on the solutions.

The event has happened. Nobody has quite mastered the art of time travel yet, so there’s no turning back and the best thing to do is to deal with the situation at hand so that everyone can get on with their lives. Just remember – every minute spent wishing it didn’t happen or indulging in your annoyances is a minute taken away from finding a solution to the problem. I find that this also helps me deal with my emotions and allows me to process the situation in a healthier way.

Vocalise your emotions.

Sometimes, this is all we need to ground ourselves and realise that getting carried away with our metaphorical fist waving and foot stomping is pointless – and frankly, sounds a little stupid. All you need is a simple “I’m feeling ____, and I feel that way because ___.” Start with that, and you’ll quickly find that giving your emotions a voice somehow (ironically) helps rationalise a lot of things.

Thank the other person.

Yup, you read that right. Thank the other person for what they’ve done to you. Be grateful that you are now in this situation, because you’re learning to deal with the problem and also working on your people management skills in the process. If the neighbour hadn’t put a dent in your car, you may never have had to figure out who to call and where to go for repairs until much further down the line when the stakes may have been higher. Chances are, you’ll also be much more self-aware when you’re behind the wheel in your own car, and you’ll know what to look out for when reversing in tight spaces. This came in particularly handy for me when recently dealing with people at work. It’s impossible to feel grateful and vengeful at the same time. Try it.

Have you experienced something that annoyed you today? Did you take it personally? I want to hear all about it – put it in the comments. Go on, have a little rant. I won’t take it personally, promise. Until next time – you go girl.

– J

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Disclaimer: All images used in this post have been obtained from Pixabay under a Creative Commons License and edited on Canva by J, exclusively for thenellybean.com

4 Comments on “(Not) Taking Things Personally”

  1. Ahhh I love this post. Its a great message. Sometimes a bad day is just a bad day, not a bad life but we (especially us women) tend to over react and think that life will never ever ever ever be the same again. Ok, bit dramatic but you get what I mean. Taking a step back is fabulous advice xxx

  2. I occasionally find it hard to not take things personally, so this post has been helpful. Like last night my boyfriend went to a Christmas dinner with his work & he came home drunk & it just pissed me off. This morning of course he was hungover & couldn’t do anything even though we had plans. At first I was really angry but when I calmed down I felt sorry for him b/c being hungover isn’t fun

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