Occasionally someone does something that’s designed to hurt you. You, in particular. Most likely because they are hurt or angry about something they believe you did to them.
For the most part, though, the things people say and do are entirely about them. Motivated by their own desires and fears and life stuff and possibly even subconscious drives.
Yet many of us expend considerable energy and emotion every day feeling personally affronted by other people’s words and actions. At best it’s pointless; at worst it deepens the spiral of bad feeling in the world.
If you want more energy and happier feelings, then you can let go forever of the idea that any of these are meant to upset you personally. They’re not.
1. When Christmas Decorations Appear In Stores
Every year my Facebook news feed lights up (see what I did there?) with people incensed that there are Christmas decorations in stores as early as October.
We all know that stores exist to make a profit. They want to sell us stuff and they need to manage their space and inventory. The timing of their Christmas displays reflects their attempts to maximize profit via selling more and being efficient with space.
Believe it or not, there is no retail conspiracy designed to make us feel bad that we’re not ready for Christmas, or to evoke unpleasant childhood flashbacks, or to generate pre-emptive in-law terror.
It’s not about us.
2. When Friends Move On
We’ve all been on the receiving end of this, and there’s no doubt it hurts.
The friend we thought we’d have for life changes jobs, or moves interstate or overseas, or gets married, or has a baby, and suddenly they have no time for us.
We’re willing to make the effort – why aren’t they?
Because they never really cared about us. They were using us. They are heartless and cruel.
No, nope, and nuh-uh.
Some friendships are for life.
But all friendships go through stages. The nature of a friendship changes dramatically with major life changes, such as starting a relationship, changing jobs, moving, having kids, or other adjustments in priorities.
It’s very hard not to take this personally, because friendships are personal. And it hurts, it’s rejection, pure and simple.
But changes in the other person’s life stuff, and the fact that their schedule and priorities are different, are not a deliberate attempt to hurt you. The fact that they are now focused on different things does not undermine the value of the friendship you shared. It makes that time precious, a cherished part of the ever-changing flow of life’s great adventure.
Often the friend thinks of you fondly, and speaks of you to their new cohorts. You are a part of each other, and you take the influence of that friendship with you into the next phase of life for each of you.
Most likely you’ve been on the moving-on side of this yourself, so you know what it’s like. They are in a different place. New things lie ahead for you, too. That’s life.
It’s not about us.
3. When Someone Else Loses (Or Gains) Weight
Several years ago I lost about 30 pounds (14 kg). Mostly I was congratulated and complimented.
But I was shocked by some people’s reactions (and by some people, I mean women). These included:
- The woman who, with nothing short of a snarl on her face, told me I looked terrible
- The woman who said I was a bad influence on others
- The woman who warned me not to get used to it, as I would regain it within 6 months for sure
- The woman who, every time she saw me, told me I looked ill
- The woman who said it was fine for me to live on lettuce (I hate lettuce and generally only eat it on burgers), but there was no way she could do it
- The woman who said she wasn’t vain enough to do what I did (work out most days).
Funnily enough, many of these people weren’t friends, or even people I knew well. Some of them had literally never spoken to me before (but had seen me regularly).
At first I was upset by these comments, as they clouded my good feelings at having achieved an attractive and healthy weight for me. But then I realised that I needn’t be upset, as the comments were not about me at all.
These people clearly took my changed body shape personally. It was not about me, but very much about their feelings. And I recognize these feelings all too well, because they’re exactly the ones I feel when someone else achieves something I’ve been working on.
The sense that they’ve succeeded where I have not.
The fear that maybe I’m not as serious about my goals as I say I am.
The realization that this hurts me because I care deeply about having it for myself. (This one is actually helpful, because it reminds me to focus on fixing my own life.)
If somebody loses (or gains) weight, or succeeds (or fails) at something we aspire to, then we have to avoid the trap of taking it personally. Of seeing their bodies or lives as making a comment on ours.
It’s not about us.
Don’t Take It Personally
If you find you’re taking things personally, then stop and ask yourself if it’s really about you at all. Most of the time, it’s not.
It may hurt, or hit a nerve, or stir up something that needs thought or action. But it’s probably not a deliberate slight.
Which means we can avoid being angry about things people do or say that are not meant to hurt us.
Isn’t that a nicer way to feel?