It’s not all about you

Over time I have realized that taking things personally not only ruins our relationship with others but also, prevent us from leading a fuller life. As a result, not taking things personally is one of the life skills we must cultivate.

So, why do we take things personally?

An unfortunate side effect of our consciousness residing in our brains is that everything we experience in our lives involves us somehow. As a result, we tend to have an inherent bias towards assuming that pretty much everything that happens to us is actually about us.

But here’s a newsflash: Just because you experience something, just because something causes you to feel a certain way, just because you care about something, doesn’t mean it’s about you.

As a consequence, we tend to develop a sense of entitlement, and that’s a problem.

When things are good, you are the gods’ gift to the earth, who deserves to be recognized and applauded at every turn. When things are bad, you are the self-righteous victim, who has been wronged and deserves better.

What is constant is this sense of deserving. And it’s this constant sense of deserving that turns you into an emotional vampire, an anti-social black hole that only consumes the energy and love of those around you without ever offering anything in return.

More often than not, when things happen to us, our role is just a minor one. There are so many things that are completely out of our control.

Decisions are not a result of objective truth simply because there is no objective truth when people are involved. And, more importantly, decisions are functions of the particular situation. Situations, in turn, are functions of the context, the motives, and character of all the actors. In a decision that involves you, you are just one actor out of the many that might be involved. You don’t control their motives and character and definitely, don’t control the context. So, taking it personally is just a recipe to ensuring you feel hurt whenever a decision that involves you doesn’t go your way.

When people criticize you or reject you, it likely has way more to do with them — their values, their priorities, their life situation — than it does with you. I hate to break it to you, but other people simply don’t think about you that much (after all, they’re too busy trying to believe everything is about them).

When something you do fails, it doesn’t mean you are a failure as a person, it just means you are a person who happens to fail sometimes.

When something tragic happens, and you become horribly hurt, as much as your pain has you absolutely convinced that this must be about you, remember that hardship is part of choosing to live, that the tragedy of death is what gives meaning to life, and that pain has no prejudice — it afflicts us all. Deserving or not deserving isn’t part of the equation.

Being aware of this inherent bias we have towards ourselves is the first step towards understanding people better.

Decide not to take it personally, and we give ourselves the opportunity to listen, to understand, to be thoughtful and to respond constructively.

The key to making this decision is understanding that the issue is rarely about us. We might have contributed to it. But, it is unlikely it is about us unless we decide to make it so. The quicker we get out of the way, the sooner we can move to prompt resolution.