When Should You Take It Personally?By Dr. Margaret Paul
January 03, 2011
There are times when it is very important to not take another's behavior personally, and times when it is personal. Learn the difference in this article.
Let's say that you are in a great mood, feeling loving and expansive, and someone - either someone close to you or a stranger like a clerk in a store - is withdrawn or attacking.
This is when it is important to not take it personally. Their behavior is coming from whatever is going on for them - they are tired, not feeling well, feeling inadequate, angry from a previous interaction, judging themselves, coming from their own fears of rejection or engulfment, and so on. When you take their behavior personally, it is because you want to believe that you have some control over their behavior. You want to believe that if only you were different, they wouldn't treat you badly. This is a huge false belief, as you have no control over what is going on with them, and their behavior has nothing to do with you.
On the other hand, let's say that you are in your ego wounded self, and you are shut down, harsh, attacking, blaming, or people-pleasing. When this is the case, if others are also shut down or attacking, their behavior might be personal to a certain extent. They might be taking your behavior personally and reacting to it from their own ego wounded self. While you are not causing them to react with withdrawal or attack - it is the fact that they are taking your behavior personally that is causing them to react - you are also not innocent in the interaction. So it is always important to notice your own open or closed energy to see whether their behavior is not at all about you, or whether they are being reactive with you.
Another scenario to be aware of is: if you are open and loving and another is closed and harsh, their behavior DOES affect you. Even if you do not take their behavior personally, their unloving behavior can cause some deeper core feelings of loneliness, helplessness, heartache, heartbreak, and sadness. Taking their behavior personally may be a way to cover over these deeper painful feelings, because when you tell yourself that their behavior is your fault, then you might feel anxious, depressed, guilty, or shamed. As bad as these feelings feel, they are actually easier to feel because you are the one causing them by taking their behavior personally.
Likewise, if you are the withdrawn or harsh one, and a person close to you is not taking your behavior personally and are feeling their own core painful feelings caused by your unloving behavior, they may choose not to be with you. They might not want to be with you when you are withdrawn or attacking. In this case, it is important that you DO take their behavior personally and explore what you are doing that is resulting in exactly what you likely don't want - their moving away from you.
The bottom line is that if you are being open and loving, then it is important to never take another's behavior personally. If you are operating from your wounded self and are withdrawn or attacking, then you might want to explore your own behavior when others are also withdrawn, attacking, or when they disengage from you because they don't want to be around you. Your open and loving behavior is NEVER the cause of another's unloving behavior. Your closed, withdrawn or harsh behavior is also not the cause of their closed, withdrawn or harsh behavior, but can be the cause of them not wanting to be with you, and it is important to open to learning about your own withdrawn or harsh behavior.
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Today, try an experiment. Focus all day on everything you are grateful for, and choose to have compassion rather than judgment for yourself and others. At the end of the day, notice how terrific you feel!
By Dr. Margaret Paul