On Not Taking Things Personally

September 15, 2013

in Everyday life,Life Lessons

“We have to learn to love people even if they are not giving you what you want… and then not take it personally. If you feel hurt, you have to recognize that they are not hurting you because you are you, but because they are them. You have to try not to be so hard on yourself.” ~Krishna Das


I walk down the aisle of the airplane. I watch kids wiggle in their seats, strangers extending their hands to help others put their bags in overhead storage, and I listen to the tentativeness of conversation among 2 people who are talking only because their seats are lettered, A and B. I locate my assigned seat, sit, and click my seat belt around my waist.

It is small plane, so I take an opportunity to turn around and look behind me. I spot a middle-aged Indian woman who appears to be seated next to a man, who I presume is her husband. The middle of her forehead is decorated with a traditional red dot and her gold bangles are prominently displayed on her arms. She sees me. I see her. And what do I do? I smile at her. In return, her face remains stoic and her mouth commits to no expression. My immediate thought is, “Why didn’t she smile back at me? Was my smile not genuine?”  I try to dismiss our lack of exchange, but I tend to take these kind of moments personally.

It is silly, isn’t it? Taking some random non-verbal cue from a stranger and internalizing it? She does not know me. I do not know her. Her lack of response has nothing to do with me. 

These type of encounters fade in a few minutes, but what about those conversations where the person is  an acquaintance or a good friend or a family member? How often do we take what people say to us, react, and then blame ourselves for their behavior? There are a handful of times where I’ve  internally reacted to an acquaintance’s observation on my parenting, career choices, or preferences. After these brief moments, I tend to blame myself to justify their inappropriate comment or observation. This is precisely the mental gymnastics I need to refrain from. Most people are just dealing with their own emotions and vulnerabilities and their reaction or non-reaction usually points to some insecurity within themselves.

I think about my lack of exchange with the Indian woman on the plane. Maybe right before I smiled at her, she had a massive argument with her husband or she was attending the funeral of a loved one or she was travelling for the first time away from her family in India. I don’t know. What I do know is that the next time I gravitate toward being hard on myself because someone “hurt” me, I need to call a mental time out.

I need to think about that woman on the plane. And remember to not take things so personally.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ayala September 16, 2013 at 7:43 am

You are sensitive and that’s why you take things personally. I am overly sensitive as well so sometimes I have to remind myself not to over-think everything. We are who we are, so it is what it is :)
ayala recently posted..I Know You


2 misssrobin September 16, 2013 at 10:30 am

Beautifully said. Oh, how easy it is to question and blame ourselves because of someone else’s bad day or rude behavior. Thank you for the lovely reminder to acknowledge where the truth lies. I love this: “We have to learn to love people even if they are not giving you what you want.” Thank you for sharing it.

I hope you have a lovely week.
misssrobin recently posted..He’s Got Me Unsettled


3 Cecilia September 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I appreciated your quote on Facebook and I can relate to your post. I’ve often thought that my life would be so much easier and more pleasant if I didn’t overanalyze everything and take things so personally. A girlfriend and I once went on and on about another mother at our children’s school, who never said hello to us. We kept asking out loud what was wrong with us, what had we done wrong, until our husbands stepped in and said it is not about us, but all about her. We actually learned later that the woman was going through a divorce, which would have helped to explain her lack of friendliness. I don’t know why, either, we are so quick to accept full responsibility for someone else’s behavior. I agree that there is much that we don’t know about the other person, and more often than not they are responding to their own issues.
Cecilia recently posted..When beautiful doesn’t look “American”


4 D. A. Wolf September 17, 2013 at 9:57 am

This is such an important lesson, and one I have to teach myself over and over again. I’m not sure why some of us internalize the responses of others to such an extent, when truly they have little to do with us.

An important reminder.
D. A. Wolf recently posted..Beauty Contest


5 Privilege of Parenting September 17, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I’m with you on slowly realizing that I simply don’t know. But we can choose to be kind, to smile, to mean it, to feel hurt and perplexed when the smile is not returned (perhaps because it taps into our dread that we are not enough, or our shame that we are worse than not enough, or even just the resonance of someone else’s pain). Perhaps if we cannot be sure that we are good enough, if we cannot quite not be so hard on ourselves, we can at least consider those others in our lives who seem to think we are in fact enough; maybe even we can bank on it, and they, not sure often enough if they are good enough (although they think we are alright in their book), might bank on these others in their lives to carry the acceptance for them. Maybe this mutual need for love and approval is part of how we can all become family, friends, community, world.
Privilege of Parenting recently posted..A Guide to Bad Dreams About Our Children


6 Tiffany September 18, 2013 at 3:05 am

I do this all the time. Great perspective.
Tiffany recently posted..Olivia Tells A Story


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