Taking Things Personally

One of my friends has twice recently said to me, “Please don’t take this personally.” When someone says that, what is really conveyed by those five words is: Please don’t be offended by something I said or did. What I did/said was not about you, it was about me. So please don’t be hurt by it.

I spent some time in my morning prayer reflecting on the statement and about my reactions to things that might cause someone to make the statement.

The truth is that I do tend to take many things personally, even when I know they are not intended that way. Something happens – someone says or does something (or doesn’t do something, e.g., doesn’t call when I’m expecting them to call) and – to put it in the simplest terms, my feelings are hurt. A feeling of hurt or insult or rejection or smallness or some equivalent feeling arises in my body, even at the same time that my head knows there is “no reason” to feel that way, that the act/word/inaction was “nothing personal,” that the person acting did not intend to cause any offense. That the way they acted (or didn’t act) wasn’t about me. (I can hazard some possible reasons as to why those feelings arise so easily in me, but that would be a different post.)

Most of the time, my head catches up with the feelings before I act on them in any way. It manages to help the rest of myself see that there was nothing personal, before I do anything to respond out of the place of hurt.

But it shows the strength of our feelings that sometimes the feeling of hurt can so drown out the reasonable part of the self that knows there was nothing personal that I react/say something out of that place of hurt. When that happens, I’m invariably sorry afterward, realizing the response was uncalled for.

This is a place where mindfulness helps. When we are not mindful, the act/words that precipitated the hurt, the feeling of hurt and the response all seem like one big jumble, and the knowledge that it was “nothing personal” gets lost in the morass. But mindfulness helps create space between the individual components of the experinence. It lets us see the act, separate from the feeling it produces, and separate from possible reactions to that feeling. And it give us enough space for us to recognize that any hurt or insult was unintended. And so it becomes easier for us to let it go.