What can you do to improve the situation when someone says something you don’t like? Respond with something equally hurtful? Accept what they’ve said about you and apologize? If you’re like most people, probably neither of these options seems very satisfying. In our experience, we’ve found that the best way to stop having your feelings hurt is by not taking things personally. You may think this sounds impossible, but it’s not as hard as you imagine. You just have to keep reminding yourself thatno matter what they sayit’s not all about you.
It’s Not Really about You
First of all, it’s important to understand that everything everyone does or says is for one of two reasons: a desire to meet their needs, or in support of something that they value. Understanding this is makes it a lot easier for us to learn how to avoid taking things personally. It’s easy to get offended when you think someone is trying to hurt you, but when you realize that what’s really going on has nothing to do with you, it’s just as easy to take a step back and think before you react.
For example, let’s say you get a big promotion at work. At the first opportunity, you call your best friend to share the good news. Instead of offering congratulations, your friend responds by saying, “You don’t have the work ethic to put in that many hours, I hope you don’t get fired.” Ouch! Of course, the reflexive response is to feel hurt and start to defend your work ethic, but clearly, that will only make the situation worse. Would you react differently if you knew that your friend had recently been passed over for a promotion they had expected? What if you found out that the problem was actually that your friend was worried that you wouldn’t have any time to spend with them due to your new responsibilities? Its easy to see that once you start to explore the options, there are many reasons (none of which have to do with you) that could have prompted your friend’s response.
What Would His Holiness Do?
Let’s say a young man starts a conversation with the Dalai Lama and begins by saying, “What do you know about suffering or hardships, you’re just a lazy old man with fifty people waiting on you hand and foot!” Now, imagine the Dalai Lama getting angry, defending himself, and justifying his position: Lazy old man he says, you don’t know all the things I do, and you have the nerve to tell me Im a lazy old man. Do you even have a job?
Now I can imagine a lot of people responding that way, but I have a hard time believing the Dalai Lama would. But why not? What is it that the Dalai Lama knows that most other people dont?
I imagine the Dalai Lama understands how to not take things personally! He would most likely recognize that what the young man is saying is all about the young man and has nothing to do with him. It’s about the young man’s pain and suffering because some of his needs are not being met and he hasn’t been able to find a way to live in harmony with his values.
Knee-jerk, emotional reactions are a hard habit to break, but when you learn not to take things personally, you’ll be amazed at how much the quality of your life and relationships improve. It bears repeating that everything everyone does or says is to meet their needs, or is in support of something they value. Keeping this in mind frees you from the desire to react defensively and opens the door to sincere compassion for other people.
So, the next time you’re feeling great and then someone says or does something and you find yourself with hurt feelings, STOP and remember — don’t take it personally. Be curious about what may be behind the unpleasant words. Say things to yourself such as, WOW that seems like a strange thing to say, I wonder what’s going on with them? Next, imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask yourself, If I said or did that, what might be going on with me? You’ll soon discover that life is much easier when it’s not all about you.