The Art of Not Taking Anything Personally

This post is Part One of a four-part series about healthy boundaries. The holidays and end-of-the-year are a really good time to review this stuff- especially as many of us visit with family and other people that are big players in our feelings and our lives. Thanks for reading. 

“Don’t take it personally.” So much easier said than done.

I don’t think this stuff comes naturally to anyone (except maybe total narcissists). It definitely doesn’t for me. I used to really lean hard on the opinions of others, constantly questioning my self-worth, and seeking validation from the people around me. I had myself set up for being crushed by anybody’s harsh opinion of me, and believe me, there was (and still is) a whole lot of that.

I’m one of those love-me-or-hate-me kinds of people, which has really forced me out of my comfort zone and brought out the worst (and best) in other people, but the stuff I want to talk about today is good for all of us sensitive types. It’s so easy to let the perspective of others shape what we see, particularly when it comes to ourselves.

So I want to share the process that has really helped me draw the line in the sand between what I take and leave as far as listening to other people’s opinions of me.

  • It’s never about you. Whatever anybody says about you, good or bad, is always, ALWAYS a reflection about what’s going on with them. People share what’s inside of them- if they’re expressing their basic goodness, it may come out as a compliment for us. When it’s negativity, it’s an expression of their own self-worth. When other people are not fully standing in their power, their inner state is directed at us. When we are not standing fully in our own power, we take it personally.
  • Let people own their stuff. A radical shift happened in me when I started making the people around me step into the story they were telling. This is more of a mental trick than a literal action that I take with others, meaning that I have to decide when and if it’s appropriate to bring this up (I’m not always so great with this, just ask my man). But mentally, if I find the line where I end and other people begin, I can untangle things enough to allow them to own what they’re saying as harmful, mean-spirited, or untrue. And once that happens, it’s almost always about them.
  • This doesn’t mean that things don’t still feel bad. We’re all still “allowed” to feel shitty when people are shitty to us, to feel disappointed in people’s actions, to feel good when people give us compliments. But I started seeing feelings as information when I began taking this process to heart. When I feel a certain way in reaction to something, that gives me valuable information about my own boundaries, what I expect, what I agree or disagree with, and who I want to surround myself with. The way I feel gives me information about what I want and don’t want. And when I’m in my power, the way I feel is more about me and less about what someone else said to me. THAT is powerful!

I want to make it clear that consciously seeking input from people who have earned their say with you is a whole ‘nother deal. But I think this action has to be rooted in self-worth and healthy boundaries. This can look a lot different than seeking validation from others when it sounds something like, “Hey, I’m going through X, Y, and Z and need some feedback on the way I’m handling it” or “I’m really seeing things this way lately- could you help me figure out if I’m off base or not?” It just has to be done with a high level of self-awareness because it has so much potential to turn into us giving more of our power away to someone else.

Now, I don’t think that the benefit of this practice is glaringly obvious. I think that people say “don’t take it personally” interchangeably with “get a thicker skin”, which dismisses the value underneath it. Growing a thicker skin or hardening my heart is NOT my goal or intention. I want to always practice to stay vulnerable, real, and in my power.

The real gift of not taking things personally is that you get to decide what informs your opinion of yourself. You get to be the master of your own design and ultimately stand really strongly in your truth, your power.

And you get to let other people fully stand in theirs.

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How does this ring true for you? Challenge you? How has this played out in your life and how does it feel? I’m always amazed at the transformative power that people find in this simple truth, and would love to hear how it changes things in your life. Tell me in the comments below.