- What does it mean to take things personally?
- It means to relate external events and behaviors to my personal internal narrative about myself.
Taking things personally had been a tremendous source emotional suffering. For the longest time, I saw it as a learning tool: I was able to quickly relate to someone and see myself in their situation and then act upon it. Although I learned a lot, I also caused myself lots of pain at the realization of what I don’t have, cannot do or cannot be. That was extremely exhausting and discouraging because there is always something or someone currently better, richer and happier. So the path to emotional stability lies in pushing out ALL issues unrelated to me outside of the circle of control. The path to emotional mastery lies in focusing intentionally on ALL things that truly matter and require my emotional response; things that need to be taken personally.
Let’s look at examples. We take romantic rejections extremely personally for a very valid evolutionary reason. They are meant to hurt A LOT to get us moving towards resolving our evolutionary objective. Although it’s valid, that emotional pain needs to be curbed because it has potential to override all other goals. So how do we learn to distance our intellectual self from the emotional self to not take a rejection personally? We learn to take those rejections not personally. Why? Because if we were able to run a thorough analysis of the reason for a rejection, we would probably realize that they are either rooted deeply in the other person’s character/values/background or see that they are far beyond our circle of control. So when I feel destroyed at the rejection, it is as example of emotional laziness and a desire to soak in pain at the thought of how unfair the world is. In reality, that story is simply not about me and the pain comes from me trying to insert myself into a narrative that is unrelated to me.
Edvard Munch- Melancholy
This example can be extrapolated to other forms of rejections, when what we have to offer and what the person/organization is looking for are mismatched for a lot of reasons. The world is so big and there are millions of processes happening that have nothing to do with me. Someone tells me something nasty and naturally it makes me feel bad. However, I can learn to not take it personally because I was not even part of the equation of why that person felt extremely negative that day. As a result of some chance and randomness I happened to be next to that person. When I truly realize that, there is no longer a need for feeling hurt, because that negative interaction is impersonal.
Taking things personally is the ultimate form of insecurity. We are prone to it because we lack a sense of significance and we are looking to see ourselves as a part of some external narrative. Even if we feel hurt or secluded it still generates content for our sense of belonging and significance. So to give that up, to give up that source of affirmation is a great thing to do. Most things that are happening have nothing to do with me and there are not about me, they are about themselves.
The only thing that is worth taking personally is the thing that I must take VERY PERSONALLY, meaning not having any excuses or blaming externalities. That thing is my life, my path, my relationships, my health, my mental state and my goals. I am the agent of my life; even when hijacked by externalities, it is within my power to attend to that. Everything that is not those things, is not personal, therefore there is no need for an emotional response.