Stepping Outside Yourself: How to Not Take Things Personally

Two days before Christmas, my boyfriend, my brother, my mom, and I traveled two-and-a-half hours away to a cabin in the mountains. Prior to this trip, my boyfriend had only shared an occasional meal with us as a family. As much as I don’t want to admit this, I attached expectations to the trip and was hoping it would be a bonding experience and that my family would appear perfectly healthy and functioning. Given the pressure of the holiday, one bathroom, 1,000 square feet, four people and three dogs, we actually fared surprisingly well.

Lifetimes are made up of moments, a collection of snapshots of memories, and the trip certainly produced several memories that will stay in the lifelong collection of moments that evoke feelings of love, joy, and happiness. We marveled at the night sky and the beauty of the setting. We played a three-hour card game that at one point had us laughing so hard we were all in tears.  We regularly paused for Charlie Brown Christmas dancing breaks. We laughed at the dogs’ quirky behaviors including their game of musical dog beds and the image of the 50-pound dog on the 5-pound dog bed. We took a sleigh ride and sang and joked with Santa and Mrs. Claus on Christmas Eve. We exchanged heartfelt gifts and cards that were so touching they made us cry.

Yet, close relationships, be it a lover or family, have the ability to trigger irritations stemming from seemingly innocuous moments like cooking, time management, bathroom logistics, or packing. From our departure from that cabin until now I have felt irritable, short-tempered, and annoyed.  For the last several days I have been pondering why I feel that way, despite having had a really nice time together for most of the trip.

Consider your feelings, but don’t have feelings about them

I realized that my first mistake is having feelings about my feelings. I have been judging myself telling myself, “We just had a lovely Christmas together as a family, so why on earth do I feel irritable?” Despite wanting to cook and grocery shop and fill everyone’s stockings, I felt alone in my efforts and wondered how my mom did it all those years in her giving role, and judged myself for feeling stressed from the tasks rather than overjoyed. I was also sick over Christmas and wasn’t able to ski and judged the fact that when I don’t get enough exercise I get crabby. Last Christmas my boyfriend and I were not together and I wished we were, this Christmas it was lovely to be with him, yet I still found myself irritated in certain moments.

Each irritation added up to the assumption that perhaps I am destined for a lonely life of solitude, as I clearly can’t handle being around people. I concluded that my efforts on Global Glue Project are for others’ learning and I will never have a relationship worthy of a Glue interview, and that my difficulty with spending time with family (and people in general) 24/7 must mean that something is wrong with me.

Our departure from the cabin was a stressful, hurried, anxiety laden affair. We were racing an incoming snowstorm and had an 11,000-foot pass to drive over. My mom hates driving in winter weather, plus she has to be on oxygen over 8,000 feet. Her anxiety became my anxiety, and my anxiety became my boyfriend’s anxiety. By the time we got home I was exhausted and emotionally drained and felt responsible for everyone else’s well-being. Despite my best intentions, as shared in a recent post, to set daily time aside for myself, I neglected my meditation practice, and after a week it isn’t “reminiscent of irritation,” it is irritation.  And all along the self-critic has been nagging at me. Instead of simply giving myself that gift of time and space, I criticized myself for needing it and downplayed the importance of it. I thought about families who live 10 to a household in close quarters throughout the year, not solely on holidays, and I again questioned what is wrong with me that I couldn’t do this.

And then today, a friend reminded me of one of the agreements in The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz, and that is to not take anything personally. This is so simple in theory, but altogether different in practice.

To not take anything personally means that what others say and do is a projection of their own reality. To not take anything personally means to be immune to the opinions, feelings, emotions, and actions of others. When we take things personally, whether that is another person or our own emotions, we become the victim of needless suffering.

I simply forgot this over the holiday. I forgot where other people end and where I begin. I forgot how to feel and experience my own emotions, without personally judging them or questioning whether others were judging them.

I forgot how to not take things personally.

Treat your partner like yourself

One of my favorite Glue quotes is, “Only one of us gets to be an asshole at a time.” This funny and simple statement is actually quite profound. I now think of that quote as a reminder that my emotional state (no matter what it is) can be separate from my partner and anyone else I am in close relationship to. If someone I care about is being an asshole, or anxious, or angry, or sad, or irritable, that can remain their experience and I do not need to join them. Vice versa, when I am irritable or anxious, it is easier on both of us if my partner does not get sucked in and does not take it personally. I may try to take my foul mood out on them and try to make it about them, but in all likelihood it is all about me, and there is nothing they can do or say to make me feel better. It is my job to simply step back and remember not to take other people or my own feelings personally.

Tommy & Kia
Tommy & Kia know that understanding emotional cycles is the only way to get through hard times.

Relationships have always been hard for me, and some of that is because I react strongly to other people and take on their emotions and lose myself in close relationships.  Going into the holiday, I forgot that relationships can be hard. I wanted to feel closeness and love, which I absolutely did, but I also need to remind myself that relationships are not perfect, and, as Tommy says, there are cycles in relationship. Those cycles of closeness and intimacy can be measured in moments and days not solely in months and years. If I am not feeling connected and if someone else is in a mood that I don’t like, I don’t need to take it personally, I can simply have compassion for myself and the other person and wait for the cycle to shift.


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