Updated: Apr 14, 2020
Do you remember those moments in the heat of arguing to prove your point, when somewhere inside you feel hopeless — as if this person will never get it? It’s as if you were stuck in a tunnel for days, traveling through the dark and cold, and can’t find the way out. You nearly suffocate at the thought of seeing no light at the end of the tunnel. I don't know about you, but to me, this makes me feel more unfair rather than angry.
What do you usually do when you are angry? You say hurtful things, or at least I do. This is a classic communication conflict that often starts when we “take things personally". If this can significantly influence communication style, how do we avoid "taking things personally" so we can avoid all that hurtful anger?
Why do we like to take things so personally? If something bothered you at work and you start to share this with your partner, and in the middle of you talking, he or she checks their phone. You will start to feel as if they have no respect for you or care for you. If somebody says no to you, you would feel the pain of rejection. As soon as someone says or does something that doesn't sit well with us, then bam (!) — we can feel hurt, rejected, abandoned, betrayed, and neglected by them. But, that's what we believe. We think it is the other person's fault, that he or she is responsible for what we feel and that they are the one to blame. Let’s stop for-
a moment and question. Which part of us is speaking? Who are we being when we draw these conclusions?
Ladies and gentlemen, that is your EGO speaking! Our ego doesn't want to be criticized, it wants to be acknowledged "I am right" and wants others to consider us. Is this what you want? When my ego takes over me, I am so exhausted from all my emotions, I am in fighting mode and constantly struggle with the rest of the world. I feel lonely and deserted by humanity. So, it comes down to one question: "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?"
Now, I guess some of you will think "I can only be happy when I am right!" This is how I thought a few years back, and that way of thinking left me in pain and struggle instead of with understanding, more compassion, and harmony in my relationship with others.
So, how can you not take things so personally? How can you channel your emotions toward something more positive and is healthy? I want to share with you two strategies that Frederik Imbo introduced on his TED talk. They helped me practice my compassion toward others and myself, and I think they’ll be helpful to you too!
Strategy #1: "It's not about me."
When I take things personally, everything is about me. I think me, myself and I. If I put a lot of effort into something, I demand respect and recognition! Whoever dishonors that, I get mad at. The only way to get out of this psychological pattern is to get out of your shoes and look at things from others' perspectives. Move from a place of "me" to "we," step up to a higher step and look at the whole picture. Only then will you have enough space to understand "why they do what they do."
Maybe your partner looks at their phone because they have been waiting for important news, and it took them out of the present moment. Look for the other person's intention. They don't do what they do to hurt you, it’s just that it is the "best" way they can express themselves at that moment. It is about them, that's all.
Understanding the "why" and to be more compassionate toward others doesn't mean you are wrong or have to admit defeat, it means that you are acting greater. Our brain produces fifty thousand thoughts a day and guess how many of them are positive? Ten thousand! It is not easy to pull your attention back to ask the right question and become aware of your emotions. That is why practice is the number one goal. Creating the intention to be truly mindful and carefully evaluate all situations in life will ensure our happy tanks remain full.
Strategy #2: "It's about me."
When people shout out "you're a loser" or "I can't believe you would do that!" it hurts. Ouch! I worked so hard at this presentation and no one shows up. Maybe they are right. I am a loser, maybe I am not built for this. This is how I feel sometimes...
If the first strategy doesn't work, it may be a time to consider strategy number two. It is about me. I am new at this, at being a coach. People might think I am a fraud and I am not enough. It is my insecurity and a part of me hasn’t come to terms with this.
When people criticize you and you feel hurt, it is because part of you believe it is true. If someone said, "you are an orange!" would you get angry? More like "ehh." Because deep down you know that you are not an orange. But if someone says that "Sage, you are inconsiderate", I take it personally because I know that I ignore other people’s needs sometimes. This is the moment to give yourself some empathy. Speak up about your story, not your anger. "Hey, I am in the middle of my story and you walked away. It made me feel hurt. I don't think that was nice of you."
By opening up and sharing your story, by being vulnerable without pointing fingers and blaming, you increase the chance that others will take your needs into account.
Next time when you on the verge of anger, disappointment or any negative emotions, stop for a second and think of these two strategies. If you can, try to intentionally practice them and see the result in your communication style and if it enhances your relationships. It will be difficult at first, but I believe that with discipline for love and compassion we all can experience positivity blooming in our lives.