I used to be that person. You know the type.
High-strung, uptight, and wound-up. That’s how people used to describe me and that was before I ever graduated high school!
“Lighten up, Alex.”
“Calm down, it was just a joke.”
Oh if I had a nickel for every time I heard things like that.
While on the one hand I was indeed a bit high-strung, uptight, and wound-up, I was also über-sensitive to the slightest criticism or hint that someone, anyone didn’t like me. In short, I took things very, very personally.
I’d think things like:
She didn’t smile so she must be mad at me.
It’s been 10 minutes and he hasn’t texted me. So…What’s her name?
No one commented on that post I worked really hard on, so I suck as a blogger, writer, human being.
It sounds exhausting, right? Being on the lookout for any sign of disturbance, that someone doesn’t like you, approve of you, want to talk to you, etc. That’s because it is damn exhausting! But after years of playing that game, I finally realized that I could take myself out of it.
To really understand how far I’ve come with this, we need to go back in time a bit. It wasn’t until I got my heart broken and stomped on last summer that I realized I was believing in things that weren’t true, namely concerning my culpability in relationships.
Sometimes good things come in messed up packages, because being dumped was honestly the best thing that ever happened to me. I didn’t see it that way back then, of course. I spent days howling in pain, and it probably sounded to my neighbors like I was giving birth. The pain of the breakup came over me like contractions, and it was the rare moment in the weeks following the breakup that saw no tears or heard no cries.
Things got so bad that I called it quits on the East Coast and moved back across the country to Colorado. My ex had done a thorough job of convincing me that I was indeed a terrible person and that it was entirely my fault that the relationship didn’t work out. In his eyes, I was to blame for every argument and disagreement and the worst part was I believed him.
Now, let me be clear about one thing. This isn’t a post meant to bash my ex-boyfriend, because the truth is, I’m no longer bitter about the situation and I honestly don’t hate him. However, the relationship itself was unhealthy at best and abusive at worst. It took me a very long time to see the truth about it and him, and when I finally did, my friends and family were relieved to say the least. I had gone back to this relationship 3 times over 3 years at the cost of my sanity and happiness, and I can’t tell you how many times my closest friends begged me to leave him and find someone who didn’t make me miserable.
When I got back to Colorado, I was in a bad place emotionally and really leaned on my support system here to get me through. One of my best friends gave me this the weekend I got back:
A box set of all of The Four Agreements books, along with the companion book and The Fifth Agreement. If you haven’t read these books, I can’t recommend them enough. It was the first book, The Four Agreements that single handedly started changing the way I thought about myself, life, and the people around me.
The agreements refers to those beliefs about ourselves and other people that we choose to believe, or agree with. We make these agreements unconsciously most of the time, and a lot of them stem from childhood experiences. What we don’t realize as adults is that we have the power to make new agreements, and by making these new agreements, we give ourselves the chance for peace.
I’ll never forget the moment that changed the way I thought of myself. After receiving these books, my sister and I got in the car with our friends and we were driving to Adventure Golf. I sat in the backseat, flipping through the main book and saw this:
Don’t take anything personally.
My eyes were fixed on this little blurb and I kept rereading it. Suddenly things were making sense. Nothing others do is because of you. My ex told me repeatedly that he left because of me, that it was because of me that the relationship was in ruins, and it was my fault for breaking his heart.
No. No, no, no and no.
I refused to take responsibility for his issues and I would only claim my half of our problems. I knew I had made mistakes and said and done things I wish I could take back, but I certainly wasn’t going to be held accountable for his share of our issues.
It made complete and total sense to me that what people do and say is a product of their own reality and issues.
When I get upset, it’s because something is pushing one of my buttons. Sure, someone else might have pushed it, but are my actions their responsibility? Hell no! I choose how I respond to any given situation and my response is mine to own, just like everyone else has to own up to theirs.
Not taking things personally and not making assumptions are the agreements I’ve been practicing most consciously, and I thought I’d share some insight into how I’ve gone about this. I’m proud to say that I’m way less neurotic and obsessive than I used to be (note: I don’t say those things as judgments about myself, but rather a way to describe the intense anxiety I used to experience in regards to others).
Now, I don’t freak out when people don’t call/text/email right away (or at all), if I sense a tone in someone’s voice that triggers something within me, I don’t go off on them or beat myself up thinking I did something wrong, and when I start to “mind-read” and make assumptions about what other people think of me, I check the facts and immediately start to calm down.
My Tips For Taking Things Less Personally
1. Just because someone doesn’t text, call, or email right away, it doesn’t mean they don’t care. It also doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking of you.
2. When someone goes off on you, remember that they had a choice about how to act.
3. You can’t make anyone do anything and similarly, no one can make you do anything. We each have to take responsibility for our words and actions.
4. People are busy and distracted, cut them some slack.
5. Don’t assume that you know what someone else is thinking. If you have questions, ask them.
6. If you start to get upset when someone says or does something, step back before responding. Ask yourself, “What button is this pushing? When I have felt this way before and is it possible that I’m reacting to a situation in the past rather than a real issue in the present?”
7. You’re important, but you don’t have as much power as you think you do over people. Let this come as a wave of relief!! It means you aren’t responsible for their sh*t!
8. Calm down. No, really.
9. Think of your own mind and life and how much you have going on in both. Now remember that it’s like that for everyone else too.
10. Judge less, love more.
Alright friends, I’m off to bed! Got some crazy exciting things happening in the next few days that I’ll share soon enough!
**This post is a part of the Missing Link series. For more check out the following:
Lessons in Acceptance –> one of the Top 15 most popular posts!!
The Why’s, When’s and How’s of Letting Go –> one of my favorite posts to write
What are your tips for not taking things personally?