All you can control is what you do- if you feel you’ve done your best in a given situation, it is out of your control how someone interprets it and consequently responds.
My whole life, I have suffered from taking everything personally. A slight frown in my direction could send my thoughts from, “Oh, what I said was stupid,” to, “I’m stupid,” to, “She doesn’t like me because I’m stupid,” to, “Nobody likes me because I’m stupid,” to, “I’m unloveable.” This might seem extreme and dramatic, but believe me, this type of thought process plagues more people than you might think, according to my therapists. (I’m referring to the “multiple therapists I’ve had over the years,” not the “multiple therapists I have now,” haha.)
It wasn’t until I went to one particular therapist in college named Roger, who specialized in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), that I was able to put into words how those thoughts evolved. CBT is a type of therapy that gives you the tools to modify your thoughts and behavior. I will remember Roger and be grateful to him forever because these tools changed my life. In essence, by taking a step back from my thoughts and seeing them for what they were- just thoughts– I could distance myself from them and give them less power.
Naturally, life ebbs and flows, and I have been able to use the methods I learned in CBT to different degrees of effectiveness throughout the years. Looking back, there was a whole year-long relationship in which I could have used this. I fell back into the habit of interpreting my boyfriend’s actions and words in a way that made my faults the culprit every time. I also forgot how to detach from the emotions that arose through this way of thinking and self-blaming.
Years later, reading The Four Agreements, the concepts I learned in CBT were reiterated to me, albeit through a different lens.
“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
Looking back at almost every instance in which I blamed myself for not being good or smart or funny enough, I wasn’t taking into account the possibility that the other person’s actions came from shadows in their own past. The other part of this that really hit home was this:
“Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that ‘everything is about me.’ ”
In the words of Gru from Despicable Me: “LIGHTBULB.” I had been going around my whole life thinking I was being selfless by blaming myself for all the problems in my interactions, when in actuality thinking that everything was about me was the ultimate form of selfishness. HOLY MOLY, this would have made life so much easier in college when I was trying desperately to prove myself to the older theater students and never felt cool enough.
I remember the first time I literally felt the difference in my interaction with a friend: one day we were trying to make lunch plans, but it was proving to be complicated because of timing, public transport (always an issue in Rome), and our immediate hunger levels. I was more than happy to eat alone with my book and was super hungry after an intense Hot Yoga class. When I communicated that, she abruptly snapped at me and hung up. Shocked, I hung up the phone, confused by her anger. I had been trying to be honest. In the past, this simple exchange would have sent my mind into a tailspin, thinking I had been the one in the wrong and that I was a bad friend and therefore she wouldn’t want to be my friend anymore. Instead, having just read this portion of The Four Agreements (thankfully!), I was able to take a step back from my spiralling thoughts and see this episode with a bit of detachment. Anything she was saying or doing was a projection of her own reality, her own dream. It wasn’t about me. I was able to stay calm and send her positive thoughts and continue to meet my own needs. Coincidentally, minutes later, she called back, still disgruntled, but explaining that her outburst was because she was feeling lonely and frustrated with the city and really needed a friend lunch date today. I admired her honesty and ability to be vulnerable and admit her truth and could immediately relate to her rather than be put off by her sharp words.
Sometimes this agreement slips my mind when I am affected by someone’s words, but I’ve been practicing it long enough now that I eventually return to this realization: Remember that it’s not about you. Remember that you are enough just as you are.
This is my hope for you, too :]