Learning to not take things personally will change your life for the better
For those in recovery, you may have come across the book The Four Agreements. In The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. One of the Four Agreements is not to take anything personally. For this recovering person, it’s too dangerous to make up stories about why I “think” someone did something. The minute I start thinking I know what’s in someone else’s head, it’s time to stop thinking immediately.
Taking things personally leads nowhere good
How many times in your life has someone said to you, “Don’t take it personally.” I’ve heard it a million times and around every area of life. If someone doesn’t call you back about a work inquiry, don’t take it personally. If a personal situation offends you, don’t take it personally. If not invited to something, don’t take it personally. Passes on scripts, don’t take it personally! Oh really? How am I supposed to take it? It feels like rejection, being insulted, feeling left out, unappreciated, and the list of hurt feelings goes on and on. The issue is, we all have sensitive parts of ourselves, but to glide through life successfully, we have to find ways to look at the situation objectively and move on.
Actions you can start taking today to stop taking things personally
1. Question the thinking or the source
I used to have a sponsor, who after hearing me tell a story would ask, “How much of what you just told me do you know is 100% true?” The question would stop me in my tracks because it made me realize I have the ability to make up stories and believe them. When I’m going nuts about something, the first thing I must ask myself is, where is this thinking coming from? A healthy place, or a paranoid fearful place? The second thing I consider is, what is the source of this information or feeling. Often, doing this reality check will help calm the mind.
2. Don’t jump to conclusions
Often my first thought is the wrong thought. I’ve learned that about myself over the years. That’s why I also have to pause and think about whether I have made assumptions that are not correct. This is part two of the reality check. Letting go of crazy ideas that might seem real to me but have no basis in reality. It’s also crucial to remember we can’t know what’s in others’ heads and hearts so don’t assume you know unless they’ve told you.
3. Stop caring what other people think – you’re giving away your power
You’re taught very early on in recovery that what other people think of you is none of your business. This is a great way to go about life because we can’t control what other people think of us so why spend time worrying about it? It is a recipe for frustration and disappointment if you want approval from the outside world.
4. Get busy and stay busy
Guess what happens when your life gets bigger and you get busier? You no longer care what people think of you. At least that’s the way the theory goes and I have some real-life experience with this. When your mind is full of your own life, it doesn’t wander to wondering what other people think about it. At least, not often.
5. Pick your battles – let things go
Sometimes keeping your sanity is as simple as deciding to let something go. Maybe someone said something that did offend you but doing something about it would make a bigger issue. Sometimes you lose a fight and feel bad but it is what it is. Occasionally our ego is best served by letting something go and moving on. Pick your battles and make a change when it can be effective.
6. Build your self-confidence
This should really be number one. The best defense against taking things personally is having a solid sense of self-esteem. When you feel good about yourself and confident in your actions, you don’t question everything constantly. Even when things do go wrong, there’s often a healthy reaction when you’re feeling strong and confident.
7. Never stoop to anyone’s level
OK, from to time things happen that suck. Maybe they are meant to offend, maybe someone was just thoughtless, but nevertheless, feelings are hurt. This is the time to keep your head up and lose the desire for payback. The best revenge is a good life, not responding to the bad actions of another person. When someone means to hurt your feelings, put your head up and move on. You’ll be better for it.
In The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz, the second agreement is “Don’t take anything personally.” Here’s a quote from the book:
“Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds…Taking things personally makes you easy prey for these predators, the black magicians. They can hook you easily with one little opinion and feed you whatever poison they want, and because you take it personally, you eat it up….”
Here are a few more insights from Don Ruiz:
“Don’t take anything personally because by taking things personally you set yourself up to suffer for nothing.”
“Even if others lie to you, it is okay. They are lying to you because they are afraid.“
“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.”
“The whole world can gossip about you, and if you don’t take it personally you are immune.”
“When you don’t take the emotional poison, it becomes even worse in the sender, but not in you.”
Lindsey Glass is the co-founder of Reach Out Recovery. Her 2016 ASAM Media Award winning documentary, The Secret World Of Recovery, has helped to lift the stigma from addiction and recovery and is used in recovery programs nationwide to show what life is like on the other side of addiction. Lindsey's teen prevention documentary, The Silent Majority, was distributed to PBS stations nationwide by American Public Television in 2014-15. Lindsey has written dozens of popular articles on recovery. She is a recovery advocate and frequent keynote speaker. Lindsey is the author of 100 Tips for Growing Up, My 20 Years of Recovery, 2019. Before focusing on recovery, Lindsey was a TV and screenwriter. She has worked in publishing, web development, and marketing.