It’s Not Personal

I do that thing you’re not supposed to do and take many things personally. If someone doesn’t call me back, my mind assumes it’s because they don’t want to be friends anymore. If a new person in my life doesn’t respond to a text message, it’s because they secretly hate me. As I chatted about this with one of my soul sisters she said, “Even if someone hates you, it’s not personal.”

Um, excuse me? She reminded me that people are a complex mix of preferences, past experiences, and trauma such that even something that feels intensely personal like hatred isn’t actually personal. When she said that my brain short-circuited a little so I asked her to repeat it, which she did.

I’m someone who learns by example, even if it’s through language. An example that came to mind was blanket hatred. For instance, if someone says they hate dogs, is that really something personal? How can they hate all dogs? Is it because they were bitten as a child? Did they live next door to a dog that barked incessantly? With this example, it’s obvious the hatred of dogs isn’t personal because the person isn’t bothering to see each dog as an individual. They’re extrapolating from past experiences.


Look at this face! How could hatred be personal? Photo by Justin Veenema on Unsplash

It’s a little harder for me to apply this principle to humans but the questions are similar. If someone hates me, do I remind them of their mother, with whom they have a terrible relationship? Am I too similar to their older brother who was a bully? That’s not really about me then, is it? It’s about the other person and their previous relationships. This is exactly what Don Miguel Ruiz writes about in his book The Four Agreements, a book about personal freedom. The second agreement is, “Don’t take anything personally” and he says:

“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally … Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.

“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.”

We are all interfacing with the world in our own minds. Information is coming into each mind but it’s not filtering in the same way. Essentially, we all live in our own little worlds. I don’t know what’s going on for someone else because they’re living in their world and I’m living in mine. I like to pretend I know what’s happening in someone else’s world by making assumptions and taking things personally, but I know only a smidgen of what’s going on for them.

Have I suddenly stopped taking things personally after one conversation with one friend? Of course not but I feel a little better now. I’m more at peace with other people maybe not wanting to be friends or secretly hating me because instead of jumping to make it about me, I’m pausing. I’m reminding myself it’s not about me. It’s not personal even when it feels personal. And that, I think, is progress.

I dream of a world where we remember we’re all living inside our own minds, creating stories and characters. A world where we understand people are complex and come with their own histories that we often know nothing about. A world where we realize even if something feels personal, it’s not.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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