A practical course in 5 parts
This is an experiment based on an idea from Eileen. Taking things personally is something that we all do and at times it really clouds our sense of peace, our relations to others and everyone’s quality of life. This is a practical course in 5 parts, looking at the most important elements of taking things personally, with some exercise to practice.
Yes,inevitably we take things personally. Sometimes it’s a careless phrase, an unmindful word or even a look or a gesture that set things off and we go into the dreaded state of being annoyed, unsure about ourself, doubtful or even angry. Our ego rattled, our self-esteem shattered….so why do we take things personally to begin with ?
Our sense of self – the ego, the little me – is not a structure or a thing. It is a process, based on the idea that we have to protect our ” separate self.”
What do I mean by that ?
When we grow up, we gradually learn that our needs for food,warmth, safety and social interaction is provided for by our caregivers. Soon we understand that we are dependent on them. From early on we believe, based on our experience, that there must be a “me” and then there is an “other”, who seems to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. However, we also experience at times that the other is sometimes not so reliable or does not always care for our needs in a predictable and satisfactory way. In fact, sometimes the other will fail us, leave us alone, let us go hungry or even cause us pain or hurt. This is the moment we realize that our personal self appears to be vulnerable and in need of protection. So we go on to spend our lives, trying to defend what we perceive as a vulnerable self.
When we grow up, at some point in time we start to sense the expectations of others and we internalize them, making them into our own. We want to please the other, making sure that we do everything we can to not disappoint them. We create a certain image of ourselves to live up to and we do everything to strengthen it. Doing this is the means of keeping us feeling secure and content. It is the expression of ” If I only can be good enough, then I will be safe, happy and content”. Of course, this is life – and things will go wrong. So whenever we see something that does not fit into the image we have built of ourselves, we will go into resistance to defend it.
This is what taking things personally is all about. It starts with the instinctual drive to protect our own physical form, but it soon expands into protecting the illusionary self – or the image we have created about ourselves. While it is perfectly sane to protect our body from danger, it is really pointless to protect the illusion we have about oursleves.
And herein lies the difference. One is about physical safety, the other one is about a false sense of security, by supporting the illusion of an imaginary self.
So we will take things personal that touch a weak spot in us. Maybe we feel insecure and need recognition, maybe we feel inadequate, so we look for approval, or maybe we feel overwhelmed and look for support. Words are always neutral, however intentions may be negative or harmful at times – but in general there is no reason to feel threatened or insulted by the words or action of others. If we do, it points to the expectations we have about ourselves – and others.
What can we do to finally let go of the debilitating habit of taking things personal ?
The first step is simply to acknowledge, that we feel vulnerable in certain situations and react with insult or hurt. The very first step in all of this is to observe oneself and understand when we go into resistance – and what triggers it.
It is one thing to know and observe what is happening in terms of our own thinking, but it is quite another to go after the corresponding feeling in your body, which has an integral part in maintaining and perpetuating the emotional reaction.
The following exercise will help to understand the mind-body connection when we take something personal.