“Letting go of taking things personally” 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. ” Letting go of taking things personally” is a practical course in 5 parts, looking at the most important elements of taking things personally, with some exercises to put in practice.
Let us quickly review what we have covered so far.
In the first part we looked at the mechanism of ego-formation, which is a process designed to protect the interest of the ego in terms of keeping us alive and well. What is an inherent capability of any sentient being to foster survival, has been bit by bit co-opted by the egoic mind, in terms of building and protecting an image of ourselves, that is based on erroneous thoughts. These thoughts have their root in early experiences and are inevitably a variation of ” I am not enough”.
In the second part we looked in detail at the cognitive process of judging. A judgement is an evaluation of evidence based on knowledge. So that means, we are always referencing and comparing to something we know, have learned, or are identified with. Wile judging itself is not a problem ( in fact, we need it to navigate safely through life), it does not pay us good service, when used to protect our “imaginary self”. This construct is based on a variety of inherited and learned beliefs, identities we have assumed growing up and being influenced by a particular cultural, religious and social value system. On top of it, we add on those beliefs that we form about ourselves, based on our experiences. Real or perceived traumatic experiences at an early age, have a tendency to form a belief system regarding our own personality. We may believe we are not good enough, at fault or somehow inadequate – and develop compensatory reactions and thoughts based on this. We can say, this is the baggage we receive to walk through this life and we use our judgement to protect what we believe is ours to carry around in this world.
At this point in time we have to explore an emotion that is fundamental in terms of taking things personally and this is fear. Fear is a strong primary emotion and it is what makes us freeze, paralyzed and feeling terrified by a sense of getting overpowered. Fear is there to protect us. It makes us shy away from dangerous situations, the unknown or the dark. Again, what is a tool built into the physical body for the purpose of survival, is co-opted by the ego, to protect the false image it has built of itself.
Fear translates physically into contraction and withdrawal. It is the feeling that says.”don’t go there…there will be dragons…”. There may be situations this warning is appropriate, but there may be many, many other occasions, the reason for a fearful reaction is purely imaginary. And by the way – fear does not always feel like anxiousness – it can also be boredom, low energy, nervousness, dread, irritation, tension, physical symptoms and it may be part of many other mixed emotions.
So what has fear to do with taking things personally ?
Well, just imagine someone is loving you, praising you, supporting you, motivating you, telling you, how good you are and how good a job you do. Are you taking this feedback personally ? Well, of course you do – gladly and in full acceptance.
And here you have the operative – you take on what is considered to be positive feedback with an attitude of full acceptance. You open your heart, you are loving to hear it and there is no need for the ego to close up, because it is hearing, what is supporting it’s idea of itself.
However, imagine the other situation – someone is criticizing you, or treating you unfairly. What happens – the integrity of the ego feels suddenly vulnerable and literally closes down. Harsh words frighten to destroy the illusion of an indestructible self, they remind us of feeling so inadequate, deep inside. They remind us of feeling overwhelmed, overpowered – and in danger. They make us feel terrified and taking things “personally”, make us want to protect ourselves. So we go into resistance and defense mode. We literally close up, and this is what hurts so much – we feel the separation, and the fear that goes along with it.
Everyone will react differently, based on this reaction. Some will feel anger, annoyance or hostility. Others may feel sorrow, guilt, unhappiness or disappointment.But the primary reaction underlying all other emotions is the one of fear. Fear the henchman of the ego, that keeps us in the dream.
So know this – at the bottom of a reaction to take things personally sits a fear, anxiously protecting you from looking at what makes you feel vulnerable. Like a big watch dog, fear is preventing you to go near this unsettling feeling of nor being enough , vulnerable or feeling unprotected.
So can you see now how it is all coming to together ? Based on specific experiences and the attempt to compensate disturbing emotional experiences, that may go along with it, be start to create conditioned reactions, very much like building a protective barrier around it. So let’s say the original thought is ” I am vulnerable” and the compensation is to try to be extra “good”, so others won’t let you down. A belief starts to grow, that if others don’t approve of your action, that this is somehow dangerous. So the ego uses the processes it has available to avert real danger: “judgement” which is a mental component, and “fear” which is the emotional part.
The following exercise will help you, to discover fear, protecting the false beliefs, you may have about yourself.