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Life 101: It’s not always about you

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Columnist Linda Arnold discusses the concept of personal importance and mental health in the time of COVID-19. PHOTO BY TOTAL SHAPE ON UNSPLASH

By Linda Arnold EBS CONTRIBUTOR

How many times does the voice in your head cause you to second guess yourself? And then you end up replaying a situation over and over, agonizing over it. In these uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic, wires can definitely get crossed! Well, here’s a news flash: Nothing other people do is about you. It’s about them.

It’s a Big World

Everyone is living in their own world, within their own minds. When you take something personally, you make the assumption they know what’s going on in your world and you try to impose your world upon them. No wonder things get so convoluted!

Personal Importance

If you take things personally, chances are you’re quite sensitive to others–very caring and compassionate—you bend over backwards to create harmony. If this sounds like you or someone you know, you may find it ironic that one of the theories behind this behavior is that of personal importance.

Personal importance, or taking things too personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness, according to author Don Miguel Ruiz. If you have these tendencies, you’d likely never consider yourself selfish. Quite the contrary, you go out of your way to make others happy.

Even when someone insults you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do and the opinions they give are in accordance with their own background programming and the drama that’s going on in their world. 

This is not to say that you have to “take it” and become a doormat. On the contrary,  be sure to set healthy boundaries and stick with them. Just don’t ruminate for so long over everything.

What Rings True?

This reminds me of a seminar exercise years ago that’s still very vivid in my mind. The instructor had us line up and then, standing in front of each participant, said things like, “Anna, you’re fat,” and “Stephanie, you’re stupid.” The instructor purposely picked people who were the opposite of these characteristics. Anna probably weighed 95 pounds, and Stephanie had advanced educational degrees. So, the comments didn’t “ring true” for them.

Taking the Poison

On the other hand, if you hold a particular belief inside, someone else’s comment may push one of your buttons. “How does he know? Can everyone else see how incompetent I am?”

You take it personally because, on some level (even subconsciously), you believe what was said.  Another way of looking at the situation is to remind yourself that the other person is dealing with his or her own feelings, beliefs and insecurities. It’s not about YOU. It’s about THEM. Taking things personally makes you easy prey. If you don’t take it personally though, you start to build your immunities.

Breaking the Cycle

Rather than allowing yourself to stew, feel wounded or retaliate, try approaching the situation with a neutral question, “Hmmm … I wonder why he hasn’t returned my email. There must be a reason. Maybe he’s sick or out of town.”

I’ve actually experienced these exact responses. Once, when I thought I’d been slighted in a business situation, I learned the CEO was out of the country. I never even thought to consider that possibility.

What if the boss walks past you and doesn’t speak? Do you immediately think you’ve done something wrong? Or do you wonder if something is wrong in his or her life? Depending on your mindset, your thoughts could fall into these categories:

  1. “The boss sure seems upset with me. What have I done wrong?”
  2. “The boss must be having a bad day. I wonder what’s going wrong in his/her life.”

Releasing Yourself

As you practice not taking things personally, you won’t feel the strong need to seek approval from others. You’ll learn to trust yourself and value your own opinion more and that will help you break free from the prison of approval addiction. Depending upon the situation, you may need to set the record straight. However, you’ll be doing it from a position of strength rather than weakness.

If this topic is a bit raw for you, take comfort in knowing it’s a huge problem for many people.  The more you practice those neutral responses, the better you’ll be at inoculating yourself. Remember … it’s not always about you. 

Linda Arnold is a syndicated columnist, psychological counselor and Founder of a multistate marketing company. Reader comments are welcome at linda@lindaarnold.org  or visit www.lindaarnold.org for more information on her books.

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