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I may very well be pissing off the personal development Gods today, but bear with me.

If you dabble in self-help at all, you’ve probably heard the advice of not taking things personally. If you’re new to this advice or need some clarification, what the message is saying is: If you take the words and actions of others personally, it’s easy to fall into the victim role, spend your life chasing approval from others, and just generally making everything about you when it isn’t. I totally get that and agree.

But, here’s what I don’t like and what I take issue with. People hear this advice and look at it as being very black or white. Either we don’t take things personally at all and feel good about ourselves, or we do take things personally and live in this hellfire and brimstone world of damnation where we are victims and prey to others. Yes, that was dramatic, but sometimes self-help can be make people feel like YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.

And when we hear small pieces of advice like “don’t take things personally” and then we DO take things personally, we feel like we’re doing it all wrong and we put the blame all on ourselves. I’m not saying the responsibility has to 100 percent go on the other person, but by looking at this from an all-or-nothing standpoint, self blame can be the byproduct which no one needs.

I’ve had  a couple of podcast guests talk about something called “thought work”, and in a nutshell it’s about knowing that it’s not what people say or do to us or even what circumstances we’re in that create our feelings, it’s what our thoughts are that actually create our feelings– so you can pretty much change any feeling by changing your thoughts. I even wrote a chapter about it in my book. And to some small degree I do think this is the case. However…I’ve thought more and more about this and heard people struggling with this so I feel the need to talk about it. Let me just read some quotes and give you my take here…

(And before I do this let me just say: everything I say and write about is my own opinion, it’s not gospel. I teach from my experiences (and training too), but they are not absolute.)

“But it is not what I am saying that is hurting you; it is that you have wounds that I touch by what I have said. You are hurting yourself.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz

Um, pretty sure it’s what you’re saying that is hurting. If this was a literal wound, and you stick a fiery fork in it, it’s gonna hurt. You wouldn’t blame the person for having the wound, right?

Mr. Ruiz also says, “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. But if you do not take it personally, you are immune in the middle of hell. Immunity in the middle of hell is the gift of this agreement.”

I think this is ideal. I mean, really ideal. Someone insults us or just being a plain a-hole, and we’re supposed to think, “Hmph. They’re a jerk! This has nothing to do with me. I’m just going to go about my business, keep a smile on my face and think nothing of it”.

No one lives in that world. And if they do, they are on some awesome drugs.

In all seriousness, I do think there are some people that can do that. And these people are deeply spiritual, they are deeply connected to Source, they live and breathe work on themselves, and practice this consistently.

But, that’s just not the real world and 95% of you listening to this and reading it. And this, I know, might sound counter-intuitive to what I teach. So, here’s how I want to break this down and further explain how this concept might help you.

In defense of this advice, Don Miguel Ruiz was interviewed by Ellen Degeneres and she asks him specifically about this, and he says: “We take things personally because it's a habit. Not taking anything personally does not mean that you will not have a reaction or you will not take action. But when you take action you have clarity, you know exactly what you want. When you take things personally, you do things you don't want to do, say things you don't want to say, because emotions are controlling you. When you have clarity it is easier to make choices.”

Really I think the problem–and perhaps my point– is people read the inspirational memes that are short and to the point, and they don’t know the ins and outs of what the tool really is or looks like in a practical way. I do love his explanation here. I want to add that we will take things personally, just because we’re human and he’s right, it’s a habit. But, we don’t have to let those things destroy us. We don’t have to make them mean more things about us. I talk a lot about the inner-critic and when we continuously take things personally, we give fuel to that inner-critic.

So, to summarize:

  • Know when you’re taking things personally. Just be aware.

  • When you do, know you’re human.

  • Be aware what you’re letting that do to you and what else you’re making it mean about you. In other words, what are the stories that get made up when you start taking things personally?


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