Don’t take this personally, but…

By Haven Lindsey  in  blog  on  07.25.2013

Have you ever said that to someone? Or something similar? Have you ever experienced it being said to you? I have on both accounts. This past week while working with someone who was remarkably in touch with her aggressive side I actually heard myself commenting, “No worries, I’m not taking it personally”. And that was partially true, but what is closer to the truth is the fact that I wasn’t taking offense to her boorish behavior; frankly I was entertained by how she chose to communicate and found myself a bit giggly.

The thing is…we’re a bit off base with this overused and under-thought phrase of taking something personally. Of course we are going to absorb and take in circumstances, situations, comments, behaviors and our world, personally. We are people and chances are good if you are reading this you are one of them.

According to Martha Stout, the author of ‘The Sociopath Next Door’, for every 25 people, 1 is a sociopath. These are people who do not take things personally; the rest of us do. It’s part of the human condition. We take in the world around us and we interpret it, we judge and while we don’t like to admit it, we do and it’s ok; it’s how we perform, how we live, why we laugh, cry and feel. It’s why we have opinions.

I write because I take things personally. I have something to say, I have a voice, a personality.  I feel, I think, I laugh and cry, I hurt and feel exposed, vulnerable, confident and competent. I have opinions and I like being around others who do too; their opinions don’t have to coincide with mine but not having an opinion is insight into what Jerry Seinfeld would say, “There’s less”. Taking things personally is what humans do and we need to do more of it; to allow ourselves to touch that vulnerable, yet resilient, humanity that resides within us because that is what makes us stronger and more interesting, vivacious individuals.

We know not everyone allows themselves to feel or travel deeply into the depths of thoughts and feelings. It hurts sometimes; it can be uncomfortable and new. New often equates to change, which for some of us can be intimidating. But even the most hardened, emotionally unavailable people perceive their world personally (other than the sociopaths).  It’s why we feel good when a baby smiles at us – we’ve taken that personally – that smile has made us feel good and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s why we get angry – otherwise everyone would be angry at the same individuals. When someone “pushes your buttons” you’ve taken offense.

Consider this: Have you ever wondered why you respond with anger when someone else doesn’t…or cry at something that doesn’t move another person to tears…or belly laugh out loud when someone else doesn’t crack a smile? These are all personal reactions. Humans take things personally, it’s what makes us human and thankfully we do, otherwise our lives would merely consist of existing in robotic ways rather than the experience of highs and lows, tears from sadness and tears from happiness.

With deep respect to the thousands of authors, therapists and professionals who have sold us this bill of ‘don’t take things personally’ goods, I agree with the premise. The message has not escaped me. ‘The Four Agreements’ is one of my favorite books. My point is simply this: let’s alter that phrase to using the word offense instead (“don’t take offense”) because that’s more accurate. When we take offense or make someone else’s actions all about ourselves, we’ve lost sight of our ability to take responsibility for our feelings and in some situations we rationalize our fear, anger, insecurities or actions. Sometimes we lose our ability to feel empathy or compassion because we’ve blamed someone else for taking something personally when in fact, we’ve taken offense and then rationalized our reaction!

Based on Martha Stout’s research, if we know 25 people, we know 1 sociopath; a sociopath is not necessarily the evil creature depicted in the cinema. They are emotionally absent people who don’t feel like the rest of us. I’ve known more than one of these individuals and there is an ice-cube component to them that freezes them out from taking things personally; it’s often well-disguised by charm and/or martyrdom, they love self-pity and are skilled at deception.

My point is that the rest of us will take things personally because that quality is what differentiates us from animals. And it’s ok. What I’d like to see, hear, read and say…is the more accurate version…“No worries, I’m not taking offense”.

For the 24 of the 25 of you, thanks for taking it personally because if you have any sort of reaction or opinion to the words I’ve written, you’ve taken it personally. Congratulations, you’re human!

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven

Coming Soon
The “J” Word…Why even allowing it into your mind-stream is toxic
Traveling back in time in Granddaddy’s van
Possibility and Uncertainty: bound by commonality in the dictionary, so why are we afraid of one of them?


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