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Don’t Take “IT” Personally (It’s Not About Me; It’s Not About You)

July 26, 2010

Today I’m diving into Don Miguel Ruiz’ second agreement, “Don’t Take It Personally.” I know, that’s easier said than done, but do we must if we are to be, as my friend Wilma Ham says, “Love In Action.”

Has someone said something to you that you took personally? I’m sure you have…I know have…

“I hate you!” screamed my youngest daughter.

“Why can’t you just leave me alone?” she continued.

“You can’t make me….I’ll  go live with dad…” the final nail in the coffin. She might as well have pulled out my heart.

My daughter pushed every button, plucked every string, and sucked me into her turmoil, her dream, her reality. Wasn’t difficult…my reality was full of guilt and she knew exactly how to play me like a Stradivarius. She hated me and I took it personally. She wanted to be left alone and I took it personally. She threatened to move out and live with her dad and I took it personally.

Ruiz states, “Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about “me.”

Ouch.

What did I do that was so wrong? Was I such an awful mom? Why was she doing this to ME? Why was she being so mean to ME?

Why oh why did I make the drama all about me?

For three years my daughter and I lived in a twisted relationship made out of brittle, fragile eggshells. We were both hurt people causing hurt to each other.

Ruiz writes that “when we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”

Caught red handed. Yes…that was my daughter trying to impose her painful world on me and that was me trying to impose my painful world on her…except…I was the adult, the parent…and after three years of our very dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, I had to find a way to break free of the pattern.

In hindsight, it’s easy for me to dissect the mess we got ourselves in. I know my daughter was very angry with her father and she was afraid to get angry with him, afraid that he would completely reject her because she saw him completely reject me and our marriage. He left. He walked out. She took her anger out on me and it didn’t help that she was in the throes of her “mean”-ager years. Ah yes, surviving teenage girls between 16-18….It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure (and I can say that, because I was once a mean-ager, I mean teenager…)

Not only was SHE angry but I was holding onto the most gigantic grudge that I’ve ever had in my life and it was polluting both our lives. I took everything my ex-husband said and did during our divorce personally. I took my daughter’s behavior personally. There was so much black magic running amok in my little fractured family that I look back and thank my lucky stars that we made it out alive.

Right after my divorce (and during it) I took just about everything personally and I was angry all the time. I was one of those people, who Eckhart Tolle describes, “as someone always waiting for the next thing to react against, to feel annoyed or angry about.” And it never took me too long to find that next thing to piss me off.

What on earth was I teaching my daughter? Wasn’t she doing the same thing I was?  Just waiting for the next thing to piss her off…take out the trash, clean your room, and scrape off your plate…

If I was confused, lost, and taking everything personally…if I was adrift, un-eased, anxious, restless, and dissatisfied, my daughter and her teenager brain was even more so. She seemed locked in a permanent state of negativity and brutal anger.

We were eating each other’s emotional garbage. At the very least, I was eating hers and her garbage targeted my guilt with pin point accuracy.

Things that started out small became blown way out of proportion. Taking out the trash became World War III.  As the parent, I demanded to be right and make her wrong. As the child she had to have the last word, to be right – and she used manipulative tactics that I well remember as a child of divorce. We both wanted to be right. We both had to make each other WRONG. Neither one of us stopped long enough to just be.  In fact, my daughter and I had a three year agreement to “help each other suffer.”

According to Ruiz, “Humans are addicted to suffering at different levels and to different degrees, and we support each other in maintaining these addictions. HUMANS AGREE TO HELP EACH OTHER SUFFER. Can you think of who YOU are helping to suffer? And WHO is helping you suffer?

I am blessed to have the right people enter my life just when I need them the most. During this difficult time with my daughter, two friends wise in Buddhist philosophy taught me “non-reaction.’ And The Four Agreements taught me that my daughter’s behavior was not because of me. She was acting out her issues and they had nothing to do with me. With this awareness, I no longer felt compelled to react to her “I hate you’s” and “I’m moving to Dad’s” as if it was about me.

What happened? I stopped taking what my daughter did personally. I stopped reacting to her behavior that made me part of it. In fact, one day in late spring of 2006, when she was 18,  she threatened to move to her dad’s for the last time. I told her to be out by 3PM. It was the hardest thing I ever did, but if we were going to do life differently, it had to start somewhere…and that somewhere was with me.  I was calm, I was at peace, and I was dispassionate in my response. My daughter could no longer pluck my strings the way she used to because I decided to see past her anger and see the light she forgot she had. As Don Miguel says, I had to “trust myself to make responsible choices.” As she was 18, I no longer felt the need to be responsible for her choices. Was it a rude awakening for her? You betcha. And her learning continued as she discovered six months later that what worked for three years with me did NOT work with her dad.

Christina Doing What She Loves….

My daughter and I began our journey to heal our relationship. She is 22 years old now, traveling and working in a different part of the country. She’s responsible for her life and she no longer blames either her dad or me for the collapse of her family bubble when she was 15. It happened. She accepts what is so…and has learned to embrace the new lives her parents have carved out for themselves. She knows that we both love her for what she is, a child of God. And I have learned to not take what my daughter thinks, says, or does personally. I can love her with all my heart and not get caught in the trap of making her issues my issues. And vice versa. We’re no longer caught in the trap of feeding off each other’s suffering.

This article first appeared on my July 14th broadcast of Wise Advice

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Wouldn’t it be cool if you could learn how to stop agreeing to help other people suffer and how to stop agreeing with others to help you suffer? If you live in New England and want to spend a day with me and my workshop co-leader, Teresa Thompson, send us your contact information (name, email, phone number) to infiniteyogaandreiki@gmail.com and you’ll be entered to win a spot at our workshop on August 7, 2010. The lucky winner will be announced on August 2, 2010!

And if you don’t live in our area, we’re launching our online learning center! Our first course starts August 16, 2010 and you can learn more about it at IYR’s Re-Creating U! Just click on our “online course schedule”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2010 11:45 pm

    Peggy, this is so beautifully written and shared. What a difference it would make in our lives if we all had this knowledge about NOT taking it personal. Imagine!!!!!
    What a difference it would make to the people we love most.
    Your course will rock and what a great learning you are offering.
    There is no excuse really to plod along pulling all that negativity towards you when there is now so much on offer to do things differently, to be more healthier and more productive to create a happy life, is there?
    Much love for such generous sharing of such wisdom, xox Wilma

  2. August 2, 2010 8:33 pm

    Hi Peggy .. I certainly was like that .. and probably continued it into adult hood – having no husband – well one that didn’t last long .. I kicked him out ..thank goodness .. but getting upset and angry because things didn’t go your way is just not on ..

    I think I must have changed! having just moved with no help from family, had to visit Mum in hospital for two entries .. I hope she gets out tomorrow .. and no place to move into – things didn’t work out – so challenges there .. but not one cross word have I had .. nor am I stressed .. so perhaps once settlement comes in a month or two I can move on with this new “don’t take it personally .. ” attitude ..

    Thank goodness for books out there .. and now the blogging community with its friends and excellent advice .. we can all learn things .. have a good week .. Hilary

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