Quote: “I invite you to trust the process. Trust the design that life has created, where it’s impossible that we do not grow if we have within us a deep willingness to be more and more honest with ourselves about our experience.”
I enjoy the act, or art, of writing, where I have the opportunity to invite simplicity to human challenges that often seem wildly confusing, painful, and in the way of what we’d like to experience. However, in sharing such things, I cannot ignore the raw reality of being human. My intention is not to suggest that it should be simple for you, or that if you’re deeply struggling, you’re somehow “just not getting it.”
As we encounter painful emotions, it’s common for the mind to feel quite lost, where things become dramatically unclear and we find it difficult to even think straight. I have immense compassion for this space, while knowing in many cases it just takes time for such things to move and come back to a space of sanity.
In the spirit of that, what I’m attempting to communicate in this disclaimer is that if you’re deeply struggling with taking things personally, I’m sorry, and I understand how difficult that can be. If you find this exploration below helpful, then wonderful; if not, then that’s perfectly fine as well. I hope you can find that place of sanity, where things become clearer, and you can see that what you are is fundamentally whole, complete, and loved.
One of my favorite “holy shit” moments was the realization of how deeply tied together my personal struggle through life was – with my unconscious tendency to take everything so damn personally. I was, for a while, blinded to this inescapable truth. My assumption, of course, even in relationships, was that the struggle was caused by external factors, or by what the other person was or was not doing, totally oblivious to the reality of my self-created torment.
It can be quite the shock to realize this. To realize that the problem wasn’t in the other person, but rather the problem was stemming from a massive confusion within what I am, about how this life and being human thing actually works.
The topic of “taking things personally” is a far-reaching one that goes beyond our personal and/or intimate relationships, and touches our relationship with everything; even with how we relate to Life as a whole. So much so, it could be said that our tendency to “take things personally” is at the root of all our suffering and our emotional disturbances.
I love to observe this in my personal life, even in the throes of how painful it can be. There’s always this moment of profound realization where my eyes open, and I see that I’m lost in a dream. A dream that thinks and assumes that what the other person is saying or doing, or not doing, somehow means something painful about me.
If I don’t catch this, if I’m not aware, I’ll find myself spiraling into an imaginary world that ultimately ends up rejecting the other person; pushing them away. This is super curious because, in the confusion about what’s happening, I end up doing the opposite of the thing that could actually help. I push them away when actually, it’s the perfect time to draw myself nearer to them and touch upon a deeper intimacy that facilitates a more authentic connection.
This is why it’s so important. Important to be still and heart-fully examine the reality of what’s happening and discover an openness within what I am to grow from this experience; rather than hiding from it. Of course, this is where growth happens. And, it can be said, all growth is deeply connected to some form of healing this tendency to take things personally.
The intention in this Monday inSight Letter is to “briefly” outline what might be considered to be the 7 Keys to Go Beyond “Taking Things Personally” in Relationships.
Of course, it’s subjects like this that we dive more deeply into, in our HeartBased.io Deep Diver’s (paid) Community and Group Training. If you deeply resonate with my approach in addressing such challenges as this, then it’s likely that the Deep Divers Community could be perfect for you when it comes to making focused and meaningful progress.
Maybe you feel direct support from myself would be beneficial, where I assist you directly in understanding how your unique situation can be met in a more lovingly productive and valuable way. Yes, we can explore that. Feel free to answer these 3 questions, and we can explore the opportunity of taking a meaningful journey together.
7 Keys to Go Beyond “Taking Things Personally”
- Understand the Mechanism
- Evaluate the Painful Impact
- Visualize the Growth Opportunity
- Self Awareness of Triggers
- Transparent Communication
- Conscious Practice & Participation
- Emotional Self-Accountability
Now I will write a brief overview of each key. Please understand, though, it feels like there are 10 books within me that could write endlessly about this. There’s so much that could be said, and could be helpful in having a deeper understanding. Surely, this brief overview could only be considered as a starting point. Hopefully, you’ll find some sense of direction or insight that might help you see things a little more clearly.
1. Understand the Mechanism
The mechanism of taking things personally stems from our attempts to “find ourselves” in the world. We are essentially on a constant quest to look for our self-identity in what appears to be happening “out there” (the world). Naturally, this comes from the ancient question of “who am I?” If we are asking that question, and we think the answer can be found “out there,” then by default, when things happen, we follow up with the question of:
- “What does this mean about me?”
It can be a fun and curious exercise to watch just how much you’re asking that question without even realizing it. This, as mentioned, is the attempt to take things personally. We assume what happens or doesn’t happen inherently means something about us, but only because we are looking to it to tell us something about ourselves.
Can you see how “looking for yourself in the world” automatically translates to taking things personally?
The deeper question here is:
- “What does it mean about you, other than what you imagine it means about you?”
The fundamental challenge here isn’t that you’re trying to find yourself in the world or even in other people. The challenge is rooted in trying to find yourself in the mind. Everything we encounter in the world or in other people is really (in many ways) to encounter your thoughts about those things. Then, we assume that our thoughts about those things are those things. It’s like thinking your thinking exists outside your thinking.
The meaning we “think” we find is not a meaning that’s actually there. Rather, it’s a meaning we create. The meaning you find isn’t to find what it means about you. Rather, the meaning you find shows you what you already believe about yourself.
2. Evaluate the Painful Impact
The painful impact of taking things personally will inevitably damage every relationship in some way. Or, maybe we can say… it creates a gap that prevents us from experiencing a more meaningful and joyful depth of intimacy.
Personal transformation of any kind, or making meaningful progress, always happens because we recognize the damage being done in our current state. It’s like we realize how much love, freedom, or joy we are denying ourselves because we are hiding from something deeply important; deeply true.
The more honest we can get with ourselves about this pain, about how true it is that we are creating the experience, then finally “doing something about it” becomes more urgent. It becomes a priority. There is the realization that there’s no other way out, and the continual hiding from it will only make it worse.
This is often why transformation doesn’t happen, or progress isn’t made because we are not being honest about the pain. We are hiding behind our stories about it being someone else’s fault or hiding behind phrases like, “oh, that’s just the way it is.”
As it relates to evaluating the painful impact of taking things personally, here are 7 questions to consider.
- How often do the actions or words of other people I care about create feelings of irritation, sadness, or anger within me?
- How often do I “close down” because of what I think other people are doing, not doing, saying, or not saying?
- How much of my emotional hurt (present or buried within me) is because of what other people have done in my past?
- How much time (energy) do I spend thinking about the words and actions of other people while wishing, in some way, it was different?
- How often do I experience the energy or emotion of resentment, and how did/does that distract me from being focused on growing and enjoying my life?
- In my intimate relationships, how often do I interpret their words and actions to mean that I’m not enough?
- In my intimate relationships, how often do I push him/her away because I’m feeling inadequate?
I get that, for some, it may be difficult to see how all of these questions relate to “taking things personally.” However, they all do, in a very concrete way. So much to say, in the absence of taking things personally, the things above wouldn’t be a problem at all.
3. Visualize the Growth Opportunity
After I self-compassionately examine the pain caused by taking things personally, it begins to make obvious what my experience might be if I didn’t take things personally. Or, at least, reduced my tendency to take certain things personally.
Again, as with the natural flow of any transformation, first we acknowledge the pain and damage, and then we make clearer the outcome and opportunity we’d like to move into – or allow. Without such clarity, in seeing what’s realistically possible, we won’t have any direction of focus, or any “really good reason” for moving through the inevitable challenges.
What we ultimately need to see is just how important this is. Not only because we want to “be happier”, but also because it’s deeply true, and because the pain is not only infecting our experience, but that pain bleeds into the experience of those we care about. Maybe in one way, we see it as a deep responsibility and duty to make this a priority.
- What would your experience look like, day to day or year by year, if you dramatically reduced your tendency to taking things personally?
Here is a list of 7 profound personal benefits I’ve experienced with seeing beyond the illusion of taking things personally.
- I’m able to hold a genuine space of love and compassion for people in my life, without being overly triggered. This has allowed me to contribute to their growth process, allowing them to feel safe, and deepening my heart-connection with them.
- I’ve become much less reactionary to things that happen in life and the things people do and say. My attitude is much more about curiosity, rather than defensiveness. This has made me much more available to receive insights about myself, others, and life; accelerating my growth.
- People in my life have learned that I’m not quick to take things personally, so they feel safe in sharing openly with me. They feel my presence is a gift to them, where they don’t have to feel guarded, and they can just be honest.
- I’m able to hold space for the emotions that pass through me (and others), without feeling attacked by them. This helps immensely with allowing emotions to flow, rather than feeling as if I’m in a constant battle. There doesn’t need to be a fight, there is more of an ease that can gently breathe through it.
- When I do take things personally, I don’t have to… “take that” personally. This is like not judging myself for when I do take things personally. It becomes a teaching moment, rather than more evidence of how messed up I am. In this, I welcome the experience of taking things personally if it happens because it’s an opportunity to learn and grow.
- I’m much more open to be vulnerable with those close to me, which facilitates a deeper intimacy and connection. This is because I’m not so afraid of their reaction (I don’t take it personally). This openness to be vulnerable is like a deep self-acceptance that just allows myself to be real. I can release the burden of constantly trying to be something I’m not because I’m afraid of what other people might think.
- I’m so much less afraid of what will happen or won’t happen and much more open to the mystery of the unknown. In the absence of such fears, I’m able to be much more present and engage in the life I’m living now, which also means I’m much more available to make real and meaningful progress.
My encouragement for you is to deeply see the pain that comes with taking things personally and all the problems it seems to cause, then… truly take time to imagine what your experience might look like if you weren’t so inclined to take things personally.
Important point: This isn’t an exercise in beating yourself up; that would only be an expression of taking it personally that you take things personally. Which is also like worrying about being worried, or being afraid that you’re afraid, or being angry that you’re angry, etc. That’s a cycle that goes nowhere.
Allow this visualization exercise to be a gift to yourself, that allows you to deeply “feel” into the real-life possibility of growing beyond tiny confusions and limitations.
4. Self Awareness of Triggers
If you made a list of all the ways you take things personally, yeah, it might be a huge list and quickly become overwhelming. The good news is, we are not looking to tackle every item on a long list.
Huge progress or transformation doesn’t happen because you set out to make “huge” progress. Rather, it’s what happens naturally as we take several tiny steps that end up equally one big leap. This is why commitment and devotion are so important. What we realize is that, in the sea of ten thousand societal demands and the “to-do list” of our everyday lives, there are some things that are simply way more important.
Self-awareness, self-care, and conscious growth… definitely tops the list. Without these things as a priority, EVERYTHING else will suffer.
This reminds me so much about my journey, where I used to think there were so many other important things. This left me thinking that my heart, my awareness, my health, and my growth, were somehow last on the list. Naturally, of course, not only did my human collapse into more pain and suffering, but my relationships did as well.
A previous edition of the Monday inSight Letter series (84), called “Self Abandonment; feel the pain of it,” might be a helpful read.
The key here, with overcoming the tendency to take things personally, is becoming more self-aware of the common triggers that lead toward this undesirable experience. The more aware you are of them, then the greater your capacity to deal with them as they arise.
It’s not so much to say, “oh yeah, I know what they are.” More so, it’s about transforming our relationship with those triggers. These triggers are not enemies, they are not in your way, they are not evidence of your unworthiness. Rather, they are profound learning opportunities that are there to help you see things more clearly.
We are welcoming these triggers into our life and releasing the fearful energy that tries to conquer them, which only leads toward hiding from them.
My recommendation is to identify 3 triggers that show up regularly, and we can find some tiny steps to start learning from what they are attempting to teach us.
What is a Trigger? A trigger refers to an event, situation, or action that causes an emotional response or reaction within us. It can be something that pushes our buttons, stirs up strong emotions, or brings up past wounds and insecurities. Triggers have the power to activate deep-seated patterns and beliefs, often leading to defensive or reactive behavior.
Here are 3 example questions to help draw out what your triggers might be.
- What does my partner commonly say or do that “seems” to make me believe, think, or feel that I’m not enough – or I am unwanted?
- What do I avoid in my relationships because it brings up thoughts and feelings of not being enough?
- What common experiences have me most on edge, where it “seems” to cause me to carry around a feeling of being defensive or emotionally disturbed?
Next, choose 3 of your responses/triggers that you can invite into your life as a genuine teacher.
5. Transparent Communication
If we can understand the mechanism (Key #1) of taking things personally, then we can examine these triggers and see more clearly where the misunderstanding is.
The “transparent communication” starts with an honest conversation with yourself about the real and deeper issue. As you do this, it will prepare you to have transparent communication with the people in your life that seem to be connected to your trigger(s).
Here are three follow-up questions that you can apply to each of your three identified triggers.
- When this trigger happens, what is the immediate reaction in my body? And, what is the story I’m telling (created meaning about myself), that my body is responding to?
- Can I truly see that I’m not responding to what is happening out there, but rather I’m responding to my mind’s interpretation (unconscious pattern of thinking) of what I have decided this means about me?
- If I took myself out of the equation, if I disappeared, and it was impossible that this was “about me,” what else might be going on here that I’m not seeing?
There is a profound difference between what “seems” to be happening and what is really happening. Most people unconsciously assume that just because something “seems” to be happening, that it “is” happening. This would be like imagining that it’s raining outside on a sunny day and then adamantly proclaiming it’s happening just because you can imagine that it is.
As with taking things personally, we can become so adamant that something is personal, that it means something about you, when… outside your thinking it means that, it doesn’t mean that at all.
You see, you can imagine a sad story and immediately feel sadness, but that doesn’t mean the sad story is happening. Sure, sadness is happening, but sadness isn’t responding to Life as it is, sadness (and all emotions) are responding to the stories being told within the imagination. Just as with watching a movie, you can feel all sorts of things, but the movie isn’t real. Furthermore, you’re not even responding to the movie, you’re responding to the mind’s interpretation of the movie. And, everyone will respond differently, depending on the stories they are telling about what they see in the movie.
This, of course, is why some people take certain things personally, and other people don’t take those “same things” personally; there are different stories being told.
In our transparent communication with others, depending on where that other person is in their journey and their availability to “play along,” there is an opportunity to open up to them and create a more helpful environment for addressing your triggers.
Of course, if they appear not to be open, there are tactful ways of helping them become more open, but that’s for another day.
The beautiful thing about relationships is that it affords us the opportunity to see ourselves more clearly. And, if the relationship partner also knows that, it can be extra helpful.
Here is an example of “transparent communication” in relationships, which is very similar to how I might approach it.
“My love, I’m having a ‘holy-shit’ moment right now. I’m recognizing that when you say things like (…XYZ Trigger), my mind interprets it as meaning that I’m not enough and I’m undeserving of your love. This not only deeply hurts, but it also distorts how I see you; my mind tells unkind stories about you. Something in me wants to push you away. Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry if you feel me doing that. I see that I get scared and I try to protect myself, but I can now see that it’s not really because of you.”
“This is a re-emerging pattern of mine, and I would like to see if I can transform it a bit. Would you be open to helping me? I genuinely feel there is a lot more beauty for us to experience together if I’m not so quick to take things personally.”
That’s a great start to a powerful relationship conversation, inviting a genuine partnership that focuses on growing together. This can apply to many types of relationships, whether it’s between spouses, family members, friends, or even work colleagues.
It would be a disservice on my end to not remind/mention about the opportunity to join the Deep Divers Community, or to explore working with me 1 on 1, if you would appreciate some more focused support on such matters; like improving your capacity to communicate effectively in relationships.
6. Conscious Practice & Participation
If you want to get good at something, better at something, or make progress of any kind, you cannot avoid the reality that it requires conscious attention. Maybe the deeper question is, how important is it to you?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach here. What works for me could be completely irrelevant for you. For myself, I’ve set up my work-life to double as my conscious practice for growth; like having to write a weekly inSight letter that explores my inner landscape, and many other things. For you, the question is:
- “How can I make this a priority?”
Or, if you’re engaging this path with a partner…
- How can WE make this a priority?
The concepts of Devotion and Commitment work well here. As we see that something is profoundly true, as in, our hearts recognize a clear path that points toward liberation, something in us wants to surrender ourselves to that path. With commitment, it’s similar, we recognize that success or progress in a particular area will require us to make something a priority in our lives.
I wonder if, like for myself, you either have or can find a genuine fascination with this discovery around taking things personally. This fascination, in a way, is like a playfully deep curiosity, rather than an anxiousness that feels like you have to fix something. The invitation is to engage this discovery and growth as a joyful opportunity, rather than as some form of self-punishment; which I’ve seen is quite common with people.
It seems like an honest promise to say: if you engage this practice and participation with an attitude of self-rejection, your heart will close, and you will miss the deeper opportunity to fall in love with the process and journey.
Just as with relationship growth, or the evolution into a deeper intimacy, it doesn’t “just happen” because we want it to happen. We must have our hearts and attention pointed in that direction and be willing to honor that priority in our daily or weekly lives.
Here are three questions you can ask yourself that might contribute to you finding a path toward conscious and active participation when it comes to bringing more awareness and healing to your three triggers.
- Can I schedule a regular time (daily or weekly) where I can do an honest self-evaluation of my experience with these triggers?
- Who can I talk to on a consistent basis who would be supportive of my journey and might also be interested in overcoming similar challenges?
- What are the common distractions in my life that could easily be removed to make more space for giving this my attention?
Just as the process of becoming more mature takes years and lots of life experience, so does the process of overcoming a lifetime of fear-based conditioning. A lot of people assume there’s some sort of quick fix or some magical spiritual formula that can instantly remove such patterns of thinking. Yet, it simply doesn’t work that way.
The fundamental spiritual invitation is to surrender the lower-level urges or wants of our human and to devote ourselves to something higher and more soulfully rewarding. This isn’t a weeklong devotion, it’s not a spiritual vacation, it’s the realization that…
- “holy-shit, this will be important for the rest of my life.”
7. Emotional Self-Accountability
There are two insights here that we must hold with equal value, to not get lost in either lofty spiritual concepts or lost in our painful emotional stories.
- Insight 1: It is deeply true that my emotional experience is not responding to what’s happening in life or in others, but rather it’s responding to my interpretation of experience and the conditioned stories I’m telling.
- Insight 2: It is also deeply true that it feels like and seems like my emotions are responding to what’s happening, and that’s perfectly okay and quite unavoidable at times. It doesn’t mean that I’m doing something wrong.
Often, in our understandable determination to… “be spiritual,” we cling to profound spiritual insights and, essentially, start pretending to live out those insights. This results in the repression or the act of ignoring what is sincere with us, because it doesn’t “appear” to match our interpretation of the insight.
In a simple way, it’s like seeing deeply that there’s nothing to fear in reality, so we try to convince ourselves we are not afraid, when in actuality, we are. Or, we see deeply that blame is unnecessary, so we “pretend” that we are not blaming, when, actually, there is blame in our hearts. There are a hundred more examples of this.
The deeper truth here, in these profound insights, is that they all point to a foundation that invites you to truly be as you are. They invite you to release the resistance that thinks your experience is somehow a mistake, or that you “should” be doing it a different way. They invite you to be still, and embrace the authenticity of your human experience.
To truly see that there is nothing to fear, also means that you don’t need to be afraid of being afraid. So, if fear is genuinely there, it can be there. If it’s true that there’s nothing to blame, then you don’t have to blame your blame, rather, it can be held within what you are in a compassionate and safe space.
You see, this is the common struggle for human beings, the idea, or assumption that there is something about themselves that is undeserving of love. This assumption is brought with us into spirituality. Then, rather than seeing the deeper opportunity to embrace the totality of what you are, spirituality is used as a further means to avoid the totality of what you are.
The same happens in relationships as well. People enter relationships as something to hide behind, rather than cultivating a relationship that slowly helps you come out of hiding. If you enter a relationship as somewhere to hide, you’ll find yourself putting up with all manner of bullshit that you would never put up with, if your intention were to create a container for genuine growth.
Emotional Self-Accountability is about honoring both sides of this coin; the deeper spiritual insight and the raw authenticity of your human experience.
Just because I can see that my emotions are not responding to my partner’s words and actions, but are responding to my stories of taking things personally, it doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore the reality where it genuinely looks like my pain is caused by their actions. In fact, the reality of this apparent dance between two, is what sets the stage for deeper intimacy, where a conversation (opening) can be had that honors both our human experiences.
This is just like the example of being afraid. I clearly see there is nothing real in life to be afraid of, but the authenticity of my experience is to sometimes be afraid. It’s the spiritual insight about what’s real and true, that invites me into a safe space to explore the authenticity of my experience. If I can find a space that’s not afraid of being afraid, then I can be honest about being afraid, which means I can look honestly and sincerely at my fear. As I do, as I look upon my fears with openness, I then have the opportunity to watch those fears melt into the deeper truth that there’s nothing to fear.
I cannot see that there is nothing to fear, if I’m unwilling to look at the reality of my fears.
I cannot see the reality of nothing being personally, if I’m not willing to deeply acknowledge those moments where I’m taking something personally.
In my joy of writing about these things, I’m also aware that this genuine discovery goes beyond everything I’ve written above. Writing for me is more about art than it is about actually defining something with words.
My intention, really, is to point toward something beautiful within what we are, an opportunity to see something profound, and, maybe, in our exploration, there’s something sincere that opens within us. Little by little, we make progress, and after some time, we look back and realize just how far we’ve come. It can be difficult to see that progress up close, as it’s happening, as it appears we might be struggling our way through.
I invite you to trust the process. Trust the design that life has created, where it’s impossible that we do not grow if we have within us a deep willingness to be more and more honest with ourselves about our experience.
It never goes as fast as we want it to, and it rarely ever looks how we want it to look. Yet, the path, in some way or another, leads toward the deeper reality of what we long to connect with, even if we are a bit confused about what that is.
It’s okay that it’s hard, and… it’s okay that it’s easy when it’s easy. It’s all allowed, and it all serves the purpose of you seeing things more clearly.
As you may or may not know, my heart’s devotion is to create a container and space for other devoted hearts to learn, grow, and play. For those who enjoy my particular flavor of self and life discovery and find it helpful, I always extend an invitation for us to explore how my containers might support the sincerity of your human journey and help you make meaningful steps of progress.
Maybe the abundance of free content online is sufficient, and that’s wonderful. Or, maybe, something in you desires more direct guidance and support; wonderful as well. If so…
Please learn more about (or apply to join) the HeartBased.io Deep Divers’ Community and Group Training, as well as the possibility of You and me working more closely together.
Also, if your interest is in building a business that’s based, in some way, on holding space for others to help them make progress in a particular area; then check out the work I’m doing (with additional free resources) to support HeartBased Solopreneurs.
Sending you a massive cosmic hug from a distance…
— Tiger Singleton