psychology / Relationships

Trying Not to Take it Personally

Last week I read an article in SELF magazine about why it’s often detrimental to take things too personally. The message resonated with me and I’ve been working on not taking things to heart–except the wise advice to detach more often, that is.

Let me tell you, the whole “water off a duck’s back thing” ain’t always easy for me. I’m definitely someone who has trouble not being overly thin-skinned. Maybe I’m a sensitive soul. Or as my friend’s new agey mom once said to me, “You have leaky psychic energy, Em.” I’m not beyond believing that these airy-fairy descriptions may have something to do with why I often feel depleted by social scenarios, or hold onto a piece of offhand criticism for far, far too long.

But this article reminded me of the other root cause for taking things personally: narcissism. For implicit in the reaction: “Why did that &*^%$ at Starbucks snark me like that?” is the idea that the world revolves around you. Or in my case, me, me, me. I don’t usually waste too much time getting agro about the Starbucks barista. But I will lie up at night thinking about the tone of an email from an editor or something critical my hubby said about my (sometimes) negative attitude.

In some ways, being stuck in our perspectives is just the nature of being human—a good reason to meditate and stop the constant chatter. But I guess caring too much about what other people are thinking about you, does mean you’re spending a lot of time thinking about yours truly. I read it was one of the key traits of narcissism in How to Spot a Narcissist, from Psychology Today earlier this summer.

As I’ve been thinking about this the past week, I’ve been questioning whether this trait is nature or nurture. Probably both. Sorry to drag you into this with me, M & D but when it comes to the nurture part, I think, in ways, I was raised to believe that not taking things personally is arrogant.

Let me explain. I will oversimplify my upbringing here as: waspy, Canadian, and placatory. And in that sense I’ve often found people who bulldoze through life not caring what other people think kind of, well, egotistical. Frankly, unapologetic and unaware reactions have tended to be just the type of behavior that will get my goat. The woman on the plane last week at LAX who didn’t wait her turn to exit her row, for example, pissed the hell out of me.

But how far does facing the world from an apologetic, overly sensitive perspective get me? Frankly, it’s often a hindrance and a waste of precious sleep. So I’m working on ditching it. Or at least turning apologetic into: merely polite. And overly sensitive into: detached but aware.

If I go too far into bulldozer territory and start exhibiting traits of, say, Michelle Bachmann, let me know.

P.S. I have a new post up on HuffPo Canada, living section: Musings on Kim Kardashian’s Wedding: Why Are We Giving Favours to Our Guests? Check it out! 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Trying Not to Take it Personally

  1. I think there’s a world of difference between having “an apologetic, overly sensitive perspective” and being as rude as the woman on the plane. Aim for a happy medium!

    I used to be like you, but I got over it for the most part by moving to Italy and marrying a guy who always told me not to worry about what other people think of me…and being a foreigner means that you are always doing something that’s somehow not appropriate! Perhaps you should move to Italy, too? 😉

    • I hear that- there’s a happy medium for sure.

      Living in South America for a time helped me with my “taking things personally” tick, since you can’t learn a language without making an ass of yourself. That was ten years ago, so maybe a stint abroad is just what I need. Italy, here we come! Right after we pay down this student debt…

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