Taking Things Personally When It’s Personal – How Relationships Suffer Through Differences in Reality

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One of the greatest sources of suffering in a relationship is our refusal to accept our differences. I’d be willing to bet the fastest way to end any relationship is to determine in our mind that our reality is either better or correct compared to another. The fact is, sometimes people do things that hurt us. Sometimes it is physical, and sometimes it is emotional. While the pain we may have experienced is real, however, rather than focus on what harm the other has caused us, I believe what is really important is the intention behind it.

How do we know the intention was to cause some kind of pain? Maybe they did it to make themselves feel better, bigger, stronger, more powerful, less scared, more secure, smarter, or maybe it was even done for something more complicated, like addiction or some other mental health issue. Maybe it was an accident. Who knows?

Where we often get stuck is when we decide that we know what their real intentions were, but until we develop some serious ESP powers, there is no human alive that can know what another person’s true intentions are. That is why we have to communicate in order to find out. That means having an open mind and calming down just enough to get ego and emotions out of the way. Communication doesn’t happen- in fact it CAN’T happen- when either of the parties is either flaming mad or already decided that he/she is right and the other is wrong. Maybe they are, but maybe they aren’t. That’s what this communication thing is for. The goal isn’t to determine who is right and who is wrong, but respecting how both are right in their own way, and how to move forward with the differences.

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Ironically, however, it’s important to acknowledge that whether you know it or not, you have hurt people in some way as well, and for as long as you may live, you will continue to hurt people even if you don’t mean to. That is the nature of our existence as humans. We may not have done it on purpose but conflict is the natural result of living in a world with someone other than ourselves, and in a world of so much diversity. You simply cannot exist without having some kind of impact (good or bad) on another living being, and the conflict (or love) that arises out of it is simply two different things bumping into one another. The result is either an attraction or avoidance.

Unfortunately, on Earth, difference is unavoidable, and it is good! Just like light and darkness, warmth and cold, polarities all serve a very important purpose in the world. Remember though: while we may have a number of differences, we also share a number of similarities (good and bad).

In our relations with other living beings we also have a polarity of intentions. Either we have good/loving/caring intentions or bad/hateful/harming intentions (and sometimes no intentions at all). I would like to believe I always have good intentions, but the truth is sometimes I don’t, and I doubt I’m the only one.

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Understanding intentions can be really hard. Sometimes our emotions or ego can scream so loudly that we can’t hear what’s truly going on behind our actions. But if we can get ourselves back to that calm state of mind and identify what our intentions are, we can make better decisions on how to move forward by taking an honest inventory of our own intentions. I recently had a big fight with my partner and the old me would have threatened everything, blindly believing that my threat was my way of expressing my feelings, stating my bottom line, and saying “NO!” to inappropriate behavior. “I am being assertive!” I would proudly convince myself. In reality, my intention was to get him to stop doing what he was doing. My intention was to change him so that I could have what I wanted (and to remind him of how right I was and how wrong he was).

In the moment of intense emotions, and when ego steps in, our ability to connect with our true intentions (and feelings) is completely destroyed. Identifying our intentions means being excruciatingly honest with ourselves and others and that means putting all those hurt feelings aside and looking at the situation from a different perspective. Impossible? No. But definitely a challenge. And if it’s hard for us to identify our intentions right away, it most certainly is for others as well. That said, when you do get offended or hurt, don’t jump to conclusions about what the other person was trying to do or say.

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If we were to break it all down, basically when we end up bumping into our contrasting parts (i.e., any other living thing), the biggest problem is that we look at the other person’s behavior as either a complement to our goals or an interruption, and naturally end up taking it personally. If they did something that helped you, or made you feel good, you saw them in a positive light. If they did something that was unhelpful, disappointing, or set you back, you saw it in a negative light. But if they did something great, can you call them great? Then when they fail, are they no longer great? Keep in mind, even when people do awesome things for us, we still should not take it personally. That’s right, even when they treat you like a queen/king, unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that you are one.

But what if their action was personal? What if they intentionally did or said something to you that was meant to hurt you? Well, first of all, how do you know? Did they say directly to you that their intention was to hurt you, demean you, and cause you some kind of pain? If they knew that they were hurting you, would they do that?

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I remember a quote by Don Miguel Ruiz about taking things personally:

“Taking things personally is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that the whole world is all about ME.”

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Even if the other person’s action was an intentional attack upon you, it has absolutely nothing to do with you. While they have no right to try and change you, similarly, you have no right to change them. The only right you have is to assertively and kindly express your reality and leave it at that.

To put so much power onto another person by allowing their behavior to affect you, you have put all your trust into something outside of yourself. In a sense, you are saying, “my reality is determined by what you do or say to me.”

I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not easy to just let something go, especially when the person you are at odds with is someone you love very deeply. We don’t want to end the relationship. Nor do we want to continue feeling so sad from the result of our loved one’s actions. So what do you do when you aren’t in danger and you don’t necessarily want to end the relationship?

Boundaries

Boundaries.

Creating healthy boundaries is only something you can do and can actually be a gift to the other person (even if at first they don’t like it). When you make clear what you are willing and not willing to live with, you have given the other person the gift of clearly knowing what you need in order to maintain that relationship. Then they get to choose if they can live with that boundary. If they choose to deny those boundaries, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It means they have chosen to end the relationship.

Boundaries aren’t demands that state what the other person can and cannot do, and your boundaries aren’t for them- They are for you.

Boundaries are like traffic lights that tell you when you need to stop, be cautious, or go forward. Others aren’t responsible for your boundaries. Only you are. Just like driving a car, you are the driver of your life. It’s your job to identify the boundaries you need and maintain them.

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After that, whatever happens is up to you. And that’s a good thing. Because it means that you are choosing all of this for yourself (freedom from, or acceptance of a given situation that was caused as a natural result of living around other living things). You are not a victim. You are not entitled to anything. Nor are you right and the other wrong. After establishing your boundaries, if you choose to run an obvious red light, the end result is on you.

In the end, all you can ethically and realistically do, if you have created and kept your healthy boundaries, and the other person still failed to acknowledge or respect them, is stop complaining and walk away from that person completely. It really is that simple.

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