Stop Taking Everything So Personally!

Please tell me I am not the only one. Who else has noticed a trend in people taking every single tiny thing as a personal attack on them?

Recently, I saw this played out in a letter published in my newspaper of choice. (This daily publication has a circulation of ten million readers, so we are not talking about the local free rag you find in supermarkets.) The writer of the letter explained how at the end of a meal in a city restaurant, she felt “unheard, diminished, dismissed” because the waitress asked if her party of four (two female adults and two children) wanted separate checks. The writer was infuriated that the server had failed to recognize they were a family. 

I almost choked on my coffee! With all the stresses and strains in our current world, this is the hill the writer chose to die on? Could she not for one second stop making it about herself and think that maybe, just possibly, the waitress was simply a harried, under-paid, exhausted person who was trying to get her tables served and on their way as smoothly as possible. 

Why did the writer’s anger last long enough to get home, write a letter and mail it to the paper? In all that time, how was it possible that she didn’t take a breath and consider that she could have been the thousandth table this waitress had served that week, and maybe, just maybe, the question was the same one she asked of every group she served. 

But, apparently, no. “Outraged Diner” was firmly convinced that not only had the waitress deliberately chosen to ignore the makeup of her family, but also that she had framed the question specifically to hurt the writer. 

I wanted to shout, It’s not always about you, but I felt too sorry for the writer to do anything more than shake my head. All that time and energy wasted when she could have just let it go

Sometimes it feels like the whole world is stuck in their own heads. Why have so many people never moved past that childhood stage where you believe you are the center of the universe?

Part of growing up is developing self-awareness to recognize we don’t all experience the same thing in the same way. It takes maturity to know how to separate our experiences from someone else’s. By the time we hit our twenties, haven’t we all learned that although our feelings are valid, they are not the only possible ones?

Somewhere along the way, we began to believe that regardless of what someone else said or did, it was all about us, all aimed at us, all directed at us. 

This is ninety-nine percent not the case. Have we forgotten that people’s reactions and responses are actually about them and have very little—if anything—to do with us?

In practically every situation, it is about how the other person feels about themself. It’s about the day they are having or even a past event still rattling around in their head. 

I can almost guarantee that the waitress’s response was a standard question they ask every table. But, the writer of the letter chose to take it personally. She weighed up every syllable and decided that this waitress—in the middle of a hectic shift—chose specific words to demean and hurt her. I just don’t believe it!

As human beings, everything we do or say is colored by our experience and history. The keyword is “our.” When we respond to others, we cannot do it in an emotional vacuum. We can only respond as the person we are at that moment. 

The letter writer could have saved all that anger by simply not taking a common question so personally. Even if she was hurt by it—and yes, her feelings are valid—why didn’t she look at where it was coming from; an hourly-paid worker who was probably under-appreciated and overtired.

But, no. She took a conscious decision to let this upset her, and hours of stewing and simmering followed on from that choice. If the briefest of comments left her that offended, I cannot imagine how much of her day she wastes over off-hand comments and perceived slights. 

We all know people will say or text things we find hurtful, but I choose to decide what bothers me and what doesn’t. 

I choose less drama and save my time and energy for what truly matters to me. A comment from a waitress I do not know and whom I may never see again in my life is not high on the “bother me” list.

If we live our lives as though we are the center of everything, then we hand over power to every single person whose paths we cross. When we believe that their every comment or action is directed at us, we put them in the driver’s seat. A simple off-hand comment can suck up hours of our lives while the person who made the comment goes on with their life, never giving it a second thought. 

It is empowering to stop taking everything personally. It puts you back in the driver’s seat. Give it a go!

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