While randomly scrolling through Instagram Reels, I view a video of a mom blogger looking like she’s having fun playing with a “How Old Do I Look?” app that guesses her age (check @uhbutterfly). The app guesses 36. She reveals that she is 37 and all’s fine. Then I notice this reel has more than eight million views and more than six thousand (mostly nasty) comments. I am surprised at how mean people were getting, and yet she replied to each of them with grace and humour. I was fairly impressed by the blogger’s level of self-assurance in the face of such meanness.
It’s called ‘emotional generosity’. It’s the ability to see past behaviours of others that we don’t understand but yet we come up with ways to get past them. The art of not getting emotionally entangled — basically, the art of not taking things too personally can save us from doom, gloom and self-hate.
Do you take things personally? Say the person in the car behind you starts honking and flashing their headlights. Or your client keeps looking at his phone while you are making a presentation. How would you respond? You know it’s not personal, but you do feel hurt. If it happens to someone else, it’s all very easy to say, “Don’t take it so personally.” But it’s a completely different ballgame to practise what you preach.
Here are the key strategies that experts in psychology have come up with:
Strategy #1: Realise that it’s not about you
What others say about you says more about them than it does about you. Every person operates from their own level of understanding of the world. There is great power in realising the way a person speaks about or acts towards another is utterly revealing of who they themselves are. In their comments, posts, tweets, behaviour — or acts of meanness — they are telling you about their history, their belief systems, their character, their emotional game, and the often-narrow way in which they view the world.
When we take things personally, we lose track of this. We believe that there is something lacking in us. But if we truly fill ourselves with pure acceptance, it gets easier to not get knotted up in this.
As we see the intention of the other person, we make space for understanding rather than irritation. It is worth asking ourselves, “What else could this mean?”. If someone was looking at their phone during your presentation, is it possible that he just received a message that a loved one is ill? If the car behind you is honking for you to move aside, could the driver be rushing to pick her kids waiting outside their basketball class?
If only we can step aside our own emotions for a bit and consider what else could be possible. Our mind is a meaning-making machine. There are always multiple explanations to one thing. How would you know that the meaning you’ve given is correct?
Seeing the positive intentions of the other person requires discipline and training. It takes a lot of effort to say to yourself, “Hang on, I have no clue. Their behaviour possibly has nothing to do with me.” People aren’t always thinking about us. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do.”
And finally, understand that when the “it’s not about me” strategy is not applicable, it usually means the obvious — it IS about me. Be wise, prudent and intelligent enough to understand this difference and use the next strategy...
Strategy #2: Give yourself some empathy, or speak up
When you realise that the car behind is tailgating you, quickly check if you are indeed driving too slow. If your client has been scrolling his phone while you are presenting, check if your presentation was dragging on needlessly. If you feel this is indeed about you, firstly acknowledge, accept and be kind to yourself. See what is to be learnt and move on graciously without beating yourself up.
Alternatively, you may want to speak up for yourself. If someone zones off while you’re talking to them, address it. Tell them you are in the middle of your talk and you’d like their attention for a few minutes so that you can go forward. Care enough for yourself to stand up and speak up.
By opening up, being vulnerable, and stating how you feel without making the other person feel defensive (this is important), you show respect not just for yourself but for the other person too.
So either it’s about you or it isn’t, understand the difference. And no matter how others behave, what they spew out on you, what they may think of you, remember to know your worth and hold on it.
Connect with Delna Mistry Anand across social media @DelnaAnand
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