It’s hard to see clearly when we’re in the heat of a thing. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations or relationships that are disappointing for whatever reason, and we take it personally. If people aren’t wanting what we wish they would want, or things aren’t unfolding in a way that matches the picture in our heads, we think it must be something that’s lacking within us, some way we aren’t measuring up. This is very common when we’re children, for example. If you were born into a home where you weren’t cherished for any number of reasons, including the timing of your arrival in your parents’ lives, there’s a good chance you internalized your experience. A lot of people grow up trying to earn love or praise or affection or approval. Those can be difficult habits to break.
The thing is, people can only be where they are, and they can only use the tools they’ve got. I can look back on relationships in my life, and recognize thanks to time, distance and healing, that very little is personal. Most people are not setting out to hurt us or let us down, and recognizing that is liberating, and it tends to lead toward forgiveness. You can’t really be angry with someone who doesn’t have the tools or desire to commit to you. I mean, you can be angry if you want to, but it’s not about you, and the only part that’s personal is the healing you’ll have to do around the heartache. For example, the much older man I dated in college who cheated on me throughout our relationship, did not change his stripes with the next woman. He cheated on her, and the woman after that, and the one after that, too. If he still has the energy for it, that behavior likely continues to this day, unless he’s undergone some huge transformation, or gotten himself some help (assuming he wanted any).
At the time, I was so young I thought for sure his extracurricular activities were a reflection of something lacking in me; that I must not be pretty enough or smart enough or something enough to make him want to devote himself to only me. I was seventeen, and I had low self-esteem and I was trying to rewrite my own history. It just didn’t occur to me that the lack was within him, and most painful interactions fall into that category. Most parents, for example, do not intentionally screw things up. Maybe your mom and dad were really young when they had you, maybe they suffered from abusive backgrounds themselves, maybe they struggled with addiction or depression—there’s no end to the possibilities that might prevent a person from being a present and nurturing source of love.
A lot of it has to do with a shift of perspective. If we experience the world and other people and the things that happen only as they pertain to us, we’re probably going to take everything personally. If someone cuts you off in traffic, they become a person who’s disrespected you and singled you out. No matter that they’ve already done it to twenty people behind you, and will do it to countless more before the day is over. The colleague who doesn’t smile and say hi in passing obviously doesn’t like you or think you’re worth the time of day. It might not occur to you that perhaps they were up all night with a sick kid, or that they’re stressed out about their finances, or that their partner just announced it’s over. It goes on and on.
The reality is that most people are just doing what they’re doing. Constructing stories and explanations for other people’s choices and behavior is a dangerous game. Everyone has their stuff, their fears and pain and raw, unhealed places. We all have our worries and obsessions and dreams and occasional absurdities. We’ve all had our particular life experiences which have shaped us and informed the way we feel about the world and other people. If your partner has experienced betrayal in the past, you don’t have to take their trust issues personally, and the same holds true for each of us. Look back at the times when you’ve hurt other people. Did you do it on purpose? Mostly it happens because we don’t know who we are yet; we’re unacquainted with ourselves, and we don’t yet know what we need to be at peace. Other times it happens because we’re young and we lack the tools to show up for ourselves or other people. Maybe we don’t know how to communicate honestly and with compassion just yet.
Rage is an enormous burden. Blame makes you powerless. Grudges weigh you down and suck the joy out of life. They take up space where love could be happening. Take yourself out of the center of the story, and consider yourself from the side of it, or as a strand of it. When we’re the main character, it’s all about what we’re putting out there, and what’s coming back to us. When we recognize that our stories overlap with everyone else’s, and that we might cross paths with people at unfortunate times, it frees us up to understand and move forward openly. What you need in order to heal, is personal. Everything else, not so much. The main thing to remember is that we are all worthy of love. If you don’t believe that to be true of yourself, it’s time to reach out and get some help. Sending you love,