It Is Not Personal

Some of us go through this stage, maybe many times of asking ourselves, what did I do, why did this happened, do I need to turn myself into a pretzel or shapeshift into someone else to not have people act with such unkindness, anger, or criticism directed at me, especially when it seems chronic and maybe even unpredictable? Is it about my words, behaviors, or me?

And how many times have you heard “It is not personal.” Don’t take it personally.” Or one of my all-time favorites, “You are too sensitive.” I recognize that it’s taken years to build up some healthy boundaries for myself and in the past, I’ve internalized others’ shame and anger or referred to myself as “Velcro Woman.” I felt my way through the world with hypersensitivity and seemed, at times, to be a lightning attractor without my deflector shield or grounding rod.

Eventually, intellectually, I could understand this idea that others’ unkind words and deeds came out of them, from them. Yet, to be in that place of peace and wholeness, to fully see-heart, mind, body, and soul that what others did and said was never about me became a holistic transformation that came in pieces, in gradual awakenings.

It included letting go of a limiting belief “My imperfections or perceived imperfections are responsible for other people’s anger towards me.” In this new reality, I now recognize that “There are no conditions when someone else’s anger is about me or my perceived flaws or imperfections.” Their tone of voice, gestures, words, and actions are not mine. Period.

Healthy shame is when I take full responsibility for the unkind words and unkind actions that have come from me and I feel the deep remorse, apologize, if possible, and then choose a different response next time including silence, walking away, or cueing the person that I need time to sort out thoughts and emotions in my own internal world and will return to the conversation with a response that’s useful, insightful, or productive. Taking deep breaths and a time out can be immensely helpful.

Untangling and then pulling apart what is yours from what is someone else’s can be very profound work. To be 100 percent clear about what is in your boat (internal world of beliefs, thoughts, and emotions, and then your actual words/behaviors) and to listen from a place of presence, to bear witness, and hold space for others in their boats can be quite an interesting ride down the stream.

What have you found to be an effective way to respond to another’s unkind words or behavior? What realizations have you had?


Laura Staley
Laura Staley
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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  1. This topic is a great one to talk about, Laura. Thanks for opening up the conversation. We all act and react differently, especially when on the receiving end of less than kind sentiments or actions. No matter what the scale, it can affect us. I’m learning, however, that I can’t control other people’s actions, only mine. So, now, when I’m on the receiving end, I take a step back, or take a deep breath, or say nothing.
    On the flip side, if I’m in a situation where I feel like I might be amping up, I also try to take that breath or walk away for a few minutes. What comes out in the height of a circumstance, you might not be able to take back. It wasn’t always this way for me, but as a work in progress, I’m trying.

    • I appreciate your valuable contributions and the insights you’ve offered here, Laura. Your description of the choices you are better at making when on the receiving end and when you feel yourself “amping up,” remind me of one of my favorite quotes that I, too, work to engage in my interactions with people and life events. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”-Viktor Frankl, Author, Holocaust Survivor

      And you are quite right that once words flow out of my mouth, I cannot suck them back inside my puffed up cheeks. I, too, find myself practicing the pause, that silence, deep Yoga breaths-bringing myself back to that centered place as best I can. I’m much better at this than I used to be! I’m with you on that “work in progress.” Thank you for your input, for adding your experiences to this discussion!

  2. Hi Laura, Great post! For so long, I was told that I was too sensitive to others’ comments and part of this is true because I am an empath. At the time, I had no idea this was even a type of person. Then I learned that our outer world is a reflection of our inner world and I had to work on why I was attracting such negativity. Now, I understand that these encounters can be a little of both my inner insecurities and the other person’s inner insecurities and I can easily tell the difference. When what is being addressed to me that is the other person’s issue, I remember how it feels to be wounded inside. I try to make my response as loving and supportive as I can. If this person rejects what I offer, I bless them anyway and know deep down that all roads lead home.

    • Hi Helen! What beautiful and meaningful work you are doing to see yourself from the inside to the outside, to have cultivated that self-awareness to know you are an empath, and to make choices today that are more aligned with your deeper truths/awareness. That ability to hold compassion for another can be such a place of freedom as we recognize one another’s humanity. Responding with as much love and support continues to be a reflection of what’s happening on the inside of us. As Dr. Wayne Dyer would say it, when you squeeze an orange you get orange juice. What happens when another person “squeezes” you? You can only give away what you have inside. Fill ourselves with love and love is what we have to give away. Thank you so much for what you’ve offered here. Insightful, meaningful, heart-lifting.

  3. Such a great post, Laura! I’ve often struggled with the “that was mean/I’m too sensitive” debate in my head. I love how Tom put it below: “It isn’t a requirement of anyone to be right all the time… how can you turn the conversation into something that will build a bridge instead of burning it? We live in a culture that is convince that we have to crucify and vilify everyone who thinks a little differently than we do.”

    You have a way of bringing these important topics to light so that each of us can take a look inside and be better for it. Thank you!

    • Thank you for your insights on this important topic which many people have various experiences. There’s something about bridge building that can be very useful. Often there are grains of truth in what someone has expressed. I observe many people have pains, hurts, unresolved traumas-maybe that’s our common ground for healing, empathy, compassion for one another. Underneath the anger usually there’s a whole pile of unresolved pain, and underneath that a whole ton of love. May we find ways to shed the fierce to find the common ground of our shared humanity-hurts and hopes, love and grace. I appreciate your reflections so very much! Grateful for the rich, meaningful conversation that hopefully can continue…

  4. I’m not sure that there are enough of, or the correct words, to say how enthusiastically I support or applaud this message. There is almost never a circumstance where anything is gained from two wounded, broken souls battering each other with their pain and displeasure with the world and themselves. To respond is to open scars and wounds on ourselves. Popular culture is all about the witty, stinging retort, and it was something that I always specialized in. My proud mantra during a brief cease fire was to crow “Never go on the defensive, come out blazing with both barrels. That way you’ll never be misunderstood.”

    False bravado and posing and acting tough are just shields, there is real pain which is the source of a lot of outbursts. Just taking a deep breath, encouraging yourself with the assurance that “this isn’t a hill that I need to die on…” or smiling and thinking better of a torching comeback (and not delivering it!) are sometimes all that is required. It isn’t a requirement of anyone to be right all the time… how can you turn the conversation into something that will build a bridge instead of burning it? We live in a culture that is convince that we have to crucify and vilify everyone who thinks a little differently than we do.

    Thank you Laura, for continuing to shine a light on these discussions and for being that example. Well done, really well done.

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