“Don’t take it personally!” (Yeah, right!)
How many times have you heard someone say, “just be the bigger person” or even better, “let it go, they didn’t mean it” or, “they’re just having a bad day” when someone has been unkind or as a way to explain away someone’s abuse?
And how many times, after hearing someone say that, did you roll your eyes, want to jump out of your skin, or even scream out loud because of what was done to you?
If any of these descriptions fit you, then you are not alone. Because it’s hard not to take it personally when someone is being hurtful or even abusive.
We hear time and again, “Someone else’s behavior is a reflection of them, and how we react is a reflection of ourselves” — but it is virtually impossible not to have your self-esteem be affected by someone else’s bad behavior.
And in many cases, it’s even more impossible to not react. Not getting derailed by others’ behavior begins by discarding the expectation that you can reach a point in your life where you will not be impacted by anyone or anything going on around you. It’s not realistic. The only way to stay completely unaffected by others would be to find a way reach inside of yourself and dispose of your most vital organ — your heart.
As long as you are striving to stay connected to yourself and to live in a meaningful, confident and heartfelt way, you will be affected by all that life has to offer you. That is a given. If you have a heart, let yourself off the hook when it comes to not being bothered by what others do. But that doesn’t mean you have to let every thing others do have a huge impact in your life or ruin your happiness.
To find some balance, here are 4 ways to protect yourself from taking the blame for the abuse of others, while also being kind and compassionate toward your feelings.
1. Admit that something just happened.
Learning to validate your experience is a key piece to avoiding getting derailed by others’ negativity.
This starts by acknowledging that something has happened, and has had an effect on you. Get real about what just happened and that you feel impacted by what has just been said or done. You can express this either quietly inside or say it out loud to yourself or a trusted friend.
Validating your experience is an important part of staying separate from others’ negativity. So, take a breath — a deep belly breath — and acknowledge that something just happened to you that didn’t feel good for your self-esteem.
A simple thing you can quietly say inside as you breathe is, “Something just happened here”.
2. Trust your gut.
Another important part of protecting yourself is to trust your perception. True or not, you’re making an assumption around what has occurred. If the other person is in a rational place and open to having a conversation so that you can check your assumption out, that is a wonderful thing — and the first thing to do. In many cases, though, they are not and you have to trust that something just happened that did not feel good to you, and recognize that you are drawing conclusions based upon your interpretation of the events.
How you live out your assumption is going to make the difference between getting sucked into their negativity or supporting yourself in a different way. A simple thing you can say quietly inside as you breathe is, “I didn’t like that”.
3. Get validation that what you’re feeling is normal.
Validating your feelings about what just happened is another important piece of support to bring in in these kinds of situations. This would be the point in which you identify what you are emotionally feeling, and get validation for those feelings either from yourself or a trusted friend. For those of you who struggle to recognize or experience feelings, you might want to start by learning about the various different feelings that are possible, and how to begin to recognize them when they are happening inside of you.
This might take some help from a friend or even a therapist who can guide you through developing a deeper knowledge about this part of yourself. But take the time to locate what you are feeling and give yourself room to feel that experience through the initial rush of intensity.
Responding from emotion is generally never a good idea, and often it’s the point at which we begin to derail. Especially if we are dealing with an irrational person or situation. So again, take a breath. As you breathe, you can say to yourself, “I feel mad [or sad or scared] about what just happened.”
4. Let yourself feel your emotions.
Determine what you need from how you are feeling about what has just happened. If you are feeling scared, you might need some space or protection, until the rush of emotion slows down. If you are feeling angry, you might be experiencing a sense of violation and may need a boundary. If you are sad, you may need some comfort and support before beginning to get clear about next steps for you. Whatever you are feeling, let yourself feel it. Because on the other side of that feeling is your road map about what you need in any given situation. And if you need help to get clear on what you need, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
When someone is treating you badly, it is a direct response to something happening inside of them, emotionally, that feels intolerable. That is why they lash out: it is easier to blame someone else for a negative feeling inside than to breathe down into the experience and contain their reaction. If they have little tolerance for their own feelings, it is always going to come bursting out onto others, and usually in an unhelpful way.
So, let yourself off the hook for being able to do this perfectly.
Our ability to not be derailed by others’ behavior, and to instead stay focused on our own response, starts in childhood and is entrenched very early on in our lives. It takes time to rewire our brains and our bodies into responding responsibly when we have been treated unkindly or abused by another person. Creating a different response to others takes a lot of mindfulness, patience, and guidance as we begin to rewire our responses to the world around us. This is like any other practice: it takes repetitive practice and coaching, as it is much easier to lash out at another person or to engage back in irrational behavior than to breathe into our own experiences inside.
Especially if we have never seen that done before. So be gentle, breathe a lot, and reach out for support when you need it.
Kate Schroeder is a therapist and life coach who utilizes the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ® and the Enneagram, as well as body-mind-spirit healing practices to access one’s inner wisdom. Start changing your life today by downloading her guided imagery program, Soul Meditations: Building A Relationship That Lasts, or visit Kate at Transformation Counseling, LLC for more information.