Mental Health

On Not Taking Things Personally

Wouldn’t it be nice to carry the automatic belief that other people’s actions have absolutely nothing to do with you?

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Originally published January 7, 2018 on vanessasegovia.com. Republished here with permission. Get your blog featured!

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During my flight back to California yesterday I noticed the woman next to me fold her hands in her lap and begin to softly cry during landing. We were experiencing some turbulence, which is what I attributed it to.

She was sitting in the aisle seat, and me in the middle. Her husband was sitting in the aisle across from her. Rather than look to him for comfort she closed her eyes and turned her head slightly towards me as several tears fell down her cheeks. She carefully used the edge of her sleeve to dry them, then she opened her eyes, and resumed reading.

Several minutes later it happened again, same process. When I looked over I noticed that her husband was reading as well, completely unaware.

By the time we landed and began to taxi to our gate, they had begun to discuss which overhead bin their suitcases were in and who would call the Uber for their pick up.


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It was as if nothing had happened. He would never be the wiser and she would carry on.

I began to wonder: why didn’t she turn to him for comfort? Was she embarrassed? Was he tired of it? Did he not understand? Why did I care so much?

Then it occurred to me; I often question myself about when and what I choose to rely on people for.

Will they judge me? Will they grow tired of my emotions? Will they be able to show up? And if not, will it result in me feeling even worse?

Which led me to think about it more globally. What do we expect from others in our lives? Is it their job to be there every time we need them? And if we rely on them and they don’t “show up” for us, is that a reflection of their love for us? Or a measure of our own lovability? Could it be possible that they just don’t have the capacity to show up sometimes? Or that it is not their job at all?

All this swirled around in my head as I stood in the baggage claim waiting for my luggage (which never came—thanks, Southwest! But that’s a whole other story).

All this thinking reminded me of the chapter in a book my cousin gave me when I graduated from high school. I have since recommended this book to many people–family, friends and patients alike.

The book is written by Don Miguel Ruiz and is called The Four Agreements. It is based on four basic principles:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

As I stood and waited, I began to think about the second of the four agreements: “Don’t take anything personally.”

That has always been the hardest one for me. I am currently far too sensitive to embody this belief.

Ruiz explain in his book, that,

“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

Wouldn’t it be nice to carry the automatic belief that other people’s actions have absolutely nothing to do with you?

That when my husband cannot be there for me in the way I feel I need, that is not about me. That when a coworker is rude to me, that is not about me. That when some troll on the internet says mean things about me, that is not about me!

In his book, Ruiz continues to explain:

“As you make a habit of not taking anything personally, you won’t need to place your trust in what others do or say. You will only need to trust yourself to make responsible choices. You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you. When you truly understand this, and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the careless comments or actions of others.

If you keep this agreement, you can travel around the world with your heart completely open and no one can hurt you.

You can say, “I love you,” without fear of being ridiculed or rejected. You can ask for what you need”

What a liberating concept. Maybe the women on the plane has the ability to self soothe and does not need the comfort of another individual; maybe it just wasn’t a big deal to her or maybe she has accepted that she can soothe herself in a more helpful way than her husband is able and that his inability to do so is not about her. We will never know; but what I do know is that practicing this second agreement is my January theme.

I despise New Year’s resolutions, but I did decide to pick a theme for each month of 2019 and try to practice it. So, in following through, I’ll call this month: Don’t take it personal January.

(Another layer of my decision is to try and work the title of a 90’s song into each theme–this month is dedicated to Monica: “It’s just one of ‘dem days, when I gotta be all alone, it’s just one of ‘dem days, don’t take it personal…”)

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Article Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Vanessa Segovia is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Forensic Psychotherapist. Vanessa maintains an independent Private Practice in Santa Cruz, California which focuses on individuals facing trauma, anxiety, depression, addiction, disordered eating, and relationship issues. She also works as the Program Director for a residential facility treating woman in early recovery and their children. Vanessa's work is strongly guided by the principal that in addition to trauma, social and cultural stigma and expectations create most of our individual suffering. She is firmly rooted in several key therapeutic models including Trauma Informed Care, Health at Every Size, EMDR, and Client Centered Psychotherapy.

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