Don’t take anything personally: not so fast

“Don’t Take Anything Personally. 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.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz ~

Don’t take anything personally?? Not so fast!

That is such a challenge, isn’t it? I mean if something is directed right at you, and it is unkind, exclusionary, or other hurtful things, it is hard to believe that the act has NOT been taken because of you. I have friends and students who have been left out at times. They do not just feel left out (meaning that they are overly sensitive, and they haven’t really been left out). No, I mean they really are left out. I would imagine everyone has been left out in one way or another. Kids find out they weren’t invited to a party, but “everyone else was”. Some people get to be the Star Bellied Sneetches— others, not so much.

I don’t know that there really is a way to be immune to the feelings that occur as a result of not being one of the group. The sage advice I have been given over the years is to make your own group, get involved, believe in yourself, etc. That is good advice, but truly it does not really address the sorrow. It finds a way to get yourself included in some other endeavor or group. But what about the felt sorrow?

I believe it is wrong to say you can be immune to the actions of others. Here is an example. Remember, I have been collecting examples of bullying that have happened to people I know.

A girl was assigned to live in a college dorm room for 4.  Until the school year began, none of the girls knew each other. The 4 girls had much in common. They shared the same values, the same cares and concerns. She was kind and considerate to each of them all the time. They all were. From all appearances, the 4 girls were equally close. They spent lots of time together. Then one of the roommates decided to go on a cruise. She individually asked 2 of the roommates if they wanted to go, too. They did. They each will go at their own expense. She asks them each privately. One night, over dinner, when the 4 of them were together,  she told the girl she didn’t invite that the rest of them are going on a cruise. The only one not invited is the girl. (She could have afforded to go). No one acknowledges that this could be hurtful for her. They are all excitedly chatting about the cruise. It is as though it never even occurred to anyone that this could be painful for the girl that was not invited. She says that she’d love to go too, and asks if they already have their reservations. They say they got a room for 4 but someone else is taking the 4th spot.

[Some of you might say she should have made a reservation for another cabin and gone anyway. But from the table chatter it was obvious that she would have been left out of the activities of the other 4—her three roommates and the other girl. She already felt incredibly left out and awkward].

Then they say that they’d love her to meet them for breakfast the morning of the cruise  and take photos of them when they get on the ship, since the cruise will be leaving from the excluded girl’s town. How is the girl to feel? The quote at the beginning of the post says that she should be immune to the emotional impact of the act.

But the girl is really sad. She is stunned that no one even thinks this might be painful for her. Beyond all of that, it is early in the semester, and she has to live with these girls the rest of the school year. No one ever reaches out to her.

It is that kind of pain and sorrow that needs to be addressed. Not only the inconsiderate (at best) act, but the fact that not a single one of the roommates realized or acknowledged that this could be hurtful. That piece is what makes the girl feel especially worthless; that her feelings before and after the act are completely irrelevant to the group. That in turn, makes her wonder if she, herself, is irrelevant to the group. Obviously in a sense she is, since she has been excluded.  She feels as though she has lost her footing. they claim to care about her, and yet….

At best, they no doubt believe that the excluded roommate should be excited that the friends get to go on a cruise. She is, in a way, excited for them. She wonders why she was left out. Of course it says more about the girl who organized the cruise.

But the collateral damage on the excluded girl is significant. The families of the girls have grown close. She is expected to show up at the marina to take photos of the cruisers. She is expected to be happy for them. The cruisers are flying in the night before. She will be meeting them for dinner, and will have breakfast with them. If she admits or appears to be upset or sad about all of this, she  is seen as shallow, immature, and selfish.

Did she show up for the pre-cruise events and take the photos? Of course she did. She still considers them to be her friends. But she fought back the tears. Her usual laughter and joy of life was really strained. The friends were so busy having a good time that none of them noticed.

What lesson did she learn? That she is not entitled to her feelings. The actions of the girls convinced her, at least at that point, that she just doesn’t measure up. This may not officially be called bullying. There are times when not everyone can be included, for instance, on the cruise.

But this is less about the cruise participants’ actions than it is about them acknowledging that there could be an impact on her feelings. there should have been acknowledgement that she is, indeed, entitled to feel sad and left out. You see, it is not truthful to be immune from the pain.

That is what needs to change in or culture. That the one being rude owns it and admits it. NOT by saying “I’m sorry if I hurt your”; by saying ” I’m sorry THAT I hurt you”.  I disagree with the quote above. To be immune from the wrongful act can make you cold and hard. When we are cut, we bleed. If the roommates had apologized, it could have helped. Of course, it would have been better if they had included her. But when they didn’t, empathy was called for.

The girl really struggled for quite some time due to the events. The other girls and many of her friends minimized the events. They said :it wasn’t that big of a deal:. Or they said “I’m sure she didn’t mean to be hurtful. You shouldn’t feel hurt”. Perhaps you thought that as you read through the story, too.

But you see, that is the whole point. The cruise girl doesn’t get to be the one excluding people and also be the one deciding whether or not the excluded one should feel hurt.

Let’s put it this way. If a bully punched someone in the eye, giving a kid a black eye, no one says “you shouldn’t have a black eye. he didn’t mean to hit you. you are being too sensitive. No one else has a black eye–you must have imagined it”….emotional wounds work the same way.

I realize that I have been long winded. But you see, I have heard an awful lot of things from my students and their parents. We must be careful and mindful.

As summer break begins, I will be praying daily for those who have been excluded. Your feelings are valid. God can heal your pain and sorrow. But your feelings and sorrow are valid. Please know that. When you notice or hear about someone else’s pain, minimizing the pain does not help the healing process. Acknowledging it, discussing it, and empathizing with the hurt person helps the person journey to wholeness.

Actions and inaction ripple and affect. Pretending the action did not affect someone does not help the injured party. That is what I told the girl when she told me what happened. Acknowledging her pain and her right to feel hurt under the circumstances helped her to know that she does matter. She matters to me.

About Kate Kresse

I love to write, I love to talk, I love to uplift people when I can. I am a woman in love with life. I am a wife, mom, tutor, writer, and I am a perennial optimist. (OK not every single minute but you get the point! :-)
This entry was posted in Bullying, Friendship and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Don’t take anything personally: not so fast

  1. dogear6 says:

    How unfortunate that others minimized this girl’s pain. This was not an accidental forgetfulness. It was a deliberate snub. I’ve been on the receiving end of this behavior and it takes a lot of work to be strong enough to overcome its effect.


    • Kate Kresse says:

      You bet it was deliberate. When the girl discussed it with others to try to make sense of it, others said the cruise planner didn’t mean to leave her out. As a matter of fact, the cruise planner subsequently got mad at the left-out girl for not seeming enthusiastic enough at the dinner and breakfast! It is going to take the girl a lot of work to overcome the damage. You and I both know how hard it will be for her. It is so sad, and that kind of deliberate hurt is so unnecessary.

  2. Lucid Gypsy says:

    How terribly sad, the dear girl deserves better friends that treat her well. I hope she soon finds them.

    • Kate Kresse says:

      I hope she does, too Gilly. Her biggest issue is going to be that she must continue to make the best of things, as they are already thrown together as roommates, and their families have become friends as well. That means there will be social engagements down the road that will throw them together. She is doing her best to try to heal. some would say that she should just put it behind her and move on. I disagree with that stance. If we change emotional pain to physical pain from physical abuse, folks might see it differently. I am doing my best to bolster the lass!

  3. Jade says:

    Thank you for writing this.

    I was searching for ways to “not take things personally” when I ran across your blog. I’ve read a dozen other blog posts and they all (except yours & one other) agree with the quote at the beginning of your article.

    I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. There are times when people will “do things because of you”. And there are times when what they do has (almost) nothing to do with you. People can overreact in their actions (just like you can overreact by taking things too personally). People take it to the extreme, saying things like “nothing anyone else do is about you” or saying things like “everything that happens in your life is because of you”.

    You have to be honest with yourself and learn to take a step back and view the situation from a distance. People are selfish. Just look at your own actions. Just look at what you’re doing when you take things personally. Other people are exactly the same way.

    The girls who excluded the other one, they personally didn’t think it was a big deal, and so they literally couldn’t grasp why she thought it was. They were projecting their own life/thoughts onto the other girl’s experience and were not able to view the situation from a different viewpoint than the one they already had. If the same thing were to happen to them, they would feel just as excluded and upset and confused, and would be just as hurt. But they are unable to have empathy because they are too selfish and narrow minded to consider that anything but their own thoughts/opinions could exist.

    • Kate Kresse says:

      Jade– I am so sorry it took me weeks to respond to you. YOur comment ended up in my spam and I just recently found it. You are absolutely correct. It is hard to determine initially which way it is. It is helpful to keep in mind that sometimes it reall does have nothing to do with you. The logic of that can certainly ease the pain. The excluded girl that I referred to struggles with the experience because the families are connected, and she will be around these people on a semi-regular basis for years. She feels very awkward and worthless around these people. If they were ever to realize, empathetically, how their actions harmed her spirit, and apologized, it would restore her greatly. Unfortunately, as you so eloquently put it, they will never feel that level of empathy, because they believe there was nothing remotely harmful or hurtful in what they did. Life is like that for each of us sometimes. All we can do is pray for the grace and strength to move through it.

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