Home Alone and Trying not to Take things Personally

by Elisabeth

My birthday this year. Me and Nick.

My birthday this year. Me and Nick.

It’s been quite a week. A girlfriend got laid off and we commiserated at the pub. Nick flew to Victoria to find a home and employment. I am home alone for the first time in as long as I can remember. And today, after quite a hiatus, book club was supposed to meet to discuss the 2nd agreement in the 4 Agreements book: Don’t Take Anything Personally. Circumstances made it so that we couldn’t meet after all. However, since re-reading the chapter, my propensity to assuming that things are happening to me rather than just happening, made me decide to think about this a little deeper.


If there was ever something that I do too much; it’s take things personally (drinking fizzy water would be a close second though.) I’m trying to reconcile the fact that outcomes and events- are for the most part- not individually aimed. I could see as clear as day when Sho got laid off; the crappy way it was executed was less about her and more about superiors feeling guilty and not wanting to be direct. But throw the ball in my court and consider actions from our landlord- who told us we couldn’t get out of our lease, then proceeded to block any attempts we made at finding someone to move in, then finally he got the “lady upstairs” to take the place- all of it felt aimed at me.


The thing about taking things subjectively, is that we are all the star of our own movie. Everything is individual to us because it happens to us- on an emotional level. Like it or not we also have expectations. They are assumptions we make about the way we should be treated or how people should behave. When people don’t meet our expectations, it hurts. Especially when it’s those we love.


But what about bullying? When people are deliberately mean or forceful in order to make a person feel bad. How can it not be personal? When the cab driver pretends to not-know where we are going and takes me around Montreal so that my bill is $60- how do I not take that as an attack to me, individually?


Because people who are mean, or deceptive, or opportunistic are the protagonists of their own movie, too. If we were to understand them fully, we would realize that these personal-feeling interchanges are part of a long, hellish continuum that is their movie. The cab driver who takes me on a wild, expensive goose-chase is trying to make more money for his family. The bully is trying to give them self importance and control where they feel as if they have none.


I went through a very deep and very long depression in my late teens- early twenties. During this time I took everything personally, and life was hard. The person who takes everything personally constantly feels under attack. But how did I behave? It’s hard to know sometimes. Experience has taught me that the feeling of being attack likely made me act like a jerk.


A few years ago I started becoming friends with a woman we’ll call Sporty. In our first initial times getting together I found her to be considerate, kind, and fun. Over time, however, I began to notice cracks in the veneer. On my birthday we all met for Dim Sum. She did shift work so only decided to come last minute- she said she would be about half an hour. We were all hung-over and hungry. It’s all bustle at Kam Fung at 1pm on a Sunday. The minute we were seated carts of shrimp, noodles, chinese broccoli, and the like, arrived with direct motive. It’s not the kind of place you can just sit there without ordering.


Sporty took 45 minutes from the time that she announced that she could make it. By the time she got there, we had already eaten and were full, but there was still food left and plenty that could have been ordered. Unfortunately, she was pissed. I can tell you with certainty- she very much took it personally that we started- and finished- without her. Her behaviour was passive aggressive as she said she was really hungry but the food on the table was cold. We encouraged her to order and get her fill- this restaurant was not expensive and we were splitting amongst us- but she refused.


My dominant memory of that meal was of trying to deal with Sporty and her attitude on my birthday. To be honest, after enduring her for several hours, I couldn’t wait to part ways. In the end, behaviour like that ended our friendship- at least from my point of view. I seemingly managed to do something else wrong, and at this I am only guessing. I invited her to do a couple of things and she declined all invitations. I never invited her again, and no invitations came from her. Enough time has passed for me to safely call her a former-friend.


So I bring up Sporty to remind myself that “taking things too personally” can make you- the perceived victim- no fun at all. I don’t want to be around people whom I feel I have to walk on eggshells around, and I really don’t want to be “no-fun zone.”


So today when I tried to do my taxes, and the Revenue Canada site was down, I did not take things personally. When book club got cancelled, I did not take it to heart. The fact that I’m alone today facing my move in all its epic-ness- well, I’m proud of myself. This was all my idea, after all.