We hear so often, "Don't take it personally." What does this really mean? The answer is NOT simple!
Let's say you are in a great mood, feeling loving and expansive, and someone—either someone close to you or a stranger like a clerk in a store—is withdrawn or attacking.
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This is when it is important not to take it personally. Their behavior is coming from whatever is going on for them—they are tired, not feeling well, feeling inadequate, angry from a previous interaction, judging themselves, coming from their own fears of rejection or engulfment, and so on. When you take their behavior personally, it is because you want to believe that you have some control over their behavior. You want to believe that if only you were different, they wouldn't treat you badly. This is a huge false belief, as you have no control over what is going on with them, and their behavior has nothing to do with you.
On the other hand, let's say you are in your ego wounded self, and you are shut down, harsh, attacking, blaming or people-pleasing. When this is the case, if others are also shut down or attacking, their behavior might be personal to a certain extent. They might be taking your behavior personally and reacting to it from their own ego wounded self. While you are not causing them to react with withdrawal or attack—it is the fact that they are taking your behavior personally that is causing them to react—you are also not innocent in the interaction. So it is always important to notice your own open or closed energy to see whether their behavior is not at all about you, or whether they are being reactive with you.
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Another scenario to be aware of: if you are open and loving and another is closed and harsh, their behavior DOES affect you. Even if you do not take their behavior personally, their unloving behavior can cause some deeper core feelings of loneliness, helplessness, heartache, heartbreak and sadness. Taking their behavior personally may be a way to cover over these deeper painful feelings, because when you tell yourself that their behavior is your fault, then you might feel anxious, depressed, guilty or shamed. As bad as these feelings feel, they are actually easier to feel because you are the one causing them by taking their behavior personally.
Likewise, if you are the withdrawn or harsh one, and a person close to you is not taking your behavior personally and are feeling their own core painful feelings caused by your unloving behavior, they may choose not to be with you. They might not want to be with you when you are withdrawn or attacking. In this case, it is important that you DO take their behavior personally and explore what you are doing that is resulting in exactly what you likely don't want—their moving away from you.