One of the best discoveries I have made during my journey to change some of my own ways was this:
To not take it personally.
It sounds really easy, and it should be. But it is not. I have always known I am crap at communication, however it took me a really long time to realize that this was problem.
While at work I always try to think before I speak, I never take things personally and I never had any kind of issue with anyone. I guess this was because I would disassociate myself and as soon as I got into work I would step into my “office role”.
In my personal life, especially in my relationship this was different story. I felt that my home, the place I shared with my love was the only place in the world where I could be myself all the time, and for me that meant that I had to be able to do what I wanted at any time and everybody else had to deal with that. If anyone would try and talk to me about do things differently I would feel attacked and I would enter defense mode. Not a pretty place to be.
So after a few therapy sessions, our therapist and my love where able to inform me that I was not always right and that I could be a real mean pain in the ass. I kind of knew that already but I thought it was my right to defend myself. The thing is if someone loves you, you should try and accept that they are not trying to attack you. Probably they are just trying to talk about something that they would like you to do or change.
Feeling inspired by this knew realization that my attitude and my communication skills where the problem I decided to do some research. I got a flyer from my therapist about how to communicate without fighting and I Googled a few of the things she mentioned. I found this great book “non-violent communication” by Marshal Rosenberg. Basically it teaches you that you should try to listen with empathy while communication with others, for one part (I will get back later to the other part of you communicating clearly). It is not easy to apply this all day every day in everyday life because you have a lot of stuff that is embedded in your mind and it takes a lot of practice to change your ways but it does really improve everything if you try.
Actually I still have a long way ahead of me and I think I have to re-read the book a few times but for me the most practical point I got for this book is to not take stuff personally. For example, last Thursday got home from work. I was kind of on an edge with my love because he had been working late and I had seen little of him. I was tired but I still had to water the plants and after that I wanted to make dinner and try and have some quality time together. So while I was doing chores in the garden my love comes out of the office. He asks me “where are the red scissors? I know you used them this weekend.” I replied “I’m not sure, I will look for it as soon as I’m done here.” He said: “No forget about it, I already know where they are. But you always do this, you always use stuff I need and then just leave it laying around. I told you so many times already but you keep doing this.” (The book teaches you that using always and other generalizations in discussions is really not a good way of communicating, but I did not point that out at that moment)
So I reply: “ I’m sorry, you know I was busy in the garden this weekend and I used the scissors, I’m glad you found it and I’m sorry I left it laying around. I’ll try and take better care next time. Where did I leave it then?”
He: “I’m not going to tell you, you should just realize you always do this and it is really annoying. I never loose stuff and I always know where I leave everything but you always leave everything just laying around and never remember where you leave stuff and I always have to find everything you misplace.”
In the past this would have resulted in a few hours (or days) of fight. This time I just told myself: do not take it personally. Do not take it personally. Do not take it personally! It is really hard, because as soon as someone addresses you all the time about stuff you do you kind of get the feeling they are trying to attack you and make you feel lousy. Well they are not, at least not trying to make you feel lousy, they just need you to change something and they are really bad at trying to convey this message.
So I was calm and listened, when he was done venting just told him again I was sorry, and he went back to work. Then I took my daily walk and breathed to calm myself down even more, repeating it is not personal. After a few minutes of walking and breathing I just had to laugh about my silliness with scissors and his silliness not wanting to tell me where they were.
Later that night my patience was tested again. It was during dinner, I was really hungry and eating quite fast. My love hates this; he chews eternally on every bite. I have always been a fast eater and when I am starving I just really want to and need to eat. So we sat down toasted our drinks and whished each other bon appetite. I dig in and after three bites I say, hmm it’s really good. What do you think? And I keep on eating. He just keeps looking at me, I just feel he stopped eating and he keeps staring at me, I did not realize it at first because I was focused on eating but I just felt his eyes on me for a long while. So then I look at him and he has the most disapproving face in the world and tells me, do you have to eat like that? Why can’t you ever behave normally? Still being a bit sensible about the scissors episode I was at the verge of throwing down my plate leaving the table and walking away in tears. My appetite was gone and I was boiling inside. I put down my plate and took my glass of water and just drank and drank and drank and with each sip I thought to myself. It’s not personal. It’s not personal. It’s not personal!
After finishing the whole glass I breathed deeply and apologize. I took my plate and started eating a little bit slower. We had a nice conversation and I guess he realized he had been a bit of an ass because he tried to be really nice after this.
I still feel like my love can be a complete ass sometimes but by not taking it personally I have avoided so may conflicts, it saves so much energy and you feel so much more at ease.
Sometimes it is hard because it seems people just want to hurt you but if you try to understand why people say the things they say you will learn to understand what drives them to say these things, what they actually need you to do or change.
You get hurt all the time, and the people who you love can hurt you the most. The worst thing my love ever said to me was during a fight. I bought him a gift for his birthday. A piece of art, I really loved, I thought it was the most beautiful thing we seen together so I wanted to give it to him. During one fight he said that I am selfish that even the gift I gave him for his birthday he believed I actually bought it for myself. It still makes me sad to think about these things and I’m not sure if he meant that or just said it to hurt me but I try to not take it personally and search for what he really needs from me when he sais these things. I guess in that instance he wanted me to pay more attention to our relationship instead of spending so much time with things I felt where necessary. Actually at that moment the things I was putting al my attention towards where also things which I felt I was doing for our relationship. So you see while you think your partner (or anyone for that matter) understands you and the efforts you are making he or she can feel the complete opposite way and think that you are being selfish. Improving communication and not getting upset will solve these problems a lot faster then fighting over who is right and who is wrong.
Not everything in life has to be a fight, even when you think you are being attacked or hurt or treated unfairly, sometimes you just have to let go and remind yourself to not take it not personal. It was one of the hardest lessons I have ever learnt but it has resolved so many frustrations and brought so much peace to my life and I am really grateful for that.