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Not Taking It Personally

When your partner expresses an unmet need and you criticize yourself about it, you take it personally (hear criticism) and feel hurt. When you accept that you are basically a good person with good intentions, doing the best you can, you are much less likely to take things personally.  Accepting yourself in this way requires practice and self-awareness.  Let's look at some of what this entails.

When you take things personally, you likely find yourself reacting. Either you tell yourself how wrong you are or you say how wrong the other person is.

Most people flip back and forth between the two, feeling alternately, depressed – angry, depressed – angry, . . .

When you have any reaction (by reaction I mean a sudden clenching of the body, heart, and mind - disconnect) to what someone is saying, the first thing to do is ask, "What am I telling myself? What am I making this mean?"  Reaction means a judgment show has begun in your mind. If you can get front row seats to this show, your chances of intervening are much higher.

Take the time to stop and watch your show rather than move on to the next distraction, or even worse, start speaking from your reaction.  Whether you are at work or at home, take a timeout. Bathrooms are great places for timeouts.

During this timeout you call on your calm and nurturing inner parent to dialogue with your judgment thoughts. Here's an example of a dialogue I had with a judgment thought of mine that was stimulated by a conversation in which I perceived criticism from someone's feedback.  In NVC we often use the term jackal to symbolize disconnected thinking, believing, and speaking.  The metaphor helps you to disidentify with your thoughts.

Jackal: You're worthless.

My inner parent: I'm guessing you're scared jackal.

Jackal: Yes. (already with this single line of empathy I could feel my body start to relax).

My inner parent: I'm guessing you think it will somehow be helpful if I believe what you say. How do you think it will be helpful?

Jackal: If you believe me, then you will shut down and get depressed and not take any risks and then we will be safe.

My inner parent: Yea, so you want to be safe from hurt.

Jackal: That's right.

My inner parent: Jackal, what we both know is that depression is actually more painful than any hurt I could experience in my relationships. Do you remember all the pain we've experienced in the past with depression? I want you to know I am committed to keeping us safe. I do this by paying attention to our inner experience through mindfulness, meditation, journaling, and talking with others.

And I consistently take the time to do these things, like I am doing right now with you.

This dialogue effectively dissolved this jackal. This was the alpha jackal of a pack that showed up together. So I did several dialogues of this sort before completely relaxing around the situation.

Let's sum up the key elements in learning to respond to yourself with acceptance so that you are less apt to take things personally.

  1. Notice when you're reacting.
    1. Know the signs and symptoms of reaction in your body, heart, mind, and behavior.   Anger, collapse, shut down, and turning toward addictions are the most common indicators
  2. Choose to take a timeout from the interaction.
  3. Get front row seats at your jackal show (Ask: "What am I telling myself?").
  4. Access the your calm and nurturing inner parent to give empathy to each jackal and ground yourself in truth.
  5. Engage the jackals in a dialogue one by one. This dialogue includes:
    1. Guess the feelings and needs of your jackals
    2. Ground your jackals in what you know is true, (e.g. depression won't make us safe from hurt).
    3. Let your jackals know the concrete strategies you are engaging in to meet the needs they are concerned about.
Take time now to reflect on the last time your partner tried to express an unmet need and you took it personally.  Go through each of the steps above separately for each of the jackals that came up for you regarding that interaction.

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2 Responses

  1. Jun 03, 2013

    This timeout business is great, I did it just the other day and it completely changed the outcome... I have a question though.

    My timeout was a good 30 min, and I imagine taking 30 min for every reaction I have... I start to wonder how feasible it is going to be.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

  2. Jun 03, 2013

    Dear Schuyler,

    My vision here would be that the practice you do during a timeout would become more and more a part of your inner dialogue such that less time is needed for a timeout. You can find more details about the practice during timeouts here:

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