“It’s got nothing to do with you.”
Gosh, if there was one lesson I wish I could have learned when I was younger. “It has nothing to do with you.” I know, without context, this doesn’t give you much information. Let’s paint a picture:
You get done with your monologue in your acting class. Almost everyone is supportive, providing encouragement, healthy critique, and their most memorable moments… Except for Riley. They are looking at you with daggers in their eyes.
Now, at first thought, most peoples’ interpretations are the same—"this person is pissed with me.” Then, if your mind is anything like mine, you begin to spiral into a kaleidoscope of negative thought: what did I do wrong? Did I do anything wrong? Did I pick the wrong piece? Well, it’s not their place anyway! Actually, screw them. They’ll probably be worse than me!
And here is the lesson: it probably has nothing to do with you.
You could be perfectly in the light and they have to squint. Your piece could have triggered a memory with them of someone that hurt them. They may be sick! When that person cuts you off, or the bank teller is a little short, or the person didn’t keep the elevator door open for you; I’ve learned that it’s rarely anything to do with you, so don’t take it personally. For better or worse, I’ve found far more peace in giving people the benefit of the doubt. Especially when I consider the price I pay with the alternative—doubt, shame, defensiveness, anger, and unforgiveness. So why should I stress?
This holds true even considering this next episode in Riley, The Hater:
Riley steps onto stage and delivers their monologue, and it’s the same as yours. After class is over, they walk up to you, and they declare how much you suck and that you’re a terrible actor anyway.
Ouch! My first instinct, too, is to put up my armor: well, I worked on this for 3 hours every day this week. I bet they didn’t rehearse as much! Wow, ok, way to judge! Nobody likes them anyway! Well, no one else says I suck!
But guess what?
Even in this circumstance: it has nothing to do with you.
Don Miguel Ruiz poses similar rationale in his book, The Four Agreements. When people antagonize you or get angry with you, don’t take it personally. Whatever you have done that has aggravated them, the likelihood is extremely high that your actions have brought relief and focus to their own flaws of which they themselves are ashamed. Riley’s outburst has nothing to do with you; it has everything to do with the fact that your achievement has triggered them about their own doubts in acting, or charisma, humility, or even your background!
The main argument I hear for this is that, well, sometimes it is your fault. While this may be true sometimes, I still hold to the philosophy. Even in the instance of not being capable enough and failing in a task, when your boss yells at you: you may have dropped the ball, but their emotional outburst has nothing to do with you. You will get better at it. You are responsible for your emotional regulation, and others are responsible for their own. With this example, your boss may have a lot of pressure from upper level management, and they tie much of their identify and worthiness to their job performance. In the end, it has nothing to do with you.
I myself am of the belief that, while we can always do better, we have to trust ourselves that we did the best that we could do within our given circumstances. You can shame yourself all day long for accidentally stuttering during your name introduction to your interviewer, but guess what? You were nervous. You were anxious. Your nervous system was heightened due to sympathetic nervous system stimulation, thereby decreasing your thresholds to action potentials contracting your muscles and making your mouth dry.
This has a lot to do with anyone in setting they are expected to perform. Actors, for instance, aren’t selected for jobs constantly. When you get that “unfortunate” letter, likely, the choice had nothing to do with your talent. The producer may have a son they want for the role. You may not look good next to the romantic love interest. The company may be going a different direction. Healthcare providers get tons of critique from patients, dissatisfied reviews, and “my last doctor wouldn’t do that”s. Patients may be scared; they may share your feelings about not getting enough time with patients; they may really like warm waiting rooms. In each of these scenarios, it likely has nothing to do with you. Something that is helpful for me when I start getting in a space of wanting to change myself to fit unreasonable expectations is to realize that “What’s for me will be for me.” In other words, I was never going to be the person that this malcontent wanted me to be. And how unhappy would I be in trying to be something I’m not and continuing to disappoint someone looking to me?
One of the largest learning areas I’ve had in the past year is that I need to be more gentle with myself. We talk to ourselves way worse than we talk to anyone else. I certainly would never say to someone, “You are such a weak little mouse, you can’t do anything right.” But, Lord knows, I’ve said it to myself before. Regardless of what happens in our lives, what we get done, or how successful we are, we are still worthy of love and belonging; and no matter what anyone says to us, we are still worthy of love and belonging. Moreover: it has nothing to do with you.
In this way, not taking things personally cultivates a spirit of self-belonging.
Kindly thank anger, shame, and resentment for attending, and see them out the door. All of our emotions are valid, and it is important to acknowledge them. But don’t let them run the show.
Choose joy, choose gratitude, and choose love.
Dr. Susan David has an amazing quote I’d love to close with:
“When instead you start labeling your thoughts, your emotions, your stories for what they are, ‘This is anger. I’m noticing that I’m feeling angry. I’m noticing that this is my urge to leave the room. I’m noticing that this is my ‘I’m-not-good enough’ story.’ So, what you’re doing here is you are… You’re not bottling, you’re not pushing it aside, you’re not getting stuck in it, but what you’re starting to do is you’re starting to create linguistic space between you and the emotion, so that you can move beyond the emotion. Because of course, when you say, ‘I am sad,’ you are the cloud. When you say, ‘I’m noticing that I’m feeling sad.’ It’s so subtle, but you’ve created space and you are now zooming out. Because you aren’t the cloud. You are the sky. Human beings are capacious and beautiful and messy and extraordinary enough to feel all of their emotions, and they have their values and have their wisdom, and so this linguistic distancing brings us into clarity with ourselves, brings us into alignment with ourselves. We’re no longer owned by the emotions, but the emotion’s a part of us.”
--Dr. Susan David, Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead Podcast: The Dangers of Toxic Positivity: Part I