Taking It Personally
There is a great bit in the movie “You’ve Got Mail” when Meg Ryan’s character is talking to Tom Hank’s character about the falsity of telling someone “it’s not personal” when of course, it is affecting her on a very deep, personal level.
The line “don’t take it personally” or “it’s not personal” can be a great way for someone to relieve their own sense of responsibility for another person’s feelings by blaming them for the hurt they are experiencing. This is very disconnecting for both people – let’s call them Meg and Tom. Tom’s acknowledgment of that hurt would be far more effective way of empathizing with Meg and by recognizing that they are both feeling disempowered. This, paradoxically, leads to empowerment. In other words, Meg “taking it personally” is feeling out of control because the Tom is doing something “to” her. Tom, who has done the bad deed, is feeling out of control to relieve Meg’s the hurt and pain. Something as simple as “I see that this is hurting you and I’m sorry that what I am doing is causing you distress” can be far more relieving than “don’t take it personally.”
On the other hand, for Meg, the aggrieved person, recognizing that she has the power to “not take it personally” can be an enormous step in taking responsibility for her feelings. The situation (her store that was going out of business due to Tom’s new big business) was only the surface issue. The meaning for her was that she was losing her connection to her mother, her childhood, and her life’s work. Those were what made this personal and it really didn’t come from Tom and he was not doing anything “to” her, he was doing something that was meaningful for him, and the consequences were neither intended nor under his control.
As it was, Meg was able to move forward in her life and begin her own journey of becoming a writer, so with no change in actual circumstances, she was able to respond in a different way.
It is a natural part of the grieving process to blame others for creating an unwanted change. It is our responsibility to make the decision to accept our own part in causing our own pain.
Addicts experience this all the time. Initially, they don’t want to change - they blame, they fight, and they push away. Eventually, in recovery, they live the Serenity Prayer and take responsibility for their own destinies. In so doing, they eventually move from resenting their addiction to being grateful for it, because it brought them to a far better place.
Be In Light
The Serenity Prayer
God, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference