I absolutely love the late Patrick Swayze.
Gentleman. Genuine. Gorgeous. What’s not to love, right?
I don’t know about you, but I’ll always remember this talented man who left this life way too early.
Though there are many lines and scenes he lived out on the big screen, one that I frequently recall is the Roadhouse dialogue: “It’s nothing personal.”
“Being called a cocksucker isn’t personal?” the bar’s muscle-bound-macho bouncer retorts.
“No, it’s two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response,” Swayze’s character, Dalton, replies.
“What if somebody calls my mama a whore?”
“Is she?” the establishment’s new Coolerreplies without missing a beat.
If it’s true, then you shouldn’t be bothered by it, and well, if she isn’t, then why waste your energy on something so trivial?
Working with elementary-aged students, I see and hear these sorts of conflicts every day.
Heck, just being Human, I see and hear these sorts of conflicts, even among adults, nearly every day.
There are people, young and old, who feel they must always be first.
There are people who believe that their way is the only way, that they are always right.
You know the type. She is the person who not only lies, she believes her untruths and she is a master at manipulating situations and people to get her way.
In all ages and all walks of life there are insecure people who act like bullies and then there are those who have retreated into themselves, staying as far away from the spotlight as possible.
There are those who rail against aggression with anger or by pushing back, and those who believe the insults to be true and beat themselves up even more, and then there are those who simply shrink away.
Growing up, most anyone born before the Babyboomer age was taught this little ditty, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can’t hurt you.”
As we now know, this is so untrue.
Words can be hurtful, especially when we are feeling vulnerable.
And sometimes it’s not just mean-spirited individuals who arouse hurt, sometimes we feel conflict or angst even in the presence of Angels and Best Friends and Loved Ones who we know aren’t acting with malice.
I have always been sensitive to intent and action, whether it be an deed of goodness…or well, not so kind…
And I’ve spent most of my years taking the actions and the words of others personally.
All that began to change seven years ago, when I realized that my husband’s two affairs had absolutely nothing to do with me.
I knew immediately, and I do mean the second he admitted to this second breach of vow, that the infidelity wasn’t about Me.
It wasn’t about my height or hair color or age or weight.
It wasn’t about my big laugh or dry sense of humor or the fact that I don’t get the joke until tomorrow.
It wasn’t about the flamboyant way I tell a story or about the fact that I rely on him to help me remember the details of events.
And it wasn’t about my diligence in trying to maintain some form of organized chaos or any of my emotions that sit right on the surface of my existence.
It was about Him and his insecurities and his demons.
And though there was absolutely nothing easy about the grieving process (believe you me), that realization did open up the proverbial door to healing.
The hardest part of that recovery has been in integrating my emotional and spiritual facets with the academic.
I subconsciously wove His Stuff into Mine.
And often times I accepted the conscious dysfunction as truth by letting the taking-it-personal mentality blip by without addressing or challenging the thoughts.
Those fleeting beliefs like, Maybe my weight loss and the attention I was getting from other men made him feel insecure, were self-sabotaging and fed the life blood that was my suffering.
Without knowing it, I was blaming his adultery on something I did.
I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why that conflict was so pervasive, until my therapist and I stumbled upon the damsel syndrome.
And here’s what I’ve discovered about why and when we make things personal: Any internal conflict (questioning or shame or guilt or doubt) about a particular subject sits within us like an exposed jugular.
When someone touches that delicate vein, it is often like they are doing so with a sharp edge.
I have struggled with body image for as long as I can remember, have battled bulimia and repeated weight gains and weight losses.
As hard as I’ve been working to feel comfortable in my skin, I still harbor an insecurity that tells me I don’t fit a particular image.
I recently did my first Google Hangout session, a sort of commercial for the upcoming radio show on Healing through the Holidays.
Between a slow satellite internet that pixilated and distorted my image and the fact that I had the computer in my lap, I looked like a cross between a Biggest Loser contestant and that undead guy on the new Sprint commercials.
Note: when a lens is close and looking up at you, it blows you up!
If I didn’t carry around such weight angst, I might have laughed it off instead of thinking “I am HUGE…God, I have so much more to lose.”
That sort of mentality is the one that says, You’re not good enough or What you’ve been doing still isn’t good enough.
Any outsider comment about body size highlights my discomfort, even when the message isn’t about me.
Swayze’s character would respond to my angst by asking, “Well, are you? Fat?”
That matter-of-fact question puts us right square in the middle of where we are all the time, often without realizing we’re there: In control of our own life.
It removes the other person from the picture.
If Hot-headed Bouncer Steve had ever experienced shame or guilt or embarrassment with regard to his mother, then the name calling would incite fury and/or a fight, not because he wanted to protect his Mama’s reputation, but simply because it bared his own fears.
When someone called him a cocksucker or his mother a whore, what he felt were razor-sharp knives of “We are flawed/damaged/not good enough.
We might whisper those same things to ourselves one-hundred times a day, but who in their right freaking mind wants to hear it from someone else?
It’s that old, “I can say something about myself or my family/friend, but don’t you even think about breathing one negative word about them!
The bottom line is this: We are experiencing some sort of pain and we either aren’t tapped into it or, if we do acknowledge that it makes us feel icky or unloved and devalued, we don’t have a clue yet how to get out from beneath the mountain of suffering, how to reconcile our conflicts…
It doesn’t matter if we feel a person is deliberately being cruel or inconsiderate or if we believe her actions to be unintentional.
If we feel slighted, then we are making it personal.
We need to hone in on whatever makes us uncomfortable, we need to assume Dalton’s persona and ask ourselves the tough question.
And when we have that initial reply, we need to go deeper by asking more of ourselves.
For Bouncer Steve, if his reply is, “No she ain’t no whore!,” then he needs to ask himself, “So why am I so offended?”
For me, the questions that ensue have been, “Why: am I overweight/do I abuse food/keep repeating the same behaviors that cause me conflict/do I consider myself to blame?”
That, my friends, is the fourth step of healing: Do the hard work.
Once we no longer feel as if the sharpest blade known to Cutco is pressing into our necks, what we once perceived to be personalis no longer threatening and no longer has a negative impact on our lives…
Once we address our internal turmoil, then we are in a position to truly understand that the way another person acts (in negative or positive ways) is a reflection of her own personality and has nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with us.
Can you identify with a time when you’ve taken something personally and suffered as a result? Did you reconcile the conflict or do you still carry it around like a lead weight?