When you are wrapped up in your own pile of hurt, it’s almost impossible to see the other person clearly. Taking things personally is like taking a hammer to hurt your own hand, which is a very bad idea. Hurt becomes a false cocoon of “safety” that really demolishes any opportunity for real understanding.
The most important improvement I made as a parent in my relationship with my daughter, when she was in her turbulent high school years, was to stop taking things personally. Teenagers suffer a lot surviving high school. They need to come home and dump on their parents just how hard that struggle is. They need space to be dramatic, angry and certain they are right as long as respect has not been lost along the way.
When we take things personally we are so occupied with our own shame, feeling stupid or hurt that communication becomes very snarled up. Guilt is another favorite contaminate. I fall on the icy sidewalk and my jewish husband says “Why can’t you be more careful?” because he feels guilty he didn’t prevent my falling instead of just a simple “Are you OK?”. Instead of taking it personally, it makes me laugh because I know it’s his cultural guilt playing havoc with our ability to connect.
Taking things personally closes the door, hardens your shell and makes you turn away. This is the opposite of what makes relationships work. Relationships require openness, a softening and a turning towards each other. The more you can stay in the moment and move through emotions instead of getting stuck in personal hurt, shame or guilt the more likely two people can be successful in understanding each other. A lot of what makes couples work difficult is how entrenched both individuals are in historical patterns of feeling hurt and taking things personally. In every pair of people, there exists a shorthand or special language in how hurt is perceived from each other, that may not be happening in the here and now. I often have to intercept the false idea of hurt that’s perceived because it’s not there this time or I can see the context without the historical habit of contamination. My interruption can clear a way through the clutter of taking things personally to a fresh start that gives both people that precious second chance to truly understand each other, because love is not enough.