August 31, 2021

Why we take Things Personally—& How to Stop.


The ego is a funny thing.

On the one hand, it gives context to the stream of events making up our life, but on the other hand, it also sees those events as happening to us—the “poor little ol’ me” that has all sorts of opinions about self-worth, and comparisons with other egos where it doesn’t measure up. It seems to come from a place of powerlessness, and yet because of this, it brings an appreciation of power and allows us to experience states of awe in the presence of it.

The ego is constantly aware of what it is and what it isn’t, drawing conclusions and judgments to flesh out the narrative of our value system. It speaks the language of “should” and “should not,” adding emotional weight to one or the other, and going to battle against anything that opposes its system of conclusions. In a sense, we take on this egoic construction, attaching it to a physical body, and then declare that this is who we are.

As life plows on, it becomes obvious that the expectations of the ego are the reasons for our suffering. The ego wants life to be a certain way, and when it isn’t, we feel cheated, angry, frustrated, or defeated. However, by pulling ourselves out of this existential duality into a space of compassion and appreciation for circumstances not to our liking, we can gain a modicum of peace and understanding.

What the ego overlooks is the nature of things. It believes its entire world is there to provide for or steal away what it needs. It doesn’t seek out the reasons for the motivations of others, nor does it fully appreciate architectures that make things the way they are. It always takes things personally.

This brings to mind the story of the turtle and the scorpion.

The scorpion asked to ride across the river on the turtle’s back. The turtle said, “I don’t think so. You may sting me and then we’ll both drown.” The scorpion promised not to sting the turtle during their voyage across the water. With trepidation, the turtle agreed to let the scorpion ride on his back. Half-way across the river, the scorpion stung the turtle. The turtle cried, “Why did you sting me? Now we’ll both drown!” The scorpion replied, “Sorry. It’s just my nature.”

The ego has a blind spot when it comes to accepting the nature of things, and most of life’s lessons revolve around appreciating the architecture and behavior of the people and things we interact with. Refusing to acknowledge and accept the way things are is the highway to suffering. The appreciation of and compassion for the actors and objects in our sphere of experience is how we successfully and happily navigate our life path.

By misidentifying or ignoring the nature of things, the ego can prove to itself its inherent powerlessness. Were it to accurately and compassionately accept and allow things to be what they are, the perfection of circumstances would reveal itself, and the function and role of self would become obvious. And this is the value of mindful, caring awareness. By seeking out and observing the big picture of people, places, and things—how they interact, how they move, and why—there is no reason for the ego to take anything personally, despite its propensity to do so.

In the book, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, he says, “Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally. Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”

It is the ego that interprets interactions as if it was the reason for the interaction, but the truth is that other people are acting out of their nature, and it has nothing to do with you. They see you the way they see themselves. We see ourselves in the way others are. Life is just an infinite hall of mirrors, reflecting who we are being to us all. It’s nothing personal; it’s just the nature of life.


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