Recently someone accused me of something weighty.
My first reaction was one of genuine shock and bafflement because the whole thing was so unexpected—and in my opinion the accusation itself was baseless and ludicrous.
The confusion was quickly followed by anger. Anger for two reasons: First, if you’re going to come at me with an accusation, then at least have some solid evidence to back up your allegation. Personal (mis)interpretations of an innocuous oversight do not count. Furthermore, drawing (false) conclusions on a matter without ever having a conversation with the concerned parties is simply in poor taste. It creates unnecessary tensions and does promote goodwill.
Secondly, just how idle did this person think I was? And relatedly, how important did they think they were that I would spend any of my limited time, energy, and headspace, plotting how to undermine them? Where would I even get the time?
I recently read this somewhere, “Harsh truth, your freedom begins the day you realize no one is thinking about you.” I don’t agree with the entirety of that statement, but I certainly agree with its subtle way of telling people to get over themselves. Case in point: While I was busy struggling to keep my head above water in what turned out to be an extremely overwhelming last quarter of 2022, here was this other person making up all sorts of stories in their head about me and my actions. If only they understood that I barely spared them any thought, life would have been far less agonizing for them. Ultimately, though, this unpleasant incident reminded me of a few worthy lessons that I have learnt along the way.
Let me share these with you:
1. Do not make other people’s crazy about you.
I wish I could remember where I originally heard/read this, so I could give due credit, but my memory fails me. The point is that people will often have their own issues and insecurities that they will attempt to project on you. It is easier for an unhappy person to dump their crazy on you, rather than do the self-work required of them to heal and grow. The latter would require taking an honest and critical look at themselves and their behaviour, and they may not like what they see. So, it’s easier to project. In my case, having remembered this wisdom, I decided that I would need to set clear and firm boundaries with this person. I would safeguard my space and recommit to protecting my peace of mind. And as far as I could control it, this person was not welcome in my space.
2. Relatedly, learn to hand people back their crap.
Here, I like the analogy of a gift. If someone presents you with a gift, you have the option to either accept or reject it. So, whenever someone attempts to hand you a “gift of their crap” or drop it at your doorstep, imagine yourself politely declining it. In your mind (or perhaps overtly if need be), tell them “no, thanks, you can keep your gift.” We have little control over people’s behaviour, actions, or thoughts. However, we have a choice whether we accept their crap or hand it back to them. Again, this is about safeguarding our boundaries and space. Sometimes, the event will be unexpected (as it was in my case), catches us off guard, and we might not immediately reject this gift of crap. But remember, even stores have a 14-day return policy for goods and gifts bought. So, hand it back!
3. The third and important lesson that I relearnt from that incident was: You cannot pay attention to what everyone thinks of you.
And as Prof. Brené Brown advises, we should have a short list of people whose opinion of us matters. In fact, if memory serves me correct, Prof. Brown advises that one should write down this short list and keep it with them in their wallet. I’ve never done this. Mine is a mental list. But one thing I knew for certain was that this particular individual did not feature anywhere on that list—nor were they in the running to be included in it anytime soon. So, I made a clear decision that I was not going to spend any of my time worrying about them and their opinions of me. Don’t get me wrong, it is necessary to be open to receiving feedback from others. After all, no one is perfect, and we all have room for improvement and growth. However, it is equally important to be able to discern the intent behind what is being said to you. And in this case, the accusations and statements were not intended to grow me in any way. In fact, they had little or nothing at all to do with me.
So, for anyone out there who had to endure other people’s crazy in the year 2022, understand that people will judge you based on their limits and personalities (this was another thing I remembered thanks to that incident). So, do not make people’s judgements of you to be your problem; that is their problem.
May 2023 be the year that you stand up for yourself, set clear boundaries, and reaffirm your commitment to safeguarding your soul and protecting your peace of mind. Troubles will always be there. But how you choose to react to those troubles is, to a great extent, within your control. So do not hand over your power to other people. May 2023 be kind to you.