You would have no idea of what you looked like physically without your bathroom mirror. The bottom line is, you come to know yourself through reflection. People in the external world are like a giant mirror. When someone says, “Why are you so angry all the time?” You come to consider yourself to be an angry person. If people look at you like something is wrong with you, you come to consider yourself as defective. If people tell you that you are beautiful, you come to see yourself as beautiful. We see the way people react to us as a reflection of who we really are and when we are children, we do not question the reflection we are being shown through other people at all. We do not question the accuracy of the mirror. Instead, we swallow the mirror. Our internal concept merely becomes the same as what is being reflected from the outside.
Let’s imagine that a child has a mother who actually does not want a child because she wants to live a life around what she wants to do and have no obligations. The mirror (which is the mother) will not be accurate. It will be tainted with “I don’t want you”. This mother will not be able to reflect to a child that he or she is important and valuable. The reflection the child will see in the mirror is that he or she is a burden and is not important and is an unwanted burden. Instead of questioning the mirror, he or she will swallow the mirror and will see himself or herself as someone who is a burden and unwanted and unimportant and not valuable. In order to ensure his or her survival, he or she will then adapt his or her behavior according to that self-image. For example, if he or she sees himself or herself as intrinsically worthless, he or she may decide they cannot get connection for being who they are because no one would inherently want them in that way given that they have no value. Therefore he or she might instead choose to get the connection they need from others through codependent strategies.
Because of our early childhood environments, many of us adopt a self-image of shame. We swallow the mirror, which is reflecting that we are bad, wrong, hold little or no value and are unwanted. We swallow the mirror that something is wrong with us. This usually happens the strongest if we grew up in households where our caregivers made us the problem. They deflected their own shame by blaming us for everything. The mirror we swallowed held the reflection that we carried all the responsibility for anything negative. As a result, we develop into adults who take everything personally. Meaning that any time someone reacts to us in a negative way or any time something negative happens, it was our personal fault. We are the ones who carry the responsibility for that fault or wrong. We do this because we have instinctively learned from our primary childhood relationships with people who refused to carry any responsibility for anything negative themselves, that it was personal.
We end up being people who take everything personally because we were raised by people who could not face and resolve their own shame, so they passed it on to us and that shame became our self-concept. For this reason, I need you to watch my videos titled: The #1 Relationship Obstacle (And How To Dissolve It), in which I explain the mechanics of shame deflection, as well as Projection (Understanding the Psychology of Projecting).
Responsibility is the opposite of the state of victimhood. In victimhood, one feels that they do not govern themselves or their own life. One feels no ability to choose and one has lost touch with their sense of free will. They are in a state of powerlessness relative to themselves and their life. Responsibility is when someone healthily claims their power over themselves and their own life. This causes them to feel a sense of their own free will and to consciously choose. If you have responsibility, you are leading your own life. But what about toxic responsibility? Responsibility is actually at the opposite end of the vibrational scale from self-blame, which is toxic responsibility. But it takes a high degree of emotional awareness to see responsibility and self-blame as opposing states because both states recognize the self in a position of causation. For this reason, self-blame can disguise itself as responsibility like a wolf wearing sheep’s clothing. But one is self-hating, the other self-loving. One condemns the self and the other saves the self. If you are taking responsibility, you are feeling empowered. If you are self blaming, you are feeling bad about yourself and disempowered. But self-blame is in fact how we escape a feeling of genuine powerlessness to someone else.
Sometimes, we are so powerless to something that taking blame for something is the only way we can avoid feeling powerless and victimized. For example, often children who are abused feel less powerless and terrified and victimized if they believe that they are somehow at fault for the abuse or did something to deserve it. When this is the case, we have a toxic attachment to responsibility. To be responsible so as to see and own your part in the causation of events in your life is a great thing. Up until the point where you are seeing and owning not just your part in the causation of events in your life but also everyone else’s part in it… Or potentially not seeing their part and what is theirs at all.
When we believe down deep that we are bad, we automatically assume that any negative thing that happens is because of us. We take any negative reaction that someone says personally and our deep, visceral sense of shame is instantly triggered. And many people take advantage of this by either allowing you or forcing you to own that blame, whether or not something is actually your responsibility. They get to avoid their own shame by doing this. But taking everything personally leads to a super painful life and it reinforces shame, which leads to things like broken relationships, addiction, and even suicide. So what should you do in order to not take things so personally?
- Question The Mirror. If we are imprinted with a deep, visceral sense of shame, we swallow the mirror. We accept the reflection of ourselves that we are perceiving in other people’s reactions without any question. We need to learn to question the accuracy of the mirror itself and consider that there may be something distorting and warping the mirror itself, which might make the reflection different than the thing it is actually reflecting (you). Ask yourself in a situation where you are taking something personally, is there something in them that could be distorting the reflection? For example, if they are acting rude, could they be stressed with something else in their life, like a failed relationship? If they are furious at me, could I have triggered some unhealed wound from their past? If they are treating me like I’m a slut, could it be because they have disowned their sexuality? If they are treating me like I’m worthless cause I have no money, could it be because their father traumatized them into feel like they held no value unless they were financially successful?
If we struggle with shame, and as such seem to inherently take all the blame in any given situation regardless of whether we want to or not, we have an impossible time separating what we are responsible for from what other people are responsible for in any given scenario. For this reason, I want you to get in the habit of doing an exercise where you discern what’s theirs and what’s yours in any given conflict or negative situation. Alternatively, you could do what’s mine and what’s not mine, if your situation isn’t directly about an interpersonal conflict. To do this exercise, take a piece of paper and make two columns. Put ‘Mine” at the top of the first column and either “Theirs” or “Not Mine” at the top of the second. Now, close your eyes and witness the negative situation from third person perspective. Witness it as if you were a genuinely objective bystander who is able to see and know all. And pick apart the situation for what part of the situation belongs to either column. Here is an example that a client did relative to herself and her husband post divorce:
His parents have a classic codependent and narcissistic relationship and have raised him to relate in that same style in relationships.
He was a child at the time and was not ready for marriage.
He doesn’t want to be there for a woman, he told me so himself.
He is un-attuned and has said he doesn’t care whether he hurts people emotionally. His ‘honesty’ is cruel.
He decided to marry me even when he knew I had clinical depression… Assuming he wouldn’t or shouldn’t have to deal with that in the marriage.
He “just gave up” with the pressure of taking care of me and didn’t even communicate about it or even put effort into getting us help with it.
He makes himself feel good by putting people down. LOVES shaming.
He didn’t try to remedy the marriage at all, no therapy or anything, just filed for divorce.
He made it about me being too hard to handle instead of admitting that he really doesn’t want a serious relationship, he wants a trophy wife.
He spins everything that he does to hurt relationships into good things… for example, “It’s good that I run in relationships, it’s them who need to be run from. He can’t and won’t see anything bad about himself.
He is not committed at all. The minute the going gets tough he gets going.
He can’t be in a relationship with someone who has needs and who needs anything from him. As he puts it “He will not sign on to be leaned on”. He wants an independent woman who does not depend on him at all. He sees dependence as ‘sickness’.
He was so self centered that when I was in Labor, he was focused on how much discomfort he was in because of feeling “sleep deprived” because I needed his support.
I was so desperate for belonging that it didn’t matter what man I was with. Because of this, I have NO discernment with men. I get like a starving person willing to eat poisoned food. I wasn’t in love with him. I wanted to belong and I really wanted to belong with his family.
I struggle with clinical depression. This is too much for some men.
I married him one month after meeting him.
I was obsessed with pregnancy and whether I was pregnant or not and even lied to a few boyfriends that I was at that age because that = getting the belonging I was so desperate for to me. I wasn’t concerned with whether the man I was with wanted it.
I feel ashamed that I can’t cope like ‘normal people’.
I didn’t have the money for therapy at that time, so I didn’t go to therapy which put a lot of pressure on my partner.
I told him I could be a stay at home mom when I had no support system. This wasn’t true. I didn’t realize I couldn’t do that – I couldn’t see that as a limitation of mine.
Deep down if I’m honest, I do feel I need a man to take care of me.
- Do a meditation where you give back what isn’t yours to hold and keep only what is yours to keep and be responsible for. You can either invent your own way of visualizing this or you can listen to the guided meditation that I have designed for doing this. You can do this only once to relieve yourself of burdens you’re carrying from situations that have happened in the past or situations that are currently happening. Alternatively, you can do this any time you are in a situation where you are feeling like you are to blame for everything. To access the guided meditation that I offer for this process, visit my website www.tealswan.com and click shop on the menu.
- If you are taking everything personally, you are trusting other people (or their reactions to you) tell you everything about who you are, instead of relying on what you know to be true about yourself; what really defines you as a person without any outside influence. For this reason, commit to the practice of authenticity. To learn how to be authentic, watch my video quite literally titled: How To Be Authentic.
- Put yourself in the other person’s perspective. Often, when we are limited to our own individual perspective, as well as the inherent shame we feel, we are blind to seeing the reality that the other person is observing so we can’t actually see what their reaction is actually about. Doing this exercise makes it much more clear and also helps us to discern what is ours and what isn’t ours. Pretend to be them but interacting with you. If you want an awesome technique for how to do this, watch my video titled: The Octopus Technique.
- Face your own shame. You now know that the root of taking everything personally is shame. Therefore, make focusing on and resolving your shame, your top priority. To learn more about how to do this, watch my video titled: How to Overcome Shame. We all take things the most personally when people hit our sensitive spots. For example, if I feel confident that I’m doing something right, I won’t feel insecure or take it personally when someone says I’m doing it wrong. If I’m insecure that I’m overweight, I will take it personally if someone makes a joke about weight. Recognize that when we are taking things personally, often a deep wound (sore spot) that is unhealed is being triggered. To learn how to heal these old wounds, try out my process called The Completion Process, which is outlined in detail in my book titled “The Completion Process”.
- Question the meaning that you are adding to the experience. We encounter various experiences in our day-to-day life. Some we could consider positive and some we could consider negative. But the quality of our experience relative to those experiences is flavored by one thing and that is the meaning that we assign to the experience. When we are taking things personally, it is an indication that we are adding painful meaning to an experience. We need to ask ourselves, what am I making this mean? And then question that meaning that we have assigned to the experience. For example, imagine that someone ignores you when you try to get their attention. You could make this mean that they are currently absorbed in their own thoughts or you could make it mean that you don’t matter to them. We need to make sure that the meaning we have assigned to an experience is actually the meaning of the experience. Allow people to clarify if you are confused about their actual meaning. To learn more about how this works, watch my video titled: Meaning, The Self Destruct Button.
- Recognize the egocentric worldview. People in general are prone to seeing themselves as the epicenter of the world. Everyone sees the world this way because everyone is experiencing the world through his or her singular perspective. Therefore, if you walk into a room, chances are everyone is really thinking about themselves. We’re thinking about our own insecurities, flaws, weaknesses, feelings, thoughts, experiences and realities. We often think everyone is thinking about us or judging us (because we see ourselves as the center of the world) when in fact, often they are not because they see themselves as the center of the world as well and are concerned that everyone is thinking about and judging them.
A miniscule part of what people do and how they act towards you is personal. So throw up the mirror you swallowed long ago. Throw up the mirror whose reflection shows that you are to blame for and are thus responsible for everything negative. And as a result, you will see not only yourself, but also the world more clearly.