“And then you’ll never guess what she said to me …!” [insert indignant tone of voice]
It’s been fascinating watching my girls grow up and seeing them go through exactly the same situations as I remember from when I was their ages. The insecurities, the interactions with friends, the learning how to cope in social situations … I find myself telling them “it’s not always all about you, you know!”, but actually, the more I think about it, it is. It’s about all of us and it’s a very complicated situation.
We are constantly worrying about what people think of us, whether we’re wearing the right things or saying or doing the right things – when in reality nobody is thinking about us at all because they’re worrying about the same things themselves! We are simultaneously inwardly-focussed and outwardly-focussed and that can be quite exhausting. It becomes easy to take someone else’s words or actions personally because we hear or see them in relation to how we are feeling ourselves, and that’s something that I still very often struggle with however much I try not to let it affect me. This is why the internet in particular can be such a dangerous place because text has no tone of voice and we hear the written words in our heads in any tone that we choose.
It’s at these times that I have to remind myself of something that I learnt on one of the meditation courses I attended: “Don’t see intentions in other people’s actions”. In other words, don’t assume that the other person has spoken or behaved in a particular way just to upset you. They have actually said or done whatever they did because of how they are feeling, and it’s not about you at all. They might be worried, or frightened, feeling insecure themselves or they might be ill. People who are poorly often speak in a way that offends the people who are caring for them and if we only listened without taking the words personally we would hear the despair and frustration behind words that are often not intended to hurt at all.
So here comes the complicated bit. Conversation with someone else often isn’t about us – and at the same time it is all about us. How we wear the words and choose to interpret them is entirely our choice. No one else can make us happy or unhappy. No one else can make us laugh or cry unless we choose to let them. It’s always down to us and how we are feeling at the time we hear the words. It’s a tough lesson to learn. It takes practice, years and years of it sometimes, and even then we don’t always get it right, but knowing that it’s all about you – and not all about you – is liberating. It’s something that I wish I’d known through my super-self-conscious teenage years but better late than never. I just tell my girls about it now – and hope that they hear the words in the way they are intended!