Taking Things Personally and Being Right

We've all taken things personally when in fact things weren't personal.  It is natural to react defensively to negative or critical comments as if they are about us, especially when they are directed to us and about us.  But just because someone is coming at you, doesn't mean it is really about you.  Sometimes, you need to take a step back.  Observe.  Decide a course of action rather than react to the situation. Rebecca and her husband both worked full time.  They both had the type of jobs that tended to be stressful and sometimes they brought work stress home.  It was during those stressful times that ordinary household issues became problematic.   John had the bad habit of leaving dirty dishes in the sink.  Rebecca was annoyed.  She mentioned  the issue on numerous occasions.  John was typically apologetic and vowed to do better.  Sometimes he did do better but it was not uncommon for him to slide back into his bachelor ways.  John was a typical guy that just didn't seem bothered by a bit of chaos and mess.   Rebecca, on the other hand,  prided herself on order and neatness. She couldn't relax unless things were in their proper place and she ran a pretty tight ship.  Rebecca didn't mind doing household chores.  She liked them done a certain way and gained a certain level of happiness seeing her towels folded perfectly and stacked neatly in the closet.  Sometimes she was frustrated by John's lack to commitment to the household cleanliness but he tried  in his own way and would always do whatever she asked him to do.  He just wasn't that good at seeing what needed to be done.   Rebecca had an especially stressful day at work.  She had worked late  and couldn't wait to get home to relax.  John's day was business as usual.  Rebecca had informed him she was going to be late and that he may want to start dinner without her.  So John being a supportive husband, prepared dinner, ate dinner, and saved a plate for Rebecca.  He was sitting on the sofa watching tv when Rebecca arrived.  John greeted her at the door very lovingly and put her plate in the microwave so she could sit down to eat.  John was feeling pretty good.   Rebecca, on the other hand, was feeling really angry from events at work.  She was so angry she didn't notice her husband's greeting.  She didn't notice her meal that he had prepared.  What she did notice was the dirty dishes in the sink!  And as you might imagine, this was not a time when she let it slide.  Not only did she not let it slide, she really leaned into how much she hated his filthy, slovenly, disrespectful behavior.  There was actually more to it than that, but  you get the picture. So what were the choices that John and Rebecca could make that would improve the situation and what choices would make the situation worse? John could defend himself. He could refuse to clean the dishes since he had done all the cooking.  He could point out how she was ungrateful and overreacting.   He could also get angry and shut down communication.  He could make her attitude the problem and make Rebecca the one who was wrong.  He could feel victimized.  He could take her comments personally. Another possibility would be to allow Rebecca some time to vent.  He could apologize for leaving dirty dishes and he could wash the dishes.  He could acknowledge her stress and let her know he wanted to help.  When things were calm he could revisit the issue of her work stress and her feelings about the dirty dishes.  He could let her know what he had done to be supportive and ask to be acknowledged for his efforts. Rebecca was obviously bringing some of her work stress home and the dirty dishes were the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.   She could chose to continue to make the issue about her husband's dirty dishes, his broken promises, and him not pulling his weight around the house.  She could allow her anger to continue to other areas of concern.  She could withdraw in anger.  She could make John wrong.  She could take his oversight of dirty dishes to be a personal attack on her. Or Rebecca could take a step back and acknowledge her own emotional state.  She could say something like, "Look John,  I'm in a really bad mood and extremely upset about what happened at work. "  She could make a request rather than complain about John's short comings.  "John,  I'm really stressed out and would appreciate some more help. Would you please wash the dishes in the sink?"  She could share what was really the source of her distress.  She could acknowledge her vulnerability. She could ask for understanding and special treatment  because of the extent of her distress. It's pretty clear that the defensive approach does not lead to a productive outcome.  Even if you "win" the argument,  there is a loss of love in the process.  Communication breaks down. There is more distance rather than connection.   When you can take a step back to not take things personally;  when you can take a moment to observe what is happening; when you can act rather than react, you can move closer through greater understanding and compassion.  When you do this, coming home can be a place where you put down your shield, take off your amour and get what you need. 

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