“It’s not about you.”
I fucking hate it when people say that. Because, while it may be true and healthy, it’s usually said to let someone know that their feelings are stupid.
“It’s not about you… it’s about me.”
That seems to be the unspoken clarifier. Like, how dare you question how I am treating you or how you feel about our relationship – I’m not even thinking about you, and you’re selfish and narcissistic for even suggesting that I am.
My friend Maria is notorious for thinking she has done something to hurt my feelings when, in fact, she has not. And because she is not at all passive-aggressive, she usually gets in touch with me immediately to apologize. I could, I suppose, remind her that “hey, it’s not about you“. But I don’t. I wouldn’t dream of it. Because the fact that she would even care enough to wonder if she had accidentally hurt me and come to me about it is amazing, and I can appreciate that while still saying “oh, no honey, no worries. That didn’t have anything to do with you, honestly.”
All of that being said, I had a bit of a revelation this morning.
Sometimes it is about me. Or, more specifically and in therapese, about what “the story I’m making up” about me is.
Let me try to unravel that for a minute. For both of us.
I’ve been really struggling lately with how I was feeling about other people’s actions. I’ve wavered between hurt and anger whenever I start thinking about how I imagine someone else is feeling about me. And in the midst of this mostly inner turmoil, I’ve found myself logically coming to the conclusion time and time again that any one person’s behavior is about them and where they are in their life.
“It’s not about you,” I’ve chided myself, “so stop being stupid and feeling bad about it.”
NEWSFLASH: Simply telling someone – yourself or anyone else – to simply stop feeling something does not, come to find out, magically make the feelings go away.
“Damn it, why does this keep bothering me?” I’ve asked, over and over and over again. “It’s not about me.”
And then, this morning, I had a breakthrough.
As I was trying to hash out these feelings with a trusted friend, I heard a familiar refrain come out of my mouth.
“I know that it’s not really about me. It’s stupid to let this bother me,” I repeated to Adam.
“No, it’s not stupid. I can see why that would hurt.”
“Yes, but, if I was, you know, totally healthy and shit I’d be able to say ‘well, that’s on them, not me’.”
“Yeah, I don’t know, maybe, but-”
“But when that happens, the story I make up about myself is….”
Cue light bulbs and choirs of counselor angels singing.
“Oh, wow,” I stopped mid conversation.
“What?” he asked.
“Well, I mean, I just realized that what’s bothering me isn’t necessarily what someone else is doing. What’s bothering me is what I’m telling myself their actions say about me. What’s really bothering me is the idea that I am (insert insecurity here).”
And then, there it is. The insecurity. Uncovered and somehow less scary with all of the layers of protection and hurt and defensiveness peeled away.
I worry that I’m not enough. I worry that I’m not fun. I worry that I’m not (insert even more insecurities here).
Once I was able to see how it was about me, I could look at that list of insecurities and one at a time examine them for what they were in the light of day. I could compare them to the things I know about myself. I could, finally, face them and choose to either accept or reject these secret fears I have about myself.
Luckily, most of those things I’ve been carrying around under the guise of worry and hurt are completely false. It was easy to see when they were unwrapped from their ugly packaging. And, most importantly, I could finally finally let some of them go. And the ones I couldn’t? Well, at least I am aware of them now and can work on figuring out how to address them on my end.
I really feel like I’ve learned something.
Sometimes, it is about you. And people will say that’s selfish and self centered and that you should simply stop making everything about you. Which is great and fine and fantastic in theory, until you try to let it go and realize – ope! nope! bad feelings are still there!
That’s not to say that the motivation for other people’s behavior has anything to do with you. What they do and why they do it is, I still believe, about them.
But how it makes me feel or react is very, very much about me. And if it makes me feel icky and I can’t let that icky feeling go, it’s not helpful to try to stuff those feelings down by telling myself that “it’s not about me”. If something is really bothering me, it seems like it’s better to take out a mirror for a moment and ask myself, “what is the story you’re making up about you?”
Now, I don’t expect everyone in my life to take this on. I don’t think anyone who ever has an interaction with me should be constantly worried about how it will make me feel or what godforsaken insecurity landmine they might set off in me. Nor do I plan to stop my loved ones when they are talking about their lives to say “yeah, um, let’s talk for a minute about how I feel about your life.” Obviously.
By the same token, I do not expect that I have to take on the neuroses of the rest of the world.
But some people are worth it.
There are some people in this world who I care enough about to stop and take a minute to find out about the stories they tell themselves as a result of my actions. I care enough to wade into the muck of their insecurities and help them unravel their own ugly packages so that we can face them together, in the light of day, and debunk them for the faulty myths they are. I want to be there with them when they uncover their fears so that I might, if even for a moment, help them see themselves through my eyes.
Some people are worth that time and consideration because, in part, I know they would give it to me.
On a related noted – thank you, Faiqa, for your tireless efforts to hold up a mirror to me. Yours is the polar opposite of those awful dressing room mirrors. It’s like a magic mirror where I’m taller and thinner and prettier and braver and stronger and better than I could ever hope to be under my own flourescent lighting. Your emails are a security blanket when I’m trying to tell myself that “it’s not about me.”