Don’t Take Anything Personally


I know I’ve mentioned recently that I have been using hypnosis to help me stop grinding my teeth. There are a lot of theories as to why people grind their teeth. The ones I have heard the most are: an unaligned bite, stress/anxiety, and repressed anger.

I think all of these apply to me, but the one I have found myself wanting to explore the most is repressed anger. Earlier in my life, I was pretty passive, and I had to learn through experience to stick up for myself. Part of this was owning my anger. I realized that anger is raw passion, waiting to be harnessed as a powerful creative force. I learned to listen to my anger, to let it tell me where my boundaries lay, to let it teach me how to protect myself from predators.

Time has passed. I have grown older, stronger, and more confident in myself. I have moved beyond individuation and into service. I felt good with myself, satisfied with my own personal quest, and decided it was time to give myself to my career and my family.

I had a baby. And I fell in love looking at his innocent face in those early days, and was sure he could do no wrong, ever. I would look at older kids, making trouble, and knew my kid would never act like that. Nope. Not my angel.

He’s changed. I mentioned before that I think he just got his 4-year testosterone flood a bit early, and I am having a really, really hard time right now. The yelling in my face, the hitting, the throwing. The, “One more chance,” pleas a countless number of times. I have been trying everything I have up my sleeve: offering incentives, using consequences, talking, asking him what he needs, giving more attention, behavior charts…I could keep going. In short, I have used everything I know except physical discipline, but I have to admit, there have been plenty of impulses to use that, too. It is only my personal pledge and plenty of willpower that stop me from going that way. And my husband, of course, who grabs the wheel when I feel myself going off course.

I don’t know if I am being too hard or too soft. Should I just never give him any second chances, maybe? Have I leaned on that too many times, so that he does not respect the limits I am setting? Or maybe I am being too hard. He’s in his room crying right now, way past his bedtime. I put up the gate and let him know that one more hug means one more hug, and he needs to go to sleep now so Mommy can unwind.

I feel so bad, seeing him stressed out and alone in his room, just wanting closeness and comfort, and I wonder if I should just let him come into my room so that he feels completely safe and supported, because, you know, that’s what the attachment parenting method preaches. And I feel incredibly frustrated because I just need some down time, and I am not getting it, because he is testing me to my core.

Back to the repressed anger and the teeth grinding. Yesterday, I was having a great day. Great mood, optimistic, productive, grateful. Last night with the little guy was a wringer. I can’t even remember right now, or don’t want to, but I ended up using every consequence I have yet to use. We are in this standoff right now, it seems, regarding who’s the boss, and I know he needs authority, but I also feel like I am breaking his spirit.

Anyway, by the end of the night, I noticed my jaw was incredibly tight. Talk about repressed anger. I can’t throw my anger at my child, I know, I need to keep a hold on it, and it is ending up in my jaw. I have been getting incredibly frustrating with this little guy who has somehow already learned exactly how to press my buttons.

And then there’s compassion. And taking a step away and seeing things from a different angle. I’ve been thinking (after he finally gets to sleep), that maybe it’s not about finding an outlet for repressed anger. Maybe it’s about not getting angry in the first place.

A while back, I read a book called The Four Agreements. I am sure that many of you know this book. One of the agreements is, “Don’t take anything personally.”

A lot of this getting angry stuff is all about me taking things personally. A lot of the stress and anxiety is about me taking things personally. In fact, I may even go so far to say that ALL of the anxiety, stress, and anger I experience is completely about me taking things personally.

A client at work likes me, or doesn’t like me, or does well, or fails horribly, and I take it all personally. I hold myself responsible for all of this, doubting that I am good enough, skilled enough, knowledgeable enough to be a resource for them. News flash: it’s not about me! And when I indulge in these anxious self-doubts, I am taking away from the absolutely BRILLIANT work that I do with these amazing, totally capable individuals.

My kid acts out, testing limits, as is completely developmentally appropriate, and I think, “He is doing this to me.” A car cuts me off in traffic, and I get pissed about them disrespecting me, instead of thinking maybe they’re just in a big hurry, or maybe they’re just generally inconsiderate, and does it really have to ruin my moment, this moment that I will never have again? Do I really need to miss this speck of time when my son will be this small, because I am busy brooding about how he is acting disrespectfully? Maybe, just maybe, can I give him limits without engaging in a power struggle in which no one can win?

So, I pledge it now, and I will hold myself to it. Do Not Take Anything Personally. Nothing. It is not about me. Even if someone has a problem with me, it’s not me. It’s just one of the traits that I exhibit. Constructive criticism is merely a tool I can use to refine my character. It is not about me. It is not about me. It is not about me.

By the way, in the middle of this post, I did finally go make peace with my son, and I think (dear God, hope!) he is sleeping.

Wish me strength, readers, and lots of patience. 🙂


24 thoughts on “Don’t Take Anything Personally

  1. Oh, the challenges of the toddler. I can relate to all of it. I know you are on the right track and I also know that you are an awesome mom. Keep on keeping on. Great post.

  2. My youngest one had quite the temper – all I can say is it does pass and for us, the day he was old enough to understand that the one getting hurt the most by his temper was him, (age 4 1/2 or so) was the day he turned the corner and moved from learning to channel his anger, to controlling, to not getting mad in the first place – – – He’s 14 now and I’m so proud of him – Just wanted to tell you it does get better, even though you’ll have days when it seems like it will never end. Hang in there! 🙂

    • Thank you Tamrah! My little guy has always been quite the mellow kid, until recently, so it is a surprise and a challenge. I think we are adjusting though. And, in a way, it is refreshing to see a more fierce side of him (from a distance 😉 ). So glad to hear your 14 year old is doing well, thanks to you at least partly, I am sure!

  3. Sage,

    I have been there! I don’t know if you’ve tried any of these, but I’ll offer them to you.

    I struggled with anger for years. I caused myself migraine headaches, until a wonderful woman and coach had me do an exercise to acknowledge the anger and get it out of my system. So, every night I would write down what and who I was angry with. I did it on my smart phone so I would have it with me at all times as opposed to a journal which I might forget. I didn’t write long details, but of course if that helps you can. Instead I just got it out. Acknowledged it and put it to bed. Frequently, I would have the same anger the next day. At that time, I would just write it again until it didn’t come up again. I did this for several months missing only one or two nights. Now I find myself with little anger. There is obviously occasions that I react to something that frustrates me, but ere is almost no repressed anger. Maybe it’s worth a try?

    Power Struggle
    I have a 3 1/2 year old son, Joseph-Elijah – who I don’t publish either :). We have learned some great parenting techniques from his Waldorf School. At times when there is a struggle, they have encouraged us to tell him a story. With Joseph-Elijah, I have two characters, Mops and Pops who have everyday experiences. I share a story with him every night. So he’s very familiar with them. When a struggle arises, I’ll just say, “so, do you want to know what happened with Mops and Pops?” Suddenly he perks up, “what happened with Mops and Pops?” He usually walks in my direction and I motion for him to sit next to me or in my lap. Or if we’re trying to get him to walk down the stairs of our brownstone or to get into his car seat, he will relax and I’ll tell him the story as soon as he is down the stairs or in his seat.

    I so identify with the wind down/me time. We were struggling with this for months. Joseph-Elijah’s school suggested a ritual. My partner, Joseph, came up with this. We start by turning the lights down in the whole apartment. Put pajamas on. Brush teeth. Brew some camomile or and calming herbal tea. We say a blessing on the tea. “Blessing on the flower, blessing on the fruit, blessing on the stems and leaves, blessing on the root. Blessings on our tea.” He now says the blessing with us. We drink our tea. Next we walk into his bedroom where we light a beeswax candle that stays lit until story time is over. Then he blows out the candle and is usually asleep shortly there after.

    We got our life back about two or three weeks after starting this ritual. He did test it at first, but we were firm about him staying in his room. He sleeps with all of his stuffed animals. If we really needed to remove a privilege, we would tell him that he will lose his monkey. He usually responded. Now this only have to do this on a very rare occasion. One thing that also helped. We stick to one story every night so that he knows and can’t push the boundaries.

    I really don’t know if any of this is a help, but I am confident things will improve for you.

    With love, Amanda

    • Thanks you so much for the very practical advice! I already successfully used the story a few times. My characters are called Momsy and Popsy, and it is working wonders! So simple and amazing. 🙂
      I am going to try this writing out anger practice, too, along with a gratitude list every night. Such good ideas! Thanks again!

      • So glad to hear the stories are working for you. That really warms my heart. The anger exercise will definitely do wonders for you! I am certain of that. Please let me know how it goes.

        With love, Amanda

    • This is excellent advice! A ritual with a rhyme can be very calming. We are religious, so we do a prayer at bedtime and a song as we leave for school, and both have been, oh, about 75% miraculous at preventing power struggles.

  4. So wonderful that you can see so clearly. This post had me wishing I could go back ten years in time and have your wisdom (and whatever wisdom I’ve been able to gather over these years) — back to my son at three and to the power struggles and to my anger. There were definitely “those days”, although we muddled through it together and made it out pretty fine. I was missing a few important tools in my toolbox back then — yours is full !! Take such comfort in that. “It’s not about me!” is a wonderful mantra for life, as well as parenting. loved the post, glad we found each other

    • Thanks Andrea. I work at a Parents Center as a therapist, so I better know a thing or two about parenting! And it is comforting to hear that you made it through okay. There are moments I feel I am forever damaging my child, and that helps not at all in my ability to parent! I am glad we found each other too. Look forward to reading more of your work!

  5. Do the attachment method when you feel able and draw the line when you need time for yourself – he will be securely attached and also able to respect the needs of others (and I think far more likely to not take things personally in the long run.) My daughter is 14 now and I remember going through the wringer when she was younger, wanting to do what I felt in my heart but being told by others I was so wrong and would ruin/spoil her. We have endured some really hard stuff because of our strong relationship forged from intuition and swimming against the tide of the clinical model. I am much more able to not take it personally as she traverses adolescence and all that comes with it – what a roller coaster. From external reports my girl is a lovely person, caring, cheerful, sensitive and fun. Intuitive parenting, non-violent communication and conciliation have stood us in good stead. Keep going, you are on the right track. Thanks also for stopping by my blog – it lead me to yours. Anita

  6. I am able to connect a lot with this post. I keep going through similar experiences day in and day out. And my daughter is only a year old 🙂 I still have a long way to go!. Glad to have found your blog… I am sure your words will give me the much needed support and guidance as my daughter grows.
    May strength be with us, and may love guide us to do the best for our kids.

    • I am so glad you are connecting! Parenting is the biggest adventure yet, and I think the most challenging and valuable lesson. I will do my best to keep sharing my experiences. And yes, may love guide us and strength be with us. Please!!!
      I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  7. Hi, and thanks for the like over on my blog. I was skimming through yours, and this caught my eye.

    First, you probably know this already, but the fours can be gawdawful. People complain about the terrible twos, but in my eyes, it’s the f-ing fours that are the worst.

    I agree with Anita. It’s about balance. Letting him learn that there are limits, letting him learn to go to sleep on his own, those things aren’t going to harm him. It’s not neglect nor abuse in my eyes. There are other ways to ensure he feels loved and attached. It’s also about balance for you too. You need your time, your sanity and general well being is important for him too, even if he doesn’t know it. Explain this to him, explain it (and demonstrate it) with love and patience (as much as you can summon up at the end of a long day). Remind him of where you are. I often remind my son when he’s feeling insecure that he is loved, that I love him, no matter what. And I often remind him that he’s safe. Yeah, I know, at four talk is only worth so much. But … it eventually sinks in.

    I will confess though, I went through similar phases with bedtime battles, and decided that this is not my hill to die on. I now cuddle my son to sleep (within limits, if he’s squirming and talking, I don’t stay), and count it as some of our quality time together, our relationship re-set button. No judgement here, by the way. Everyone does things their own way; what works for one family, even for one member of that family, doesn’t mean it’s the one way for everyone.

    For coping with stress, no matter what the reason/apparent source, I like your idea of not taking things personally. So much of stress is self-induced.

    • Thanks, Melanie! Yes, I remember some rough patches in the twos, but it definitely seems my boy has really learned how to press my buttons now. He’s a really shy and passive boy outside of the home, and I am realizing that he is practicing his “assertiveness” skills most with the person he feels most comfortable with–me! Last night, he was telling us about how a boy at preschool had pushed him, and he hadn’t stuck up for himself in the moment. His dad and I were coaching him on what he can do and say (like sticking out his hand and yelling no), and he was practicing, and all of a sudden he was throwing a tantrum. I think the stress of the day builds up, and he take sit out at home. Lovely! So, not taking it personally is definitely the way to deal with it, and also very hard sometimes.

      About bedtime, I think it’s sweet you snuggle with your boy. Last night, mine was screaming in the middle of the night, and I went to his room, asked him what he wanted. He continued to scream. I started stroking his head and he fell asleep. I looked at his profile while he slept and was struck by homw much he looks like he did the day he was born. So sweet. I think you will look back and be happy you chose to cuddle your little one.
      Thank you for stopping by!

  8. Man have I been there! Great post, by the way. I really enjoyed reading it. I go through the same thing with my kids. One thing I’ve done and continue to do is throw them off course with love. When they are wailing and whining and testing me and pushing buttons I didn’t know I had, I take a deep breath and I get down on their level and give them a great big hug. Most times they resist this hug with all their might because they are upset and angry, but then they relax into it and eventually all is well in their worlds again. (Side note: if they are melting down because they are hungry, I try to bring a granola bar with me to the hug.) And after reading your post, I realized that by taking that deep breath before I initiated the hug, I was putting myself aside. My little ones’ anger and upset is not about me. It’s the stage they are at and the abilities they have to deal with what they can’t control. Their anger may be DIRECTED at me, but it’s not ABOUT me. Thanks for sharing your experience. (And thanks for stopping by my blog {Life Takes Over}.)

    • That is such a great practice, Nancy. Relax them with kindness. I’ve learned that in those moments, the first step is to CONNECT with my child. And then everything gets easier. I will be back to your blog!

  9. I feel your pain. I have two boys myself and they can drive me nuts if I let them. I’ve taken them to counseling because of everything they’ve been through with their dad and one brilliant thing came out of the counselor’s mouth. Use more carrots than sticks. Easy to say, right? Her advice was to pick one task at a time they don’t perform well now. Every time they do it as soon as I ask, they earn a sticker (or checkmark, something visual). After 3 of them (5 later, 10 later when they really get it), they earn a reward. It can be anything small but fun for them (ideally kids get to pick ahead of time what they can earn). Reading a book with mom, watching 10 minutes of TV, playing a fun family game, go to a park, etc. Kids crave attention, positive or negative, so if you can give them the opportunity to aim for the positive, they’ll take it. We’ve tried it out and it works a charm and we’re all happier. And less stressed!

    • Thanks so much for the input. I’ve got a sticker chart going now, and it is fun and does help alot. It is so easy to forget at times to use carrots instead of sticks. Whenever I am in a bad patch with my son, I realize I am using sticks (figuratively of course! :), and it completely changes the dynamic when I switch back to focusing on the positive.

  10. Nice post! My son is 8, and his dad and I certainly have struggled with anger a lot of times! I have a bunch of parenting articles on my site that might be helpful. We had a hard time at 3-6 years old, which really surprised me because when I was looking ahead to parenting, the part I expected to be the most fun was having a preschooler–that was the age I most enjoyed babysitting–but with my own kid, it turned out that the baby/toddler was wonderful, but after he weaned I felt a lot less connected with him. It didn’t help that I had a lot of stress and anger from a completely unrelated source just as he reached that stage. Things are better now!

    About “one more chance”: For me, giving too many chances and reminders without taking any strong action (if my son is not complying) really escalates my anger and frustration so that eventually I lose my cool and just cannot be reasonable with him. It works better if I do something about his behavior early on, and then when he objects to what I did, he understands that I am serious and he listens better to what I need him to do, and then I can give a second chance. I wrote more about it here:

  11. Yip battle of wills I am in that stage now. Its tough not breaking them or allowing them to believe you don’t care or love them. But its such a fine balance will anyone of us get it perfect. I doubt it an the parents that do have it perfect aren’t admiting what goes on behind closed doors.

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