My Stuff, Your Stuff!
“No-one can make you feel inferior without your permission”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
There is a very big difference between someone saying something offensive, and you being offended by it.
When someone bothers you, it is your stuff. This does not mean that the behaviour of that person is acceptable or that it should not be challenged. It just means that your response to it belongs to you.
If someone behaves in a rude or offensive way that is their stuff. This means that their behaviour is as a result of their (often unconscious) internal responses to a trigger. The responsibility for those responses and that behaviour lies with them.
The fact that you are offended – is your stuff. The responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and behaviours resulting from the interaction - lies with you.
‘Know thyself’ is one of the Delphic maxims. This means that for thousands of years, we have known that self-awareness is a prerequisite for personal resilience and growth. If you come to know yourself so well that seeing yourself reflected in the behaviour of others can never surprise you or evoke feelings of discomfort, you become untouchable.
When you take full responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, you can affect change.
This is done first, by becoming fully conscious of what is going on for you in every situation. When we cultivate the habit of observation of the Self, we can pick up patterns in our responses that point us towards where we can do inner work. This means recognising where we have been triggered into unconscious responses and understanding what lay at the heart of it.
For example, on arriving at work one morning, I encounter an ex-client who stops me to tell me that they have moved on to a different therapist. They begin with ‘No offence but…’ and then they wax lyrical about how wonderful their new treatment is and what a vast difference it has made to their life. They then go on to tell me how frustrating it is that they wasted so much money on multiple sessions with me and how they wish that they had found this amazing new therapist earlier. They continue on suggesting that I too try this new approach and way of working and point me in the direction of their newfound miracle worker for guidance. They suggest further training for me.
Their behaviour is rude, yes – but it is I who am offended!
I immediately begin to allow the internal narrative that accompanies the feelings of low self-worth that are generated by the experience. Perhaps my qualifications are lacking. Maybe most of my other clients feel this way but did not dare to tell me. Maybe I should quit and change direction or indeed seek more training. The feelings associated with this line of thought are very unpleasant. I feel them in my stomach and can name them as sadness, disappointment, and despair. When my internal narrative moves to notice how rude that behaviour of my client was, I also feel anger and this manifests in my chest. My responses spring from a fear of not being good enough or worthy.
In the above example, the behaviour of my client can clearly be perceived as rude. This is his stuff. For whatever reason, his thoughts and feelings have led to him speaking in an uncensored way about my abilities and his experience, with possibly little thought as to the impact that it may have on me. It is also conceivable that he intended to have a negative impact because of his frustration at having spent money and for whatever reason, seen little progress.
It is wholly possible for me to make him aware of his rudeness without the process taking a piece out of me. I do this by identifying which is my stuff, and which is his.
On the one hand I can say “you really upset me with your comments” which gives him a snapshot into my psyche and the tools to upset me further in future if he chooses to. This is expensive in terms of my wellbeing as I relive the experience of being upset.
Alternatively, I can say “those comments are rude and offensive” which points him towards examining his own behaviour and considering its impact on others.
Responding in this way puts me on notice to reject the invitation to become triggered by his behaviour, taking it personally and making it about my worth. The truth is that my client has found a therapist whose particular approach suits him better than mine which means that he is likely to move forward. That is great!
Another important truth is that I have been afforded the opportunity to learn where I have a need for inner work. My internal responses to the comments made by my client have highlighted that, even though I am a successful therapist and teach about self-worth all the time, there is still a need within me for positive affirmation and reframing of core beliefs. Thank you, Universe!
When someone is rude – it is their stuff.
When we are offended or upset – it is ours.
The next time that you feel offended by the behaviour of another press pause.
Step into the shoes of your Observer Self, the part of you that can observe thoughts feelings and behaviours without becoming consumed by them.
Listen to the stream of thoughts that arises as a result of the experience and ask yourself what is true.
Allow emotions to come to the surface and be felt. Remember that they signpost you towards work that you can do to safeguard yourself in future interactions.
Avoid unconscious behaviours which will be designed to defend you or rid you of the problem – these will have consequences.
Construct conscious responses which align with truth and are not contaminated by your emotion.
Do the inner work – there are countless articles on this website to help you.
Remember someone’s stuff is their stuff. You are not responsible for the behaviour of others and whether or not they are walking towards enlightenment. Focus on your own path!
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