"Don't take it personally."
The reason it's such a common expression is because we so often do, take it personally that is. Especially children. I can't tell you how many times my kids have come home from school upset over some perceived slight.
In second grade, when the teacher had a class that included six ADD boys, "Ms. R. told the class that we were driving her crazy, and she was looking right at me when she said it, I know she hates me."
In third grade, "Suzie and Jeannie were on the playground laughing and whispering, I know they were talking about me. They're just trying to keep me out."
In fifth grade, "The principal walked right by me when my class was in line for lunch (with a million other kids) and she didn't even say hi, I know she's mad at me."
Apparently my children are mind readers, because they seem to know exactly what everyone else is thinking. I'd laugh, except I know tons of adults who behave exactly the same way, and sometimes I'm one of them.
Our spouse walks in the door looking beleaguered and annoyed.
A neighbor shakes their head and scowls as they pass us on the street.
A friend forgets to return our phone call.
A co-worker takes credit for our work.
A parent calls us to complain about how we never visit.
And, we ask, "Why are they doing this to me?"
I hate to break it to you, but you are not the axis upon which the world rotates, and to assume that everything other people say or do is in reaction to you, is to be as self-absorbed as, well, a child.
We all take things too personally from time to time, and if we're feeling particularly insecure, it's even easier to believe that other people's bad moods, sour looks, and other less than perfect behavior is somehow directed at us.
But how much angst do we cause ourselves worrying about what other people think? Or by assuming the worst any time they do something that makes us feel left out, angry or annoyed?
To quote another great expression, "other people aren't thinking about you as much as you think they are."
When you're pulling out of your driveway with a worried look on your face, are you thinking about your neighbor standing at her mailbox waving, or the fact that you just got a letter from the IRS?
And when you hurry down the hall at work not making eye contact, is it because you're mad at your colleagues? Or because you made the mistake of eating a double bean burrito for lunch?
However, in our self-centered defense, it can be hard to discern the difference between someone reacting to you versus something going on with them. I once called on a customer six times and when I could never get a reaction out of her, I was ready to write her off as aloof and snobby. But something happened on call number seven that made me realize she was just shy.
So next time you think someone has slighted you, let it go, it might not have anything to do with you. And if it does, there's another popular expression that bears repeating, "What you think of me is none of my business."
Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect." Contact her at www.forgetperfect.com.